Year of Mercy: Streams of Mercy

Perhaps the writer of the hymn ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ had Psalm 136 in mind, for one phrase in the hymn says, “streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise.”

Never-ending mercy could easily be the theme of Psalm 136 because the words “God’s mercy endures forever” are repeated twenty six times.  Moreover, the phrase has the word ‘forever’ in it–another way of testifying to the never-ending nature of God’s mercy.

Pope Francis’ writing makes it clear that we must never cease to show mercy.  Mercy must flow to everyone, everywhere, all the time.  The psalmist had the same idea by showing how mercy endures in a vast array of circumstances.

Never-ending streams of mercy declare that there is always hope.  We are not alone.  We are not abandoned.  God is with us.  The Church is supposed to be the tangible manifestation of that reality.  We are not permitted to direct the flow of mercy to some and deny it to others. 

That’s why a faith or a church not charactized by mercy is anathema. We are not keepers of a dam, turning off and on the flow of mercy as we like–rather we are conduits of mercy, so that wherever we are others may drink freely of the Water of Life.  “God’s mercy endures forever.”

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Year of Mercy: Recipients of Mercy

Pope Francis’ next reference to the psalms is a combination of 146:7-9 and 147:3-6.  These two passages answer the question, “To whom is mercy shown?”

A look at the Bible as-a-whole clearly reveals that the ultimate answer to the question is, “Everyone.”  God’s mercy is extended everywhere, to all, and in every age.  As John 3:16 puts it, God loves the world.

But within that larger reality, the Bible often narrows the view.  The two psalm texts are examples of that, putting the focus on selected people: the oppressed, the starving, prisoners, the blind, those who are bent low, immigrants, orphans, widows, the brokenhearted, and the poor.  Why the narrowing?

For one thing, so that generalities can be made specific.  It is not sufficient to say, “I love everyone.”  Too easily this can become truth without virtue–affirmation without application.  Mercy must always,be expressed to actual people, not just to “humanity.”

For another thing, the field of vision focuses on those who are often either overlooked or caricatured. The people named in the psalm texts are those who are often not in our customary frame of reference.  The Bible does not allow us to show mercy only to those who are like us or only to the folks we usually associate with. 

The call to be merciful includes the willingness to show it to those who are too easily bypassed.  The world takes care of its own.  We are called to care for those whom the world forgets, marginalizes and excludes.  We are called to see those whom the world fails to see and to hear those whom the world no longer listens to.

So, Pope Francis used passages like these two psalms to remind us, and to challenge us, to show mercy to all–to the whole world, whom God loves.  As John Wesley expressed it, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”  From such a vision mercy flows.

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Year of Mercy: God’s Comprehensive Mercy

Pope Francis’ first reference to the psalter is 103:3-4. Clearly, he understands that God’s mercy is comprehensive, extending into forgiveness, healing, deliverance, and honoring.  The psalmist proclaims a 360° involvement of God in our lives.

Life is completely different when we recognize that God is everywhere, involved in every aspect of our lives.  We don’t have to wait for Sunday.  We do not have to get in a religious frame of mind.  We ceratainly do not have “clean ourselves up” in order for God to deal with us.  God is here. God is now.

Religion is never farther from mercy than when it establishes human-made conditions which others must meet prior to the infusion of grace.  There is nothing we could do to make God love us less.  There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.  We are God’s beloved here and now!

Mercy is never deferred.  Mercy is never conditioned by any prior requirement.  Mercy us not limited to one aspect if life. Mercy is the comprehensive and current reality–the present and pervasive disposition of God toward everyone.

Mercy is the restoring balm, not our actions in relation to religious pre-requisites.  God always makes the first move, and it is the move of mercy.  God intends that it be our first move toward others as well.

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Year of Mercy: Psalms of Mercy

In her excellent book, ‘Finding Your Voice in the Psalms,’ Elizabeth Canham uses selected psalms to give voice to our life’s concerns.  Pope Francis did similarly in his writing, ‘The Face of Mercy.’  He cited key psalms to make various points along the way.

I turn now to a series of meditations about mercy using the seven psalms Pope Francis referenced. In his document, ‘The Face of Mercy.’  An additional recommended resource looks at six others (see note below).  I will write meditations about them all in the coming weeks.

Today, I want to write about the psalter as-a-whole, noting that the psalms are all about mercy.  The worship life of Israel was constantly in the atmosphere of mercy.  A look at the repetition of the phrase “steadfast love” (hesed) in the psalter is sufficient to show this.

