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Holy hand-reaching

Pastoral Messages | February 16, 2017

As a church this winter, we read the book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. He is one of the founders of the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Alabama. This group of lawyers, interns, paralegals, and other justice workers advocate for equal treatment of all in the criminal justice system. This book is centered on one of their more famous cases, the wrongful sentencing of Walter McMillian. McMillian was sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. Stevenson faithfully recorded his journey with McMillian and what he learned working towards gaining McMillian’s freedom.

The title of the book is simple and profound – “Just Mercy.” This title captures how we are called by God to act towards all people, to show others mercy. This title came alive for me the night of the book discussion. I watched two women dine together, they are both church members, but I doubt they had ever really crossed paths before this evening. As one was telling her story, she began to cry. The other women reached out, gently took her hand, and held it while she continued to talk. I thought to myself, “There it is, there is mercy.” It was alive right before my very eyes.

Jesus came into the world to show us God’s mercy coming alive. However, it was confounding for most and offensive for many. Jesus showed us God’s heart towards the world, and God’s heart is concerned with mercy and love. The heart of God is not about retaliation and punishment. But it certainly took a lot of explaining on Jesus’ part to get this point across.

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus commands us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. He asks if you love only those who love you, what good is it? It’s a great question – what good is it to only love people who love us back? What good is it to only love people who think exactly like we do? What good is it to love only people who believe exactly like we do? To take it even further, what good is it to harbor a grudge against someone who wronged us? What good is it to lock away someone who isn’t guilty but fits the description? What good is it to punish and hate the people God commands us to love even if we think they deserve it?

The answer is that it is no good at all. It is dangerous for those around us, it is dangerous to our spirits, and it is dangerous to our relationship with God to practice hating. It is certainly a difficult task to learn to love our enemies, but it is not an impossible one. It is a hard thing to practice just mercy, but it is not unattainable. We can do it by leaning on God’s love, mercy and grace. We know what these things look like, because God has shown them to us.

That night when I saw a woman reach for the hand of another, I think she knew to do that because God has reached for her hand. By practicing love for enemies, by practicing mercy, by practicing holy hand-reaching, we get a closer to bringing God’s kingdom on earth. We pray every week, “your kingdom come, your will be done,” and we are called to help bring this about.

This week, look for ways to make mercy come alive. In doing so, the kingdom comes a little closer.

Amy Diller, pastor-in-residency

2 Comments on “Holy hand-reaching”

  • Taylor Chappell

    March 1, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    Well done Amy! I believe we all can have and give hands of mercy, and just like Carol mentioned before, we just need a reminder now and again sometimes.

  • Carol Seitz

    February 16, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing this simple, profound act of mercy. We are all capable of acts like this. Just need a reminder now and then.

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Isaiah 53:4-12

4Surely our griefs He Himself bore,

And our sorrows He carried;

Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten of God, and afflicted.

5But He was pierced through for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

And by His scourging we are healed.

6All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all

To fall on Him.

7He was oppressed and He was afflicted,

Yet He did not open His mouth;

Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,

And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,

So He did not open His mouth.

8By oppression and judgment He was taken away;

And as for His generation, who considered

That He was cut off out of the land of the living

For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

9His grave was assigned with wicked men,

Yet He was with a rich man in His death,

Because He had done no violence,

Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

10But the LORD was pleased

To crush Him, putting Him to grief;

If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,

He will see His offspring,

He will prolong His days,

And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

11As a result of the anguish of His soul,

He will see it and be satisfied;

By His knowledge the Righteous One,

My Servant, will justify the many,

As He will bear their iniquities.

12Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,

And He will divide the booty with the strong;

Because He poured out Himself to death,

And was numbered with the transgressors;

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,

And interceded for the transgressors.

Psalm 91:9-16

9For you have made the LORD, my refuge,

Even the Most High, your dwelling place.

10No evil will befall you,

Nor will any plague come near your tent.

11For He will give His angels charge concerning you,

To guard you in all your ways.

12They will bear you up in their hands,

That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

13You will tread upon the lion and cobra,

The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

14“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;

I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.

15“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

16“With a long life I will satisfy him

And let him see My salvation.”

Hebrews 5:1-10

The Perfect High Priest

1For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins;2he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness;3and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.4And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

5So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

“YOU ARE MY SON,

TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU”;

6just as He says also in another passage,

“YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER

ACCORDING TOTHE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”

7In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.8Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.9And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,10being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Mark 10:35-45

35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”36And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”37They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”39They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.40“But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John.42Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.43“But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;44and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.45“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Bartimaeus Receives His Sight