Posted by: erinelizabeth1983 | February 8, 2010

Theology of Mercy

This is a paper I wrote for my Human Care Seminar I class at the seminary. While I finish the new article I’m working on, I thought I’d post a few of the papers I had written in school.

“What is mercy? What does mercy have to do with the church? How is this ‘theology of mercy’ relevant to the church today? What does mercy have to do with me?” I have been asked all of these questions at one time or another when I’ve been explaining who a deaconess is and what she does.

Loehe describes mercy as follows:

Mercy is goodness, goodness is love, and, therefore, mercy is love. Mercy is goodness and love but in a specific relationship, namely in relation to the unfortunate and wretched. Love is manifold. When it is directed to God on high, it becomes devotion and adoration. When it is directed over the whole earth to other redeemed brothers, it becomes goodness, affability, and friendliness. But when it enters areas filled with misery and brings with it consolation, relief, and help, then it becomes mercy.[1]

Mercy is seeing the heartache, suffering, and need all around us and doing something about it. Mercy is a striving to bring relief and comfort to those who are suffering, to meet the needs of the body and to bring the light of the Gospel, which meets the needs of the soul.

In order to fully understand mercy we must also understand the source of mercy and love as well as the motivation for being merciful and loving. God is the source of all love and mercy. Rev. Matthew Harrison explains it this way,

Love for the neighbor, while an action mandated by the law of God, is a reflection of the very being of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1 John 4:7). This love finds its source and motivation in the deep matrix and totality of the true faith (… the faith which is believed).[2]

In other words, God demonstrates His mercy and love to us through the Holy Trinity, namely in their relationship to one another and to people. God communicates this love through Jesus’ salvific work.

We hear about and receive the benefits of this work through the office of Leitourgia. Leitourgia is Word and Sacrament. This is what a pastor does: he preaches the word and we hear it. Then God works faith in our hearts through the hearing of this word and we receive the Sacraments and all of their benefits. In response to leitourgia, we practice diakonia, that is mercy. Diakonia flows from leitourgia. It is our faith in action; God’s love filling us up and spilling over onto those around us.

Leitourgia and diakonia cannot exist without one another. Both are essential elements of our faith and lives as Christians. Luther explains it thus:

The Holy Sacrament produces two things: one is that it makes us brothers and fellow heirs of the Lord Christ, such that it makes us one cake with Him; the other that we also become common and one with all other people upon earth and also all become one cake.[3]

Therefore, as scripture says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.[4]

But we also must remember, lest we fall into works righteousness, that it is not by our own works that we are saved. It is by God’s grace in Christ’s work alone.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.[5]

Again all sufferings and sins also become common property; and thus love engenders love in return and [mutual love] unites.[6]

When we fully understand the ramifications of participating in the Lord’s Supper; namely how it makes us all one cake, we lay our burdens on the altar, and pick up our neighbors’ burdens in order that we may help them to bear their burdens and they may help us to bear ours[7], then we truly understand what a crucial part of our lives mercy is. Luther says it this way:

You must fight, work, pray, and if you cannot do more – have heartfelt sympathy.[8]

[1] Loehe, as found in Loehe on Mercy, Written by Wilhelm Loehe, translated by Holger Sonntag, and distributed by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. p. 3

[2] Harrison, Rev. Matthew. Theology for Mercy. LCMS World Relief and Human Care. 2004. p. 3

[3] Luther, Martin. All Become One Cake.  Translated by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. 2005 LCMS World Relief and Human Care. p. 11

[4] James 2:14-18 English Standard Version (ESV) Copyright: 2001 Crossway Bibles. All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[5] Ephesians 2:8-10

[6] Luther, Martin. Fight, Work, Pray!.  Translated by Jeremiah J. Schindel and revised by E. Theodore Bachmann. As printed by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Copyright: 2004. p. 8

[7] Galatians 6:2

[8] ibid.

