Mercy for those Who Revere Him
December 9, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Luke 1:47-55
First a confession – or more accurately a correction. Sometimes preachers are known to write sermons too quickly and not read their Bibles carefully. Last week I set up Mary’s song by saying Jesus kicked in Mary’s womb as she walked into Elizabeth’s house. Last week a member of the congregation who has actually been pregnant reminded me Jesus would have been so small no kicking would have been happening. It was John the Baptist, in Elizabeth’s womb, who did the kicking. Not Jesus.
I dreamt about them last night – the men seeking justice for the betrayal of Joseph. In my dream, I felt the rocks hit my skin and the pain striking my bones. I could sustain the agony at first. I stood, hoping if the men saw my pleading face, they’d have some compassion on me. However, their rage was too much. The torture became unbearable. I crouched, protecting my head with my hands, and my belly with my spine. My brown skin became spotted as I watch the blood spread to the surface.
Sweating with terror, I woke up and remembered where I was. Relief washed over me, as I whispered, “I’m safe, I’m safe, I’m safe.” I still hadn’t sorted out what I was going to tell Joseph, and I suppose my fear of how he might react haunted my dreams.
God was merciful, but the world was brutal. My reverence for God had to overcome my fear of men. I would never receive mercy from a bloodthirsty, scowling mob. Mercy flowed from God, the source of all love.
I shifted position in my bed. As I tried to fall back asleep I imagined swimming in God’s sweet mercy, a warm and refreshing stream. No matter what shame or rage clung to me, it washed off. I emerged with a skin newly born.
I felt a gentle kick, and I knew that we were going to be safe.
God’s perfect love, John the Elder writes, casts out all fear. Fear – the Greek used in scripture is phobia – the same word we use today to describe our fears and terrors – claustrophobia – fear of confinement; arachnophobia – fear of spiders; necrophobia – fear of death. Yet scripture gives phobia a broader meaning – more worshipful respect than screaming terror. The silence in my elementary school cafeteria when the principal walked in – she was so revered even the teachers fell quiet. The pausing of our nation as we remembered the first President Bush over the past week.
“God’s mercy,” Mary sings, “is for those who revere him.” A mercy, a perfect love, casting out all fears.
Jesus, now an adult, is with his disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. While the disciples man the boat, Jesus sleeps. Suddenly a storm sweeps across the lake. The rolling swells turn to waves. The boat begins filling with water. They were in danger. Jesus sleeps on, calm, unafraid, until he is awoken by the terrified disciples. Jesus rebukes the wind and waves; they cease, the sea becomes calm.
When the boat reaches the shore, a terrified, haunted man meets Jesus on the beach. He is naked. He lives among the tombs, like one who is dead. He was so violent he was kept in chains and under guard, but he was so strong he would break his bonds and run into the isolation of the countryside. He falls to his knees before Jesus. “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High,” the man screams. “I beg you, do not torment me.”
This man, feared by so many – including himself – find peace in Jesus. Jesus identifies the fears, hurts, traumas, delusions, anxieties haunting the man. He calls them out – sending them into a nearby herd of pigs, who proceed to plummet off a cliff. Jesus stays with the man. Talking with him. Calming him. He gets dressed. He sits at Jesus feet. Feeling the warmth, feeling the love, receiving mercy.
I went through an especially dark period a few weeks ago. Old demons started lurking around the edges, started to haunt my dreams. I became afraid, angry, impatient, at times nearly immobilized. As I worked through all of this with my spiritual director, he helped me remember God’s power over the fears in our lives, over our demons. That which haunts us may seem big, but God is bigger. That which seems to control us may seem all powerful, but God is more powerful.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Mary may have prayed as she waited at Elizabeth’s house. As she waited to learn what Joseph would do, what her parents would do, what her community would do, what would happen to her, to the child inside her. Yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. God’s mercy is for those who revere him. I am safe. I am safe. I am safe. I am safe due to the hospitality of my kinswoman Elizabeth. I’m safe, for I rest in the hands of a merciful God.
The mercy of a God whose perfect love casts out all fear.