Sunday, July 1, 2012

Trinity 4 Sermon - Elder Read

July 1st, 2012 – Trinity 4

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +

          Our Gospel lesson today comes from what is often called The Sermon on the Plain.  In Matthew, you have the sermon on the mount, but Luke records for us a sermon given by our Lord upon a plain.  And there’s no way around it, there is a lot going on in these few verses that we have before us today, so what we are going to do is simply look at each of these ideas in order and try to get a picture of what our Lord is teaching us.

          Be Merciful even as your Father in Heaven is Merciful.  And right off the bat here we have the statement that puts everything that we are going to talk about in context.  When we think about God as Christians, the first thing we think about should be the fact that He is Merciful.  That He is a loving God who forgives the sins of people like you and I.  That’s the only reason we could even dare to think about God, because frankly, if God isn’t Merciful, you and I are in a whole heap of trouble.  The only reason sinful folks like you and I are able to come before God is because of the fact that He shows us mercy, that God does what is needed for our salvation, that He sends Christ to the Cross to win forgiveness and restore us to relationship with Him.  Whenever we talk about God, that needs to be first and foremost on our minds.  We aren’t here in God’s house because we’ve earned our pew, we aren’t here because of how wonderful we are – we are here simply because of God’s Mercy.  God’s Mercy, therefore, should be the main part of the discussion whenever we talk about God.

          Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven;  And here we have probably the most well known and probably the most abused passage in all of scripture.  Judge not, lest ye be judged, as the old King James puts it.  This verse is often thrown back at Christians.  If we ever should say to someone, “Um, you know, you probably shouldn’t do that, we often will have this verse thrown back at us.   “Hey, Judge not– Don’t you judge me!”  But what is going on here, what is Jesus saying?  Jesus isn’t telling us to turn a blind eye to sin.  He’s not telling us that if we see our neighbor engaged in sin, that if we see our neighbor actively doing something wrong that we should just stay silent, shrug and say, “Eh, who am I to judge.”  That’s not showing love.  What one of us here, if we saw an infant getting ready to sick a fork in an electrical outlet, wouldn’t stop them?  Same with any sin – if we see our friend and neighbor something that’s wrong, we go, we talk, we out of love give advice.  But, like Jesus says, we don’t judge.  Why?  What does it mean to judge?  What does a judge do?  A Judge is the one who sets the punishment.  A Judge is the one who condemns, who sentences.  That’s God’s responsibility, that’s God’s duty, not ours.  That’s why we don’t use the phrase God Damn, because it’s certainly not our place to tell God who or what to damn.  Even if we as a Church have to excommunicate someone because they refuse to repent, that means we have to say, “If you don’t repent of this, hell is what awaits you” – but that isn’t us setting a punishment – that’s warning them of the punishment God has declared so that hopefully they will repent.  We don’t have to assign punishment.  Vengence is mine, sayeth the Lord, so we leave that to Him.  So, practically, what does this mean?  It means in our relationships and interactions with others, our focus isn’t on setting punishment, on telling our neighbor what they are going to get.  Rather, we show concern, we show love, we give a warning if a warning needs to be given, but always out of love. 

And make no bones about it, this is hard, especially when we have been wronged.  If someone hurts us, we want to lash out, we want to punish.  But that’s not our place.  We don’t spend our time looking at God’s wrath, we don’t delight in God’s vengeance – Be merciful even as your Father in Heaven is Merciful.  That’s what God wants us to be looking at.  And do you see what happens?  When we get caught up in wanting others to be punished, we forget and overlook our own sins that are worthy and deserving of punishment – and when we do that, we forget about Christ.  We can forget about the mercy that we have received, and then, we are lost.  This is why our focus always must go back to the Cross, to God’s love- because we live our lives in the shadow of that Cross, as ones who humbly have been called to God’s House, to His Altar to receive His Forgiveness.  That’s the point of forgive and you will be forgiven.  It’s not that if I’m nice to this jerk over here I earn God’s favor – no, it’s that the only way I can be nice to the people who hurt and annoy me is if I live my life constantly remembering, receiving, delighting in the forgiveness that God has given a jerk like me.  Jesus speaks these words, Jesus instructs us to live this way for a very clear reason – so that our eyes are always focused on Him no matter what we do, no matter what our neighbor does to us.

