Mercy is a willingness to enter into the chaos of another.” This is a startling statement by Jesuit priest, Father James Keenan. He acknowledges the fragility and brokenness of the lives of people around us. And simply acknowledging this is to see the deep frailty of all human life, including our own, and the situation we all place ourselves in.
Mercy is the very heart, the very beginning of Christian ethics. This may sound strange the first time we hear this because many of us were taught that the heart of ethics is something closer to behaving ourselves. Behaving ourselves is important, but for Jesus it seems to come a bit further down in the discussion. The whole of the story and teaching of Jesus is a master class in the idea of mercy and its transforming power. Jesus’s most memorable stories [i.e. The Good Samaritan, St Matthew 25] are stories of the power of mercy. The reason Jesus feeds the 5,000 is out of mercy for a hungry crowd. His healing ministry is punctuated by compassion and mercy. And his deep frustration with the religious elite of his day circles around their failure to understand that mercy is at the very heart of God. Indeed, entering the chaos of human life is the very heart of the Incarnation, the presence of Jesus in the world. How is the story of Bethlehem/Christmas anything other than a story of God’s presence in the chaos of human existence? Jesus’s own betrayal and trials are nothing short of chaos. And the crucifixion? Oh my. If mercy is the willingness to enter the chaos of another, Jesus is the very embodiment of mercy toward each of us. That we sometimes struggle to see this is nothing other than our own delusion.
The ministry of Jesus’s own disciples and the work of the early church centered on extending Jesus’s own life and example of mercy into a broken and chaotic world. Those disciples and first members of the Christian church found ways to begin articulating what, exactly, mercy might look like. Thinking of what they learned from Jesus, what he did and what he said, they identified seven actions that best embodied mercy, seven actions that allowed them to enter like Jesus into the chaos of the people around them. These actions; 1. Feed the Hungry, 2. Visit the Sick, 3. Clothe the Naked, 4. Give Drink to the Thirsty, 5. Shelter the Homeless, 6. Visit the Prisoner, 7. Bury the Dead, came to take central place in the life of early Christians. And it is out of these actions that what we call Christian ethics will evolve.
This Lenten season we will try to remember Jesus’s own entrance into the chaos that is sometimes our lives by living into six of the traditional seven acts of mercy. Each week we have a small project related to the work Trinity does in our city and some of our partners in ministry connected to some of the most vulnerable people living among us. We will collect food and water for hungry and thirsty neighbors. We will make cards for Pastor Russell and Pastor Follis to take on visits to homebound members. We will collect clothing for Wellspring’s clothing shop. We will collect new underwear and socks to assist homeless youth and women in our city. And we will remember that imprisonment can take many forms by gathering personal care items for Project Me, who works with those struggling with many addictions.
One of the deepest experiences that comes from knowing and working with people who have fragile lives – occasionally disastrous lives – is that the distance between my life and disaster is far smaller than I like to imagine. I think I have control of my life; I think I’m well-ordered and in control. The truth is there is a lot more chaos that I like to admit. My life is terribly fragile, and I depend on the mercy of others in ways I rarely acknowledge. I need mercy more than I will ever admit. Each of our lives display the mercy of God in Jesus and the mercy of so many others that have been partners and participants in the journeys of our lives.
As part of your Lenten journey, I invite you to join us in some of the oldest actions of the church by participating in the acts of mercy. And, as always, consider inviting a friend to make the journey with you.
Peace to you on this Lenten journey. I pray it will help each of us see more clearly the mercy of God in our own lives.
Pastor Gary Erdos