The Tender Mercy of God

May 25, 2014 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Piney Parish, Waldorf, MD

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Amen

So, get out your insert and if you have a writing instrument, you can mark these two sentences. Or you can put your finger on them. If you have incredible memory, then don’t bother… you are blessed!

          “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

          “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

These are two sentences from the reading in today’s gospel. These are the words of Jesus. I cannot help but be struck by the timing of this reading in the life of this parish.  Here we are again with no priest. The last time this happened, we talked about a basketball movie. Do you remember? This time, no talk about movies. Instead, I would like to focus on these words of Jesus and then there is one more person who help form my thoughts for this morning, Catherine McAuley.

 

I am a creature of habit. I do many things the same way over and over again.  In my Prayer Book, for instance:

  • The black and white ribbons mark hymns.
  • The purple ribbon marks the Psalm.
  • The yellow ribbon marks the prayers.
  • Green is for liturgy
  • The red one is for the Collect of the Day.

My life is filled with these little quirks.  And, every week, when I come to church, I park generally in the same spot and come into the church through the Parish Hall.  On the Sundays when I am preaching, our beloved Vicki always shouts out, “Mornin’ preacher!”

And I always tease her by responding, “Yeah Vicki, I had to work hard on it, but I got the sermon down to 22 minutes so get comfortable!”

Joe Guy tells me the limit is 12 minutes.

Why do I tell you this?  Because, this morning, I had a very simple and short reflection for you all until, it became obvious to me, you do not know about Catherine McAuley.  And, without knowing who she is, her words carry no significance. So now I have to tell you about her too!  So, if you think the homily is too long this morning, there is really nothing we can do, we have to know about Catherine.

 

So anyway, here are the sentences that I used for my inspiration. The first two come from our gospel reading.

          “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”          

“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

catherinemcauley And the third is this from Catherine McAuley.          

“The tender mercy of God has given us one another.”

So, let’s start with the first sentence I cite, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” Is there a certain irony to this sentence and its timing of occurring in the reading on the very Sunday that we again find ourselves without a Rector?  Do you think that is by accident or coincidence? Because if you do, then listen carefully to what I am about to say, “It’s not a coincidence, it is the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.”

Let me say that again… “It’s not a coincidence, it is the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.”

Okay, so keep that in your mind and let’s move on to the second sentence. “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

I love this!

I remember a time in another parish where there was conflict.  What went on did not resemble people who follow Jesus in any way. And, it was easy to get caught up in the emotion of the situation.  I remember one day fuming over the events and the people and not having very Jesus-like thoughts. It upset me.  As I thought about the whole thing and how people were acting, I was reminded of how Jesus is in us…not a few of us, not many of us… …Jesus is in all of us.

While this really is off the theme of my reflection with today, let’s linger here a moment and let me share my personal theology.  Jesus is in all of us.  In some, it is obvious.  In others, it may be an up and down cycle.  And yet in others, even those who are evil natured, I firmly believe Jesus is there.  And it is our part in this relationship to decide how much of that Jesus we let out.

But, more to the point of this sentence and its context to the life of this parish, I can find several instances where this sentence is so true.  Here it is again… “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Can you apply this in our parish life as recently as last Sunday in the parish hall celebrating the ministry of Julie? Did not the Jesus in all of us come out in the form of love, respect, admiration and even sorrow at the ministry of Julie while she was with us?

  • How about on a Saturday morning when many hands working together clean the church yard?
  • Or feed the hungry from our Food Pantry?
  • Or take communion to the homebound?
  • Or conduct a service at the nursing home?

Or….you get the idea?

Jesus in the Father, us in Jesus and Jesus in us.

And now, sentence #3… “The tender Mercy of God has given us one another.”

Catherine McAuley was born in the late 18th century in Ireland to a devout Catholic family. She was a normal child but when she only 5 years old, her father died.  As an older teen, her mother died and she was left orphaned. She was taken in by another family who was not religious as all and often grew weary of her piety.

But, long story short, Catherine and her love of God and the church became a nun and in fact, started her own convent, the Sisters of Mercy. Their chosen mission was health care and today, the network of Catholic Hospitals under the name of Mercy Hospital trace back their origin to her.

There is one such hospital in Baltimore and on the wall in the Weinberg Center for Women’s Health is a plaque with this quote.  It has come to mean a great deal to me. “The tender Mercy of God has given us one another.”  Do you understand my friends, that this means we are not alone?  We have each other.

So, let’s see if I can tie this all together in the life of this parish…no, this family.  While we have no rector, we have Jesus’ promise that we will not be left orphaned. And, in fact, I would argue we are not orphaned today. Indeed, we do not have a rector.  But, we have the gift of the incredible work of the Search Committee.  We have the leadership of the parish in the form of our wardens and vestry.  And, most vital to this, we have each other. And if we believe, as I argue is true and we are told in the scriptures, that Jesus is in us, all of us; the fact that we have each other is paramount.

There will be a day when a new man or woman becomes the rector of this parish. That day is not that far away.  I believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and living among us. And, I believe that with the Holy Spirit, the selection of that person will be obvious to us because we are indeed focused on the Holy Spirit and the direction of God.  I am so excited for that day and so confident that our future is going to be so wonderful.

Until that day comes however…

“The tender Mercy of God has given us one another.”

Amen.

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