Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mercy works work. . .

When Jesus said the poor you will always have with you, it has seemed to seem a depressing statement.  It is surely true not only of the poor but of the broken, the afflicted, the wounded, the distressed, and the grieving.  These we will always have with us.  They are the mark of life in the world where sin's effects are not yet fully erased and where Satan's last gasp has not yet been heard.  It may seem depressing to believe that we will not one day wake up to a perfect world on earth in which the poor are all rich, the broken are all whole, the afflicted are all recovered, the wounded are healed, and the grieving comforted.  But it need not lead us to despair.

While there is no promise that these things will disappear this side of glory, we do have the promise that mercy accompanies us and that mercy's work does work.  I think that we might have forgotten this.  We have become so wrapped up in statistics that we approach the work of the kingdom as if it were mere problem solving instead of faithfulness.  Faithfulness does not lend itself well to charts and graphs but it does fit perfectly into the shape of mercy.

For most of Christianity the Church claimed the poor as the very arena of mercy exclusive to those who know mercy in Christ.  Likewise, we established hospitals, orphanages, sanitariums, nursing homes, and a host of other relief agencies to help us marshal resources to need.  Yes, the Church made mistakes and not all our efforts were laudable or virtuous.  But the Church is made up of sinners and this does not negate the works of mercy done in Christ's name and for those whose needs He has claimed as His own.

Today we struggle in this work.  Gone are the days when communities were served mostly by religious hospitals or the governmental tangle of regulation and its money trail made it easy to operate places for the orphan, aged, infirm, and troubled in mind.  Gone are the days when we could operate on our own without the often intrusive arm of court and legislature to create a wall between what we believe and what we do (mercy works).  Though the scale of the past may not be replicated in the future, mercy work is our work in Christ and mercy works in Christ.  We must not lose sight of this.

In my own parish we have people strategically placed in the community and who work in soup kitchens, for hungry children without school meals to count on, for the financial support of those in need, to provide bags of emergency food for the hungry, and a host of other areas.  Our people give blood, work with disaster agencies to relieve the burden on those who suffer man-made and natural disasters, and who are positive arms of mercy in a world so negative about what can be or should be done.  We will find a way.

I would encourage you neither to shrug your shoulders and leave the burdens of the needy to the government or secular agencies alone nor to blur what it is we confess and teach for the sake of social ministry.  There is a way to be faithful in creed and confession AND to carry on for the sake of the needy with the mercy of love, resource, prayer, and service.  On this St. Luke's Day when we remember a physician in the care of the Great Physician, we would do well to remember that mercy works are not optional and that mercy does work -- it does the work of the kingdom most often without words. 

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