The following is taken from a sermon series preached at The Southeast Project. You can listen to the audio of this teaching on our sermon audio page. This sermon was given by Suzanne Higgs, a ministry director at The Southeast Project and an editor/guest blogger for ryanscottcarrell.com.
Being a “mobile church” requires a lot of setup each week. Over the past 5 years, I watched my daughter develop a heart for serving. From the early days of grabbing coffee for the adults and setting up the toys in the nursery room, to now being a lifesaver to me every single Sunday morning with everything from the nursery, to our kids check in table, to our coffee and welcome table, and so much more. The rare weekend that she’s not here with me, I feel a little lost both without her help and without her company.
And yet, when I acknowledge her contributions, this amazing young woman who gives without a moment’s pause looks at me and says “What? I don’t really do anything”.
That’s the way it often is when helping people and with serving God. Individual contributions can seem small if you look at them on their own. We can ask ourselves “Am I really making a difference?”.
I would guess that almost everyone here has heard this story:
One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”
I made a difference to that one.
Hundreds of organizations are filled with thousands of volunteers making a difference one person at a time. Purchased is one of those organizations that is working to make a profound difference in our community. It’s not a coincidence that we’re highlighting this amazing group as we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount – this time, at the concept of mercy. Let’s start by going back to the versus leading up to this point:
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him,
2and He began to teach them, saying:
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
In a way, the first four beatitudes are all about you. Who you are as a person, the choices you make. This fifth one is about being merciful: showing or exercising mercy. Think about the word exercising – it makes you think of effort, of commitment. Those who show mercy are making an effort. They’re making the commitment to make a difference.
The word mercy has a lot of interpretations: compassion, pity, charity, forgiveness. In churches, the concepts of mercy and grace are often used interchangeably, and there’s a great deal of commentary out there on the subject of whether they are different and if so, how. My favorite theory says that grace and mercy are similar because they both involve loving those that are outside our normal circle. Grace, though, is for those that we see as undeserving. Mercy is for those that are helpless, hopeless. Mercy is for those that may be harder for us to love because we don’t understand their circumstances.
Grace and mercy aren’t just about those who are easy to love or those to whom our hearts naturally gravitate. We should show grace and mercy to even those who would despise us.
Think for a second about the world in which Jesus was teaching the Sermon on the Mount. He’s smack dab in the middle of the Roman Empire: an empire that showed no mercy to its enemies, that was all about conquest and acquisition. And here’s Jesus – standing in the middle of it all – challenging the hierarchy and the system by loving those that the empire was happy to cast aside. He connected not with the religious leaders, but with the outcasts, the rejects, the misfits. God’s mercy isn’t limited to just a certain class or type of person.
Sometimes, mercy can be in the form of words. Words can bring light to suffering, they can educate people who are unfamiliar with the plight of others. But to truly follow Jesus, it has to be more than just words.
Ryan frequently talks about how some of the verses in the Bible are a little “out there”. The kind that when you first read them, they’re confusing, or conflicting, or even off-putting. When we can get past the words themselves and really listen though, we learn amazing things. Here’s a section I feel is like that – Amos 5:21-24:
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Despise. Stench. Noise. This is not a warm and fuzzy message. Except that it kind of is.
In this passage, God is rebuking the Israelites for having too heavy a focus on the rituals of their celebrations. He sees them as going through the motions – basically, they talk a good game but they aren’t backing it up with the right actions. God is totally in father mode right now. Our kids, just like us, are going to make mistakes. But when we see them going way off course, the best course of action usually isn’t propping up our feet, enjoying the show, and saying “it’s all good”. God is telling them He doesn’t want anything to do with superficial acts. He wants justice. He wants righteousness. He wants REAL action.
There are people who need our mercy – our action – around us every single day. Sometimes their need is obvious, but sometimes we have to look more closely, and recognize the signs that may not be as apparent.
Last month, Ryan preached about the first of the Beatitudes that says “Blessed are the poor”. He had us reach our hands out, and imagine being unburdened by money, by possessions. The poor will give all they have; it’s the rich that cling.
Giving up our money – our financial security – is hard for us. It can take a tremendous leap of faith to really, truly believe that when we give financially – to church, to charity, to others – that God will make sure our needs are met. We’re not just talking about money here though. There are things in our lives that we take for granted; security, comfort, loving relationships. Things that far too many people in our world, our country, and even our own city go without.
Social media has brought need of all kinds to the forefront. Next time you’re on Facebook, in between the foodie picks, the baby pictures, and the memes, notice how much need there is. Gofundme’s for funeral expenses. Parents supporting their children’s Jump for Heart participation. Requests of donations to favorite causes in lieu of birthday presents.
People who are angry. People who are hurting. People who are lonely.
Then you come to church, and it may feel like between volunteer requests, serving needs, donation drives, and tithing that you’re constantly being hit up for time or funds.
We struggle to make ends meet, and we struggle to get it all done. We struggle to be present. But love – friendship – support – security – these aren’t limited resources. We don’t have cause to say “Nope, I’ve loved enough people for today”.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
Mercy isn’t a feeling. Mercy is a call to action. Mercy is moving. Just like Jesus had to leave his home to spread his message. Just like the disciples had to move – physically, mentally, and spiritually – to follow Jesus. We are called to move out of our comfort zones and towards those who need our help the most.
Jesus tells us that if we are merciful, we will be shown mercy. Don’t get this twisted around though. It’s not a case of “I’ll be nice to other people so that they want to be nice to me”. We’re not to show mercy because of the glory it will bring to us, the kindness we’ll be shown in return, or even the warm and fuzzies we get when we do something good. We don’t do it simply to seek God’s favor.
People were drawn to Jesus because he showed mercy.
When we show not just mercy but God’s mercy to others, we are drawing them closer to Him.
Purchased is taking action to draw people out of darkness and into God’s light. They are fighting to end the modern day slavery that occurs in the world of human trafficking. Jessica Evans and her organization are working to show mercy, one person at a time.
Purchased is a Local & Global Community Partner for The Southeast Project. Jessica Evans, the group’s founder, joined our service to share about the amazing things they are doing. You can listen to Jessica on the audio recording from that day, or for more information on their efforts and to learn how you can help, please visit www.purchased.org.