Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon on Luke 6:36-42, for the 4th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "Merciful as Your Father"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In our Old Testament reading we have a beautiful story of forgiveness and mercy. Joseph forgives his brothers the terrible sins they committed long ago against him—selling him as a slave, lying about his death to their father, and their hatred. After their father’s death, he tenderly consoles their fears and assures them that he doesn’t want revenge, but that all is truly forgiven. It pictures what Jesus commands in our Gospel reading: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The verses of our lesson explain how we become merciful like our heavenly Father, and to conform ourselves to the pattern of Jesus, so that as the reading also says, that we would be fully-trained, just like Jesus, our Great Teacher. After all, the picture of Joseph’s mercy, and all other human stories and examples of mercy, are small reflections of the perfect mercy of Jesus, who sought no vengeance against His enemies, but forgave them from the cross.
Mercy is a central quality of our God, but what does it look like in our lives? “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” The qualities we reflect will be reflected back to us—if we are judgmental and condemning, we will be judged and condemned. If we are forgiving and generous, forgiveness and generosity will return to us. That gives us much to reflect on and consider how we live our lives. There are two paths—one marked by mercy and forgiveness and generosity, and the other marked by judgmentalism, condemnation, and hypocrisy.
Everyone living is inevitably moving closer, day by day, towards God’s final judgment. We believe that when Jesus returns, He will come to judge the living and the dead. God will make a final reckoning of all people, according to His justice and mercy. This is necessary, because God will not let evil and wickedness persist forever. He is going to bring a final end to evil, once and for all. That’s what God’s judgment means. But how we come through God’s judgment, becomes the vital question for survival, or salvation, rather.
Here is the Good News—throughout the Bible, God is relentlessly and tirelessly working to steer us away from the fate of eternal condemnation and judgment for our sins. Old or New Testament, God shows remarkable patience and determination to send prophets, apostles, preachers and evangelists, to call people away from sin, and lead them into His mercy. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful is rooted in this deep reality about God, that He does not want us to suffer judgment but wants us to come into life. He does not want to destroy us but wants to restore and heal us. A quick snapshot of some Bible verses: Ezekiel 18:23 “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” John 3:17–18 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” 2 Peter 3:9  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
So if God’s mission, if God’s heart is mercy, and not judgment, then we are to be merciful as our Father is merciful. And when He tells us not to judge or condemn, but to forgive and to give, He is inviting us to participate in His mission, to love with His heart. When we seek to forgive and show mercy to fellow sinners, we are helping steer them away from God’s judgment, which must befall the wicked who refuse His Son Jesus, and who refuse His extended hand of mercy. When we show mercy and forgive, we are helping people find the restoration and healing that comes through Jesus Christ, as He came to seek and to save the lost.
It’s too easy to fall into a spirit of judgmentalism and condemnation. Wickedness and sin are everywhere, and if we are to depart from Jesus’ mercy mission, and to go instead on a fault-finding mission, then the faults and sins abound. But Jesus’ warns us in a parable of the perils of that path: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
The goal of the parable is that we would become like Jesus our teacher. Merciful as our Father is merciful. The peril or danger is that we would be like two blind people stumbling along the way, one trying to lead the other, and both falling into a pit. And what is our particular danger of blindness? Blindness to our own sin. Jesus uses the ridiculous example of a person trying to assist a friend in removing a speck from their eye, while having a huge log in their own eye. It’s supposed to amusing how foolish this is—but Jesus is saying it’s a lesson about our own blindness to our own sins. We can have huge, blinding sins in our own life, of which we are pathetically unaware, and meanwhile we are filled with a self-righteous spirit of trying to judge and condemn others for specks in their eyes. This is hypocrisy of the worst sort.
What do we do about it? Hire log-removal services? That’s what hearing God’s Word does for us! To be fully trained, like our teacher, we must hear the Word of God, and be not only hearers, but also doers of the Word! We must repent of our sins, shown to us by God’s Word, and take the log out of our own eye. Then we will see clearly to take out the speck that is in our brother’s eye. When are humbled by God’s Word, when we see the severity of our own sin—not as we would measure it, “small kine”, but as God measures our sin—log size!—then God can make us seeing again. Jesus, who once again, desires to steer us away from judgment and into His mercy, forgives us our sins and opens our eyes to how truly blessed we are to be under His mercy. And from the overflow of His mercy to us, we are trained to be like Him, in showing mercy to others. We can only help our brother, with a “speck” in his eye, if we have first turned our sins over to Christ to be forgiven.
