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Blessed: The Be Attitudes – Blessed be the merciful

Date: 12/09/2021/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy 

 This week we reach into the 2nd half of the 8 Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-12 – the 5th beatitude – blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

I hope that this sermon arc has been illuminating for you as we reflect on the Beatitudes. 

Kyn shared the Beatitudes with the chatgroups the Beatitudes from the First Peoples Version: the Indigenous translation of the New Testament 

Creator’s blessing rests on the poor, the ones with broken spirits. The good road from above is theirs to walk. 

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who walk a trail of tears, for he will wipe the tears from their eyes and comfort them. 

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who walk softly and in a humble manner. The earth, land, and sky will welcome them and always be their home. 

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who hunger and thirst for wrongs to be made right again. They will eat and drink until they are full. 

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are merciful and kind to others. Their kindness will find its way back to them – full circle. 

Creator’s blessing rests on the pure of heart. They are the ones who will see the Great Spirit. 

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who make peace. It will be said of them, “They are children of the Great Spirit!” 

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are hunted down and mistreated for doing what is right, for they are walking the good road from above. 

It’s a fresh perspective, and brings out the nuances of the Beatitudes, and offer us a glimpse of how the Indigenous peoples translate Jesus’ words into their context. 

When Pauline kicked off these series, she shared “What is this person saying? It sounds like Jesus is turning the values of the world upside down.   

Bless-ed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Bless-ed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. That just doesn’t make sense. It’s all…upside down. That isn’t how the world is. To be poor in spirit, merciful and meek will get you nowhere in a culture grounded in competition and fear. But I don’t think Jesus is talking about how the world is. Jesus is talking about how the world is meant to be, and what God is really all about.”  

*This is not just a set of blessings – but Jesus showing us how the kin-dom of God looks like. 

Yet, today’s verse – Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy sounds more like how the world operates – in terms of transactions. You scratch my back I scratch yours. 

First – I want to hear from you what you understand as mercy. 

<M> A word or phrase for mercy 

*I think kindness and compassion are the two words that come to mind when I think about mercy. And kindness and compassion are what we do out of love, generosity, concern for others, without the expectation of getting anything in return. Then there is also forgiveness. I will come back to forgiveness later – I want to first focus on kindness and compassion. 

<M> Other than God and Jesus – who in the Bible comes to mind when we think about being merciful? 

The one that comes to mind for me, is the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable – the one Jesus used as an example of who is loving their neigbour as themselves. 

I often get inspiration while preparing for sermons. I will come across articles, posts, sharings that resonate with what I was going to preach about. I like to think God is prompting me. 

This time, not surprisingly, as I was preparing for this sermon, I came across Pastor Hill Carmichael’s post on the parable of the Good Samaritan. I shared it on Facebook if you want to read his full post. I am going to just share key points from it. 

We have heard that parable many times. It is so familiar, and I suspect we have included it in our sermons more than twice this year. But even for me – Pastor Carmichael’s post was illuminating. 

Pastor Carmichael’s shared that he was distracted in class when his seminary professor started talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan – he “took a little mental break in class.” But when his professor said: 

“This is not a story about being nice. This is a story about the transformation of the world” he sat up and started to pay attention again. 

Jesus is responding to a question when he told this parable. And which question was Jesus responding to? “Who is my neighbour?” 

Jesus responded by sharing that there are three types of people along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. 

The first type are the robbers, whose ethic suggests that “what is yours is mine at whatever cost.” And the robbers will take whatever they need through violence, coercion and whatever means necessary. These are the people who will leave us physically, mentally and emotionally beaten and bruised along life’s road with nothing left but our shallow breath. 

The second type of person to walk along the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho is represented by the priest and the Levite, whose ethic suggests that “what is mine is mine and I must protect it even if it means you get hurt in the process”. They aren’t bad people. Both the priest and the Levite are deeply respected in their communities. They very likely follow all the societal rules and norms. They also show a great deal of love to those within their immediate communities, but because of what crossing the road to help might cost them, they put their head down and go about their business. So, without even recognizing it, they do more harm than good. Their focus is inward toward their needs and the needs of those who are most like them. It’s an ethic that leads the good and decent priest and Levite toward a life of valuing their reputations instead of relationships. And it often results with them choosing their own individual rights over the health and well-being of their neighbours.” 

Like Pastor Carmichael, this is the category I would say I fall into most of the time. Even when you see me speaking up, engaging in social activism, I do it so after calculating what it would and could cost me. You may know of the times I did speak up, but you don’t know the times I chose not to, because the cost is too much, and there is just too much to lose, there is too much to risk. I agree with Pastor Carmichael – “And if we’re all being honest, I’d say it’s the category that most of us fall into more than we care to admit.” 

Then there is the Samaritan, whose ethic is love. And along one of the most dangerous roads in all of history seems to live by a code that says, “what is mine is yours…if you have need of it”.  

Blessed are the merciful…. 

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are merciful and kind to others… 

<m> Which of these group do you think you fall into? 

The merciful are those whose ethic is love.  

Pastor Carmichael wrote “Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on this text often and once said that the real difference between the priest and the Levite from the Samaritan is the question that each must have asked. The priest and the Levite likely asked, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”. The Samaritan likely asked a very different question – “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”” 

In the world we live in, we have been taught self-preservation – we will help as long as it doesn’t cost us too much, as long as it doesn’t put us as risk, as long as it doesn’t put our reputation at stake, as long as we have a safety net.  

How many of us would light candles in a vigil outside Changi prison, praying for a person who would be hanged? 

