I desire mercy, not sacrifice

Pentecost 2A, Proper 5A

In the name of God, creation’s rule maker; Christ, the world’s rule breaker; and the Holy Spirit of chaos that moves with them.  Amen.

When I was growing up, my family was one of the first ones that I knew to have a computer in our home.  It was a Commodore 128D – which was basically the same thing as the popular Commodore 64, but with double the memory.  But don’t get too excited about that double memory.  I’d bet every cell phone in this room – even the most simplistic flip phone – could leave that computer quaking in its dust.

But years later, as computers became more common and could do much more, I remember teasing my mother for how she was using hers.  It seemed that every time I saw her using a computer, she was playing solitaire – she wasn’t coming anywhere near reaching the machine’s potential.  So I would say, “Mom, you just bought a thousand-dollar deck of cards.”

The thing is, now, I’ve nearly fallen into the same trap.  I have an iPad which often is hardly more than a thousand-dollar deck of cards.  It’s true that I do sometimes do some casual web browsing with it, and I have been known to stream TV and movies on it from time to time, and I’ve even sometimes used it for work, to view and mark up digital documents when I’m in meetings; but, more than anything else, I typically use it to play games.

I tend to like games that have some measure of skill and strategy blended in with the luck of the draw.  And I like logic puzzles and Sudoku – things where the more you look at the information given, the closer you come to uncovering the solution.  But whatever I’m playing, I run the risk of getting distracted.  I start thinking of revisions to the rules that would make the game more complicated or more unpredictable.  I like to think of the ways these variations might play out.  Sometimes I even catch myself playing the game by the rules that only exist in my mind.  The problem is, on an electronic game on my iPad, I can’t change the rules.  The rules are programmed in, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

But it’s not that way with the Christian faith.  The rules that were passed down as preprogrammed into society were constantly being shifted and tweaked by Jesus.  Rather than the rules of the game, Jesus governed by only one rule: using unflinching love to bring people into a deeper relationship with God.  That was the only rule he really cared about.  And sometimes it ruffled some feathers.

In the reading from the Gospel that we shared today, the Pharisees want to know why Jesus is breaking social norms.  Why is he nurturing relationships with such undesirable people?

The short answer is, it’s because Jesus has different desires.  The Pharisees understood their calling to be about reinforcing social norms that had been groomed and formed to their cultural needs for centuries.  But that wasn’t Jesus’ work.  Jesus didn’t come to reinforce what was already happening, but to do something entirely new.  Jesus came to break the rules.

Those people who had built deep, honest relationships with God through the rules and the social norms of the time weren’t the problem.  But Jesus came to show us that everyone else – even those people who were usually thrown out – even they were worthy of God’s love.

It feels like I’m always preaching this same sermon – that we can’t grasp the wideness of God’s love; that we can’t imagine the lengths to which God will go to draw everyone in.  But the truth is, it’s a message that still needs to be heard.

It seems that in June every year – as LGBTQ+ Pride has become more mainstream – there’s a tug of war that happens between people standing with their arms open and people leaning against locked doors.  And far too often the “locked doors” crowd are using our faith to justify their position.  But I just don’t see that brand of exclusion in the message of Jesus.  I certainly don’t see it in his actions.

In the three scenes that we saw today, they’re all about showing us a Jesus who isn’t willing to be defined by cultural rules – a Jesus who isn’t particularly concerned about rules at all.  Instead, he wanted faith.  He wanted people to have real, living relationships with God.

To the woman with the hemorrhage, he said: Touching my robe isn’t what made you well.  It wasn’t some kind of magic – instead, it came from the deeper magic that comes from your longing for God.  You found the healing you needed because you so trusted God to show it to you.

To those mourning the death of the girl: Your cultural traditions around death and grief won’t help you here.  What you really need is the nearness of God – nearness achieved through the Body of Christ.  Nearness that will show you that where you saw death, God still sees life.

There are lots of rules that have been passed down for a long time and preprogrammed into human cultures.  Some of them are helpful – they keep us safe and secure, and they help us to treat everyone with respect and dignity.  But some of them aren’t.  Some of them sometimes stand in the way of seeing the truth of Christ living in our neighbors.

We aren’t here just to arbitrarily reinforce the rules we’ve inherited.  We’re here to spread the message of Jesus Christ.  Where someone might see death as a better alternative than living on the margins, faith in Christ insists upon life.  Faith in Christ sees beauty and value where the dominant culture doesn’t.  Faith in Christ is drawn to those margins, because that’s where the message of Christ’s love most needs to be proclaimed.  Followers of Christ should be drawn there, too.

Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  When you hear condemnation, remember that.  Remember that’s how Jesus responded to people questioning his associations.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Where the world condemns and ostracizes, I desire mercy.  Where the world pronounces judgement, I desire mercy.  Where the world sees death, I desire mercy.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Let’s put that on bumper stickers and protest signs to speak for our faith.  That’s what Jesus said, and that’s how he lived.  Following him, that’s how we will live, too – through mercy.  Amen.