Tag Archive: Mercy


Thank You

Where suffering, wounded and broken hearts abide,
There within them you humbly reside.

Where pains and hurts are too great to tell,
There among them you have chosen to dwell.

Where confounded by worry, fear, and sin’s snare,
There with tenderness, love and mercy you patiently care.

Thank you.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

A Gut-moving Experience

This was the sermon I preached on June 9 on the “Widow of Nain:” Luke 7:11-17.

Jesus has just come to Nain, a village southeast of Nazareth.  He’s traveling with his disciples and a large crowd after successfully healing a centurion’s servant.  As they come up to the gate of the village, they encounter a funeral procession.  There are crowds shuffling slowly and people weeping for the man who has died and is now being carried out of the city on a bier.   In the heart of the crowd, Jesus sees this man’s mother and tells her, “do not weep.”  And without another word, he touches the bier, halting the procession in its tracks.  The widow and the crowds are waiting, silent and tense, not knowing who this man is or what he is doing.  What might he do?  Might he actually have the power to do something?

Jesus stands next to the bier and says in a clear voice, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”  Suddenly the man sits bolt upright and begins to speak!  As Jesus hands him over to his mother, the crowds begin to glorify and praise God, calling Jesus a great prophet and saying that God has looked favorably on them.  From that small village of Nain, stories of a great prophet ripple out, eventually reaching John the Baptist.

This morning’s Gospel reading is a very short story.  There’s very little dialogue and, although a man is raised from the dead, it’s not one of the better-known stories we hear in scripture!  But as I was reading this story again, I was struck by the phrase, “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her…”

Now, if there’s one thing you all should know about me, it’s that I am a huge language nerd.  Actually, I’m a huge nerd in general, but let’s just focus on the language part for now.  I love learning different languages.  I enjoy learning about where words come from and the ways in which languages reflect cultures.  So when I heard this phrase about having compassion on the widow, I thought back to Greek class.

You see, there’s a really fun Greek word for what gets translated in our Gospel reading as “to have compassion on.”  The verb used is splanchnizomai – if you’d like, I invite you to try saying it because it’s really fun!  Splanchnizomai.  This fun foreign word connects to the word for guts.  That’s right, Jesus saw her and his guts were moved.  Weird, right?  Well, in many cultures of the day, the guts were thought to be the place of deep, tender emotion.  Love, compassion and affection were not matters of the heart, but matters of the gut.  I think “I ❤ New York” works much better than “I gut New York,” but I digress.

Jesus is walking in the village and he sees a sight that hits him in the gut.  It stops him in his tracks and causes him to reach out and to address the people and the situation in front of him.  He sees not only the widow’s sorrow, but also her glaring need.  He knows perfectly well that in his culture a single woman without a husband or son to care for her would lose her place in society and would have to rely upon charity to survive.  He knows that she not only weeps for her son, but also for the dire straits she’s now in – for the uncertainty that lies ahead.  He sees this and it hits him hard.  And so he acts, speaking a word of hope and promise, telling her not to weep.  And then he raises her son with only a few words, restoring not only his life, but the widow’s as well.  Both of them are restored to life and also to their places in the community.

Jesus’ response to the situation – the compassion he feels upon seeing this sad sight – isn’t just a miracle story.  It helps the people of Nain, the people hearing Luke’s Gospel, and us, today, to identify Jesus with God.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God is described as being a God of mercy, compassion and faithfulness.  God’s character is one of love and justice – of caring for the poor, the orphan, the widow and all of those who have been marginalized.  Jesus’ compassion on the widow signals that he is connected with God.  Through Jesus’ movement of love to the very center of death and the miracle of raising this young man, the villagers identify him as a great prophet, as someone who is bringing God’s favor and mercy to them.  God has visited them and all of them have in some way experienced not only God’s favor, but new life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ encounter with the funeral procession.  They were on their way, participating in a difficult part of every day life, when they were stopped.  They were interrupted by God enfleshed.  But even Jesus was powerfully impacted by what he encountered.  His compassionate, divine gut told him to get involved and to act.