How many of us would speak up for the migrant workers when they are discriminated against? Dr Lai Ah-Eng recently shared about her experience delivering food to a new dormitory complex that looked more like a prison than a dormitory. The welfare of these workers – their mental health, their physical health – have suffered. If we think we are stuck, inconvenienced, affected by the various policies put in place because of Covid, think about their situation. 

But we have always behaved that way. Self-preservation is placed above everything else.  

When we unpack all of this, it is based on an ethic of fear. It is the fear of scarcity, fear of losing everything, fear of not having enough. 

Remember when God provided the Israelites manna from heaven? Some of them still hoarded the manna, afraid that there will be not enough, despite being told to collect just enough.   

Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” 

<M> If we are tested today, do you think we will follow God’s instructions? 

Exodus 16:17-20 

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. 

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” 

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them. 

How many of us are like the Israelites, and would not follow instructions? How many of us hoard because we lacked faith?  

In God’s kin-dom, it is the ethic of love that prevails. In this kin-dom, our faith is in God, and we no longer cling to the things that give us a false sense of safety security because we are afraid.  

Pastor Carmichael puts it this way: 

“My safety is yours…if you have need of it. 

My security is yours…if you have need of it. 

My resources are yours…if you have need of them. 

My health is tied to your health. 

My well-being is tied to your well-being.” 

Imagine a world where people no longer hoard – we don’t have everyone trying to be millionaires and billionaires – but a world where we share what we have with each other. o 

A world where we put on masks – not to protect ourselves – but to protect those around us. A world where we put the consideration of the well-being of the least among us above our own needs. 

What if we can trust that if we fall sick, there will be someone who will take care of us? What if we know that if we have some need, it would be met?  

What if we have faith that when we are hungry, and we will be fed, thirsty, and someone will give us drink, when we are strangers, someone will welcome us, when we are naked, someone will clothe us, when we are in prison, and someone will visit us? 

That would be “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” That is what I believe “Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are merciful and kind to others. Their kindness will find its way back to them – full circle.” 

We no longer live by an ethic of fear, but by an ethic of love. That’s the kin-dom of God. 

That’s what the early Christians did – Acts 2:44-45 

All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 

But through time, we lost this. Human greed, deceit, fear, corrupted all this. We no longer trust each other. We start to hoard all over again, prioritising ourselves. 

Carmichael –  

“So, we have some choices to make. We can choose to make our decisions with an ethic of fear. And for a time, choices based on fear have a way of making us feel safe, but that is fleeting at best. 

The other choice is to cross the road to help our neighbour. When we cross to the other side, we’ll get a glimpse of something Jesus talked an awful lot about. We’ll see what transformation looks like. We’ll finally understand who we are called to be. And best of all, we’ll finally encounter the Kingdom we’ve been longing for.” 

Yes, there will be some who may take advantage of us. There will be heartbreaks. But that shouldn’t stop us from being merciful. Of course there are nuances – our help should not be enabling – but we must not use that as an excuse not to help, but be intentional and discerning in how we help. 

There is another meaning to mercy – and that’s forgiveness.  

And like kindness, not all who receive forgiveness will do that for others. When I went back to explore Jesus parable again, something struck me.  

The parable of the unforgiving servant is Jesus’ reply to Peter’s question -, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” 

The reality is there will be someone who had been forgiven, but does not forgive; someone who has experienced mercy but does not show mercy. 

That doesn’t mean we stop. Jesus tells Peter, and us, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.” 

The hope is that one day that person will turn around and change. That every person turn around and change and align themselves with the ethic of love that is the Kin-dom of God. 

— Matthew 18:21-35 

God has first shown mercy upon us – and we respond by showing mercy upon others. 

God has provided for us, and we learn to trust in God – and then we share what we have with others. 

There are 2 significant experiences I had in this 10 years of serving FCC that I am still struggling with. In this two situations, I have tried to be merciful and help – and these 2 times, I was burned as this 2 people betrayed my trust despite the time and energy I poured into helping them get out of their circumstances. I even paid for the fine for one of them. 

I am learning not to allow these 2 experiences colour my interactions with other people who need my help. I am still learning to forgive, and learning to be merciful, learning to be open hearted. 

Last week, Pauline highlighted the significant transition from the first 4 Beatitudes to the next 4.  

“ There is a movement from emptiness and poverty to fullness and abundance. In other words, after pronouncing a blessing upon those who recognize their emptiness, those who mourn and those who are meek, Jesus now makes a transition from emptiness to fullness by saying that their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.  

*When we look at the next three Beatitudes, we see that after hunger and satisfaction in verse 6 comes, “Blessed are the merciful” (in verse 7). Now the blessed person is full and overflowing in mercy.” 

We are already blessed. We already have enough. And if we have any lack, God will provide. Dare we trust that? Dare we have faith in that? 

When we have been shown mercy, will we show others mercy? 

<reflection> 

The glory of God isn’t seen in the world’s billionaires living in mansions that are more like castles, living like lords and kings, or billionaires flying into space, but the glory of God is seen when the least among us are taken care of, afforded dignity – and shown mercy. 

Because it is in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving the stranger into our homes, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick, visiting those in prison that we demonstrate and live out our love for Christ. 

“Whenever you did this for the least among you you have done for me, whenever you refused to help the least among you, you have refused to help me.” 

We are blessed – and in Archbishop Elias Chacour’s interpretation of Jesus’ words in Aramiac 

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move!” 

What is required of you, but to Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly your God.” Micah 6:8 

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move!” 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.