Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, Year C, 2019
“[The Father] has delivered us from the power of the darkness and translated us into the Kingdom of his love’s Son. In whom we have the price of liberation, the forgiveness of sins.” Col 1:13-14 (DBH)
’Who is going to take responsibility for this?’
When we consider what it means to be human, in all its glory and its shame; when we consider our human condition, there is perhaps one thing that we need above all else. This need is hidden from our eyes by Pride – thus making it perhaps the most deadly of sins, for it hides from us our greatest need – our need for Mercy.
We live in a Creation of glorious and bewildering complexity. And we live amongst human beings, every one of whom is a mystery to themselves yet alone others as we share in relationships with one another.
I was with a friend this week who told me that he had recently lost a friend ‘and I have no idea what it was that I did or said’. I spoke to a young girl who was 5 and a half and we seemed to be getting on great together until I told her with a smile that she was very grown up for 5 and a half, and she burst into tears, and neither I nor her parents had a clue what it was about! Lord have mercy
We like to reduce the world to a scale and a simplicity that we can simply navigate and get it right. Sometimes we’re bold enough to call this ‘Christian ethics’. ‘Do the right thing!’ we say,is far from clear and then when it seems it is clear often turns out to have unwanted consequences we hadn’t seen.
Ironically we see most clearly when we ‘see’ that we don’t see clearly
I once went to a seminar on how Christian Ethics was taught in some of our Anglican high schools. During this we were set an ethical dilemma.
There is a train coming down a track. Ahead there is a junction, and you’re stood by the lever and can divert the train. If you do nothing, the train will plough into a crowd of rail workers that haven’t seen or heard it, if you divert the train it will run into a young child playing on the line . . . what do you do??
What a choice! A ‘simple choice’, yet unclear. Yet life’s choices, life itself isn’t at all like that – rather negotiating life is more like being stood at the control box of a million and one railway lines with fast trains moving here there and everywhere . . . if the beat of the wing of a hummingbird causes a hurricane over the Atlantic, what are the consequences of the many many tiny actions we take every day??
This I think is why we take refuge in reducing the world to simple moral codes, our own rules of life . . . to reduce our sense of responsibility. If only everyone was like me we think . . . Lord have mercy
The Pharisee, full of Pride, is blind to his need. The Tax-collector, the notorious sinner, knows it all too well. ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner’
As I have said on several occasions, Luke makes a beautiful tapestry of threads woven throughout his gospel, and now, as we come to the Cross, one in particular, Mercy, floods into view
Mercy, of which Mary Sang in the beginning “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,” It’s there too in the Song of Zechariah “He has shown mercy promise dot our forefather, and has remembered his holy covenant”; “by the tender Mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us” The Tender mercy of our God . . . isn’t that beautiful?
These songs look out towards the coming of God in Jesus, and His Mercy
We have the tax-collector, and the blind man who call to God for mercy – and then there is the Good Samaritan.
Jesus tells this tale in respect of the lawyers question, ‘who is my neighbour’. When Jesus has finished the tale, he asks the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour’ and the lawyer answered him ‘the one who showed him mercy’.
Showing mercy makes you a neighbour. Loving your neighbour as yourself – you and every person you encounter is in need of mercy everyday of your lives, we all are.
By showing mercy we share in Life Together. And there is mutual recognition “I need mercy, you need mercy – “Hey! We’re related!!””
We recognise our common human condition, we recognise ourselves in the other in this common need for mercy.
But the Samaritan is more than just someone who recognises the person in need as his own flesh and blood, in many ways he is a revelation of Jesus himself – for he takes responsibility for the man in the ditch. He shows him mercy.
He binds up his wounds, he takes him to the inn and promises to pay all that is needed for the man’s healing. And this is called ‘showing mercy’
We’re in a mess, we need someone to heal us, to show us mercy, to take responsibility for our condition, and we’re surrounded by others ‘under the same condemnation’ and we rightly for we have conspired with the world and its allure, and we’re in trouble . . . which is why we come finally in Luke’s gospel ‘to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”’
They know not what they do . . . as we say in our confession, ‘we have sinned in ignorance’ – we have no idea of the consequences of our actions . . . ‘I never thought that would happen!’ I never thought the girl would cry – I never thought my friend would leave . . . What’s going on/ Lord have mercy.
When they first found oil and started burning it in engines, no one thought, ‘this will lead to catastrophic over heating of the earth’ . . . Lord have mercy
We don’t see. Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yes, the time comes, that whoever kills you will think that he does God service. Those who crucified Jesus thought they were doing God’s work – they thought they could see . . .
Physicists will tell you, if you ask, 69% of the Universe is made up of dark matter, 27% of dark energy . . . 96% of everything you cannot see! And yet we are so free with our opinions and judgements and and and . . . Lord have mercy
We don’t know, we don’t see! Jesus says this – you think you see the sin of others, but you have a log in your eye! . . . We judge and condemn others – we do not see ourselves sin them – we don’t see ourselves in need of mercy like them. It is this stance that is the thief who like everyone else rails against Jesus.
They thought they could see, so everyone rails against Jesus. The leaders of the people, the soldiers, and one of the criminals crucified with him! – If you are the Christ, Save yourself. He saved others, he cannot save himself, save yourself and us. Even one who was in the same place as Jesus, could not see . . .
Save yourself!! That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? The survival instinct? . . . Judging others is our way of trying to get out of the ditch. ’I’m not responsible’.
Yet as we explored last week, Jesus told his disciples to prepare their hearts so as not to defend themselves against the accusations but to bear witness to God in the words he would give them . . . so Jesus does not Save himself – he does not defend himself. By the Spirit he bears witness to God. Father forgive them for they know not what they do . . . the Tender mercy of our God . . .
Showing mercy is not about saving yourself, it is about spending yourself, it is about spending your dignity and pride, and forgiving the unforgivable, for we see and recognise our common humanity . . . And it is thus that the other thief on the cross speaks the truth.’ ‘Don’t you see? We’re under the same condemnation, you and I and this man, and we rightly, we’re in a mess of our own making – but this man has done nothing amiss. He sees Jesus with mercy, and so becomes his neighbour ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’
We don’t identify with Jesus to signal our righteousness, we identify with Jesus because we are in a mess, we need mercy – and he then recognises us. He knows us in that moment. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me
Jesus does not judge but has mercy – he takes responsibility – he suffers the consequences of our sins committed in weakness or deliberate fault, but mainly in ignorance for we do not see . . . and like the Samaritan he pays in full what is needed for our healing.
He takes responsibility – he shows mercy to the one in distress – Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner – and so becomes a neighbour to the one in distress. Becomes Our neighbour.
We Often talk of the birth of Jesus as God coming to share our humanity – but the truth is, it is on the cross that Jesus takes on our humanity fully. He takes it on in its entirety – he takes it to the houses of healing – he shows us his mercy . . . ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’
Go and do likewise