"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mercy, anger, and righteous idignation.

I'm admittedly a bit on the conservative side. And so are a lot of my friends. So people assume that I listen to all the typical conservative talking heads. I don't. My instant response when someone asks me if I heard this or that on Glenn Beck or Rush or whoever is a knee-jerk "I don't listen to angry white men." Occasionally that elicits a chuckle from friends who know that there's truth behind the gut reaction; that there's something poisonous about ranting on the radio, no matter what side it comes from.

Today I heard an interesting sermon which began with the question, why are Americans so angry? Injustice and loss have happened at other times and places greater than our own, but Americans are the ones who seem to take our lumps with indignation, even anger, and call it righteous. My first answer to the preacher's rhetorical question is that Americans have a sense of entitlement that the world has never really known. If we feel entitled, we can baptize our anger into righteous indignation and think ourselves pure.

But the sermon went on quickly to draw out that Americans are angry because we do not know how to reflect the mercy that God has given us. If we were a people of grace and mercy, these things would, by their nature crowd out anger. Believing the best in one another, exercising the power to forgive when finding the worst in one another, showing mercy. It is true, mercy and anger do not easily coexist.

But mercy comes from having received mercy. Entitlement and mercy are the result of two opposing views of ourselves. Feelings of entitlement exalt the self, believing that we deserve a perfect world because we ourselves are, well fill in the blank: good, hardworking, superior in some way. But a mercy mentality means that we understand that we require mercy. On the way home from church an old line from a Star Trek (yes, Star Trek preaches) episode came to mind, where the disembodied alien voice referred to the humans as "Ugly. Ugly bags of mostly water." If in fact we are ugly, ugly bags of mostly water, what good are we? Why are we worth saving, worth dying for? Surely in God's eyes we are, well not ugly for he did call us good, but nothing more exquisite than a bag of mostly water. Why offer mercy, why send a son? Why take on flesh at all? Mercy understands that, far from superior and entitled, we are in fact spiritually ugly, and that God took on our frailty to make us beautiful. Instead of being entitled we are not worthy, yet we are still richly blessed. That's mercy.

It's healthy for us to acknowledge in our prayers that we are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under God's table, and yet this the same God whose property it is always to have mercy. It should come as no surprise that we who are unworthy are banished from picking crumbs under his table, but it should come as a holy astonishment that instead of throwing us into the street, he pulls out from under the table and sets a place for us among his honored guests. We didn't earn the seat, it was freely given.

Americans are a prideful people who want to earn what we get and keep what we earn. I can't find fault in that, it is merely justice. But I also have to understand that on the day of judgment, the last thing I want is justice. I much prefer to lean on mercy.

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