Songs of Hope: A Song of Mercy

A sermon on Psalm 25:1-11

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just can’t imagine anything working out? Maybe you’ve messed up, or someone else has messed up but the consequences really fall on you. And you’re just stuck. And sometimes it’s stuck in a little way, but other times you’re epically in trouble. Maybe it’s easy to pinpoint the place where things went wrong, maybe it’s not, but, either way, things have gone wrong and you cannot make them right.

That’s where George Bailey finds himself in the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I tend to have a “no watching It’s a Wonderful Life until Christmas Eve” policy out of respect for Advent, the season of waiting, but if we’re talking about A Song of Mercy, there is really no place else to go. George’s Uncle Billy isn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box and, in his forgetfulness, he manages to leave $8,000 laying around. It’s enough money that it’s not really recoverable for George and his Building and Loan business. It’s enough money that he’s looking at huge consequences; corporate embezzlement and jail time huge. He’s let his wife down, as well as his kids. They’re living in a crummy house that’s falling apart, they haven’t traveled the world like George promised, and now this. $8,000 gone and the investigators are coming for him.

George stands on a bridge, ready to end everything. This is the point, thinks George, when everyone would really be better off without me. It would have been better, he says, if I’d never been born.

        “Make your ways known to me, God; teach me your paths.

        Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—because you are the God

that saves me.

        I put my hope in you all day long.

        Lord, remember your compassion and faithful love, for they are

forever.

        But don’t remember the sins of my youth or wrongdoing.

        Remember me only according to your faithful love, for the sake

of your goodness, Lord.”

These are the words we find in Psalm 25. A cry for mercy. “Don’t remember what I’ve done wrong God! Remember only according to your faithful love.” “God, let’s not focus on the bad, let’s focus on the good. You’re a good God.” Sometimes we just need a little mercy. Sometimes we find ourself in a place where we cannot make it. If we are to be judged by God, we are not going to make it, unless God has mercy. In this life, there are times when we are in over our heads and we desperately need God’s mercy. And so we cry out, “God, grant me mercy. Remember your compassion and faithful love.”

In the case of George Bailey, he had a lot of people crying out on his behalf. The echoes of the people’s voices surround the heavens and God hears their prayer. God sends Clarence, a dim witted angel with a heart of gold who hasn’t quite earned his wings yet, to help George. And Clarence gets the idea to show George what the world would be like if he had never been born.

Well, things in this alternate George-less universe are much worse. George finds himself surrounded by disaster after disaster and heartbreak after heartbreak. Have you ever known this feeling? Complete and utter helplessness? What could possibly go worse and then, just like that, something does go worse. And we are in need of mercy. Whether it’s our fault or not, we find ourselves in need of mercy. And so we cry out, “I put my hope in you. Remember your compassion. Remember me only according to your faithful love for the sake of your goodness, Lord!”

Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar and personal hero of mine. He talks about psalms in terms of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Simply recognizing our need for self-reflection, our need for mercy is what we need in order to make way for a new orientation. He says that the Psalms invite us “into the wholeness that comes in embraced brokenness.” The disorientation of finding ourselves vulnerable enough to cry out, “God, grant me mercy” is what makes way the path for reconciliation. Only by this admission of need can we get to a place where we are ready for reconciliation. And we can be sure that the One to whom we cry hears us.[1] <#_ftn1>

The Psalmist isn’t just crying out for mercy, the Psalmist is counting on it. We are not just crying out for mercy, we are counting on it. Here we are at the start of the season of Advent and life is hard and things have not always gone as we have planned. And we are just in need of some mercy. And so we cry out, in confidence and in humility. “God, show us mercy. Don’t remember us for our mistakes, but according to you steadfast love and mercy.” George Bailey cries out, “I want to live. I want to live.” That’s what we’re looking for! Here we are at the time to hope for new life. If there’s any time to hope, it’s right now. Hope for mercy, because it’s a guarantee. All the mercy we could ever need is coming into the world. We are waiting for the One who is coming into the world. Talk about mercy—the savior of the world is coming. Through him we are remembered, not according to our sin, but according to God’s steadfast love.

Salvation is coming. In this season of Advent, we see the signs of our promised forgiveness. New beginnings are coming. Look at all that God has done, know all that God has yet to accomplish; in you, in me, in us. The psalms teach us how to pray. So dig deep and find that which you need mercy for. God is faithful; the One that calls us walks with us through all of it--highs, lows, and everything in between. Cry out for mercy, God is faithful.

No matter where you find yourself, what you’ve done or failed to do, cry out in the hope of God’s mercy. Today is a new beginning. Jesus Christ is coming. Say it with me, “God, grant mercy.” God, grant mercy.

It’s already guaranteed.

[1] <#_ftnref1> "First Sunday of Advent." In *Feasting on the Word Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary*, edited by David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Year C ed. Vol. 1. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, p. 12.

-- Rev. Samantha Lewis Associate Pastor First United Methodist Church Crestview, FL