Mercy, not sacrifice

Like many of you I’ve spent the last week trying to process the events in Washington DC. Watching the church embrace the alt-right has been a huge source of anxiety these last four years. Not the greatest, the Pandemic holds that honour, but it has certainly been up there. I’m appalled, worried, saddened, and yes, even shocked, though frankly people should have seen this coming.

As the events unfolded, I was reminded of the lyrics of a Shawn Mullins song from the album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us. It’s called Give God the Blues (you really should check it out) and the verse makes a statement very relative for these times (emphasis is mine).

God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that

There is a real tendency among Christians to invoke the notion of a “Christian Nation.” Personally, I tend to balk at this. Mostly because the history of the so-called Christian nations has not been what I would call Christian in its character and actions. In the grand history of such nations and empires, from Rome through all of Europe through to America, more decent God-fearing people have been martyred by those acting under the authority of the church then by all the enemies of the church combined.

It’s completely understandable then that many people are questioning the validity of Christianity as a faith, as a religion, as a lifestyle, as… well… anything based on the behaviour of those who claim to follow Jesus and his teachings. Not surprisingly, Jesus had something to say about this.

22Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!  (Matthew 7:22-23)

In my mind this verse (and others like it) should drive all the arrogance from any believer. Note that these people were doing all the things that we tend to associate with great faith. They cast out demons, they prophesied, they performed miracles, they did it all. So why does Jesus respond the way he does? I’m going to suggest they lacked one key ingredient to their faith.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Matthew 9:13)

On the surface this sounds kind of strange because didn’t God instruct the Jews in the offering of that would amount the thousands of sacrifices a year of everything from grain and oil to lambs and bulls? So, what gives? Paul puts it this way…

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

There wasn’t a whole lot of love or mercy on display in Washington this week.

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