Goodness and Mercy

What follows is a message I delivered to my church family on October 8th, 2017.

Psalm 23  King James Version (KJV)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

King James Version (KJV)

Public Domain

I want my message to focus on the last passage.  “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.”  Where is the House of the Lord?  Heaven?  Or is it here.  All around us.  In fact in us and through us.  I believe it is the later.

I am not denying the existence of heaven but rather that the House of the Lord is wherever we would take it to be.  I personally love metaphors and I like to think of this as a metaphor.  If we accept that the Kingdom of God is here on earth and that he reigns from above, then why wouldn’t he have a house here amongst us?  But this house is different than the brick and mortar house we may be inclined to imagine, but is rather a presence that we can project and that God lives and works through us in that presence.

So what does it mean to project this presence?  How do we do that?  I believe that it is indicated in the beginning of the stanza.  “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me”.  I believe that the goodness and mercy that will follow me starts as a reflection of the goodness and mercy that I show toward others.

Now I will admit that I haven’t always been as open as I COULD have been.  And I haven’t always been as nonjudgmental as I SHOULD have been.  Nor have I always forgiven as quickly as I WANTED to.  Just a few weeks ago, my car was rear-ended at an intersection while I was waiting for the light to change.  It was fortunately only a tap and no damage was done.  When the driver of the other car emerged, wringing her hands and trying to apologize, she stated that she was in a hurry and had not been paying attention.  She stated something about her daughter and a doctor but at that point, I was not really listening.  Earlier, I had noticed her tailgating my car, and I was bound and determined to not only judge this behavior, but to hold her accountable.  Though I managed to contain my irritation, now bordering on anger, I did not find it in my heart to comfort her and tell her it was alright.  I failed to show her mercy.  As I drove away, I was overwhelmed by the emotion of guilt.  No damage had been done.  No one had been hurt.  She was obviously sorry and quite distraught.  I could only think how my acknowledging that and calming her instead of scolding her would have gone so much further.  What if she had just learned of something terrible that had happened to her daughter and that she was rushing to the doctor?  I needed to show her mercy.  But it was too late, I had already sown the wrong seeds and my opportunity had passed.  I could only hope to be better next time.

Goodness and Mercy.  It is not always easy but it is what God expects of us.

A few days ago my wife and I were hiking on Door County when we came across this sight.  I was more than likely deep in thought about this sermon and I immediately saw the metaphor in this image.

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As one tree had toppled into another, literally breaking it in two, the second tree had caught the first and cradled it from crashing to the ground.  This so reminded me of what an act of mercy would look like.

Could we be as merciful in an event where we could suffer a loss and yet step in to give support, to comfort, to do the right thing?  As difficult as that may be, we need to strive for that very model.

I cannot help but mention Las Vegas here.  Last week a person of unspeakable evil took the lives of 58 innocent people and injured or ruined the lives and families of so many more by his senseless act of terror.  But it is the courage and compassion of the security people and the concert goers themselves that rushed in without consideration of the risk to administer mercy to those wounded or dying that speak to my topic of goodness and mercy.  There was no goodness in the shooting but the compassion shown by every person who assisted, every hero who acted and for every person who offered a prayer, demonstrated goodness and mercy in its fullest.

There was one more metaphor that day.  Amongst the rocks of the Lake Michigan shoreline, hikers had erected prayer towers.  Deb and I had learned about prayer towers years ago while hiking in Hawaii.  The story goes that the tower represents your prayers for someone and the higher you can build the tower, the stronger the prayer and the greater its reach.

20171004_105332

We prayed that day for a very dear friend.  Why did we build the tower?  Because the life he leads and the image he casts are so deserving of this prayer for strength in his battle with cancer, we were compelled to ask for this mercy.  Our friend shows us goodness and mercy in his private as well as his professional life every time we are with him.  I can only hope that my life would cast the same deserving shadow if ever I need a prayer tower.

How then do we bring God’s Kingdom, “the House of the Lord”, into every aspect of our life?  I believe that the way we model our beliefs and convictions is the key to that process.

I need to share this story and you can show me mercy for a little bit of humor.

On the first day, God created the dog and said, “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past.
For this, I will give you a life span of 20 years.”
The dog said, “That’s a long time to be barking.
How about only 10 years and I’ll give you back the other 10?”
And God saw it was good….

On the second day, God created the monkey and said,
“Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh.
For this, I’ll give you a twenty-year life span.”
The monkey said, “Monkey tricks for twenty years?
That’s a pretty long time to perform.
How about I give you back ten like the dog did?”
And God, again saw it was good.

