Practicing Mercy – First Lent

Posted on March 21, 2017 @ 6:44 pm

Practicing Mercy, part 1 “Patience with other people’s quirks March 5, 2017
Matthew 4:1-11 Temptation of Jesus First in Lent

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. The passage from scripture that Andrew read a few minutes ago, “the Temptation of Jesus,” is a traditional reading at the beginning of this season of thoughtful reflection and preparation. Before he began his ministry, Jesus was tempted for forty days in ways that would be offered to him in the world. They were temptations that would be readily available to him. They were temptations to take the easy way out and to not follow through on the Father’s plan. While Jesus’ temptations are not our temptations – we cannot feed the world nor will God’s angels bear us up should we jump – we have our own temptations and our own need to embrace this time of preparation.
That is why in your bulletin you received a lavender pledge card. It is a little different from past years. At the top under your name, it gives you a space to write down what you are giving up. What is it you need to release or what has a hold upon you that you need to break? Ruth Haley Barton described this idea in a recent blog:

[A season of transformation] “Entering into Lent as a season of transformation does require some insight and preparation. If we are struggling with issues related to ego and pride, we might discipline ourselves to say no to activities that feed the ego. If we struggle with sins of speech or carelessness with our speech, we might consider additional time in silence daily or a longer retreat of silence sometime during this season. If we are aware of an inner exhaustion that we have not been willing to pay attention to, we might choose to say no to caffeine and other stimulants in order to walk all the way into our exhaustion. In the absence of substances that keep us stimulated, we might ask God to reveal the deeper sources of our tired-ness.

“If we tend toward the sin of gluttony and know that our eating patterns are out of control, we might consider some level of fasting. If our prayer life has been lacking, we might commit ourselves to more intentional rhythms of prayer. If we sense God inviting us to deeper levels of self-examination and introspection, but we know we tend towards depression, we might enter more intentionally into community and spiritual friendship during this time – asking for the help and prayers of others. Lent is a time for ‘giving things up’ balanced by ‘giving to’ others.” (eReflections: “Returning to God with all Our Hearts, 02/21/2017)
[Practicing Mercy] Once we have decided what to give up, we need to fill that vacuum with something that builds up our spiritual life, that helps us on our journey. There are a few ideas listed on the slip of paper but you know best of all what it is that you need to do to strengthen your heart and soul. As Twine and I were thinking about this season of Lent, we became more aware of God’s mercy in offering us these forty days. In the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) What better place for us to focus our attention this Lent than on practicing mercy?

God’s mercy is a monumental theme in Scripture. The English word appears some 341 times in the Bible. There are four Hebrew and three Greek words associated with mercy and they appear another 100 times. These words offer shadings to the concept of mercy as “kindness,” “loving kindness,” “goodness,” “favor,” “compassion,” and “pity.” Of the sixty-six books of the Bible, only sixteen do not mention mercy. Even though “mercy” is an important concept on its own, it is occasionally closely tied with “grace”. However similar they may appear to be, these words are not synonymous. Grace has to do with the giving of totally undeserved favor or blessing. Mercy is more often connected to the withholding of judgment: In the letter of James we read, “No mercy will be shown to those who show no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

[God is merciful & wants us to be merciful too] In other words, we are merciful because God was merciful first! “Mercy is God’s number one characteristic in all of scripture. More than his sovereignty or rule, his omniscience or knowledge of all things, his omnipotence or invincibility, omnipresence, or any other description about God – more than anything else, the number one attribute of God is mercy, of deserved judgment withheld.
“The world portrays God as a God of anger and judgment. But God shows himself first and foremost as a God of mercy. All the way back when God revealed his glory to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments, God said, “This is my name: The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abounding in goodness and truth.” (Exodus 34:6) Notice, God describes his number one characteristic as merciful. God did not say, “I am the Lord God, just and righteous,” or “The Lord God, eternal and all powerful.” God said, this is who I am. I am merciful first and foremost, and then I am gracious, patient, overflowing with kindness, goodness, faithfulness and truth.
“If mercy is the number one characteristic that God reveals to us in the bible – if that is the most important thing he wants us to know about him – then it follows it would also be the most important character trait that God wants to develop in us. God is merciful and God wants us to be merciful too.” [Rick Warren, rewritten from intro to “Miracle of Mercy” study guide, pg 7)
When we personally think of being merciful, we usually think of forgiving people who don’t deserve it or we think of helping people who cannot help themselves. But mercy is so much more! The first way that we can learn to be merciful is to be patient with people’s quirks.
[Be patient with people’s quirks] We need to be patient with other people’s idiosyncrasies. Their mannerisms. Their odd behavior. Their irritating habits. You show mercy when you don’t get irritated, angry, or uptight with people’s personal quirks because we all have them. I think one of the best places to practice this is the checkout line at the grocery store, any grocery store! As some of you may know, Twine does the grocery shopping in our family. He shops weekly at four or five stores. Which is his choice and his business. However, since he had his knee surgery, he hasn’t been able to do this particular task. So I did the shopping instead. I go to two stores. But even in two stores, people are very quirky. In one the lady in front of me had put her credit card away back in her wallet and placed it in her purse before realizing that it had not been charged. As she was unpacking to find it, the woman behind me smiled and remarked, “It requires patience, doesn’t it?” Well yes, yes it does!
But there is an even better place to start practicing mercy by being patient with people’s quirks. Start with your family or your family of friends! Start with your husband or wife (if they are still with you), for all wives and all husbands deserve that from one another. Start with your children and parents. After all, they put up with you as well. Then work your way out to the broader network of cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles. Many years ago my Uncle John told me when I was rolling my eyes at his wife/my aunt that you don’t get to choose your relatives. You are stuck with them. Which is why it is such a great place to start practicing patience. Remember they are a gift, one you may sometimes want to return, but still a gift. And you will not have them here forever.
Your home, the grocery store, your place of work, your gym – these are the places where you go every day. What better places to develop the character of real, actualized mercy towards others? Who better to be patient with then those we spend the most time with? This kind of patience is not just a good idea or a theory, it is an opportunity to be transformed. On this the first Sunday in Lent, I invite each of you to take the first step in your practice of mercy. Be patient with other people’s quirks just as God is patient with your quirks.