Sunday, July 17, 2022

I Trust in the Mercy of God Forever and Ever

 Sermon preached at St. Thomas' Church, Bath, NY on July 17, 2022, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost:  Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28.

You can listen to this sermon here.

          “Amos, what do you see?”

           Near the end of the book of the prophet Amos, the prophet receives four visions.  Two of them begin with this direct question:  “Amos, what do you see?”  What the prophet sees in both cases is something very simple, very ordinary.  Last week’s vision was of a “plumb line,” a tool used in building.  This week’s is “a basket of summer fruit.”

           Having seen these ordinary things, God asks Amos to see more deeply.  The plumb line shows an Israel that is so out of balance that it is headed for sure disaster.  The basket of summer fruit is fruit that is ripe but soon will begin to decay, and the decay in Israel is severe.  The decay is the trampling of the needy, the systematic ruining of the poor.

           This is the state of the affairs that God sees and that God calls Amos to see and then proclaim.  Amos must proclaim what God sees because the people cannot see it. They refuse to see it.  They see their own prosperity. They feel satisfied that they have gotten what they earned. But this satisfaction has made them blind.  They do not see the poor being trampled upon.

           What do you see? That is the question God has for the people.  And more to the point, What do you trust?  In what is your security? Is your trust in your prosperity? Is your trust in your relative comfort in living?

           The psalmist has an alternative in Psalm 52:

 I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.

           Much of what passes for Christianity in this country—and around the world—has trouble with this simple belief:  I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.

           We trust in many things.  We trust in ourselves We trust in our own self-sufficiency.  We trust in whatever gives us a sense of security. We trust in our own capacity to fight back when threatened.  If we trust in God, it is in God’s desire to give us the good life. We trust in the favor of God we feel when we are prospering.  Ultimately, we trust more in God’s judgment than God’s mercy.

           It is certainly how many Christians act:  I trust in the judgment of God forever and ever.

           But the psalmist says, “I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.”

           What does it mean to trust in the mercy of God?  I think we associate the word “mercy” with forgiveness, and that is certainly an aspect of its meaning.  But it is more than that.  The Hebrew word in Psalm 52 is esed, which is often translated as lovingkindness or steadfastness or steadfast love.  It is a relational word; it always assumes a reciprocity.

           So to trust in the mercy of God is to trust in relationship with God, and we must not forget the end of the sentence, “forever and ever.”  The mercy of God can be trusted because it is not just a matter of present fact. It is a promise, a steadfast promise.  It is what we mean when we say at a Baptism that “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

           Because it is a relational word, however, it is not just about God’s promise to us.  It is about our promise to God and to the world God has made.  The greatest sign that I do in fact trust in the mercy of God is when I show mercy to others.

           So through the prophet Amos God is announcing to Israel that in their treatment of the poor, their disregard for the well-being of all God’s children, they have violated God’s trust.  They are not showing mercy to those in greatest need.

           In biblical terms, greed is often what gets in the way of mercy.  Our sense of “my stuff that I earned” can block compassion and the generosity toward those among us who struggle.

 I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

           This trust is about our hope.  This is because, as I said, the mercy of God is not only a present reality but a promised future.  Hope is not the same thing as optimism.  It is easy to confuse the two, but optimism requires a fairly comfortable existence to begin with.  It tends to fade when life becomes a struggle.

           Hope, on the other hand, can be carried through the struggle of life.  I recently came across this quote from biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann.  He says the whole biblical story can be summarized as “the costly reality of human hurt and the promised alternative of evangelical hope.”

           The Bible requires of us our honesty about life and its struggles.  “Human hurt” is something that comes to all of us, and sometimes (like in Amos’ day) it comes at our own hands.  We get hurt and we hurt others. And the primary way we hurt others is not by some egregious deliberate act against another.  The primary we hurt others is by our indifference to their suffering.

           In the struggle of life, the Bible tells us, we can hold onto the promise of God, the good news of hope.  This capacity to hold on is crucial to the passage from Colossians this morning.

           Paul says to the Colossians, you have to hold on—be steadfast—in the faith you have been given.  And what does that look like?  He says it is “not shifting from the hope that is the promise of the Gospel.”  Now when he speaks of hope he’s not just talking about the promise of eternal life. He’s talking about being reconciled to God and one another in this life.

           Our hope is, Paul says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  Christ in you now.  Christ in you now and Christ’s own for ever and ever.

 I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

           I find this to be a very helpful mantra.

 I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

           I find at times it is all that I can pray.  But it is a gift to hang onto when my hope is challenged. It is also a gift when my compassion is challenged.  It is a reminder of God’s promise and a reminder of my responsibility. It is a reminder of how I can participate in making God’s promise a reality in my own life and in that of others.

           I commend it to you as a touchstone for your faith, a reminder to love as you are loved, and to hope in spite of everything.

 I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

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