Trinity 4 – July 8th and 9th, 2017 – Luke 6:36-42
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Today's Gospel lesson has perhaps the single hardest teaching in the Scriptures in it. The hardest one. No, it's not “judge not, lest ye be judged” - that's easy for us to understand. Sinful human beings are all about judging, about evaluating, about complaining about others and we know that is bad. No, you know what is hard, hard for us to grasp and believe? “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” There is nothing harder for sinful folk to believe than to believe that God is in fact merciful.
Oh, Pastor we all know that God is merciful! Well, yes, but I didn't say it was hard to know that God is merciful – this is a simple verse – Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Say it 8 times and you'd have it memorized – you'd know it. But it is much harder for us in our sinful flesh to believe that God is merciful. Consider. Let's say you've done something wrong, get caught with your hand in the cookie jar – what is your reaction? Is it fear? Dread? Shame? Do you start to deny, do you try to fast talk? Do you try to make excuses? Do you get angry and turn it into a fight and blame the person who caught you? At that moment, mercy is the farthest thing from your mind, isn't it? Or what if you are the one who catches someone doing something wrong – and it's not actually just something cutesy wrong – but really wrong? Hurtful wrong. What is your reaction then? Anger? Rage? Disgust? Despising disbelief? Mockery? Again, at that moment, mercy often doesn't top the list. Our sinful flesh can't grasp, can't fathom that God would be merciful, because so often we'd want nothing to do with mercy.
The Scriptures, the Old Testament in particular, are full of stories of sin – of tales of the people of God who ought to know better sinning. And then tales of peoples' reactions to sin. There's every bad reaction possible. Even the “good” folks often don't react evenly or calmly. Which is part of the point. The Scriptures are given in part to show us how pervasive, how deeply and strongly sin has impacted us, warped us – to how we don't view, how we don't react as we should. Consider today's OT lesson. Joseph's brothers had sold him into slavery out of jealousy and spite, and when their dad Jacob dies, their gut reaction is terror. Joseph is now a ruler in Egypt, he has power now, surely he's going to get even, even though he's cared for them for years. They make up a statement that Jacob had never said to try to lever Joseph. Now, Joseph answers rightly and is merciful – he sees well now – of course a few chapters earlier when they didn't know it was him, Joseph had them convinced that he was going to have Benjamin executed. It's only at the end of the book, at the climax, where you finally have this idea of God meaning things for good coming out bluntly. No, at our core, as sinful human beings, we really don't operate on the idea that God is merciful.
And so there stands Christ Jesus our Lord in our Gospel – true God and true Man, and He assures us that our Father is in fact merciful. Over and against what your feel, over and against what you have done or what others have done to you, God is merciful. Or to put it this way – what does God want? What's His goal, His endgame? Is God seeking an opportunity to condemn you, or does He desire to show you mercy? Keep in mind, the same Jesus who is telling you this is the same Jesus who was born to go to the Cross and bear your sins, who came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, just so God can say, “Look, see – your sin is gone – really, it is. Really really – taken up by Jesus. And you don't need to fear punishment or death anymore – really you don't. See, He's risen from the dead, and He preaches peace.” Your risen Lord doesn't rise and say, “Oh, you jerks are in for it now” - no, it's all about forgiveness and mercy. God is eager to show mercy – any judgment that gets shown isn't what He wants, what He desires. Any judgment that happens is, well, that's on us, that's on sinful man determined to have things go by way of judgment. God will give someone judgment and condemnation if they insist – but that's not how God wants things – He is merciful. His mercy is shown in Christ's death to take away your sin, His mercy is shown in Christ's resurrection where He says that you are forgiven and you will rise.
And thus our Merciful Lord teaches us today, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 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.” So, how did you hear that? Did you hear those verses as dire warning, and God setting the standards high and if you don't meet them, well then He's just going to kick your miserable backside all the way to hell? Because that would be a rather foolish and fearful and sin-dominated way to hear that, given that Jesus has just emphasized that your Father is in fact merciful, and we ought not call Jesus a liar and insist that God really wants to stomp us. Yet, so often we sinners will default to “oh, I better to this or else I'm going to get it.” That's not really the point.
