“Mercy Said ‘No’”
April 23. 2023
Seminarian Henry Norkplim Anyomi
Scripture Readings: Psalm 116:1-4,12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23
With an everlasting love, You’ve loved us, O God. Thank You! We’ve come ready and willing to know what’s next for us in our walk with You. Would you reach forth Your hands and heal us wherever we may be hurting? And would you calm our minds and hearts to hear Your voice and Your voice alone? Thank You that we’ll never be the same again. In Jesus name. Amen.
Friends, we are going to be close collaborators in the sharing of God’s word this morning. And I’m truly pleased to be sharing the chancel with all of you. So, welcome! Now, I need you to make sure you are comfortably seated – please adjust yourself in your seat, if not. Now with your hands in your lap, breathe in and out … Wonderful, our collaboration just got started! How did it feel being intentional about breathing? At a time when the world is going through so much turmoil and anguish – war, disasters, gun violence, disinformation, and polarity – mundane things like our breathing cycle should bring us joy.
We’re blessed. Oh yes, we are, especially when we take stock of what it takes to be alive, what it takes to have blood circulating freely through one’s veins and what it takes to inhale oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, we can’t conclude otherwise. Let me bring it home … The world marked Earth Day 2023 yesterday, April 22, to continue to rally support for environmental protection and climate sustainability.
Over time, the earth’s atmosphere has been said to be under threat mainly due to human activities, lifestyle choices, and waste disposal methods. So, yesterday’s commemoration, themed, “Invest in our Planet” was another opportune moment for various organisations, world leaders, climate activists, and everyday people like myself to pause and ponder the impact of our actions on our planet.
Why did I even bring up Earth Day? Oh, we’re blessed, that was the point. Even in relation to Earth Day – and I won’t go off course, I promise – we need to count ourselves very blessed. Perhaps, shown mercy, even, because our planet’s carbon emissions currently exceed levels deemed safe by climatologists. God’s fingerprint over our footprint – God’s mercy speaking, though our actions don’t deserve it. Shall we treat our climate and nature however we please then? No. Let’s pick this up later.
Friends, our reflections on our planet and climate change are a good prequel to our Psalm 116 reading. This Psalm is believed to have been written by David and I don’t think otherwise. Here, David is seen honouring God for God’s response to his prayers. He stresses how God paid attention to his cry for help when he was hemmed in by death. He paints a rather poignant picture of what he was suffering at the hands of death – that “death wrapped its ropes around him” and that “the terrors of the grave overtook him,” according to the rendering of the New Living Translation (NLT). Knowing what the life of David entailed (including the many adversaries, wars, persecutions, and rejections that he faced), he may have been recounting his ordeals in this Psalm. Though anointed king at about age 15, David would run and/or be in hiding for the next fifteen years of his life. Could you imagine what that was like? Death staring him in the eye, every single second for a decade and a half. Impossible, right?
Knowing how hopeless and helpless he was in those tumultuous years, David, therefore, credits God as his Savior. Enemies came in, but God said, “No!”
In our own lives and endeavors, there are such dire moments – moments when we feel stuck in a vicious cycle without hope of salvation, moments when we cry out for mercy day and night, moments when we importune the Divine to spare our very lives. And like David, our humanness may kick in at such times – somewhere along the line, we may want to take a shortcut – perhaps pay the oppressor back, perhaps act on evil counsel, or perhaps extort money from others, if financially distressed. David was a man of war and could have turned in a myriad of directions in such a distressing period of exile and persecution. Instead, he turned to God, not once, not twice – he did it till it became a natural inclination. For instance, God was his salvation, so he wouldn’t avenge himself by taking Saul’s life. Again, God was his salvation so he wouldn’t even celebrate at Saul’s demise. And I know that militarily speaking, David was at a disadvantage and could have been slain at any moment – but the God to whom David had lifted his voice said, “No.” The mercy of God said, “No.”
