Welcome to Hope’s first blog where today I will be blogging about topics in our Christian faith through the perspective of music. As we seek to understand the intersection between our faith and music, I will sometimes use anecdotes, other people’s music, or my own original music. For this first blog, I would like to begin by using my song “Your Mercy” to begin to dissect what it means to experience God’s overflowing mercy.
If you’re reading this blog I am going to assume you know that I work at Hope Lutheran Church as their Director of Music. A large part of my job at Hope is to plan music for worship including the special music.
Since I have been at Hope, we have had a plethora of musical offerings for our special music including our praise band, adult choir, children’s choir, a men’s quartet “Rock Bottom,” some of my friends like Sam Kochis on flute, Marianne Cornetti, Dr. Misook Yun, Dr. Christopher Scott, Lauren and I, our staff, people in our congregation such as Rich Heffler and his amazing recorder playing, and even our Youth! It’s been a giant blessing to have all of them (and more) participate in worship with their gifts, skills, passion, and praise.
Planning for and giving/receiving special music is one of my personal favorite parts of the job. When I get to sit and receive I am always moved and in awe of the plentiful gifts that God gives. And when I have the opportunity to give, I can feel the Spirit moving through me to reveal the glory of God through the gifts that He gives me. Either way, I am always seeing and experiencing the gifts of God during special music… and that’s because our God… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is a GOOD God…. who gives us blessings upon blessings, and gifts upon gifts… and much more, including His mercy.
In this post, we will be dissecting this idea that our God is a good God. A benevolent God. And, a merciful God. We will be examining this through Scripture and the song that I wrote called “Your Mercy.”
At this time… please take a moment to listen to the music “Your Mercy.” at the link below. I would invite you to close your eyes and find a quiet place (if that is possible) to be with God through this music. After you are done listening to the music— please read the below Scripture that, in part, inspired this song.
The Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is a story about many things… but, to me… what sticks out to me the most is the idea of Mercy… and not just Mercy in general, but the idea that Mercy is a primary identifier of Christ, therefore revealing to us more about who God is. Jesus tells us in the above scripture that part of the pathway to truly living is to love your neighbor and show them Mercy… that is beautiful. That is God.. That is who God is; love through mercy.
But, what exactly is Mercy, specifically? And what about Grace? Aren’t they the same thing? They are used so interchangeably…?!
I was slightly confused so I looked up the difference between the two and the best definition that I found was that Mercy and Grace are part of the same coin; Love. Mercy is on one side and is the expression of love towards the weak. Whereas Grace is the expression of love towards the unworthy/undeserving.
In the story above, we see the word Mercy show up- but truthfully, Grace is hiding in there too. The man on the side of the road was weak and beaten, but when we understand the cultural implications of being a Samaritan, and Priest, and Levite… we can begin to comprehend that the Samaritan would have seen as “unworthy/undeserving” as well… not fit to help, or be the protagonist… not fit to show, or receive love… and yet- they sit square in the middle of Christ’s story… showing Mercy and revealing the idea of Grace.
Analysis + Music:
And so, we have the music… the lyrics and the structure. The song begins with the primary idea that Mercy has everything to do with God, and not with our ability to be strong, worthy, enough, perfect or any other qualifier.
“Your Mercy, Your Mercy… has everything to do with who YOU are God, and nothing to do with if we’re worthy”
We as humanity are always unworthy… always weak… and will never “hold up” as it were, to the glory and perfection of God- and yet, His love is expressed to us through His Mercy and Grace. The Samaritan unworthy because of their culture… the beaten man who was broken and weak, the Priest and the Levite unworthy because of their choices… all still have access to the Mercy and Grace of God…
And that’s the thing… we focus so heavily on the Samaritan and the man whom they helped… but what about the Priest and the Levite??? Are they eternally condemned??? Absolutely not… even though they didn’t express Mercy and Grace… they still can receive it. Because just like we can’t earn Mercy and Grace, we can’t ever lose our access to it either. If we could- what would be the point? What was the point of the cross? The life and ministry of Christ? The resurrection? The Priest and the Levite shouldn’t be our examples to follow… but at the same time… they are indeed still within the reach of God’s love.
The first verse sets up the primary idea that Mercy and Grace are an extension and expression of God’s love, and God’s nature. And, these expressions have less to do with who we are, and more to do with who God is and how He gives freely to us because He is Good.
And, as a side note… how RELIEVING! How relieving that we don’t need to be enough? That we don’t need to be perfect… because perfection has already been achieved through the life and blood of Christ. This allows us to live into humility… the humility of our humanity. Not everything is about us, but rather… it is about Christ. Everything is incomplete in us… but complete in Christ. How relieving. This relief grants us permission to give up our egos for something more precious and more valuable… and that is humility. It’s all about YOU God, and not about us. THANK YOU.
