A Musing about Mercy 2/15/2023
I mentioned in church on Sunday that I had written nearly two sermons in one and since the sermon was on mercy, I had two make some cuts to get everyone out of church before the Super Bowl!
With that said one of the stories that I removed fits really well with our February Midweek Musing theme of influential African Americans in the life of the Christian faith.
Most people know at least a little bit about the late US House of Representatives member the Honorable John Lewis. John Lewis was a civil rights leader who was a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. and spoke just before MLK’s famous I have a Dream Speech. I was honored to meet him several times, and a picture of John Lewis and me taken in Montreat, NC is one of my prized possessions.
Of course, part of John Lewis’s story involves the March Across the Edmond Pettus Bridge which infamously became known as Bloody Sunday. At this march, John Lewis was severely beaten by Alabama state troopers while peacefully marching for voting rights across the Pettus Bridge in 1965. Despite suffering a skull fracture and other severe injuries, Lewis later forgave his attacker, former trooper Elwin Wilson. The two men even met in his Washington, DC office where Wilson publicly asked for forgiveness. Lewis told him that he had actually forgiven him many years before they ever met. Lewis was living out his mentor MLK’s advice of choosing not to carry hate.
Later Lewis and Wilson became friends and worked together to promote racial reconciliation. Lewis saw mercy and forgiveness as a powerful tool for healing and reconciliation, and he dedicated his life to promoting nonviolence and social justice.
The question I have always struggled with is how I go about doing it.
I mean there is an app for my phone that can get me from a couch potato to running a 5K if I follow it. And there are plans to help with diet and meditation and reading and writing. But what about mercy and forgiveness?
Well, I don’t have an app for purchase but a few years ago, my dad asked me to attend a Presbytery training where one of his preacher friends was speaking. (He may or may not have bribed me with barbecue afterward if I went.)
My Dad’s friend, the Rev. Dr. Randy Kowalski, preached a magnificent sermon, and recently as I cleaned out some files, I found the notes I took at the event. His topic was mercy and forgiveness and he offered us some “Ps” to help us remember the important points of his message. I can’t give you such a magnificent sermon, but I can leave you with some “Ps” that might help us all as we work on the spiritual practice of mercy and forgiveness.
The first “P” is pride.
Pride is often what keeps us from reaching out to ask for or to give forgiveness to another. So put down your pride and with it a lot of extra weight you’re carrying around inside. It will help open up your heart and soul for mercy to come in.
The second “P” is peace.
Grudges are like a spider – they weave a tangled web. However, when we take the time to seek peace, we are led to wipe our hurts from our minds with the soft cloth of forgiveness. And while you’re forgiving others, don’t forget the special peace that comes from forgiving yourself.
The third “P” is public.
What you do in your mind and heart, do also in your actions.
I am convinced that perhaps the single most powerful and meaningful thing we can do each day is to Be Kind to each other. The rewards are immediate and startling. Kindness turns the tables. It makes harmony where there is discord.
My grandmother used to have a saying she said she learned from her own mother - “It takes two to quarrel. It takes two to gossip. It takes one to be kind.
My mom, whose wisdom and heart I both admire and appreciate, ends all her emails with the following quote from Henry James, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
The fourth “P” is private.
When someone does something that hurts you, don’t compound the injury by sharing it with everyone you see.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t all need someone special to tell our hurts and disappointments to. In fact, I encourage all of us to have someone with whom we can share struggles with confidence. I know the truth of sharing burdens with someone who is simply present and listens can make all the difference.
However, what I am talking about is what many of us often get caught up in doing. And that is spreading negativity and discontent when we feel we have been wronged. Someone said that this type of negative talk is like an oil tanker spilling its contents into the ocean water. This oil is easily spread around, but almost impossible to gather back up.
Remember that forgiveness and mercy often begins with silence and/or a very private conversation.
The final “P” Rev. Dr. Kowalski shared is promise.
The ability to forgive is like any other talent – use it or lose it. When you find yourself having difficulty being merciful toward another and struggle to go the extra mile to forgive someone, we should remember just how far God’s promise of mercy went for us – all the way to the cross.
When we struggle with the spiritual work of forgiveness, we need to lean into these words of faith we find in Psalms – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Friends, we all need to let go of the burdens and hurts and grudges that weigh us down.
And we can all learn from the Christian faith walk of John Lewis which he claimed was the only way he was able to forgive his attacker - a man who nearly took his life.
And perhaps if you struggle with this like I do, we can all use Rev. Dr. Randy Kowalski's 5 “Ps” to help in this work, knowing that in giving mercy we are able to be lifted from burdens and also are then able to let in the love and mercy that God offers.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia Amen.