“Lord, Have Mercy” John 21:9-19
The Sanctuary Sermon for 4/26/20
The Sanctuary Sermon for 4/26/20
“Lord, Have Mercy” John 21:9-19
There is a prayer in the Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church that is still sung every Sunday, the Kyrie eleison (keer-ee-ay e-lay-uh-sawn). It means, “Lord, have mercy.”
But what do we mean by saying, “Lord, have mercy?”
Some may say it’s asking God not to punish us for our sin nature– to not rain down fury and violent retribution on us and maybe there’s a place for that.
Maybe, Lord have mercy is just shorthand for—Please do not punish us by our sins… maybe asking for God’s mercy is like saying—We beg you God that our sinful, human nature is not the final word. We beg you for your mercy to be with us, because ours is not enough. We pray for your wisdom to be with us, your lovingkindness to be with us because we just don’t have enough of our own. And we keep messing everything up. It seems that especially in situations where we are overwhelmingly aware of our shortcomings and smallness that we beg this of God.
I’m thinking that Peter the apostle surely understood this, if anyone did.
He had been a common fisherman when Jesus walked by and said follow me. Peter dropped his nets and everything he had known and followed this Jesus of Nazareth. And with him, walking the road together, Peter had seen great things. Miraculous wonders, healings, acts of power and grace. Peter was the first to call Jesus the Messiah – he was, above all, earnest in his devotion. And yet, when it came down to it, Peter, like so many of us, couldn’t be the person he hoped he would be. Peter didn’t bravely stay by Jesus’ side, choosing instead to slink away and anonymously warm himself by a charcoal fire. But you just can’t warm feet that have gone that cold. And he didn’t go unnoticed, as he wished, because 3 times he was asked by a passersby: Wait, you know him, don’t you?? And 3 times Peter said, “I do not.” He loved him, yet in Jesus’ hour of death Peter denied he even knew him. He was tested and he was found wanting. Keer-ee ay e-lay-uh-sawn Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.
The 21st chapter of John’s Gospel reports on the activities of the disciples after Easter has come and gone. We find them on the Sea of Galilee, back in their boat, casting their nets, catching nothing. Then a voice, “Try your nets on the other side!” Why not? So many fish! I know that voice. John says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter abandons ship, dives in and swims for the shore while the others return with their abundant catch.
I wonder though, when he encounters Jesus on the beach grilling fish over a charcoal fire, if Peter’s olfactory triggered the memory of another charcoal fire. A charcoal fire around which he warmed himself with his own self-protection and fear. Denying his Lord and warming his hands. His own smell of shame. How could he look his friend and Savior in the eye?
I simply cannot imagine what Peter felt about himself after he clumsily waded to shore and looked into the eyes of his resurrected Lord. Could he have been filled with anything but unfiltered remorse and regret? How could he live with himself? I don’t know if Peter was punished for his sin but I’m certain he was punished by his sin. How many times after Jesus died did he replay those hours in his head wishing beyond hope that he could just go back and change it. Re-write his own past. Lord, have mercy. Who among us can’t relate to that feeling?
But the resurrected Christ does such an unbelievably loving and merciful thing. He doesn’t rebuke Peter for failing him – instead he gives Peter breakfast and then he gives Peter 3 chances to proclaim his love. 1 for each of his denials. Do you love me Peter? With the smell of charcoal in his nostrils I wonder if Peter could possibly have answered yes without tears in his eyes. I have failed you Lord and denied you in your hour of death despite everything in me that knew it was wrong but yes. 3 times yes. I love you Lord. Have mercy upon me.
The adjective so often coupled with mercy is the word tender, but this mercy was not tender, this mercy was more a blunt instrument. Mercy doesn’t wrap a warm, limp blanket around offenders, God’s mercy is the kind that kills the thing which wronged it and resurrects something new in its place. In our guilt and remorse, we may wish for nothing but the ability to re-write our own past, but what’s done cannot, will not, be undone. The words that we have spoken, cannot be unspoken. Our past cannot be re-written, but I am here to say that in the mercy of God it CAN be redeemed. I cling to this truth more than perhaps any other. I have to. I need to. I want to. For when we say Lord have mercy, what else could we possibly mean than this?
I read an account last week of a prominent Lutheran Bishop who got into his car after having a number of drinks at a wedding reception. He was on his way home when he lost control and hit and a 52 year old mother of three who was running on a jogging path near the road. Keer-ee-ay e-lay-uh-sawn Kyrie eleison. What could possibly be filling every inch of his jail cell except remorse, regret, self-loathing and wishing he could just go back in time and not get in that car. If he could just re-write the past. If he could just not have done that horribly negligent thing that day, this mother would still be alive and he wouldn’t be facing years in prison and the emotional lead vest of knowing he has taken a life. He could still be doing ministry; helping Palestinian Christians and supporting a hospital in India and loving people which he was known for. But that’s not ever going to happen and there is enough tragedy in this story to go around and for everyone to have seconds.
All I know is that while he cannot re-write his actions, I simply have to cling tightly to the truth that GOD CAN REDEEM it. That’s not to minimize the unspeakable loss of a life, nor to minimize the need for justice.
But God is a God of Easter.
Saul of the New Testament experienced that. He had been traveling about, hunting down Christians like he was competing in a first century religious persecution version of the amazing race - he had been present at and approved of the stoning death of Steven and was on his way to round up more Christians for jail and execution when he experienced the resurrected Christ. After the blunt instrument of God’s mercy was done with Saul, he would be re-named Paul…as in the Apostle Paul who would then start many of the early churches and who penned most of the letters included in the New Testament. All of that is to say, God can redeem anything and anyone.
And to say Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, is to lay our hope in the redeeming work of the God of Easter as though our lives depended on it because you know what? They do. It means that we are an Easter people, a people who know that Good Friday is never the final word, that resurrection – especially in and among the least likely people and places is the way that God redeems our crap out of even the biggest messes we make. I’ve made some doozy’s in my life and am prone to be a repeat offender, but, somehow the fractures and lacerations caused by my selfishness or my sharp tongue are never the final thing. God’s redemptive work in the world is the final thing.
So either God can redeem everything, or God can redeem nothing and I stand here before you believing the former and not the later because it’s still Easter and the tomb is still empty and Peter the Christ denier became Peter the rock on which his confession the church was built and Saul the persecutor of Christians became Paul the Apostle; evangelist, missionary, church planter. So, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
Remember that God wastes nothing and he can redeem anything.
He has risen.
He has risen indeed.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.