17th Sunday after Pentecost“Living Simply to Simply Live : Full of Mercy”
 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
We continue our series today, “Living Simply to Simply Live.” Our Scripture for the series from Micah 6.8 gives us 3 requirements that God expects from people who are separated from Him because of their sin. Acting justly is the first step, treating others with the same character and fairness that is right and acceptable in the eyes of God. During Micah’s ministry, the people of Israel were living unjustly toward their own people, treating them as their own enemies had. God does not tolerate injustice in the lives of the community that He is building. The success of the community of God depends upon that community living out God’s expectations in faithfulness. This is not possible if we see justice apart from God’s definition.
Today, we look at the 2nd requirement, which is to love mercy. Now, some of your Bibles may say mercy and others may say kindness. If you are using a more contemporary version, it may actually spell it out even better. The Message renders it “be compassionate and loyal in your love,” and the Contemporary English Bible says, “embrace faithful love.” I really like what the Good News Translation says, “to show constant love.” And that actually captures it best.
The reason for pointing out the different translations is because it’s actually extremely difficult to translate the Hebrew word for mercy using just one single, simple English term. The Hebrew word for mercy or kindness here is hesed (keh-sethd), which at best in English means “steadfast love.” It’s used many times in the Bible, especially in reference to the kind of love God shows. It’s similar to the Greek word agape which means “selfless love.” Any Emmaus people out there should know that word well.
The word actually has a significant meaning for me and my own faith journey. When I attended Young Harris College, the religious life house was called The Hesed House (meaning The House of Steadfast Love). Rev. Fred Whitley was the campus minister then and he held a special place in my heart. He had been my grandparents’ pastor, he baptized my dad, and he was now my spiritual caregiver during a very confusing time in my life. He reminded us often of the meaning of the house’s name and encouraged us to spend time there. We wondered why at first because all it looked like was a rundown old house that they reluctantly gave to the religious life department.
In the back of the house was a small prayer room. Someone had donated a stained glass window with an angel on it. There was a kneeling rail in front of the window, with an open Bible and a notebook for people to write their down their prayers or sign their name that they had been there. That small room became an unbelievable place of loyal–love for me because God met me there each and every time I took the time to pray or sit still. After spending a good bit of time there I felt as if I had grown close—spiritually—to the people who signed in or to those who were brave enough to pour out their hearts and prayers in that notebook. Even the angel in the widow looked down on us as if to say, “He will NEVER leave you.” The eyes of that messenger said it all.
My time at Young Harris was good and bad, for a whole host of reasons, but the main reason is because I really screwed up while I was there. My grades were terrible, I hardly cared, my relationships were self-serving, and I led a double-life that ate away at both my calling and my faith. But then there was The Hesed House; that pesky brick and mortar home–turned–holy–place that called me back again and again and again. I can’t tell you how many times I knelt down in that prayer room, asking God to forgive me for my decisions, my doubts, and my disobedience. But every time…EVERY TIME, God was there ready to receive and ready to give. HOW?! How does one have THAT MUCH MERCY on someone who repeats their sins over and over again?!
It’s because God is full of mercy, of kindness, of steadfast love. A famous Scripture known to many is 1 John 4.8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Because God is ALL that it means to love, then God is the fullness of love, the embodiment of love. To know God is to know mercy, kindness, steadfast love. To know God is to know forgiveness, to know redemption, to know transformation. And it’s that last one that is so important to me and I hope to the rest of us.
What I mean is that God was merciful to me, through all the sin and rebellion, through the awful things I had done that were contrary to my faith and offensive to Him, He loved me. But God loved me enough to transform me, to reform me. He drove out the sin in my life and taught me a better way, a higher way, a godly way. Through the mercy of God, I was led away from my sin rather than left to stay in it. This redefined mercy for me as I grew in my faith and my calling. For what is more merciful? To tell me He loves me and leave me in my sin or to To tell me He loves me and SAVE me from my sin?! It was through the great mercy of God that I left that life, those habits, even those ways of thinking and took on something holy.
For the people of Micah’s day, living into the expectations of God and loving mercy meant that they would live faithfully with God and with each other. But doesn’t that sound familiar, like other verses in our Scriptures, something like, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” This comes from Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22.
Loving mercy and kindness and having steadfast love is the most complete way of living faithfully. It is an undying love, a selfless love, that puts the good of the other far above the good of the giver. Does it pain God when we sin? YES! Does it delight God to receive and restore us? YES! There is hardly a greater joy than the joy of restoration. Look to the example of the father from the parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 10. The father was overjoyed to receive his son. Do you think He approved of his son’s behavior and choices? Of course not, but that doesn’t stop holy love from receiving the lost and bringing a change of heart and life.
There is a chance for us to live simply here so that we can simply live. Should we take the leap of faith to love people with mercy and kindness, in a steadfast and loyal way, we may see the transformation of the most horrible things our society faces. God expected the people of Israel to listen to Micah and to begin loving mercy. The expectation has not changed. We are not to live in judgment of others, but we are to live in loving mercy, not abandoning to them to their sin but rather offering them salvation from it! We can rescue those whose souls are dying and show them a new way, a living way, a way of mercy.
How will you love mercy today? How will you love kindness this week? To whom will you be steadfast in your love, loving them back to the God who waits for them? There’s your charge today. Go and be full of mercy.