Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost August 26-27, 2023
“How Far Will Mercy Take You?” Romans 11:33-12:8
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Jesus said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) You know where that phrase came from, right? It is from the episode in the Bible of the woman who was caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. And she was dragged in shame in front of a crowd of men who ask Jesus what should be done to her. The penalty that they suggested was to throw stones at her until she was dead. (Though, amazingly, the man that was in bed with her wasn’t brought out to bear his shame.)
The Law said that stoning to death was the proper action. It was the way to punish the sinner and deter the next person who was going to let lust take over their soul. But Jesus kept quiet for a while, even writing something with His finger in the dirt and then He spoke His words, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” And you know what happened? They all left, everyone of them, the oldest ones first, and when they were all gone and all you had was Jesus and the woman in that arena, the conversation went like this: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir”, she said. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)
What did Jesus show her? Mercy. He had pity. He had compassion. He offered grace. “Neither do I condemn you” are His kind words. Jesus had mercy on her.
You know that I pay way more attention to the Colorado Rockies than I should. This has been a tough year and they are in another tough patch. They have last place safe and secure. What do the Rockies need? Pitching? Hitting? They need mercy. Just let the season be over.
What do we need in life? God’s mercy. Last Sunday was one of those highlight Sundays at Ascension. We had nineteen children from “His Little Feet” with us. All the kids are from India and Uganda. Most of those kids have lost one or both of their parents to disease or poverty or violence. Some of them are orphans. For 10 months they live in Windsor and get to travel to churches, like ours, and sing and move. And, boy, did they move.
I heard that a few of you cried when you saw them and heard them. One song that just brought me to tears was the song, “The Goodness of God”. Christa Hahn, Mike’s wife, one of the founders of this ministry, has an amazing voice. In this song she sits in the middle of all the kids and sings, “All my life you have been faithful. All my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, oh I will sing of the goodness of God.” It goes on, “You have led me through the fire in the darkest night. You are close like no other. I’ve known you as Father, I’ve known you as friend. I have lived in the goodness of God.”
It was beautiful listening to her voice. But then after we watched a little video, and the lights came back up, there was a new singer. Her voice wasn’t as strong as Christa, and it didn’t hit the high notes like Christa, but as she sang it moved me to tears. Little Dini, one of the children from India sang, “All my life You have been faithful. All my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, oh I will sing of the goodness of God.”
How far will God’s mercy take you? It will forgive all your sins. All of them. Jesus died for all sins. How far will God’s mercy take you? It will confirm in your soul that God is always faithful to you.
Do you know where God’s mercy will take you? It will take you to an amazement of who God is and what God has done. How can God be so good? How can Jesus love you so? Why would He claim you in your baptism? Why would He desire you to receive the body and blood of Jesus to bring full life to your soul? Why would He allow you to be certain that you are going to spend your eternity in heaven? His mercy fills you with Jesus and His gifts.
In those opening words of our reading Paul is amazed at the ways of God. We should be too!! “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
Maybe we should answer that question about “How far will mercy take you?”, with another question. We are perplexed that God would treat us so well. We are inquisitive that He would be so generous and compassionate. Why is God so, so good? Why is He so, so good to me and you? These words are God’s words, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
How far will God’s mercy take you? Paul says that it will change how you live life. It will change the priorities you will have. Listen to how he puts it, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1)
What an oxymoron! Living sacrifice. An oxymoron is when two words are put together, and they contradict each other. Jumbo shrimp. Pretty ugly. Working vacation. Military intelligence. Living sacrifice. As the Bible says, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (II Corinthians 5:15)
First, mercy is a free gift from God. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, cried out for one thing when Jesus was passing by, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” (Mark 10:47) Secondly, mercy is beyond our understanding. We are the unworthy recipients. Yet, God has plans, good ones, to give us the mercy that we need. And, finally, mercy will compel us to be people living with a godly and holy purpose. Our bodies aren’t ours. Our minds aren’t ours. Our time and possessions aren’t ours. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” In Romans 14 Paul would say, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or we die, we belong to the Lord.” (Verse 8) And elsewhere, “You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.” (I Corinthians 6:20)
Mercy will take you into the lives of other people. Sometimes people lose their purpose in life. Life changes. Situations change. Health has changed. And some people lose their purpose in life. And, then, some have a very self-centered purpose. “I just want to be happy.” Some don’t even see the needs of others. That is a shallow life. That kind of life doesn’t see a greater purpose. You give your life as a living sacrifice to do the will of God in the life that He has given you. Your sacrifice is shown in how you live among other people.
In this reading Paul tells us where mercy will take us, “We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is in serving, let him serve; if it is in teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8)
How far will mercy take you? It will take you to others. It will take you to God’s will for your life. It will take you to Jesus. And one day, it will take you to heaven.
And today God’s mercy will lead you to say, “All my life You have been faithful. All my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, oh I will sing of the goodness of God.” Amen!!