I wrote these words yesterday following our Wednesday Noon Prayer and Communion service in the Upper Room. As we were praying about the witness of the church in America in the coming year, our prayers took on the theme of mercy.
We are living in a moment marked by mean-spiritedness. Much of this meanness is directed toward immigrants and refugees, Muslims and foreigners. And, of course, various political factions aim their ire at one another. As we move through the presidential campaigns of 2016, I sadly anticipate the mean-spirited rhetoric to grow worse.
My prayer is that in 2016 the church would be something other. That instead of conforming to the spirit of the age, the church would model mercy as a Christlike act of nonconformity. Or to say it another way, I’m praying that the church would conform to the mercy of Christ and not to the current zeitgeist of mean-spiritedness. I’m praying that we would walk the world as the pardon of God — a phrase borrowed from G.K. Chesterton’s description of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Speaking of Francis… I’m aware that Pope Francis has launched an “Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy” in the Roman Catholic Church. When we were praying at Word of Life for the new year to be marked by mercy, we weren’t thinking about the Pope’s decree; but I would like to think we are all being led by the same spirit. Perhaps the Holy Spirit really is saying something to the church about modeling mercy in 2016.
While we were praying I felt drawn to the words of James. As the first bishop of Jerusalem, James (the brother of Jesus) was the first pastor of the first church. That seems significant. At the end of the third chapter of his epistle, James exhorts the church with words like these…
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it in the meekness of wisdom.
If you harbor bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it.
Do not be false to the truth.
Jealousy and selfishness are not from above, but are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
The wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, and full of mercy.
A harvest of justice is sown in peace by the those who make peace.
And in the second chapter of his epistle, the wise bishop famously says…
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Maybe that could be our mantra in 2016 — “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
So in 2016 I’m praying the church will be more marked by mercy and less characterized by judgment.
I’m praying that we will walk the world as the pardon of God, instead of acting like the wagging finger of God.
I’m praying that when mean-spiritedness and scapegoating reach a fever pitch later this year (as it will), that the church will be a haven of mercy and a sanctuary of peace.
Most of all I am praying that I would live as an answer to my own prayer.
Perhaps you will pray this too.