On the back of God’s redemption of the Psalmist from death, he remembers to give thanks to God. Indeed, thanksgiving takes centre stage in this particular reading (covers about 15 verses) and it indeed transcends thanksgiving – David is quick to give an offering – to pay his vows. Now, this is of such importance to him that he repeats himself only a couple of verses after he first announces the word, “vow”. David’s exhilaration about his salvation and his eagerness to offer unto God tell us at least two things: First, the depth of David’s trial. With the bit I’ve witnessed, people don’t go about making vows in everyday situations and relationships – only time-tested, profound encounters receive vows or pledges. Second, God’s act of mercy was so good David was overwhelmed. He wanted God’s people to hear of God’s deliverance! Much like one of those jaw-dropping acts of grace that leave us repeating, “God is good” over and over and over again …
In the last quarter of 2020, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was shocking to many including my doctors and myself because I had had a steady medical history and maintained a healthy lifestyle. This diagnosis would set back my academic work and leave me uncertain about the future. Even worse, travel was prohibited until my condition was reversed, because my doctors thought catching COVID would further compound my already debilitating health. I would spend the next several months going in and out of hospital, having dozens of tests run, and seeing various specialists, including a lung surgeon. My doctors had anticipated a long bout with the condition, but I cried to God, along with God’s people, in the midst of my confusion and disorientation. Like the Psalmist, I nurtured an even deeper relationship with God, my Saviour, and made God a vow. Fast forward, God saw me through surgery, lobectomy, successfully and made me well again. Today, I stand before you honouring the vow I made God – to get to know God a little closer and to devote the rest of my life to God’s service.
Let’s turn our attention to our second reading now. Writing to non-Jewish (gentile) believers in the early church, Peter calls attention to what their new-found faith and redemption through Jesus meant. In verses 17-23 in particular, we, like them, are reminded to cast aside our former ways and be reassured of the acceptance we have before God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. With this in mind, we ought to live for God, loving one another with the unconditional love that God provides.
Now let’s break down what God’s telling us through 1 Peter. Let’s breathe in and out once more … Did you realise that unless you let go of the inhaled air (now CO2) in your lungs, fresh oxygen couldn’t be inhaled?
Let’s let go of old unhelpful ways, dear friend. The tendency to want to hold unto old things which perhaps were beautiful, bubbly, and a blessing but have since outlived their usefulness is human nature. We just wish we could live there! People may have given you some advice which may have protected you in the past, but is irrelevant now. It’s time to let go! Yes, those laurels and accomplishments are good, they brought you this far. But would you take your eyes off of them and come so Jesus may fully fill you for what is to come? It’s true that waste sorting takes time and space, but would you do this faithfully as God’s steward sent to care for the earth? Why? The blood of Jesus expects that of us. Yes, calvary needs us to partner heaven as Easter people. You see, God wants to show forth God’s glory by us. God’s word says in 1 Corinthians 15:57 that “thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because we arose with Christ on the third day, old unhelpful ways must cease. Thanks to God’s mercies, newness of life is here! Hallelujah!
Friends, we have right-standing with God, thanks to Christ. There’s no question about that! Peter does a good job in verses 22 through 24 of disabusing our minds of doubt. He says, we are “purified” and “born anew” by the living and enduring word of God. And this is why we should have hope and not despair – the living and enduring word of God. Here’s the catch – because our source (Christ) is living and enduring, so are we! Yes, this mortal flesh may fail and wrinkle, but our souls are living and enduring. Yes, there may be hardship and division in this world – but our future life will know neither black nor white, rich nor poor, educated nor uneducated … God’s manifold mercy changed our destinies forever! And I know you may be saying to yourself, “Henry, I get it, but how about the here and now? I’m not sure I can make it through today. I’m in so much pain or I’m in so much debt or I’m so lonely … that I don’t even know whether I can make it any longer.”
Friend, that same grace that resurrected Jesus’ broken and battered body is with us here and now. Our bodies and minds may be saying something else, but if only we would lean in and ask God for grace for today, not more, we would be able to make it through this present moment and make God proud.
To close, friends, I came to announce God’s mercy to us anew. I came to charge us to arise and do a little extra for creation and our planet. I came to reassure someone under persecution and affliction that they wouldn’t lead to death, thanks to God’s mercy. I came to awaken someone who may have given up on themselves because of their past to get up and try again. And I came so we all may remember that God’s mercy is renewed through our resurrected Christ and available to us today. I came so we may hold on to God’s grace in the present, as we press on towards our sorrow-free future with Jesus. God’s mercy and peace be with us all. Amen!
You do great and mighty miracles, Merciful God. Thanks for sustaining our planet all these years. Thanks for all that You are encouraging us to do to preserve it, as individuals and as a Church. Thanks, Lord, for Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement which is forever efficacious. Help us to live every day knowing that Your mercy is enough. Thank You for Your love, Your whisper, Your touch, and Your presence in this place right now. In Jesus name. Amen.