Rev. Shawn Fisher is the Designated Term Pastor at First Congregational Church in Bloomfield.
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Reflection: Mercy in the Middle
We have a Mercy problem today. For me, one of the recent examples that hit me hard was the story of the teenager who was shot multiple times from behind by a store manager for shoplifting a can of beer. The store manager never called the police. The boy bled out in a backyard somewhere.
That’s bad enough. What’s worse to me are the responses I saw and heard from a disturbing number of people. For example, “Well, if he hadn’t stolen the beer, he’d be alive.”
The lack of empathy, the lack of caring for living, breathing, feeling, fellow human beings is sweeping and it is stunning. We have a Mercy problem in America today.
Some people don’t think Mercy is important. Others feel it is inconsistent with the idea of justice. Many think doing it is too hard. For others, it’s a matter of definition. A lot of people have a really bad understanding of Mercy, and that comes from a LONG way back in history.
Greek and Roman culture highly influenced people in and around ancient Israel during the time of Jesus’ life. Greek philosophers didn’t see Mercy as a virtue. Some even considered it evil. Seriously. This was the thinking, “Suffering is evil. Mercy leads to empathy, which leads to sharing the feelings of suffering of another person. Hence, since Mercy causes suffering, it must be evil.” (Beware the over use of logic.)
Roman culture valued the idea of mercy, but a very different kind. They equated it with charity. However, it was only valued if it would give a return on investment - if it would ultimately help the giver, who was in the higher place in society. There was always a power dynamic involved.
“But, that was a long time ago.” “We’ve evolved!” “What does that have to do with us today?” Well, the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines mercy as, “Mercy is compassion or forbearance shown, especially to an offender or one Subject to One’s Power (Synonym: “Charity”). This still has power differentials at its core. People receiving offers of charity often feel that power differential, and a sense of condescension from those “giving” the charity. It’s why a surprising number of people refuse charity.
Jesus knew this, and had a very different view of what Mercy was about. In my opinion, it’s why Jesus put Mercy right in the middle of the Beatitudes, those profound “If – Then” statements from one the most important writings in the New Testament. I know a lot of commentaries say there are eight beatitudes. I don’t buy it. I see nine clear as day. And, I see Mercy right in the middle. I see the build-up of the first four leading to it. I see the actions and implications of Mercy-in-Action following it.
Jesus put Mercy in the middle of His message. Jesus put Mercy in the middle of His life. Jesus put Mercy in the middle of His guidance to us. Jesus put Mercy in the middle to redefine it on God’s terms. Jesus put Mercy in the middle because of how important it is for each of us and for the world - even if it’s hard.
Mercy matters. That’s why Jesus put Mercy in the middle of it all. And, yes, doing Mercy is hard. It is demanding. But, if we put Mercy in the middle, Jesus promises us something. We will be building the Kingdom and we will be able to see it building – here, now. Just like we pray each week, “Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.”
Let’s make that happen.
God of Grace and God of Mercy, please be with us as we strive to put Your version of Mercy into action in our world today. It is a challenge. We need You with us to make it happen. We need Your strength. We need Your example. We need Your inspiration. Please be with us, each as we need it, so that we are reminded of the difference between Your Mercy and the world’s co-opted version of it. Help us put Your Mercy in the middle of our hearts, and to use it to build Your Kingdom, now, here, on earth, as it is in heaven.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving or suffering in the Bahamas and the east coast after the effects of Hurricane Dorian
- For those grieving for the 34 divers who died in a fire on boat a vessel during a recreational diving tour over Labor Day weekend
- For Rev. Ginny McDaniel, retired pastor from Granby, and her husband Doug Williams. Ginny was recently diagnosed with cancer, and Doug is battling health issues as well
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For youth voices who stand up for justice
- For the utility, emergency, and health care workers who respond to weather disasters like Hurricane Dorian
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
Wilton Congregational Church, UCC
Winchester Center Congregational Church, UCC
First Church in Windsor, UCC
First Church of Winsted, UCC
Wolcott Congregational Church
This Week in History:
September 11, 2001 (18 years ago) Terrorists attacked the World Trade center in New York City, flying 2 planes into the twin towers nearly 20 minutes apart. Shortly after, another plane flew into the west side of the Pentagon building in Washington D.C. The New York attack led to the collapse of the building and the deaths of nearly 3000 people with more than 10,000 injuries. In addition to those families effected by the tragedy, many first responders now suffer physical and mental health problems associated with their efforts to help those in need.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
The Rev. Shawn Fisher is Senior Pastor at First Congregational Church of Bloomfield, CT.