Posted by: erinelizabeth1983 | February 1, 2010

Our Kinsman Redeemer

“That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”

Ruth 2:20b NIV

Grief. Anger. Despair. Hopelessness. Poverty. Naomi experienced all of those things when she lost her husband and her sons. What Naomi soon realized was that God provided an answer to her problems: Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer. Boaz redeemed Ruth, Naomi, and all that had belonged to Elimelech, thus providing for Ruth and Naomi’s needs and providing an heir, through Ruth, so that Elimelech’s line might be preserved. From that line came King David and eventually Jesus Himself. God provided a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and He has provided one for us as well: Jesus. We need our Kinsman Redeemer to redeem us from our sins and save us from the spiritual poverty that is the result of our fall into sin.

First, it would be helpful to understand the role and responsibilities of a kinsman-redeemer in Scripture and ancient Israel. The kinsman-redeemer is one who is a close, living relative of a person who has had to sell their inheritance for whatever reason or who has died, who buys back the inheritance of that relative in order to keep it in the family. There are certain laws in Scripture relating to the kinsman-redeemer. One such law is found in Leviticus: “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.”[1] Another redemption law that involves kinsman-redeemers and levirate marriage is found in Deuteronomy:

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.[2]

The kinsman-redeemer’s responsibilities were to keep the inheritance in the family by purchasing or buying back a family’s inheritance that had been previously sold due to financial hardship or death of the owner and by marrying the widow of the deceased (if the nearest kinsman-redeemer was also a levir) in order to provide an heir of the inheritance who would perpetuate the name of the dead on the inheritance. A levir is the brother-in-law of a widow. The levir’s responsibility was to marry his sister-in-law if she was barren in her marriage to his brother. The purpose of levirate marriage was to provide an heir for the deceased man’s inheritance thus perpetuating the name of the deceased on his inheritance.

Boaz acted not only as a kinsman-redeemer, but also as a levir. The Law did not require Boaz to act as a levir since he was not the brother-in-law of Naomi.[3] Naomi would have known this, but she still instructed Ruth to request Boaz to fulfill both roles and their subsequent duties. Boaz declares, by saying “I will acquire”, that he will marry Ruth, even if the closest relative would redeem the property, in order to provide an heir for Elimelech’s property.[4] Boaz was taking the opportunity to go beyond the letter of the law and act according to the spirit of the law.

By marrying Ruth, Boaz was making a sacrifice. Both of the redeemers, Boaz and the closer relative, were most likely married and had heirs of their own. Neither of them would have gained anything from redeeming Ruth and Elimelech’s property. They would both be jeopardizing their inheritances because they would be purchasing property only to hand it over at a later time after an heir had been provided for the property (since Boaz intended to marry Ruth in order to provide an heir whether the nearer kinsman redeemed the property or not). They actually would have lost money by redeeming the property.

Thus Boaz made a significant sacrifice in order to preserve an Israelite family from extinction. God worked out His plan of Salvation through the actions of His faithful people, including Boaz and Ruth. He blessed both of them by making them the great-grandparents of King David and ancestors of Jesus Himself.

Redemption and inheritance metaphors are found throughout Scripture not just in the book of Ruth. These words are often used in reference to redemption laws involving property, but they are also used in reference to God’s people and His saving work among them. For example: the word redeemer is used seventeen times in reference to God being the redeemer of His people, and the word redeem is used twelve times in reference to God redeeming His people. There are seven requests for God to redeem people and five references to God providing redemption. One may infer from the number of occurrences of these words in Scripture and their specific usage that this is an important concept.

Why is God called a redeemer? The answer is simple: His chosen people have fallen into sin; they are in debt because of their sins. Their debt must be paid. God wants His inheritance back. He claimed Israel as His own and He called them His inheritance. 36 times Scripture makes reference to the land or the people of Israel being God’s inheritance. One such reference is found in the book of Joel, “I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.”[5]

Another example is found in Micah, “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, which lives by itself in a forest, in fertile pasturelands. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilean as in days long ago.”[6]

Why does God want to redeem His people? Because He loves them. John says, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.”[7] And Paul says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[8]

Who, then, is to redeem God’s people, His treasured inheritance? The answer is found throughout Scripture. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer…”[9] and, “Our Redeemer – the Lord of Hosts is His name – is the Holy One of Israel.”[10] And the Psalmist calls God, “…my rock and my redeemer.”[11]

And so, He Himself came and redeemed them. Zechariah declared, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.”[12]

How did He do this? He didn’t redeem them with money, as God has said, “you shall be redeemed without money.”[13]. Their debt was much too steep; their sins were too numerous as Paul says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[14] Their punishment, therefore, was death, for God has declared, “the soul who sins shall die.”[15] Redemption required a much higher price than mere silver or gold.

Therefore, God came into the world to save His people. The angel declared this to Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”[16]

By entering into this world as a baby, Christ became one of us. He became fully human and so He became our kinsman. God sent Him as our Kinsman-redeemer to buy us back from a wretched existence and to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.

He did this by giving His own life for His precious people. In order to redeem His own, God did not even spare His only son.[17] He paid their debt with His own blood as Jesus Himself says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[18] The apostle Paul also states, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” [19] And St. John says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”[20]

Martin Luther eloquently restates this beautiful truth in his explanation to the second article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe that Jesus Christ…is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own…[21]

Christ gave His own blood to redeem His people whom He loves. His people had greatly sinned against Him, and yet, He still deeply loved them and gave His life for them. St. Paul says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[22] Christ himself says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”[23]

And now all believers have been adopted into God’s family. St. Paul tells us, “In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.”[24]

God had said that He would send The Redeemer to save His people from their sins and their spiritual poverty that resulted from their sinning. And He has. God keeps all of His promises and all of His promises find their fulfillment in Christ as St. Paul writes: “All the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.”[25] Christ is risen! Our Redeemer has overcome the cross and the grave and God has made us a part of His family by adopting us through baptism and making us heirs along with Christ. Therefore, all of God’s people may take comfort in the words of this great hymn:

He lives, all glory to His name!

He lives, my Jesus, still the same;

Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives:

I know that my Redeemer lives![26]

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. Job 19:25

[1] Leviticus 25:25 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001, Crossway Bibles, Belgium. All Scripture quotations marked ESV are taken from this version. All Scripture quoted in this paper are from the ESV unless otherwise marked.

[2] Deuteronomy 25:5-6

[3] Wilch, John R. Ruth. 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. p. 22

[4] ibid p. 21-22

[5] Joel 3:2 The Holy Bible: New International Version.  1984, International Bible Society, Zondervan Publishing House. All Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from this version.

[6] Micah 7:14 NIV

[7] 1 John 4:16

[8] Romans 5:8

[9] Isaiah 54:5

[10] Isaiah 47:4

[11] Psalm 19:14

[12] Luke 1:68

[13] Isaiah 52:3

[14] Romans 3:23

[15] Ezekiel 18:4b

[16] Matthew 1:21

[17] Romans 8:32

[18] Matthew 26:28 Emphasis added.

[19] Ephesians 1:7 Emphasis added.

[20] 1 John 1:7 Emphasis added.

[21] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism: with Explanation. 1986 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. p. 14

[22] Romans 5:8

[23] John 15:13

[24] Ephesians 1:3-6

[25] 2 Corinthians 1:20

[26] I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Samuel Medley, verse 8. Lutheran Service Book: 461.

Posted by: erinelizabeth1983 | January 31, 2010

Welcome to My Blog!

Hi! I’m Erin, a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and a partial Master’s in Theology. I’m starting this blog to share my devotions, Bible studies, and other writings about theology and counseling related topics. It is my hope and prayer that the Lord will use this blog to touch the hearts of many.

Explanation of my blog title:

“Every Season” is based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Throughout time, God has remained faithful in all of His promises. His Word remains living and active; it continues to have meaning for us today; and God Himself continues to be with us throughout every season of our lives.

Please feel free to leave constructive comments. Constructive comments are always appreciated! Please also be aware that demeaning, rude, or otherwise offensive comments will be deleted. Thank you!

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