I know there have been times in my life when I have seen situations and felt compelled to reach out.  But I also know there are just as many times I’ve ignored these promptings.  How often do we go through life, checking off things on our “to do” lists, moving along and doing our own thing, ignoring, intentionally or not, the widows around us?  Ignoring those in need of tender care and also justice?  What does it take for something to hit us in the guts and cause us to sit up and pay attention?  Do the situations we see around us or in the larger world – the poverty, problems with bullying, lack of clean water, malaria, violence – move us with compassion to do something?  Or do we walk on by?

A few weeks ago, a photo posted online hit me in the gut and stopped me cold.  It was a picture of a couple embracing in the rubble of the garment factory that had collapsed in Bangladesh in April.  It was a shocking picture because they looked peaceful, like a couple in love with the backdrop of a horrific tragedy.   It was a picture that saddened me, but also made me upset that so many, 1,100 people, died due to unsafe working conditions.  It was also a picture that made me uncomfortable because the garments made there could easily be the ones on my back.  As I was looking at the photo of the couple buried in the rubble and now thinking about the gospel for today, I wonder, how might God be calling me to respond?  Might God be calling me to a greater awareness of the high price of my clothes? Might God be calling me to speak up for better working conditions at garment factories?

“A Final Embrace” photographed by Taslima Akhter on April 25, 2013

Like the widow and the crowds in Nain, God through the Holy Spirit interrupts us along our way, inviting us to participate in what God is up to in the world.  The difficult thing is being open to being interrupted – letting ourselves be moved by compassion to do something that maybe was never on our radar screen.  Letting ourselves be moved by the Spirit to take risks for the sake of the gospel.  Letting ourselves be moved out of our comfort zones and beyond our fears to follow Christ, the one who gives abundant life.

The young man in this story is not the only one who has died and been brought back to life for a second chance.  In some ways, we may be dead to what is going on around us in the world, hesitant to get involved because we fear we do not have the skills necessary, or because we wonder what others might say if we stepped outside of the box.  Maybe we doubt that we could even make a difference.  But just as Jesus brought the young man back to life, he stands before us, beckoning us to rise and to live in the fullness of the life he longs to give to us.

Every day we can remember that, in baptism, we too, have died with Christ and been raised to new life in him.  We have been marked with the cross and gifted with the Holy Spirit.  We have been given the incredible opportunity to go out, led by the Spirit, to participate in the work of sharing life and hope with others, especially those in need like the widow of Nain.

And one of the fantastic gifts we’ve been given is that we’re never in this alone!  We have the community of faith to help us discern how God may be leading us individually, as a congregation, and as a larger church to respond to those stirrings of mercy and compassion we feel.

With stories of violence in the news or the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma we know all too well that we will see and hear difficult or even downright awful things in the world that hit us in the gut and move us.  The question is, how is God calling us to respond? Is it with prayer? Is it with donations of clothing, food, water or money? Is it by giving of our time? Is it by learning more about the situations and discerning with the community how to respond?

Christ has given us new life through his death and resurrection.  And we have been generously invited to share that gift of life with others in his name.  What an amazing opportunity!  May the Holy Spirit continue to interrupt our lives, to shake us up and stir in us, moving us with compassion and driving us to actively participate in God’s work in the world.  Let’s just say I’ve got a good gut feeling about it.  AMEN.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Since April 10, I have been learning how to write icons in the Orthodox style.  Icons are both a form of artwork and a way of praying.  I was nervous to begin painting my icon of Christ the Good Shepherd because I was unsure of my painting abilities.  I only knew that I really wanted to try my hand at this since I had heard it was a deeply prayerful and spiritual practice.  So off I went! 

Along the way, I learned quite a bit, and not just about icons.  I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with God.  I warned my teacher that I was a perfectionist going in and after a sigh, she told me that it’s not about the icon being perfect, but I do need to be happy with it because I’ll be praying with it.  If there are things that bother me enough to distract my prayer time, I better make them as I like them!  More on this later…

My icon writing sessions begin with a beautiful prayer that my teacher uses.  It’s a prayer asking God to help me focus on only this and for God to speak to me through what I’m doing.  It’s a prayer that asks God to help me to use my God-given gifts in painting for prayer and worship.  It’s a prayer asking for help not comparing my work to others, for God alone can judge the prayer.  It’s a prayer asking opening my heart to pray for others as I work. 

