Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall be shown Mercy.

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I’ve been quiet. I’ve been busy. I’ve been stretched. I’ve been focused. I have lingered on this beatitude for awhile. Mercy: I have yearned for it, received it, exercised it, celebrated it, and embraced the hope it brings. I have also, at times, stood with an aching sadness at the lack of it in the world in both small and large ways. Mercy was at the heart of my spiritual awakening and is the sustenance for my soul. And it is mercy both in its effort and absorption that keeps my house clean when I am tempted to throw it by the wayside and rage against the lies and cruelty and ignorance and ego and judgement and entitlement and fear. In desperate moments I remember Jesus in the garden sweating blood because his fear and anxiety was so deep yet was still willing to give his Godly heart for my flawed human one. My life transformed because he augmented my broken heart with his heart. And it was then that I became his fruit, a viable product of his extraordinary life and sacrifice, a means by which the power of mercy can live and stay palpable in our often sad and desperate world. When I allow his heart to be my heart, mercy is air, it is breath, it is life, it is everything.

Lydia’s Fruit

 

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A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.

After Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for freeing a girl of a demon, the jailer was converted when after fervent prayer an earthquake felled the walls of the jail, but they refused escape to protect the jailer. Overwhelmed, he asked what he needed to do to be saved, they told him of Jesus, witnessed and baptized his whole family and he bathed and addressed their wounds. After refusing to leave quietly, because they were falsely detained without trial as Roman citizens, they walked proudly out the front door and went directly back to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers and then left.

It took me a long while in my study and ministry to understand the power and gift of Lydia. Imagine the difficulty of traveling all these territories spreading the gospel. Foreign places full of strangers with nothing really to travel with. Those few lines in Acts bring it home. She offered them a safe haven, a generous hospitality that enabled them to face hardship, yet continue their ministry. I wrote a paper about Lydia in graduate school, using her simple, yet powerful gesture as an example of environmental leadership. What Paul and his entourage did was extremely difficult, and because of people like Lydia, they could stop, refuel, take a moment to regenerate to begin the journey anew.

I never underestimate the power of hospitality, especially in terms of leadership…because being a good leader is hard. But when welcomed in and nurtured in a safe haven, they can become their best selves, and that in and of itself can be the the greatest gift to the world, bringing out our best selves to build the Kingdom of God. Face it, the world can be a scary place and we as individuals and faith communities can be a powerful source of love and safety for those on their life’s difficult journey. Never underestimate the power of hospitality, even if it means just sitting next to someone who appears afraid, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or oppressed. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but compounded together these simple gestures can be beautifully transforming. Go ahead, be Lydia.

Would you me mine, Could you be mine, Won’t you be my neighbor

080When a scholar of the law asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him what the law said, to which the scholar responded: “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded that he had answered correctly and said “Do this and you will live.” The scholar then asked who his neighbor was, and Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. For those of you who don’t know the story…let me tell you some history first. The Samaritans were people of what had been the former Northern Kingdom that had been conquered by the Assyrians, resulting in a mixed race people comprised of both Jews and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh, as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. Because of a lack of strict adherence, and pagan ancestry they were despised by ordinary Jews.

So the story then goes as follows:

A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with instruction, ‘Take care of him, If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’

Which of these three, Jesus said, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? The scholar answered, ‘The on who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

This timeless story couldn’t be more prevalent in facing today’s volatile atmosphere. In America there is a movement, like the Jews with Samaritans, of defining standards that limit who fits into a narrow definition for what an American is. And it goes against the root of the message that Jesus was trying to convey. The funny thing, though, is that no one really fits this limited definition, its all an elaborate illusion. We are all of mixed heritage and history. But I still believe we all have more in common than we have differences. That should be the end of the story, but its not. So I ask the question that scholar asked…who, then, is my neighbor?

For me, I know I’m lucky. Growing up, I was in a neighborhood where the moms watched each other’s kids in a pinch and there were enough of us for two teams of whatever the game was of the moment. Our house may have felt too small for our large family, and while none of us were rich, with a pitcher of Kool-Aid, a bike, a ball or wading pool, who cared? We helped each other out when sickness came, or death, or just relaxed on a hot summer evening. We were a little village, and we felt safe and had each other’s backs. As an adult, I always made a point to meet my neighbors, because we were breathing the same air, and they or I may need help some day. Most importantly, life is so much better when you’re not isolated, or alone. I was always surrounded by people who were different from me, in ways that always expanded my universe. When mercy is offered, most often it is returned with mercy.

Loving your neighbor begins with you. You have to extend the hand first. That was my attitude when I landed in the latest, and greatest neighborhood of all. My neighborhood is the gold standard, as neighborhoods go, with grand functions we’ve entertained in the 21 years we’ve lived here. We’ve had chick parties, boccie ball and bowling and golf tournaments, pool parties, spooky paths, Christmas Caroling, Dance Camps, World War II simulations, Jelly stone camping excursions, bonfires, road trips and Oktoberfest romps. we’ve  grown and mourned together, read books together and laughed until we snorted, OK, until I snorted,  we celebrated life events together. Most importantly we all pray and celebrate the goodness that God offers us. We don’t all pray the same way or in the same building, but for Buck Ridge, where we start is the simple dictum Jesus taught us: “love your God with your heart, being, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  We extend mercy in so many fun and wonderful ways, and mercy is what is given in return. It is that simple platform that makes our neighborhood so wonderful, and uncomplicated and oh so easy.

The greatest truth? It isn’t how lucky we are, I already know that. I just want to point our that when you extend the hand of mercy, and treat another as your neighbor, all the fears that life brings, dissipate just a little bit. Isolation breeds fear, being a good neighbor breeds love. It isn’t contingent on anyone else, just you. Perhaps when we can master this practice in our own small neighborhoods and towns, it will leech into the larger picture, calm the fray and lead us to a time when all Americans will be seen as neighbors.