This follows this idea and yearns to answer the next question… “What happens when we receive this Mercy and Grace.” Jesus speaks about this when he says “Do this and you will live.” I imagine that when Jesus says “live” that it means to live in the fullness of God’s glory and love, not just to live passively. This kind of living is active. It takes an active part in the lives of others and the building of the Kingdom of God. When we serve others, when we show mercy, show grace, and act as a neighbor to those around us despite the world’s barriers, we take an active part in the Gospel. We become the Gospel. The hands and the feet. We live like Christ- therefore, we truly live.
This is where the second verse comes in… It says
“Your Mercy, Your Mercy… clothes us, in Your beauty. We are transformed by Grace. Our sins erased.”
We are clothed in Love. Smothered (in the best way) in God’s love. We can’t escape. We can’t lose it, misplace it, destroy it- nope. It clothes us- and it transforms us, both when we take an active part in His love, and even when we don’t. The Samaritan was surely changed after that encounter of Love, as we all are when we extend love… it changes us- transforms us. But even the Priest and Levite (or those who act in those ways…) will be transformed by God’s love now, and when Jesus comes again to perfect and reconcile all things through Him.
“We don’t deserve this. This overflowing mercy and forgiveness, but You give and give and give away. Even when we go astray. And we could never earn this. Your overflowing love and Your forgiveness. But we can be assured when the Scriptures say, that Your mercies are new for us everyday.”
22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
We truly don’t deserve God’s mercy. Not when we remember our sins. When we truly look at ourselves and consider how we constantly run back to our sins, our vices, our insecurities- instead of running towards Jesus. But again, it’s less about how WE are running to Jesus, and more about how HE is running towards us. It’s less about how WE remember our sins, and more about how Jesus “remembers them no more.” Less about us… more about Him. Because He is good… HE is good good God.
Verses 3 and 4:
Let’s take a step back and summarize what we have covered so far to give way for Verses 3 and 4.
1: God’s mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, love- all of it… has EVERYTHING to do with the nature of God, and not with our worthiness or ability to “measure up.”
2: Access to these expressions of God TRANSFORM us. They attend to our needs and feed our souls which in turn allows us to do the same for others… in other words- The Good News of the Gospel shines through as we begin to live transformed in the light of Christ.
This brings us to Verse 3 and 4… and I consider these verses to be the “So what is transformation?”
Well… God’s mercy transforms us when we are in pain and misery. It restores us instead of condemns us. It calls us back to life, dry bones awakening, instead of abandoning us. God’s compassion understands our suffering and through the immense empathy of God, He blesses us- even when, and especially when, we are undeserving.
Verse 4 continues this thought that God’s mercy sets us free. This is a love that lifts us from our pain and misery. A love that gives our souls flight through the power of joy and hope. This love reaches for us… yearns for us… and never gives up on us- and when it reaches us… which is does (whether we perceive it or not) we are freed to love like Christ. When we aren’t condemned… we don’t need to condemn others. When we are loved, we are free to love others. It’s a beautiful cycle of benevolence, unlike the cycles of the world that we so often find ourselves in. The cycles of jealousy, piety, self-righteousness, idolatry, apathy, cynicism, anger, hatred, racism, impurity, lust, etc. When we receive mercy we are stolen away from the cycles of the world, and taken back home to Christ and the cycles of benevolence that bear good fruit. That renews us- time and time again- and it strengthens us to love like Christ and that “feels so good” as Verse 4 says.
This verse not only reminds us that God’s love frees us to love our neighbors and our enemies, but it, along with the Scripture, challenges us to truly go out and live that reality for the sake of the Gospel. Show mercy and grace to those around you- not because you are merciful and can boast, but because HE shows US mercy.
“You have been so good to me. You have been so good to me. You are a good good God.”
All of this… everything we have been talking about, and everything that Christ came to reveal… is boiled down into this one idea… God is GOOD God. God is a God of love, and IS love, and loves us unconditionally… something that we have a difficult time truly wrapping our heads around in a purely conditionally world. This bridge is just a repetition of this final thought.
Over and over again we sing “You have been so good to me. You are a good good God.” Just like how over and over and over and over again, God has come for me, and for you in our lives… calling us back home…inclining His ear to hear our pain, and caring for us through all of our lives.
We have a good good God.
Before we end this post together… I would invite you to go back and listen to the song once more with this context in mind. I would again suggest that you find a place to be that is quiet where you can really be with God in solitude. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to remember those times in which God’s mercy clothed you in beauty when you felt anything but worthy. And remember that He calls you beloved… then, now, and always.