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Twice Blest

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The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest, -
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway, -
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.
He who pursues justice and mercy will find life, justice and glory.

This is the season of giving. What can I do to carry this spirit throughout the entire year?

Entrée:  Mercy Begetting Mercy
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Who can deny that simple kindness is far from commonplace in our culture? Rather, in a society like ours, where self-interest, rudeness, and insensitivity increasingly govern relationships, kindness can seem rare, even precious.

That is why I was so struck by the words of my friend John McFadden who wrote about his return flight from a meeting we both attended. The plane experienced engine trouble and returned to Orlando. There was then the scramble to get on another flight home. He wrote, "Two hundred disrupted lives milled around the Orlando airport. The flight was delayed, the flight was canceled. United had no more room, Delta could not help. Most of us were going nowhere that night.

"One airline employee became the brunt of much of the anger and frustration… [she] failed to endear herself to any of the tired, hungry, unhappy throng. When it was finally my turn to speak with her about morning flights, evening hotels and all the rest, I expressed a simple bit of sympathy for the pressure upon her and the other airline employees. With that she broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. It was her first day back at work since her husband’s unexpected death on Christmas day at the age of 49."

John concludes, "Now I am home… My prayers are with her. Sometimes it takes a disruption in our lives before we really notice the lives of others around us. The anonymous, the faceless. The ticket clerk, the waitress, the checkout lady, the bag boy. Each a soul, each a pearl on the string in God’s creation. Each precious beyond measure."

If ours were a society in which everyone showed other people kindness, then to say, "Blessed are the kind" would seem like too big a blessing for too small a virtue. But in a society like ours, where self-interest, rudeness and insensitivity increasingly govern relationships, simple kindness can seem an awful lot like mercy - grand, rare, even blessed.

If we are able to exhibit a mercy that is increasingly rare in our time, it may be only because we have been claimed by a merciful God that the world does not know. Luke Timothy Johnson writes, "We who deserve nothing have been given all things by gift. The more we realize this, the more we will be able to entrust ourselves to each other in the gift of mercy, the more we will be able to take with others the risk God has first taken with each of us."

Mercy is a package deal, after all. And the whole package is a gift, both the mercy we receive and the mercy we are empowered to give, mercy begetting mercy, blessing after blessing, grace upon grace.

About the author:

The Rev. Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor of the Wellesley Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Rev. Copenhaver has been a regular columnist for newspapers and has published articles in a variety of periodicals. Martin has published two books: Living Faith While Holding Doubts and To Begin at the Beginning: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. He is also the co-author of Good News Exile(with Anthony Robinson and William Willimon) and Words for the Journey: Letters to Our Teenagers About Life and Faith (also with Anthony Robinson). The above article is excerpted from Rev. Copenhaver's sermon of Nov. 3, 2003

Main Course: Spiritual Math - A Thousand Blessings
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Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, had a special love for the virtue of mercy. In her words, "mercy is more than charity, for it not only gives benefits but it receives and pardons again and again - even the ungrateful."

In the Christian tradition, there are seven defined ways to demonstrate the virtue of mercy:

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Comfort the imprisoned
  6. Visit the sick
  7. Bury the dead

However, merciful acts can extend well beyond this list of seven, especially when it comes to extending mercy to one's enemies.

By way of example, in the days of the Revolutionary War there lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, a Baptist pastor by the name of Peter Miller who enjoyed the friendship of General George Washington. There also dwelt in that town one Michael Wittman, an evil-minded man who did all in his power to abuse and oppose this pastor. One day Michael Wittman was involved in treason and was arrested and sentenced to death. The old preacher started out on foot and walked the whole seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for this man's life. He was admitted into Washington's presence and at once begged for the life of the traitor.

Washington said, "No, Peter, I cannot grant you the life of your friend." The preacher exclaimed, "He is not my friend - he is the bitterest enemy I have." Washington cried, "What? You've walked seventy miles for the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon." And he did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman from the very shadow of death back to his own home in Ephrata - no longer as an enemy, but as a friend.

