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The purpose of religion is to crack open the heart. The practice of religion is the regular practice of open-heartedness. Come gather in a community dedicated to open-heartedness. We all need a little mercy sometimes.
Reflection: “Mercy like Water” – Rev. Will Sparks
So, I am in my office one afternoon some years ago and I overhear the office admin person at Northwood talking to someone who has come in off the street. I only heard bits and pieces of the conversation but after a few minutes Shelli came in and said this person wanted a bit of my time.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen often here in Edgemont Village, but located as we were in North Surrey and with a large piece of property, we often connected with people living rough, people whose life had taken a turn for the worse and they needed help with housing or food or bus fare or something quite practical. We were never sure we offered people the help that they really needed but we hoped that somehow their life might feel a bit more abundant, a bit more whole then it had before we encountered them. This day didn’t go that way.
The guy came into my office looking quite lost, quite wounded by life, and to be honest, not completely stable. I listened to his story, a rough story of growing up in a broken family in a broken community and living a self-medicated life of drugs, alcohol, short stretches of prison time, and eventually a diagnosis of a mental illness. But this life was also punctuated by encounters with people who had seen through it all, into the soul that simply longed to be recognized, seen, and loved. And I longed to help him in some practical way, like I always tried to do, but in this case, that was not the help he needed or even asked for. He needed something deeper from me. He needed me to allow myself to let go of fixing his life and instead just be with him, show him that I could see him as a fellow human being, love him that way, nothing less, and nothing more. He simply needed to be listened to, given the time of day, shown mercy.
Mercy. It’s not a word we use a lot in our common language anymore. I heard it used on the radio the other day when the American women’s soccer team beat the team from Thailand playing for the first time ever in the world cup. The States beat them 13 nil and there was some talk of whether there needed to be some kind of mercy rule there. Mercy comes to mind when I think of growing up the youngest of four boys and recall with some element of PTSD the brother pinning me down for spit torture. Mercy Mercy Mercy! It is about the way we exercise power when there is an imbalance of power, and the choices we make as we get things done, and the human dignity we allow in these times.
There was power being exercised around Simon’s table that day when Jesus came to town. And you know it is tempting to take a run at Simon as if he has done something in this story that we would never do. But really, Simon has, for this moment anyway, simply lost track of mercy, and far be it from us to judge that.
I imagine Simon not as some stereotypical hypocrite, but as a man, much like many of us. He is seeking. He is bright and curious and interested in religious ideas. (Why else invite a travelling rabbi to dinner?) I imagine him sitting at the table with Jesus, his arms crossed as he leans away from his half finished dinner, inquiring eloquently about Jesus’ views on this or that intriguing spiritual question. I imagine him eager to engage Jesus in thoughtful conversation.
How pleasant, after all, to host this young rabbi of note who offers another interesting spiritual perspective in the wild diversity of first century Judaism. All good heady stuff, but detached from the real guts of life. Simon didn’t think he actually needed Jesus as Messiah or Savior, even healer. He was just interested in what he would say. Thus his hospitality, such as it was, left a little to desire, lacked the juicy energy that would make it feel real, genuine, human. He had forgotten that the soul’s hunger, his included, is not satisfied by the exchange of spiritual ideas, but rather by unexpected love, passion, and, yes, mercy. Unfortunately, Simon’s mistake is too often ours as well. The world and even our churches are filled with more than a few Simon’s, interested and interesting spiritual seekers for Jesus is mostly, well, interesting.
The woman, on the other hand, offers Jesus a hospitality that is a genuine, gutsy outpouring of her life’s energy. There is no theological dinner talk, only her act of utter, off-putting, self-yielding devotion. She needs Jesus not to round out her personal spirituality, but she needs him to witness her humanity. Her response to Jesus comes from deep within her soul where her deep need for mercy, divine mercy resides.
Mercy is the humble acknowledgement that we are all human, all beautiful and broken in some way. Simon, Jesus, the un-named woman, all of us. We don’t always feel that humility. Our life circumstances can isolate us from the real gritty, sometimes painful awareness of our humanity. Simon has his religion, his social status, education, and even some of his lovely personal attributes, but he seems to be unaware of his humble humanness that could lead him to offer hospitality to Jesus. This un-named woman has a life we do not know but clearly what she presents in this encounter is her humility, her deep knowledge of her own very human need for grace and mercy, and out of that deep knowledge come tears and pain and a deep desire to be connected with Jesus and find healing.
You know, when I think back on key moments in my life that have been most significant in shaping who I am as a person, they are not the moments of great achievement or even moments the mountaintop spiritual experiences that have shaped my thinking and my worldview. No, the things that really make me who I am are moments when, out of a deep connection with their humanity, someone has offered me mercy, or called forth mercy from me. I am thinking of moments when, as a child struggling in school, someone looked past my learning disability to the genuine little human being within. I am thinking of moments when I looked around and could see only the shattered shards of a broken marriage and was greeted by someone who could see past their own discomfort and inclination to judge and allowed themselves to share the human struggle because they were close enough to their own human struggle and their own human pain. That is divine mercy, and it is there in Simon if he would just let it be, and in you and me if we allow ourselves to be in touch with our humanity.
Today, tomorrow, sometime soon, there will come a time when someone crosses your path in need of mercy. In that moment, may you be given the grace to remember that there was a time when someone changed our diaper, and when you couldn’t feed yourself, and the many other times when you simply needed someone else to be human to you. May divine mercy rise up in you and show itself in all its beauty and grace. That is what we are here for.
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