September 12, 2014

The Gift of Mercy ( Proper 24)

It has been said that if we all got what we deserved we would all be taken out and ‘horsewhipped’. Mercy is what stands between justice and punishment. Mercy is a personal divine gift. It is not a ‘right’ – as many hope. It cannot be earned - as many people hope. Mercy is a sign of a heart that loves. The parable of the Unmerciful Servant is a kingdom parable. It is a teaching on what is required of those who are included in the Kingdom of God. They are required to have demonstrated mercy. This is what Jesus meant by "Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy." (Matthew 5.7) Mercy is the ability to give up the right to judge others and the right to pay back - and instead forgive from the heart. We will be judged and forgiven in the same way that we have judged and forgiven others. This is a test of our love and mercy.

1. The Parable teaches us how people are judged by God
The King or Master is of course God. Jesus is the one who loves us enough to give up His life in payment for the huge debt of our sins. The person being considered for entry into the Kingdom is the servant who was forgiven a huge, un-payable debt. None of us could ever work hard enough at being good to earn the forgiveness we need for entry into the Kingdom of God.

·         Protestant Liberal Theology has deceived many people into a vague belief that God will somehow love us and save us – this is not Biblical

·         The Bible is very clear that the ‘Somehow”  is always through repentance, confession and trust in the Cross of Jesus

·         Lords’ Prayer - We pray that God will forgive us our trespasses / debt as we have forgiven those who trespass against us

·         The Unmerciful Servant revealed his failure to love God and his neighbor and is put out of the Kingdom of God

2. Un-forgiveness is a sin that pollutes our soul and affects our life
 The Parable is a warning to us of the consequences of failure to "…forgive your brother from the heart." (Matthew 18.35) Un-forgiveness is a serious spiritual wound. In addition to the sin of un-forgiveness, there is usually a history of the related sins of pride, anger, jealousy and lust (wanting more).

·         We probably all know from our own lives how soul destroying it is when someone holds a grudge or is burdened by feelings of guilt

·         Un-forgiveness is the most common issue in healing ministry

·         Un-forgiveness often points to a “Bitter Root Judgement” – example of judging a parent / all men / all women as somehow defective

·         Judgement pollutes our soul, can be like a curse that rebounds on us and mysteriously influences us into destructive behavior patterns

·         John Sandford gives an example of a counselee who had judged his mother as fat and lazy – then married a women who became overweight and lazy after she married him

·         Many people who are unhappy are feeling shame or guilt, or holding grudges that they may not even be aware of.

·         Healing Ministry often involves identifying un-forgiveness and leading a person through the process of specific repentance, confession and acceptance of forgiveness from Jesus

2. Mercy is the gift all Believers receive - and need to pass on
In my work as an Interim Priest I often work with small rural parishes that cannot afford a local minister. The challenge is to find and train local people with gifts for ministry. By comparing Paul’s lists of spiritual gifts and ministries in the church (1 Cor. 12.4-14; 12.27-28 and 13.1-5) the gifts of “healing” and “mercy” seem to line up with a lay ministry of “healing prayer” and “intercession” – i.e. mercy. This is a spiritual ministry that is at the heart of what we are all supposed to be doing as Christian Believers.

·         We all pray the Lord’s Prayer – and covenant to forgive

·         In Baptism we renounce evil and turn to Jesus Christ as our Saviour

·         We are all taught to pray at all times for ourselves and others

·         We have all received great mercy – the forgiveness of all our sins

·         Experience qualifies us to tell others about our forgiveness – and encourage others to turn to Jesus

·         Experience qualifies us to pray with and for others with authority

·         We all pray ‘deliver us from evil’ – so why not personalize this?

·         While only priests are formally authorized to pronounce absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there is no rule against lay people walking people through the process of confession, asking Jesus to forgive them and then asking if they accept Jesus forgiveness

·          Removing guilt and shame is the greatest gift we can give anyone

·         It is amazing how much people’s lives improve when they are freed from vague destructive feelings of guilt and shame

·         Once the pollution of sin is removed, the Holy Spirit can come more fully into their lives with the gifts of love, joy and peace

4. As Servants of God, we are to share the gift of mercy
Unlike many people in our time, believing Christians know who they are and whose they are. We are all forgiven servants. We are all dependent on the grace and mercy of Jesus. God is the one who judges.
·         If we judge others we are putting ourselves in the place of God
·         Our place is to study the Bible and maintain our own right-relationship with Jesus – and then share the Good News in love
·         Churches need to identify, train and encourage members who have this gift of mercy

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