On the third day, God created the cow and said,
“You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family.
For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.”
The cow said, “That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I’ll give back the other forty?”
And God agreed it was good.

On the fourth day, God created humans and said,
“Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you twenty years.”
But the human said, “Only twenty years?
Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back,
the ten the monkey gave back,
and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?”
“Okay,” said God, “You asked for it.”

So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves.
For the next forty years, we slave in the sun to support our family.
For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
Life has now been explained to you.

There is no need to thank me for this valuable information.
I’m doing it as a public service.
If you are looking for me I will be on the front porch

On the second day God created the monkey.  Entertain people, do tricks and make them laugh.  For this I will give you a life span of 20 years.  The monkey thought about this and replied, 20 years of doing monkey tricks seems like too long.  I’ll do what the dog did and give you back  a life span of twenty years.”
The dog said, “That’s a long time to be barking.
How about only ten years and I’ll give you back the other ten?”
And God saw it was good.10.  And God again saw that it was good.

On the third day God created the cow and said:  You must go out in the field every day with the farmer and suffer under the hot sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family.  For this I will give you a life span of 60 years.  The cow said that’s an awfully tough life to live for 60 years.  How about I give you back 40 and keep 20.  And God said that can work.

On the fourth day God created humans and said:  Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life.  For this I will give you a life span of 20 years.  The human said, that’s not very long.  Could you possibly give me my 20, the 40 the cow gave back, the 10 the monkey gave back and the 10 the dog gave back, that makes 80, okay?  And God said okay, you asked for it.

So that is why for the first 20 years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves.  For the next 40 years we toil at work to support our families, for the next 10 years we do tricks to entertain our grandchildren and then for the last 10 years we sit on our front porch and bark at everyone.

Even God has a sense of humor.

But to my point, if the majority of our life is spent in our working careers, how do we bring God into that space.  This I know is a tough one.  If you are like me, you avoid the full on, Jehovah Witness frontal approach.  Human nature, and rememberGod created that as well, is not overly comfortable with confrontation.

So back to goodness and mercy.  There is the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words”.  If we are to demonstrate goodness and mercy, it is exactly what we need to be about.  How we conduct ourselves, the way we do our business, the attitude we bring to our daily life, these are the actions that will speak louder than words.

We were recently at the Taste of Madison and sitting on the Capitol lawn.  We were joined by a couple we did not know.  Shortly after we had introduced ourselves the conversation turned to the wife’s new occupation.  She had switched from nursing to real estate and eagerly explained how she presented herself to and the service she offered her clients.  She had a service heart from nursing and she comfortably slid into a conversation of her faith and how it drove her in the treatment of her clients.  I was honored that she had been so comfortable sharing her story with me.  I believe that she could sense that I was as receptive to this as she was strong in her faith.

It is this image that we need to cast.  It is this approach that opens the door to these opportunities.

Quoting Christ from Matthew 5:16
“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

If your actions are those of a Godly life, they will be sensed if not noticed.  In many instances, they will lead to a conversation and in the conversation you can be inviting.  In my career, I had many opportunities to talk about my Christian beliefs and my passion to spread generosity.  When people sensed this in me, a door opened through which I could enter into a conversation on goodness and mercy.  On numerous occasions, clients who at first were not very charitable, began the process of increasing their giving.  I am not taking credit for their giving.  That comes from the giver’s heart.  But I am content in the fact that I was there to start the conversation.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

One heart, one mind, one life at a time.  Each life that we touch can touch so many others.  Only God knows how the seed spreads.  I wear a bracelet made of fishing gear.  It is a symbol for me of a promise made long ago but it serves as so much more.  Countless people have seen the bracelet and asked why I wear it.  “Are you a fisherman” they will ask.  I always respond with “I am not, much to the chagrin of my in-laws, but let me tell you why I wear it and the story behind it.” And thus starts the invitation.

A few weeks ago I was at the wedding of a client.  It was a surprise invitation and I knew no one else at the wedding.  We were seated with the bride’s former manager and his wife.  As we shared conversation, I noticed his “WWJD bracelet.  As the conversation continued he became aware of my bracelet and eventually asked the question.  “Are you a fisherman?”  What ensued was a new direction that revealed his strong faith connection and service to his church.  In the end, he asked me for the details and the story of the bracelet and will soon be introducing the idea to his men’s group.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

We must be open, forgiving and nonjudgmental.  These are the keys to a Godly life.  They are the answer to the question on his bracelet, “What Would Jesus Do?”

In conclusion, I chose to change the words of the verse slightly:  “Surely goodness and mercy will follow YOU all the days of YOUR life…..IF YOU will dwell in the House of the Lord always.”

 

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