And with that last line, about seeing clearly to help our brother, we see what’s wrong with how people often distort this Bible verse. A lot of times people quote “Judge not lest you be judged” to mean “no one has the right to interfere with or criticize my bad behavior” or that no one should try to stop another person from sinning or doing something destructive. But this goes beyond what Jesus actually says. For example, this passage does not mean that police officers or those who legitimately work in the courts as judges and lawyers must never judge or convict a person of some crime. It does not mean that those who serve in the military should not oppose and defeat the power of wicked and violent men. And on a personal level, it doesn’t meant that if our family member or friend or someone else is doing something wrong, we shouldn’t try to intervene or help. But what Jesus’ words clearly do show, is that the spirit in which we try to help makes all the difference. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. To judge or condemn is not a Christian duty. But loving and restoring a Christian through discipline and correction is a Christian duty.
Galatians 6:1–2 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When a brother is caught in sin, we are to restore him, in a spirit of gentleness. Restore and gentleness speak volumes about our approach and our goal. Avoid the spirit of judgment  and condemnation, that Jesus is speaking against. That only condemns us, and doesn’t help our brother. So again, two ways to go, two paths to head down. The same situation, the same person you are dealing with—but are you going to approach them with mercy and gentleness, to restore them and help them out of sin? Of course the results and response are beyond your control, in God’s hands. Or on the other hand, are you going to judge and condemn them, which destroys your ability to help them, and probably turns them away from God’s cure as well? Judgment and condemnation has a more predictable response. But instead, follow the words of Jesus: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  
Once again, in order for God’s mercy to flow into our lives, we have to first be humbled and repentant by God’s Word. God’s Word makes an opening into our lives to rain down His mercy and cleansing in us. If we harden our hearts, become blind hypocrites who can’t see our own sin, and judge everyone else for theirs, and if we have a spirit of judgment and contempt toward others, it’s like we are opening up an umbrella to block the rainfall of God’s mercy from washing over us and cleansing us. But if God has so penetrated our hearts that we are humble before Him, repentant of our sins, then God has an open way to pour into us a mercy that overflows, that makes us merciful, and gives us our Father’s seeing eyes and merciful and tender heart, that wills to gently lead the sinner back into the path of repentance and restoration.
Jesus is ever teaching us, shaping us to become like Him, our Master Teacher. He fills our lives with the fruits of His Holy Spirit and teaches us a joyful obedience that walks in His mercy. He is sending us, out on His rescue mission, forgiving and giving generously, so that sinners may turn back from their way, and that with the outpouring of His love and goodness to others, we will reap back a generous blessing. “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” God’s generous gifts overflow in our laps, so that the more that we give away and pour out from His blessing to others, the more it increases. God’s gifts don’t diminish or run out as we use them, but they multiply and increase. It’s from the merciful heart of our Father, who sent His only Begotten Son into the world for us, that this is most certainly true. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. The sermon text is Luke 6:36-42. Read this alongside the Old Testament reading from Genesis 50:15-21, and compare how this example illustrates Jesus’ command: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. How is mercy a central quality of God?
  2. What does this mean, that God’s mercy is always seeking to steer us away from His Judgment and condemnation? Ezekiel 18:23; John 3:17-18; 2 Peter 3:9. God’s Judgment means the final end to evil and wickedness. How does God mean to spare us from judgment?
  3. How does it change our hearts and eyes to have God’s mercy, and to be on His mission? How does it change our “methods” for reaching the lost and erring?
  4. What are our great dangers towards blindness and hypocrisy? Luke 6:39-42. What is meant to be ridiculous about this example? What truth does it expose about our sinful nature and attitudes towards others?
  5. What correction does God’s Word bring us? How does it help us to measure our own sins? Psalm 51.
  6. How do Jesus’ words “Judge not lest you be judged” sometimes get distorted and used as a shield for sin, instead of being meant to change our attitudes and actions? What are various legitimate ways that we should seek to restrain or stop evil or sin? Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14.
  7. How as Christians, are we to deal with the brother or sister caught in sin? Galatians 6:1-2. Explain what the words “restore” and “gentleness” in these verses mean for our attitude and method of helping the sinner. What does Christ permit, after one has “removed the log” from our eye? Luke 6:42. How do we keep this from turning into a spirit of judgment or condemnation?
  8. How does God’s mercy enter our lives so that it can overflow to others? What’s the result of generously giving and pouring out God’s mercy to others? Luke 6:38. Who is always our source and pattern?

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