God is merciful, and the reason He wants you to strive after mercy isn't because if you don't He'll smite you – it's that if you disdain mercy, you'll forget and ignore and not believe that He is merciful. If you become content to play the judging game – you will start to assume more and more that God wants to play the judging game. If you are content to condemn, you will simply fuel the fires of rage and anger in your belly, and you'll be consumed with the idea that God is all about condemnation. In your sin, you will start to think and view God not on the basis of what He has said, but on the basis of what you think, what you feel. If you Judge and Condemn, you stop looking at your Father who is Merciful, and instead you fashion a judging and condemning idol of your own devising, a false God that you can butter up and bribe with works and stuff to get out of judgment, a false God that you can weaponize against the people you don't like. If you give yourself over to judgment and condemnation, that's what you'll get, because you will ignore the God of steadfast mercy and sit and stew in your own judgment and condemnation.
No – God is merciful, and your merciful Father loves to give. And you know what? He loves to give richly – but you'll only see this when you yourself give. He pours good measure into you always, pressed down, shaken, over-flowing – but if you are consumed by sinful greed, if you horde your stuff, you'll never see Him giving you more. Now – should you give, should you be generous, you will see and understand God's continued generosity towards you – you will understand that God is a giver. I do need to note one thing about this – God will give, always, a good measure – He will fill your sack to the brim and overflow it. Jesus didn't say if you give that God will give you a bigger sack – this isn't some type of investment strategy where you can get more and more wealth. That's your greed talking and missing the point. No, when you give, you'll see how generous God is with you now already, not lust after more and more stuff.
In this passage, Jesus is really showing us how our attitudes shape how we view God, and how there is the danger that when we let our sin dominate how we view God, we get into trouble. Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they both not fall into a pit? When we lead with our sinful flesh, we're going to constantly miss the point. Instead, we are to listen to Christ and what He says. Why? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is your teacher, and He is teaching you, He is showing in fact with His life, death, and resurrection what God is like, who God, who Jesus Himself actually is, so that we learn to see things like Jesus, like the teacher. Yes, God is merciful – Mercy is plan number 1. And Jesus shows that to us over and over.
And like a good Jewish teacher, Jesus poses us a question. 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? Do you see the normal assumption, the normal course of action? When we fall into judgmental patterns, when sin and judgment and condemnation start to run our lives, we end up ignoring our own sin and focusing on our neighbors. It's how we defend ourselves against our own judgment – they have to be worse than me, it has to be their fault and not mine – do it to them, punish them, it's the woman's fault, at least I'm not a whatever label I label them with – on and on and on – and Jesus says this is all blindness. This is all our own sin messing with the way we view things.
Jesus says, 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. You hypocrite, you fella who has an answer for everything – just cut out your fast talking and blame for a moment, and tend to your own log first. Then you can help your neighbor, that's fine – but before you can know how to deal with your neighbor's sin, how to react to them – you need to know how your own sin is dealt with.
So – how is your log dealt with, folks? Is it dealt with denial – with just squinting one eye really tightly and pretending everything is fine? Or by squity-eyed saying that those people over there are really messed up? No – your Father is merciful to you on account of Christ Jesus. And He gives you not just material blessings, but He gives you forgiveness, He takes your sin away, He pulls the log out of your eye. He opens your eyes and your mind and your heart to see Christ the Crucified who says peace be with you. He makes you to see that you are in fact a Baptized child of God, that you are nourished with Christ's own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins – yes, it really is all about forgiveness – yes this place is a forgiveness place – no, Pastor Brown's not going to pound people you don't like into hell or pat you on the back and tell you how you are so much better than those folks because that's not the point. Your sins are great – and I hope that you see ever more and more just how great your sins are, you see just how perniciously sin tries to twist you – because that means you are starting to see clearly. And then, know that all that is forgiven because Christ died for you. And you know what else you will see then? That Jesus died for and forgives all the stupid, hurtful, sinful things that others have done to you – and that if these folks don't see that, don't realize that – if they live in their ignorance of God and their own judgment and condemnation – that's a horrid tragedy. And once you can see with that log out of your eye, your Father who is merciful will fill you with mercy – a good measure, pressed down, overflowing - even towards them. Because God the Father is merciful, He sent His Son to show you mercy. He sent His Spirit to fill you with mercy. God grant that He make us merciful, that we might actually be merciful to our enemies, that by His Word and Spirit our enemies would once again be our brothers and sisters in the blood of Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +