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June 5, 2005 (Sunday 10 · Time after Pentecost)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26; Hosea 5:15-6.6

Grace and peace to you from God our loving Creator and from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

There is a lot of activity in the gospel lesson today, centered around some rather unlikely people. From our perspective, they may not seems so unlikely--after all, we're used to seeing Jesus hanging out and eating with those rejected by the rest of society. Today's gospel begins with the calling of Matthew, who as a tax collector was not the most popular of men; we hear about Jesus eating with other tax collectors and sinners; during dinner, a Pharisee comes to Jesus because his daughter had just died. Remember that Pharisees were among Jesus' harshest critics, and Jesus goes with him, because he was asked; and we are told about the healing of the woman with a long-time bleeding disorder. It was scandalous enough for a woman to touch a man not from her own family, but this woman was considered ritually unclean due to the bleeding disorder. So for her to reach out for Jesus violated rigid social norms.

We are reminded again that Jesus associated with an unlikely group of people...the reason is found in what Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' " (Matt 9:13)

Hosea uses the same formula when he speaks for Yahweh and says "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 16:6)

What matters more to God, it seems, is what is in a person's heart, and how a person acts to another person. But, what is meant by "mercy"? The Greek, ελεος (EL-e-os), means to show love and offer assistance to one who is in need. The translation in Hosea, "steadfast love" is a good beginning--if you think of love as an action, and not just the warm fuzzy feeling we often take it mean these days. As Christians, we are called to a life of ελεος a life of mercy--how do we act that out? It's simple, really, to live a life of mercy is to act as Jesus did. Because God's mercy resides in Jesus--in his life, death and resurrection we have a living, breathing, walking example what mercy looks like. So, all it takes is to look to Jesus and consider "What Would Jesus Do?" Simple, but not easy.

I had the opportunity a few years ago to hear Bob Rambo, the ELCA bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod, speak. It was at Holden village in Washington, and he was doing a series of discussions around the ELCA sexuality study. He had been involved in the process in an earlier effort--in fact he had been asked to join the discussion because he was seen as a social and theological conservative and would "represent" that "view point" He said that in his participation in the discussions, in meeting and listening to gay and lesbian people, hearing their stories and knowing them as fellow children of God, his position change 180 degrees and he came out of the discussions a fervent support of the blessing of same-gender unions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people who are in committed relationships. this change, he said, was much to the consternation of the people who recommended him for the task force. He said that one of the reasons for the change of his position was this, "If I ever have to stand before God, defending my actions," he said, "I want to have to apologize for letting too many people in, rather than for keeping people out." THAT is mercy in action--love and acceptance of people who are often rejected and marginalized. It is simple, but not easy.

God desires mercy and not sacrifice. Sacrifice in Jesus and Hosea's time was the rites of religion. In sacrifice, sins were atoned for and forgiven. It was how people communicated with God. It is this--what we do on Sunday mornings. The outward trappings of religious life--gathering to pray the right prayers, speak and sing the liturgy, listen to the sermon. I'm not saying that it isn't important, lest I preach myself right out of a job, but what is most important is what happens outside these walls. It's a lot easier to show up on Sunday mornings, go through the motions and then go about your business the rest of the week--and when those actions are without mercy, as they often are we become the hypocrites that others often complain that Christians are. Sunday morning is about more than going through the motions. It is a opportunity to be reminded and renewed about who and what we are--Children of God. When you go by the baptismal font, you remember your baptism, your status as a named and claimed child of God. You come to the altar rail, to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, to be refreshed and renewed in his life and resurrection. You gather around the potluck table in fellowship with other members of the body of Christ.

Sunday morning is a chance to be refreshed and renewed for your work in the world. A work that we are all called to--to live a life of mercy, showing love to those who are in need. Help those who need help; an ear to the one who needs someone to listen; food for the hungry; clothing for the naked; to visit those who are lonely and imprisoned. It's simple, but it is not easy.

Amen.


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