Psalm 107: 1-3, 10-22
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 14, 2021
A year or so ago, the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, ran a series of Facebook ads promoting its online theology courses. Facebook took down one ad because it posted a picture of Jesus’ crucifixion that was deemed too graphic. Facebook monitors called the representation of His execution “sensational, shocking and excessively violent”.
The University’s response in a blog no doubt stunned Facebook: It agreed with Facebook’s assessment! The crucifixion was sensational, shocking and excessively violent: sensational, because, at Calvary as at no other point in history, the high and holy Creator of the whole world went to the greatest pains to save His wayward creatures; shocking, because His sinless Son paid the horrifying penalty incurred by every sinner, even the very worst; and excessively violent, because He for love’s sake endured all that brutality and humiliation. But it all profoundly demonstrated the miraculous mercy of God!
That mercy can redeem anyone from damnation. It can also redeem anyone from any kind of trouble in life: whether it be what we innocently suffer, say, from a pandemic and its lockdown or what by our own fault we bring upon ourselves, say, by our selfishness and indifference to the concerns of love and justice.
Though this Psalm gives thanks for God’s merciful response to both kinds of trouble, today let’s only look at its celebration of how God responds with miraculous mercy even to the troubles of our own making.
Today’s verses speak of those sitting “in darkness and in gloom” because “they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High” or because they were sick “through their sinful ways” and afflicted “because of their iniquities”.
This Psalm gives God thanks because God gives everyone who “cries” out to Him better than they deserve!
Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, explains the core of his Christian faith by distinguishing between grace and karma. He describes karma as the idea that “what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…every action met by an equal and opposite one.” What upends the idea that you reap exactly what you sow and cannot escape the full consequences of your bad decisions is the good news of grace, of God’s miraculous mercy toward those He has every right to throw the book at. Bono says he loves Jesus because he (Bono) knows better than to depend on his own spiritual and ethical effort and believes he can hang all kinds of hope on the mercy God proven at Calvary.
Yet, this mercy doesn’t automatically benefit us. We have to choose to avail of it. How do we do that?
First, we have to admit we have no other possibility for hope than God’s miraculous mercy. We have to acknowledge that we’ve fallen into a pit out of which we cannot climb and that our only chance for salvation is that God, out of an unearned and thus unlimited kindness, might come down to us and lift us up.
David, a convict, is doing time for killing a man in the course of a crime. Sitting with himself over long years behind bars, he came to feel horror at himself, disgust and shame. Desperate, he turned to the Bible and eventually gave his life to Christ. “What most impresses me,” he says, “is the mercy of God, His refusal to be repelled by anything I do” – and His refusal to leave my side for even a second in this hell hole.
We avail of God’s miraculous mercy as we own up to its being our only hope. We also avail of it as we pass on such mercy to others. Jesus was serious when He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
I’ll never forget a sports newscast about a father’s showing his daughter mercy. Steve Montforto and his three-year-old daughter Emily were sitting in the stands watching a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals when a foul ball curled back toward their upper deck, front row seats. Steve stretched out over the rail to snatch it without a glove. Snagging a major league baseball with a spectacular catch is the lifelong dream of many a fan.
Out of fatherly love Steve handed the ball over to little Emily…and she surprised everyone by immediately throwing it back over the rail and down into the lower deck. Everyone in their section gasped in horror, and Steve’s jaw dropped to the floor in wide-eyed disbelief. But he didn’t get irritated with his three-year-old, and he didn’t say a single sharp word to her. Instead, he did what a loving father should: he smiled shaking his head and hugged her close in a warm embrace. (And you could see from the look they exchanged that they were relishing the mercy of their deep reciprocal affection.)
That day Steve acted as God acts with us. God puts into our hands gifts we could never catch ourselves…and often we throw them away. But in His miraculous mercy He keeps loving us, keeps handing us new gifts of His grace, and keeps encouraging us to be in turn merciful to others– even if they throw our love and our gifts away.
In humble awareness of our own need of mercy and in generous resolve to share that mercy with others, may our hearts gush with gratitude over how good the Lord is in steadfast love and tender mercy!