I'm reflecting on the sentence in the deacon's charge: "Teach us to be merciful." What does that really mean? How do the deacons in your church teach the congregation to be merciful?
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Your question reminds me of my own wrestling with Micah 6:8. Just what is justice, and what is mercy and how in the world do they relate? Some days I really get it; most days not so much.
How does this sound? Taking care of people who are hurt by the ways things are - that's mercy. Setting things right so people aren't getting hurt - that's justice.
How to teach this? I have a few ideas, but nothing that's fresh and wonderful! I think the more people get to really know and spend time with hurting people, the more their passion for mercy and justice is kindled. But there also have to be some support systems, places to process feelings and new insights, opportunities to engage, connect, relate.... Safe places to confess.... skills and information.... practice new behavior.... Does this sound right? I have the feeling I'm still not quite in tune with your question.

I guess when I think of mercy there seems to be an inward and an outward part of it.  The inward part is compassion, learning to feel as God does, being moved by the things that move his heart in terms of human brokenness.  The outward part is the action taken.  I think that it's important to have a a goal not just of relief but of restoration when being merciful, however.  I think that unifies some of the tasks of the deacon.  So for instance, "stewardship" is not something that you do inside the church and "benevolence" something for a different type of person...instead, all of our benevolent efforts should in the end be pointing towards stewardship, towards a place where the person being helped can claim their identity as a steward, using their own resources for the good of others and God's kingdom.  The goal in both is shalom.

In terms of the teaching, I guess I think of the adage, "the deacons are not there to do the work of the people, the deacons are there to put the people to work!"  A thread will not make it through a peice of fabric unless its attached to a needle.  In the same way, the deacons are often the people who draw others into works of benevolence, taking the lead but not taking over. 

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"... all of our benevolent efforts should in the end be pointing towards stewardship, towards a place where the person being helped can claim their identity as a steward..."

I really like that, Jeff!  This is a wonderful way to think about the work of the deacon.... it's a ministry of "accompaniment", walking along side of people, building relationships of mutuality and reciprocity, enhancing the ability of both partners to live the lives God intended - restorers and stewards of SHALOM.   Sometimes the partnership is with church members, and sometimes with community folk.  sometimes with the rich, and sometimes with the poor.

This is beautiful, and also challenging!   Is this what deacons get to do, by God's grace?   What an honor we have.

What would you do if restoation is not likely?

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Hi, Kelib, I think your question refers to Jeff's comments about  mercy having a goal of not just relief but of restoration.  I'm sure Jeff will want to respond to you, but in the mean time I wanted to say something as well.   Our world is broken by sin, and the effects of that are deep.  The breaks are bad.   Sometimes restoration can be only partial, or even totally impossible.  What to do?

I think that showing mercy can sometimes be a healing practice even though restoration as we hoped and prayed doesn't happen.   God's mercy, as shown by and through his people, can accomplish surprising things - that is a matter of trust!  So it's a sign of the Kingdom, and those to whom it is shown can read it whether or not it accomplishes "restoration" as we envisioned it.

I know you guys mean well, but restoration is in Gods hands and timing. The other thing about mercy. I think of mercy as empathy to the piont of action.

I hear what you're saying, kelib.

But that's the wonderful thing about God.  He uses ordinary people in the process.   From Nathan saying "You are the man", to a tired old shepherd crying "Let my people go!" to a Samaritan walking by,  he brings us into the story and gives us the incredible dignity of being used as his instruments.  Ordinary people.  Extraordinary God.  Amen?


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What can God's people offer each other when there is deep deep pain? Dr. Joel C. Hunter writes in the November, 2010 Sojourners about the pain of losing his five year old grand daughter to cancer.  He writes: "It is startling to experience how present God was (and still is) through those whom God sent to love and encourage us."  He suggests that we can learn about a new kind of power - the power of compassion.  Dr Hunter concludes:  "If you have ever wondered if acts of kindness really make a difference....  Compassion is never wasted.  It has the power to give us hope, but also somehow to remind us that goodness and mercy do follow us all the days of our lives and that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."