SEPTEMBER 14, 2018


Dear Church,

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog titled “30 Years or 3 Months.”  That was a question I posed to Rich and Monty Riddering.  Did it feel like thirty years or three months that they were in the hospital after an infection spread like a California wildfire throughout Rich’s body?  When I penned those words, Rich was on the mend.  He was just finishing up a stay at a rehab facility in Dyer and was hoping to get back home shortly.  As it turns out, he only made it home for just one night before having to be rushed back to the University of Chicago Hospital where ultimately doctors found the root of the problem – cancer.  Doctors did their best, but in the end, Rich was sent home and was quickly put in Hospice Care where he went to his eternal home just a day later.  It all happened so fast.

The funeral for Rich was this past Sunday afternoon.  The family had shared that Rich had memorized parts of Psalm 103 with a magnifying glass because his eyesight was so poor.  During the funeral I shared how the Lord is – merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and I couldn’t help but share a story that needs to be told again.

Our God is merciful.  Left up to the ledger of our lives, we would be in an eternal world of trouble, but our God is merciful.  He could have, should have punished us, but instead he punished his son Jesus to clear the debt of your sin and my sin and Rich’s sin.  Ya know, Rich was merciful too.  Go ahead and ask Kim about the time in college when Rich and Monty were visiting. Being the faithful church-goer that Rich was, he asked his daughter, “So, what Church do you go to?”  Kim not wanting to disappoint her Dad responded, “Oh yeah…come with me to my church,” knowing full well as a college softball player, her schedule often didn’t align with Sunday morning church.  So, she stretched the truth and took them to church thinking her little white lie was safe between her and the Lord.  The only problem was that when they sat down for church and heard the first words of the service, they realized that it was a Vietnamese congregation and the service lasted over two hours!  Somewhere in the middle of the service, Rich leaned over and said to his daughter, “How often do you go this church?”  Merciful.

I laugh every time I think about that story.  I think of Kim’s already reddish face getting redder.  I think of Monty smiling thinking to herself how her husband was going to respond to this one.  And I think of Rich, looking for a way to turn this into a hilarious teaching moment.  I’ll miss my friend.  I know his family will miss him too.

We often think of the words “mercy” and “grace” as synonyms.  Turns out, grace encompasses mercy, but is more directed towards salvation.  Mercy means withholding punishment when the punishment is merited.  And even though Jesus flips the paradigm of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” on its head, my guess is that we are still inclined to live by such a rubric.  We live in a world with rules.  We try and hold our kids accountable.  We have systems with laws and punishments for breaking those laws.  Mercy is different.  Mercy doesn’t make sense.  Mercy is even foolish at times.  And yet, that is the way the Lord is with us when it comes to our lives and is what the Lord calls us to be towards others.  Merciful.

My guess is that you have someone in your life right now that you have dead to rights.  Someone who wronged you.  Someone who is clearly out of bounds in their behavior.  Someone who you have every right under the sun to dole out punishment or judgement to.  What would it look like if instead you extended mercy?  How might your relationship change?  What opportunity might emerge?  And if all this is too heavy to consider, just picture the Ridderings in a two-hour Vietnamese worship service and smile.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Matt