Throughout the psalms we see God providing mercy in a variety of ways.  The whole idea of a “blessed life” is based in mercy.  Even God’s warnings emerge from God’s deeper desire to show mercy and align us with it.

The point is, those who allege that in the Old Testament God is about Law and we must wait for the New Testament to see the God of Love are simply wrong.  Mercy is the pervasive disposition of God’s heart, and it is God’s universal disposition.

In deciding to make mercy the hallmark of his papacy, Pope Francis has chosen the keynote theme in Scripture.  In referencing the theme in the psalms, he has showed us that mercy is “the air we breathe” as the Wind if the Spirit blows into our lives.

(Note: ‘The Psalms of Mercy’ published by Our Sunday Visitor is a supplemental resource to the Pope’s writing)

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Year of Mercy: Transition

With the completion of our look at Pope Francis’ document ‘The Face of Mercy,’ it is time to take a breath and reflect on the journey through The Year of Mercy thus far.

I hope you have read the Pope’s original document as you have followed my meditations based on it. I encourage you to use this week to go back through the Pope’s writing and embrace those parts of it which are most important, inspiring, and instructive for you and your faith journey as a disciple.

For my part, I will now turn to meditations on many of the Psalms and parables in Scripture that are the basis of the Pope’s document.  Between now and the beginning of Advent, these future “Year of Mercy” meditations will follow the flow of inspiration which the Bible itself provides.

See you back here next week as we continue our exploration of God’s mercy and what it means for us to be instruments of it.

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Update: Year #7

July 2016 marks the beginning of the seventh year for Oboedire.  I can hardly imagine that I have been writing here for six years–no doubt a sign that I am aging and along with that, the sense of time flying by.

As in past years, I am taking a summer break, which will include prayerful reflection regarding the future of Oboedire.  The “Year of Mercy” posts will continue each Wednesday because they are already written and pre-scheduled.  But through August, that will be about it.

Whether you are new to Oboedire, or you have been on the journey for a while, I thank you for your interest in this online ministry, and I ask fir your prayers as I consider what “Year Seven” might look like.  Honestly, I do not have anything particularly in mind.  We shall see.

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In-Sight: Being Instruments of Change

Peter’s experience on the rooftop in Joppa (Acts 10:9-23) illustrates that original meanings of the Law can change, and that we can be instruments through whom God can work to effect the change.  Two insights from Peter’s experience can assist us as we explore the possibility of being such today.

The first clue is God’s call to Peter to look at things in a new way.  Peter’s immediate “absolutely not!” response (10:14) shows how deeply he held to the original interpretation of the Law, even to the point of believing he would be unfaithful to God to consider another view.  In fact, it took God three tries before Peter relented!  But God was persistent in calling Peter to look at the passage differently, and thankfully, he did.

The second clue is the Spirit’s invitation, through the guests who arrived, for Peter to go to Caesarea and connect with people he had previously avoided and judged.  Peter did not even realize that his longstanding viewpoint put him inside a box which prevented him from seeing the larger work of God.  God called Peter to journey outside his accustomed crowd and observe what the Spirit was doing elsewhere.

With respect to the first clue, Peter discovered that a familiar passage could be re-interpreted to create a new Kingdom reality.  With respect to the second clue, he found that the people he thought were “unclean” were actually clean. It was the original interpretation that had gathered dust and needed cleansing.

Peter’s ability to be the instrument who affected this anointed breakthrough was contingent on two things: (1) his ongoing openness to the Holy Spirit regarding a new interpretation of an old Law, and (2) his willingness to go to Caesarea and meet real people who were as filled with the Holy Spirit as he was. Take out either of these two things in Peter’s life, and the inclusion of Gentiles (to say nothing of subsequent amendments described in Galatians 3:28) would either not have happened, or would have had to be accomplished through someone else.

These same dynamics are necessary if we are to make amendments in the Law today.  If we persist in the belief that the original meaning of the Law is the only possible and permanent meaning, and if we hold fast to our conviction that we have the “clean/unclean” thing perfectly figured out, we will miss the opportunity to be instruments in God’s hands to effect change.

But if we are willing to move beyond our initial “absolutely not!” response, and if we are willing to befriend people who are different from us, we can be instruments of change in our generation just as Peter was in his.  Like Peter, we will discover that “God is no excluder of persons” (Acts 10:28, 34-36).  And another expansion of the Kingdom of God and a richer understanding of the Church will have occurred.

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