Sermon: Let There Be Mercy – Oh, Let There Be Mercy

October 28, 2018
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:46-52

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

This has been a week when cries for mercy have been… legion. Worse, these cries for mercy have been answered with words and actions of mercilessness.

7,000 people have left their homes in Honduras and Guatemala, fleeing the violence that threatened their lives every day, making their way on foot with their children and what little they can carry, hoping to apply for asylum in the United States.

Notice that they’re not planning to enter illegally. They’re planning to apply for asylum, which, under US law, can only be done at a port of entry or in the US. They can’t apply at an embassy or consulate.

Our government’s response? Threats. Closing the border. Sending soldiers.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

The announcement about the soldiers? That was Thursday.

Last Sunday, we learned that the current administration plans to interpret Title IX – the federal ban on gender-based discrimination – to mean that gender is fixed at birth by biology, effectively permitting discrimination against transgender persons and, incidentally, ignoring the fact that biological gender can be very complicated indeed.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

On Monday, bombs began appearing in mailboxes and sorting facilities, addressed to political figures who shared a common characteristic: criticism of the current administration. Fourteen bombs. Fortunately – mercifully? – the bomber’s skills did not match his malice. None exploded. Nobody was injured. And he was arrested on Friday morning.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

On Wednesday, a man first tried to enter an African American church in Jefferstown, Kentucky, but he couldn’t get in. So he went to a grocery store, and he shot a black man and a black woman to death. He was arrested nearby shortly afterward. At least one witness statement implies a racial motive, and police are investigating it as a hate crime.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

And then yesterday, a gunman shouted anti-Semitic words and put them into violent action. He killed eleven people at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – he brought death to Tree of Life. He wounded four more in the synagogue, and injured four police officers sent to stop him.

This morning they released the names and ages of those who died. The two youngest were brothers in their fifties. The rest were in their sixties, seventies, and eighties, with the oldest, Rose Mallinger, 97.

That’s us, friends. That’s us.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

What a terrible, terrible week.

Bartimaeus shouted and shouted for mercy. Like the Hondurans. Like our transgender neighbors. Like some political figures. Like those facing the gunman in the grocery store. Like those gathered to pray yesterday morning.

It was dangerous, what Bartimaeus shouted. Not the “have mercy,” part – though it’s always wise to be careful what you ask for. It was the “son of David” part. That was a political title, a royal title, and there was a Roman Emperor and a Roman Governor who both considered any use of that title to be rebellious and treasonous. No wonder the crowd tried to hush him.

To give you an idea of how dangerous that was, the next story in Mark’s gospel is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – you know, the one with the palms and shouts and the triumphant, royal, entry? Jesus was executed five days later.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mercy can be dangerous. At the least it is inconvenient, demanding, intrusive. People seeking mercy interrupt the days of those around them. They make it sound as if their improvement is somebody else’s responsibility. They ask for – they demand – time, resources, commitment. They may ask for our discomfort, even for our diminishment. They may ask for someone to stand by them when the threat of death is at hand. Mercy can be very, very dangerous.

But mercy is our business. The Church of Jesus Christ has no point without mercy, without the encouragement of mercy, without the exaltation of mercy, without the exercise of mercy. As the Apostle Paul might put it, without mercy we are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If there is no mercy in the Church, then where is the love? Where is the agape? Where is the aloha?

In these days, when cruelty sometimes gets a wink, and sometimes the official nod, we must stand for mercy.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg wrote in the Washington Post this morning:

“In Judaism, when someone dies, we often say, ‘May their memory be for a blessing.’ This time, it is all of our obligation to make it so. We must mourn and lament and grieve for the lives stolen from the world. We must rage at the baseless hatred and reckless lack of protections that made these senseless killings possible in the first place. And we must honor the memories of those who were murdered by fighting for a world that values every life — refugee and citizen, of every race and religion — and that creates cultures and policies that reflect those values.”

We must stand for mercy.

We also need mercy. We have suffered this past year – with personal setbacks, with illnesses and debilitating conditions, with changes in our workplaces or home lives that stressed and distressed us. We have suffered this past year, and on this All Saints Day remembrance we grieve those whose lives with us came to a close, this year and previously. Just this week I presided at two celebrations of life: for Roy Kimura, who raised his children in this church, and for Joe Yamauchi, who is, I believe, the last of our Church of the Holy Cross veterans of the 100th battalion and the 442. Next week we honor the life of Kenneth Herrick, former director of the library at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.

That’s in just over a week. That’s a lot of grief.

We need mercy. We need mercy. We need mercy.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Let the Church stand for mercy: mercy for ourselves and for our neighbors at risk of religious, racial, gender-based, or other prejudicial violence. Let the Church stand for mercy: mercy for ourselves and for our neighbors who suffer loss, poverty, homelessness, hunger. Let the Church stand for mercy: mercy for ourselves and for our neighbors who grieve the passing of loved ones. Let the Church stand for mercy. Let the Church live in mercy. Let the Church share its mercy. Let the Church receive mercy.

In the name of Jesus, son of David:


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:


In the give and take of preaching, things change – today as always.

Photo of a carving in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, by Chris Light – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , , , , | Posted on October 28, 2018

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