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.  We all know this idea, but probably with other words.  The Golden rule?  Do unto others as you would have done unto you?  Now, it should come as no surprise to us, but when Jesus tells us to do something, it’s probably going be a good idea.  Here we get some of the practical consequences of our actions.  If we all start showing mercy and love to each other, what are we going to be receiving from each other?  Love and Mercy.  Now, this doesn’t mean that if we do good everything will turn up roses – because it won’t.  We are sinners in a sinful world; we should never be surprised when our goodness is paid back with wickedness – because we ourselves pay back plenty of people with wickedness often enough ourselves.  But our attitudes can encourage others to act in different ways, and it’s better that our actions and examples teach others to show love – and hopefully some of that will come back to us.

He also told them this parable.  “Can a blind man lead a blind man?  Will they not both fall into a pit?  And then, a bit later, Jesus also says, 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?  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.  Another thing that is vital is that in everything we do or say, we must always remember to examine ourselves and attend to our own weaknesses and flaws.  The simple fact is all of us here have weaknesses of our own, sins that are more tempting to us, acts and attitudes that we ourselves have to deal with.  Now it is true, we are called to care for and love our neighbor, but we are also to care for and improve ourselves.  And that’s hard and painful.  Who here likes to admit their weaknesses?  Who here likes to say, “You know, I have a hard time with this.  I can’t do that anymore”?  And one of the things that can happen, and this is what Jesus is warning us against with these words, is that we throw ourselves into the problems of others as a way of ignoring our own problems.  Now, of course, we have crass examples – we love to gossip, pay attention to what other folks are doing, and ignore the dirty laundry hanging in our back yard that we should be cleaning.  But there is another temptation that waits for the Christian.  We can be focused on our neighbor in a good way, but to such an extent that we forget to work on improving ourselves.  We can use our neighbor as an escape so we can ignore our own problems.  That’s not right.  That ceases to be loving your neighbor and rather becomes avoiding your own sin.  God has given us our own life to live, and we have issues in our own lives that we need to deal with.  Examine your own life, know your own weaknesses, look for the logs in your own eyes – struggle against the sin that lies creeping at your door, and then you will actually be prepared to help your neighbor in their struggle against their sin with love and compassion.

          But do not think for a moment, dear friends, that you struggle alone against your sin.  By no means.  The struggle against sin is always taken up by Christ Jesus.  Hear again His words.  A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.  Isn’t that fantastic?  Isn’t that just a wonderful statement, a wonderful way Jesus describes what He is doing in our lives?  We are Christ’s own disciples, we are the ones learning at His feet.  When we talk about our struggles against our sin, that is Christ teaching us how to handle sin.  And how does Christ handle sin?  He kills it, He crucifies it, He takes it with Himself to the cross and destroys it.  That’s what Christ does with sin, and this is how He handles our sin.  When you were baptized, you sin was killed, your sinful flesh was killed, buried with Christ Jesus.  That’s the point of Baptism, that Christ puts away and destroys your sin, so that you may rise to new life in Him – new life now and forever.

          Christ teaches this truth in our Gospel lesson.  But everyone, when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.  That’s what Christ is doing, right there.  That’s what this place, this service, God’s Word, all of it, is doing.  We receive Christ, and we are made to be like Christ.  Granted, we don’t see that fully now – now we still have struggles with sin, now we daily repent, we daily drown our sinful desires, but Christ Jesus is still your master, and He still fills you will mercy and love so that you might grow now, even until you are fully like Him on the Last Day.

          Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is Merciful.  Dear friends, this is what Christ Jesus is accomplishing in us this moment, this very day.  Here in His House, as we receive God’s Mercy, we are trained to show mercy ourselves.  We are trained and taught by Christ Jesus our teacher to grow all the days of our lives, until the day comes when our training is done, and we indeed look like Christ Jesus our Lord, whom we shall see face to face for all eternity.  Amen.

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