Gift of the Spirit- Mercy/Compasssion
Today is our last Sunday in our sermon series on the Spiritual Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today is also the day we consider the Transfiguration, which is what we just read about in the Gospel reading. All through the season of Epiphany we see glimpses of who Jesus really is. The Transfiguration is the pinnacle of the season of Epiphany. In the Transfiguration we see an important revelation of who Jesus is. The presence of Moses and Elijah show Jesus as the one the Law and the Prophets point to. He is their fulfillment. He is in line with what God has been doing all along. The shining clothes of Jesus express his heavenly origin and destination- He is a heavenly being. The voice of God directs the attention of the disciples to Jesus- “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”. …
It seems appropriate that as we complete our series on the gifts, we do that in the context of this deeper revelation of who Jesus is. As we live into a deeper reality of what it means to be the body of Christ through the Spiritual Gifts, so we see a deeper revelation of Jesus in our midst.
The last gift we are considering is the gift of mercy, or we might call it compassion. Again, we see this gift powerfully present in Jesus, who often had compassion on the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36). And we read in our Ephesians reading that it was out of mercy and love that God saved us from the power of death to be with Christ (Eph 2:4-6). …
Those with the gift of mercy are like a beam of light shining into the dark night of suffering. They lighten the darkness of those who are suffering. They have an incredible ability to show love. And the more they have the opportunity to do that, the more fulfilled they feel. … Those with the gift of mercy are very thoughtful- they send cards and remember birthdays. They don’t often miss an opportunity to tell the people around them how much they mean to them.
People with the gift of mercy are attracted to the hurting. This is often a part of their character since they were children. They may have taken in stray animals, or befriended children who were pushed to the margins. They always wanted to draw in those who felt excluded. … They often have an amazing ability to sense the emotional state of an individual or even a group of people. They tend to have an intuitive sense of when people are hurting. … Just as they are drawn to the hurting, they also want to do something to alleviate the suffering of those who are hurting.
The word “Compassion” means to “suffer with” or to “be with another’s passion”. The suffering of the other is felt deeply by the person with the gift of mercy. The alleviating of the suffering of the other also brings relief to themselves, in a way. This means that they are often involved in projects that attempt to help the oppressed and marginalized. They can’t stand to know that people are suffering because of some injustice that our society allows to perpetuate. They will do what they can to try to fix this. … If they are prayerful people, then this will usually shape their prayers. They prayerfully intercede for the suffering of others and for the correction of the societal structures that have caused the suffering.
Those with the gift of mercy lead with their heart. They tend to make decisions on the basis of their emotions. They aren’t usually considered intellectuals, in the sense of making decisions on the basis of cold analytical reasoning. Intellectuals might even be suspicious of their emotions. Not those with the gift of mercy. Those with the gift of mercy follow their hearts and try to make sense of it later. They are people who are easily moved to tears when they encounter the pain of another. Someone else’s pain is a powerful motivator for them.
This doesn’t mean they are obsessed with suffering. They can just as easily rejoice with those who rejoice, as grieve with those who grieve (Rom 12:15). Whatever people are going through, they are able to “feel with them”. And sometimes that’s what we need more than anything. We sometimes just need people to be sad with us when we are sad. And to be happy with us when we are happy. Sometimes we aren’t ready to brainstorm ways to fix the problem, or analyze what went wrong. Sometimes we just need to be sad for a while and we need people to be sad with us. … When Job lost everything, his friends sat with him for seven days without saying anything. That was probably the best thing they did.
Those with the gift of mercy also tend to look for the good in others. They are very optimistic when it comes to people. They believe they are basically good- that their motivations are good- and that they have the potential to change for the better. They don’t have the heart to give up on people. They can’t stand seeing broken relationships stay broken. …
In a sense this reflects God’s way of dealing with humanity. While we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). In Jesus’ story about what it means to be a neighbour, the Good Samaritan helped a wounded enemy on the side of the road (Luke 10). And in Jesus’ story about the forgiving Father, a son offends his father, essentially wishing he was dead so he could inherit his money, and after having spent his inheritance on wild living he is welcomed home with open arms (Lk 15). God seems to love with this kind of reckless abandon.
Those with the Gift of mercy seem to run from conflict. They are peacemakers. They are endlessly hopeful that people can do better and can repair relationships. They are very trusting of others. They expect others to be honest. … This can make them vulnerable to being taken advantage of. They can get betrayed or taken advantage of over and over. … This never-ending hope can bring out the best in others, but it makes the person with the gift of mercy very vulnerable.
Like all the other gifts, those with the gift of mercy face their own temptations and problems. … As just mentioned, they can be easily taken advantage of because of their big hearts and their willingness to trust people. They are so sensitive that when people betray them, they are truly shocked and heartbroken. They don’t protect themselves with suspicion and doubt about the other person the way others might. Their heart is wide open. And that means they are hurt easily.
People with the gift of mercy can sometimes get lost in another person’s problem. If someone is offended, they can take on another person’s offense. For example, say there is a fight between two people. The person with the gift of mercy is sometimes drawn into one person’s side of the fight and they will see the other person as the enemy. … This is called triangulation. It oversimplifies conflict. It makes one person to be the victim, and the other to be the attacker, and the person being triangulated is made into the savior of the victim. … The main problem with this is that the two people who have the problem should be talking to each other and figuring out their own problems- if they are safe to do so. Inserting people to save them creates all kinds of complications.
Sometimes people with the gift of mercy empathize a bit too much with those who are suffering. They can take on the weight of the other person’s pain. They can get lost in the suffering of others. The problem is that it doesn’t help a drowning person to drown with them. Yes, it is important to sometimes just be sad with people. But, if we want to be helpful we should be careful about getting lost in someone else’s pain. They need to remember that Jesus took on the suffering and sin of the world. It is his to carry, not theirs.
Another danger for those with the gift of mercy is that their caring can be misunderstood by some as a romantic gesture. They show such genuine care that they can be easy to fall in love with. People are often starved for that kind of care and when they experience someone loving them, they can easily misinterpret the relationship as it being romantic. This can be especially hard for the person with the gift of mercy because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so it can be very hard to let a person down without hurting them.
We have not had time to deal with all of the gifts . We have only dealt with the gifts mentioned in Romans 12, but there is also a list in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30, and in Ephesians 4:11. We could have talked about evangelism, artists, and the gift of tongues. And it would be good for us to do this, but I hope you have had enough of a glimpse of these gifts to see yourself in the body of Christ. I hope that you have had the chance to consider how your gift fits with what God is doing in the world. … When we all use our gifts well, then the body of Christ will shine in such a way that it is not of this world, but is a great blessing to this would and completely in line with what God has been doing in the world all along. AMEN