You are Witnesses
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

April 22, 2012

Psalm 4
Luke 24:36b-48

Grace and Peace to you this morning.  Grace and Peace.

I want us to focus for a moment on one particular sentence in the Psalm.  Not even a full verse.  It is placed in there between two petitions: for God to answer the psalmist’s prayer and for God to be gracious:

Thou hast given me room when I was in distress.

The language of this translation owes as much to the King James Bible as it does to the Hebrew in which the psalm was written.  A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see an original King James Bible.  With it, there was a talk about the history of translations of the Bible into English.  One of the lovely reminders we were given is that we think of archaic language like “thee” and “thou” as being formal, of marking a great distance between the speaker and the one spoken to.

But “thee” and “thou” were not the formal forms.  “You” was the formal.  “Thee” and “thou” were the familiar, the intimate, the closely related, the private forms.  A formal business partner would be “you.”  A lover would be “thou.”

Thou hast given me room when I was in distress.

Following the lead of Walter Brueggemann, I want to explore this phrase in light of one of the words that we have lost in our society: mercy.  A word with a deep and rich history in our Bible, somehow in our anxiety we have lost sight of it.

We have prayers of mercy, such as the beginning Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy

blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin.

In Hosea we hear the prophet speak on behalf of the Lord:

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.

And here we discover some of what it means to be merciful.  One of the words here translated as mercy is also rendered “steadfast love.” Uncle Walt says that this is not the kind of love that the romantic poets write about.  This is the kind of love of two people who have been together for many years, through many trials and tribulations, through life’s ups and downs.  This is the kind of love that has been through the wringer and survived to come out the other side.

The other word for mercy used here is a Hebrew word that also means “womb.”  I confess that because we have gone through in vitro fertilization, I have learned a lot about wombs lately.  A womb is that place where we grow when we are our most vulnerable.  It is a space to become who we are becoming.  And lest we romanticize this notion, ask any mom, the act of making room for another is uncomfortable.  It is discomforting.  Mercy is not something in our comfort zone.  Which may be why we have dropped it from our discussions and nearly lost it from our social vocabulary.

But if we have no mercy, no room for the other, no space in which those who are different from us may live, then pretty soon we lose all sense of covenant, all sense of community, all sense of being more than just a collection of people the loudest of whom wins the argument, the strongest of whom win the fight.

If we have no place for mercy, we become a Friday afternoon and Sunday night people.  On Friday afternoon, when Jesus was crucified, even as Jesus himself was praying for those who crucified him, the disciples ran away.  On Sunday night, they were all locked in the room for fear, out of anxiety, not willing to venture forth in faith or risk themselves as they had done for three years when Jesus was with them.

But our mercy does not originate with us.  It comes from the one who stands in our midst, even when we are locked away.  It comes from the one who is able to speak peace to the locked in, the fearful, the anxious.

And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered,

he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

One of our problems is we think we have to only be one way.  Either we disbelieve, or we have the joy of faith.  Either we believe or we don’t.  But even the disciples are a mixed bag of emotions.

When author Madeleine L’Engle was asked, “Do you believe in God without any doubts?” she replied, “I believe in God with all my doubts.”

In this we find the mercy of God.  God, the one whom we call ‘thou’ because God is closer to us than our next breath, makes room for us. In our distress.  In our fear.  In our anxiety.  In our doubt.  As we are.  Warts and all.  God makes room for us to become who we are becoming.  In this we find that we can make room for one another, that room was made for us, and we all have a place within God’s love.

This is the resurrection.  This is our faith.  This is our hope.  This is our life.

And you are all witnesses of it.

Thanks be to God.