Sunday, July 5, 2009

Trinity 4

Sermon on Luke 6:36-42
For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
July 5, 2009 (The Fourth Sunday after Trinity)

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” What does that mean? How merciful is our Father? While we were yet sinners He sent His Son to die on the cross for us. That’s how merciful He is. How are we ever to live up to that? After all, even if we have good intentions of being merciful just as our Father is merciful, the old self is still right there. We remember what our fellow sinners did to us, and whether justified or unjustified, intentional, or unintentional, and we want to get them back. And rightfully so, sometimes. Joseph would have been perfectly justified to have taken action against his brothers for what they did to him. He was the ruler of Egypt. And his brothers were guilty of a conspiracy to commit murder, of kidnaping and fraud, and of wrongfully selling Joseph into slavery. It would not have been wrong for Joseph to do exactly what his brothers were afraid he would do.

And God would be perfectly within His rights to destroy us all right now, or to condemn us all to the same eternal torment that is reserved for Satan and the other fallen angels after our deaths. We deserve it. There’s not a one of us who doesn’t. But that’s not what He does. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Not after we had repented, not after we had turned around and decided we were going to do things God’s way. While we were yet sinners. That is how merciful our Father is.

But that’s not how merciful we are. We hold grudges. We try to get back at the guy who embarrassed us or got in our way or won the argument. We assume the worst about what somebody’s up to because we think we know them and we think we know how they operate, even though we haven’t asked them what their intentions are. We bring up people’s old mistakes again and again and again, and badmouth anybody who tells us that’s wrong. We get treated that way, and we do the same thing in return to the guy that’s doing it to us.

As I said, that’s not how God operates. And it’s not how He would have us operate. He would have us overlook and forgive the mistakes of those around us. Yes, we are to confront sin when necessary because we don’t want people to harm themselves or those around them by whatever it is they’re doing wrong, but we aren’t to hold grudges or let old arguments and animosities determine how we think about that person or act toward them. This is what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel lesson. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Of course we can’t do that on our own. We’re selfish. We worship a false god, one who identifies himself by the triune name of “me, myself, and I.” And that false god, like any false god, doesn’t tolerate rivals. When the false god within our own hearts is offended, look out. And there’s nothing we can do from our end to change that. Yes, we can hopefully improve our behavior somewhat, but the old grudges, the old hatreds, the old prejudices are still there in our hearts. The old idol in us needs to be put to death, and our true God, Jesus Christ, needs to take its place.

And so, that’s what God does to us. He puts us to death. He drowns us in the baptismal water, not just once when we were first baptized, but daily (we need it daily, because, as Luther pointed out, our old sinful nature is a good swimmer). And he doesn’t just put us to death, He puts us to death with Christ on the cross. Which means that He raises us up with Christ, too. God’s mercy upon us is not just some great example for us to try to follow (though we should examine ourselves using His example as a standard, certainly, as Jesus tells us to do in today’s Gospel). If it were just an example for us to follow by our own reason or strength, however, we’d fail every time. What our Father’s merciful example is, and what Christ’s own merciful example towards the sinners he encountered in his ministry is, is more than an example. It’s a prototype, a pattern, a mold according to which God graciously and lovingly recreates us.

After all, it was His mercy that led Him to send His Son to suffer what we suffer in this old, messed up, broken, sin-filled world, and to die in our place despite the fact that He committed no sin. It was His mercy that led God the Son to willingly obey His Father even to the point of death on the cross. And it was His mercy that led Him to have compassion on those whose sinfulness was obvious and blatant to everyone around them, the tax collectors and other “sinners” who were avoided by the “religious” people of that day.

That incredible standard of mercy and love toward one’s neighbor is how God actually sees us in Christ, because that’s the standard that Christ lived up to. And that standard is therefore also what we really are according to our new selves. God says we are merciful, because He sees us in Christ who is merciful. But He doesn’t lie. His Word does what it says. Which means that we really are recreated according to the prototype that Christ gave us.

And that means that we who now are merciful will inherit the greatest mercy of all. We who now see our brothers and sisters in Christ as fellow heirs of eternal life (even when they don’t always act like it) are ourselves heirs of the “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” which God gives us. God will provide all our needs, not just for this life, but for eternity. Before we are even aware that there is a need, it will be filled. And that is especially true of our need for His presence and love. We may be capable of having mercy on those who wrong us, but we usually don’t like it very much, and we often don’t necessarily like to be around that person a whole lot for fear he’ll do it again. But we who were sinners, for whom Christ died while we were yet sinners, He wants to have us around. He wants us to be in His presence forever. That’s how merciful our God is. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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