I’ve found that between this prayer and the practice itself, I settle into icon writing and that it becomes the thing I can focus on at that moment.  I can’t think about my future or the call process (where I’ll be serving as a pastor), or trying to solve anything else going on.  I am solely devoted to spending time working slowly and deliberately on the icon.  Focusing on individual garment folds, on wood grain in Jesus’ staff, the curls of the lamb’s wool, or on the gentle eyes of Christ.  I have to move slow and appreciate the details.  I can get overwhelmed by the overall picture, but at some point I just have to begin, one stroke at a time. 

And that’s another thing about icon writing.  Icons are painted going from dark colors to light, symbolizing our transformation from sin and death to forgiven and alive in the light of Christ.  But while I was painting this first icon, I found it awful difficult to believe that my finished icon would look as it was supposed to.  While you’re in the middle of it, you can’t possibly see that this is the right thing to do or that mistakes will somehow work out and that the icon will be beautiful – something through which you’ll be moved.  Even knowing that this is a tradition thousands of years old and with the experienced guidance and hand of my teacher, I found I was doubting that my icon painted with the same techniques and theory would even remotely resemble any icon!

Regarding my perfectionism, while I was painting, I found that I definitely had things I wanted to keep tweaking and fixing (futzing is the word that best describes this 😉 ).  Others would say it looked good, but I wasn’t completely satisfied.  Or it was really fine and I kept trying to “fix” it, each time really risking making it worse.  It was hard to let go and to trust that it would be fine.  It was hard to let go and accept the little imperfections, knowing that only God can create something perfect.  I know that I do this all the time in everyday life, seeking to control and to make things as perfect as I can, without really trusting God.  For those who haven’t tried it, it’s exhausting!  To keep messing with something rather than letting go and allowing God to work, trusting that God is acting and with our best interests in mind. 

It was also interesting to watch how the members of the class praised one another’s work, but pointed out all of the imperfections in our own icons, whether or not anyone else could see them!  What a life lesson!  Staring at the icon up close means you often miss the larger, overall effect.  It’s helpful to have others hold it up from afar so you can take it all in.  How often do we get blinded in our own little world that we miss the larger picture of what God’s doing? 

It’s also amazing the way people may use the same techniques and the same icon pattern, but that each icon turns out unique in some way, reflecting the person who made it and their prayer to God.  For example, one day I found that I was spending a ridiculous amount of time working on the lamb in my icon and I wondered how others had been able to finish so quickly.  As I meditated on this, I realized that I felt really connected to that little lamb, safe and secure around Christ’s neck.  I realized that I am that little lamb, the one for whom Christ laid down his life – the one safe in his hands.  I needed to spend time painting and reflecting about that relationship, hearing again that miraculous good news. 

I have just finished putting varnish on my icon and I have asked God that it might be a blessing to myself and others and that we may encounter God through it.  It is not perfect, and there are still things that jump out at me as “errors,” but when I look at it, it speaks to me of Christ’s love and mercy.  It invites me, beckons me, to pray and to spend time in quiet reflection with God.

I still have so much to learn about icons and painting, but I give thanks that this first one has been a great experience and I look forward to continuing!  

 
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.
 
 

Salvation

Salvation.
The word is so loaded.
Weighed down,
ensnared in a web
of lines drawn between
in and out,
right and wrong,
redeemed and tossed aside.

But the word itself,
is salve.
It is healing, wholeness –
the thing that binds up wounds,
rifts and cavernous divides
between Creator and beloved creation,
between your aching heart and mine,
between your grievous sins and my own.

Salvation.
The word is so loaded.
Saturated with mercy,
Laden with freedom
bursting through the lines
we perpetually draw
to keep God’s grace
contained in our limited boxes.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

With Open Arms

This was yesterday’s sermon on the parable of the prodigal son, delivered at Christ Lutheran Church, Washington, DC.

Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 11b“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32
But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

The story we just heard this morning is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible.  And for good reason!  I mean who hasn’t identified at some point in their life as the younger son who goes out, makes a big mistake and needs forgiveness or redemption?  Or who hasn’t felt like the older son who is rightfully irritated that his father is throwing a party for his irresponsible brother while he’s been working hard?  Who hasn’t felt like the father who waits expectantly for his beloved son to return, and is so overjoyed that he can’t help but throw a party?  Yes, this is a classic story.  And I think the more we read it, ask questions of it and experience similar moments in our lives, the more we appreciate it.

But today, I want to focus specifically on the father.  I would say that of the three main characters we hear about in Jesus’ story, this is the hardest one to relate to.  When the younger son comes to his dad asking for his share of the property, it’s equivalent to wishing his father dead.  And yet the father gives him the inheritance money and allows him to go off to a distant country.  Then, to make matters worse, this kid goes off and wastes all his money, lands on hard times, and is forced to take a job working for a Gentile pig farmer.  All of this has got to reflect poorly on dear old dad.  After all, what will the neighbors say?

After a while of this rough life, the younger son realizes that he’s hungry and his dad’s hired hands have always had enough to eat.  “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”  What’s interesting is that we don’t know if he is actually remorseful, or if he’s just figuring out that being at home is better off than being among the pigs! So he heads home, hoping beyond hope that things will work out.

Then we have this really beautiful line that has jumped out at me in rereading this story: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”  The image of this father, running as fast as he can toward his son is so moving to me.  He’s been waiting, heart aching as he hears rumors about what his son has been up to.  He’s been sad knowing that his son has had to hire himself out to a Gentile in order to survive.  He’s been watching the horizon, day after day, praying that his beloved son would come walking back down that dirt road.  And then he sees him!  And all his aches and pains can’t stop him from setting off at a dead run to embrace the son who he thought he might never see again.

He doesn’t even listen to the son’s apology because he’s too busy shouting to the slaves: “’Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’”

This father is quite the character.  What are the neighbors going to say?  Is he going to be laughed at for his extravagant welcome of his wayward son?  They might say, “He’s a fool!  He’s a sucker!  He’s a sap!”  But what if God is, too?

And I think that’s Jesus point in telling this story.  Jesus is sitting there speaking and he’s got quite a crowd.  This isn’t a polite group listening to a theology lecture.  No, this crowd includes all the tax collectors who have been working for the Roman oppressors and squeezing the Jewish people for every dime they have.  There are also sinners in this group – people whose actions disrupt the fabric of society.  It’s a seedy and unpopular bunch, basically the prodigal sons and daughters of the day, and so, it’s no wonder that people are grumbling about how “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus is hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Listening to the song “Painted Red” by one of my favorite artists, JJ Heller, helped to put this into perspective for me.  She sings: “Hope means holding on to you…Grace means you’re holding me too.”  The younger son was ready to go back and beg his father for forgiveness, hoping that all would work out.  He hoped that he would indeed be forgiven or that, at the very least, he’d have food and shelter.

But what he actually receives is far greater.  Instead, there’s this incredible grace.  The father bolts from his waiting place and takes on shame and foolishness to embrace his sinful son, not even knowing the son’s true intentions.

When I think about God, I imagine open arms, like that of the father in the parable.  Arms that welcome and embrace us as we are.  Arms that welcome us to the waters of baptism and invite us to the table.  Arms outstretched in the epitome of love on the cross.  This God of grace and open arms is the opposite of the judgmental and condemnatory God we so often hear spoken about.  Instead of a finger pointing at us in condemnation, we receive the loving embrace of our Heavenly parent.

But in case we forget, there’s still the older son.  I imagine the older brother standing with his arms crossed, closed off to the possibilities, refusing to go to the welcome home party.  What do our arms look like? Are they extravagantly open to others? Or are they firmly crossed, refusing to show grace, compassion and love?