Nearly every day presents opportunities to practice the virtue of mercy - and not once have I had to go as far as seventy miles on foot to fulfill my obligation as a fellow-human and be merciful to others. All I have to do is get in my car and drive a few miles to the interstate during rush-hour traffic. Or walk through the downtown streets during this season that should be joyful, but is not, for so many of the homeless and downtrodden.

Seven major areas in which to practice mercy is a good start, a foundation. Sure, it's a gift from an angel (you) to the hungry, the thirsting, the ill-clothed and homeless, to those who are imprisoned by their choices or by their health. But it is a gift that brings as much happiness to the giver as to the recipient, and there must be at least seventy different ways in which each of those seven acts of mercy can be expressed.

My math teacher in school told me I should make use of what he taught me, so let's do the arithmetic. "Seven times seventy" and "twice blest" - each participant profiting from a single act of mercy.. carry the two, ummmm..... equals... Wow, that means I have at my command nearly a thousand blessings! It's like a chance to be Santa Claus, all year long - and I get to keep half of the presents!!!

Being an example of mercy to others is a win-win situation, every time - that's the way it adds up. Ho, ho, ho!

Michael Rawls, Friday's Inspiration © 2003

Second Helping: On Forgiveness and Mercy by Samuel Johnson
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No vicious dispositions of the mind more obstinately resist both the counsels of philosophy and the injunctions of religion than those which are complicated with an opinion of dignity; and which we cannot dismiss without leaving in the hands of opposition some advantage iniquitously obtained, or suffering from our own prejudices some imputation of pusillanimity.

For this reason scarcely any law of our Redeemer is more openly transgressed, or more industriously evaded, than that by which he commands his followers to forgive injuries, and prohibits, under the sanction of eternal misery, the gratification of the desire which every man feels to return pain upon him that inflicts it. Many who could have conquered their anger are unable to combat pride, and pursue offences to the extremity of vengeance, lest they should be insulted by the triumph of an enemy.

Of him that hopes to be forgiven it is indispensably required that he forgive. It is therefore superfluous to urge any other motive. On this great duty eternity is suspended, and to him that refuses to practise it the throne of mercy is inaccessible, and the Saviour of the world has been born in vain.

That God will forgive may, indeed, be established as the first and fundamental truth of religion; for though the knowledge of his existence is the origin of philosophy, yet, without the belief of his mercy, it would have little influence upon our moral conduct. There could be no prospect of enjoying the protection or regard of him whom the least deviation from rectitude made inexorable for ever; and every man would naturally withdraw his thoughts from the contemplation of a creator, whom he must consider as a governor too pure to be pleased, and too severe to be pacified; as an enemy infinitely wise and infinitely powerful, whom he could neither deceive, escape, nor resist.

To wipe all tears from off all faces is a task too hard for mortals; but to alleviate misfortunes is often within the most limited power: yet the opportunities which every day affords of relieving the most wretched of human beings are overlooked and neglected with equal disregard of policy and goodness.

About the author:

Yeah, I know... he's pretty verbose... He's British, o.k.? What is pusillanimity, anyway? A brief biography of Samuel Johnson can be found HERE.

Soup to Nuts: From the feedback button
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"Hey Michael, I just wanted to say once again THANK YOU for being such an inspiration! Your writing is truly a gift, and I for one appreciate it!  As for your article Love Right Out Loud, all I can say is WOW!  Thank you. Four Winds, Laura"

"A great message for Thanksgiving. Blessings and peace to all. Maralyn"

Many of the quotations of Samuel Johnson are familiar. This one, about birthdays, is a favorite of mine: "The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape." Johnson later added, "I can now look back upon threescore and four years, in which little has been done, and little has been enjoyed, a life diversified by misery, spent part in the sluggishness of penury, and part under the violence of pain, in gloomy discontent, or importunate distress.” Yeah, but would he have had anything interesting to say if that weren't the case?

Click to send your FEEDBACK to me right now!

Just Desserts: Also Highly Recommended
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