Happy New Year, Presbyterian Women!
Christmastide, the New Year, and the season of Epiphany all call us to renewed commitment of our walk of faith, as we live into this year of the Beatitudes. What better time than to let the fifth Beatitude lead us to making a New Year's Resolution. In the fifth beatitude, Jesus teaches his disciples to honor those who show mercy, for they will receive mercy.
To get a sense of what Jesus may have meant by "showing mercy," we need look no further than the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, Jesus demonstrates the three-fold work of mercy: feeling compassion, taking action, and establishing covenantal relationship. The first two of these are easy to identify--the Samaritan man feels pity and takes matters into his own hands, caring for the wounded man. However, we miss the power of the action of the Samaritan if we stop there. He also takes his own wealth -- two days wages -- gives it to the innkeeper and promises to pay for any more care the wounded man may need. This is not a one-time fix. The Samaritan is in it for the long haul.
As we consider this season of new beginnings -- the turning of the year to 2012, and the turning of our church year from Christmastide to the glory of Epiphany -- what might it mean for us to confess and to live into the fifth beatitude?
Perhaps, for us, it means that our New Year's Resolutions should be about something more than weight loss or getting more sleep. Perhaps, as Christians, we could dedicate this time of introspection to a recommitment to discipleship. This is the practice of many Methodist Christians around the world, for whom the first Sunday of January is Covenant Sunday, the Sunday in which they renew their commitment to Christ and dedicate the entire year to God.
Specifically, as guided by this teaching of Jesus, what might it mean for us to resolve that in 2012 we will be merciful? Let me make some suggestions.
Resolution 1: Pay attention
First, if we would be merciful, we must resolve to pay attention to those things we might rather not see. In the parable that Jesus tells, two other people see the man who has fallen among the robbers. But they, seeing, pass by. The one who shows mercy sees and stops. He sees and pays attention.
To what do you need to pay attention in your city or town? What do you not see, or see and pass by? In 2012, what would happen if you resolved to pay attention it, to see it and stop, to let its presence in your midst change your life? Presbyterian Women, let us resolve that in 2012, we will pay attention.
Resolution 2: Take action
Second, if we would be more merciful, then we must resolve that we will take action on behalf of those whom we see. The action we take should be concrete, immediate, and specifically helpful to the one in need. Think of what the Samaritan does. He sees someone who has been wounded and tends to his wounds out of his own resources.
Note also what the Samaritan does not do. He does not stop to ask why the person has been wounded or whose fault it is. After all, one could easily blame the solo traveler for not traveling within the safety of a caravan. If he won't take precautions, we might reason, he deserves what he gets. He isn't our concern.
Whether or not the Samaritan thinks this to be true, he sees his responsibility not to judge or to criticize but to take direct action on behalf of the one in trouble.
What would happen if you or your circle, seeing a need, decided to take action on behalf of that need? What might that look like? For some of you, it may look like volunteering at a food pantry or taking a homeless person into the coffee shop with you for a cup of coffee. For others, it will mean knitting caps and blankets, or filling bags of protein-rich food for the hungry.
Presbyterian Women, as we consider our walk of faith in 2012, let us resolve not just to see people in hurt and pain, but to take action on their behalf.
Resolution 3: Practice Covenant Loyalty
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Good Samaritan story is that he puts two days wages into another man's hand for the care of a perfect stranger. And he promises to give more as necessary. Here, the Samaritan goes beyond taking care of immediate needs; he enters into a long-term relationship with a perfect stranger. Perhaps, over time, he and the stranger even became friends. Who knows? What is clear is that the Samaritan is not just going to disappear now that the stranger is out of immediate danger.
What about us? What does it mean for us not just to care in the immediate term, but to enter into a relationship, a relationship of covenant loyalty, with those whom God puts into our path? What if our resolution included that we would enter into deeper relationship with those for whom we are called to care, long-term covenant relationship?
The Call to Confession
Over the course of this PW study, I have invited you to write confessions of faith. I invite you to do so still. Perhaps this January, instead of writing out your resolutions, you might consider this question:
What do I believe is revealed about God -- Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit -- in Jesus' teaching about being merciful?
Who do I believe I am called to be in light of this teaching? How is that the same as or different from who I am now?
What is it, therefore, that I resolve to do? How do I resolve to honor the merciful? How do I resolve to be more merciful?
What is one tangible thing I can do to start?
As you pray and think about these things, let me leave you with the charge from the Methodist hymnwriter Charles Wesley, as a call to discipleship for us all in 2012.
Come, let us anew our journey pursue
Roll round with the year
And never stand still till the Master appear.