On Friday, I watched a Ted Talk video about a man named Jeremy Courtney.  Sitting in a café in Iraq in 2007, talking to his waiter, Jeremy became aware of a terrible problem: tons of kids were being born with fatal heart defects and there were no hospitals in the country to give the children the crucial heart surgeries they needed.  Hearing, this, Jeremy decided that he needed to do something and so he jumped in, trying to find out why so many kids had heart defects.

He found out that there were three reasons for the soaring rates of birth defects.  First, Saddam Hussein’s use of mustard gas against his own people.  Second, the US led sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that led to the healthcare services falling apart and, as a result, the malnourishment of many pregnant women.  Third, American soldiers also noted that they had children with birth defects and the cause was found to be due to the US and British forces’ use of depleted uranium munitions which vaporized upon contact with the ground.

Jeremy was beginning to come to a new understanding of violence – the understanding that “violence unmakes the world.”  But he also believed that there was something able to stand against this destructive violence.  He called this “preemptive love.”  As Jeremy explains,  “Now, unlike a preemptive strike where I seek to get you before you get me, preemptive love is where I jump forward to love you, before you love me.  I jump forward to trust you before perhaps you’ve trusted me, because we all know that violence unmakes the world.  But preemptive love unmakes violence.  Preemptive love remakes the world through healing.”

With this hope in his heart, he created the Preemptive Love Coalition with his wife and others in order to get kids the lifesaving heart surgeries they needed.  And one of the stories that Jeremy tells in his Ted Talk is about a young boy named Shad and his father.  Shad’s father was a Kurdish taxi driver from one of the northern cities of Iraq who was willing to do anything to help his son get the help he needed.  But when Jeremy suggested that they go to neighboring Turkey to get help from the doctors there, he was a little leery.  You see, there’s a long-standing conflict between the Kurds and the Turks and so the very idea was terrifying to Shad’s father – that he should take his dear son to the enemy to seek healing.  What would his family think? And what would the neighbors say? But this was the last resort and a Turkish doctor was the only one willing to put his reputation on the line to try to save this boy’s life.

And so they took Shad and his father to Istanbul, and after a lot of diagnostic tests to see if they could or should operate, late at night they received the news that they would get the surgery.  Shad’s father and Jeremy were ecstatic! Shad went through surgery and then, after a few days he was released back to his room.  But then, a blood clot went through his artery and after a third and fourth surgery, Shad died.  Jeremy got dressed and went into the hospital to be with Shad’s father who was mourning and wondering what to do – what to say to the family back home.

And then Jeremy started to think, “oh no, the inevitable blame game will set in because a Kurdish boy has died in the hands of the Turkish enemy.  Shad’s father is going to blame the Turks and this circle of violence will again unmake everything we’ve tried to do here.”  But instead, something amazing happened.  Instead of pointing a finger in blame, Shad’s father walked around to every doctor and nurse and looked them in the eye and said “thank you.  Thank you.  I know you’re sad.  I know you didn’t want my son to die.  You gave us a chance.  Thank you.”  Jeremy spoke about how incredibly healing it was for everyone.  He realized that little by little, they were all remaking the world through preemptive love and through healing.  And after that, 35 children were able to go to Istanbul to get the life-saving surgeries they needed.

In the stories of the prodigal son and Shad’s father, we hear about two fathers who would do anything for their sons – who would bear shame, become fools, and cross boundaries to help their children.  Two fathers, choose love and grace, forgiveness and compassion, and transform the world and set forth a different way of living.

That’s the kind of God we have.  A God who foolishly chooses to welcome people who continue to fall short.  A God, who would do anything, even become human and die on a cross, for the sake of God’s beloved children.  A God with arms flung wide open, who runs to meet us, embraces us and celebrates our return lavishly.  A God who is transforming and remaking the world, showing us that there is a different way of living in the world – a way that involves embracing others, lavishing love on those we encounter, and forgiving, even if it seems foolish.  A God who calls us open our arms and our hearts in order to transform the world by sharing the outrageous love and forgiveness we’ve received.  Thanks be to God! Amen.
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.
For those interested, here is the original TEDx Talk by Jeremy Courtney.

%d bloggers like this: