Sunday, January 10, 2010
I have finally finished reading the book Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action by Matthew C. Harrison. Pastor Harrison is the Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. This is not exactly a new book, having been published in 2008, but if you haven't come across it in your personal reading, I would encourage you to get yourself a copy and give it serious attention. I started reading it about a month ago. I assure you, the length of time it took me to read the book should not be considered an indication of the quality of the content of the book. Indeed, in the periods when I was able to devote my attention to the book, I found it difficult to put down.
Pastor Harrison addresses a topic with which I have always struggled: showing compassion to people in need, especially in terms of the community of faith. How does the Christian congregation--indeed, even a denomination--show mercy to the world around it? He follows the examples of the Tables of the Law: first he speaks of God's great work of mercy for us and, in turn, our response toward Him; then he speaks of how we reflect Christ's mercy for us to our neighbor. He states, "A relationship with God the Father without a relationship with others in fellowship is impossible. A denial of love to a brother or sister is a denial of fellowship in the Lord" (143).
He also takes up the important lesson of the place of the confession of faith in the work of mercy. It is a sad truth that many who do works of mercy in the world claim to do so in the name of Christ; yet they have abandoned a true and faithful confession of who Christ is. "Deeds, not creeds," is their rallying cry. We must not fall prey to this temptation. Pastor Harrison writes, "What is necessary for the Church's work of mercy is a clear and solid conviction of who Christ is and what the Gospel is. Absent such conviction (faith), the work of mercy ceases to be the work of the Body of Christ (however valuable and laudable such social work may be in the realm of civil righteousness)" (159). These examples are just a mere slice of what he delivers to his readers.
If all he had done was show examples from his experiences as a parish pastor in the inner city or his time as Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, perhaps I would have been impressed, but I doubt I would have been challenged. But Pastor Harrison sprinkles examples from his experience into the midst of a flood of attestation from Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Would that all the leaders of the Church showed themselves to be so versed in Scripture and the Book of Concord!
This book challenged me from start to finish. It challenged my prayer life--so much so that I was inspired to write a hymn based on the Litany, as Pastor Harrison draws upon the Litany frequently in his book. It challenged my personal stewardship. It challenged my view of vocation. Finally, it challenged my view of the place of the Christian Church in the world.
Buy this book. It will not disappoint you.