A Quote that Is Informing my Sermon Preparation

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime, Therefore, we are saved by hope.

Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;Therefore, we are saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore, we are saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite a virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or
foe as from our own; Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love
which is forgiveness.

– Reinhold Neibuhr

I may or may not use this in my sermon for this coming Sunday (at our Welcome Table service), but for me it is certainly a provocative quote. Forgiveness is the way our faith, hope and love are embodied in our lives. This was, at least true for Jesus, and it should be true for his followers as well. Forgiveness is also how mercy and grace are in evidence in and through us.

One possible text for Sunday is John 9:8-10 – verses not used in the Revised Common Lectionary at all (a crying shame if you ask me). Here we find Jesus showing mercy and grace to a woman caught in adultery and facing the “stoning squad.” “Neither do I condemn you,” he tells her, “Go and leave your life of sin behind.”

Leaving behind our own “lives of sin” is possible only if we experience forgiveness of the magnitude that Jesus offered that nameless woman so long ago. It is only possible if we have tasted grace and felt mercy. And once this has happened to us, we have no choice but to offer the same to others.

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Thomas Merton on Mercy

I grew up in a little town called Bloomfield, nestled in the rolling hills of the outer bluegrass in central Kentucky. Population 1100, Bloomfield was known for only two things – it’s annual Tobacco Festival and the fact that it was home to the company that made Kentucky Kolonel Flour and Cornmeal. Little did I know that while growing up, I was merely 20 miles away from one of the most renowned monks of all time – Thomas Merton, who lived at Gethsemane, a Trappist monastary about 10 miles south of Bardstown, KY. Here is a quote from Merton:

Mercy breaks into the world of justice and magic and overturns its apparent consistency. Mercy is inconsistent; it is therefore comic. It liberates us from the tragic seriousness of the obsessive world which we have made up for ourselves by yielding to our obsessions. Only mercy can liberate us from the madness of our determination to be consistent; from the awful pattern of lusts, greeds, angers and hatreds which mixes up together like a mass of dough and thrusts us all together in the oven. And mercy can not be obtained in the web of obsessions.

To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is an intolerable flippancy of the saved, then nowhere is there anyplace left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy, which alone is truly serious and worthy of being taken seriously.

— from Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton (New Directions Publishing, copyright 1970)


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