The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
July 1, 2012
"Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:36-38
Have you ever heard a sermon on stewardship? That’s when the preacher says that he isn’t preaching about you giving more money and then proceeds to preach a sermon about you giving more money. You can’t just come out and ask for money, you see, because people don’t appreciate that. So you ask for money without really asking for money by coming up with so called spiritual principles on how to get God to give you more stuff and – you guessed it – one of the ways of doing that is to give more money in the offering basket.
We Lutherans are far more sophisticated than your run of the mill “prosperity gospel” religious hucksters that you see on the television, but we’re not above coming up with gimmicks of our own. This portion of God’s word that is before us today is regularly used and abused – also by Lutheran preachers – to teach us that the more you give to God in your church offering, the more God will give back to you. The words to which the preachers appeal are these:
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
Well, there it is. You give and you get more. Good measure, no waste and nothing rotten. Pressed down and shaken together, so you know you are getting the full measure. You get even more than a full measure, because it is running over. So get out your checkbooks and write out those checks and be generous! You can’t outgive God!
Well, it’s not as if our congregation does not need more money, so maybe we ought to adopt this approach to see if works. Tell people that it is in their own self-interest to give more money! They can give to God and his Church but they’ll really be giving to themselves because they’re going to get back more than they give. Call it an investment in the Church bank. Everybody wins. The church gets needed funds and the generous giver gets a whole lot of money. Isn’t this what they call “win-win”?
No, this is what you call “lose-lose” because God isn’t a means to an end and this text isn’t talking about the offering we give to support the work of the church. When it comes to hearing God’s word and applying it to our lives, there is no room for an agenda driven approach to biblical interpretation. The Bible doesn’t mean what we want it to mean. The Bible means what it says and what it says is always of much greater benefit than what we can get it to say.
And here, it’s all about mercy. Listen to Jesus. He says: “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Since we are children of our Father in heaven we imitate him. We become children by receiving God’s mercy, freely given. So we are merciful. What does that mean? It means that we don’t judge. We don’t condemn. We forgive. We give. This life of mercy is a wonderful life. Just as God’s mercy toward us produces in us merciful hearts, so our mercy toward others does the same. Mercy begets mercy. We receive mercy from God, we give the mercy we have received, and we never run out of mercy. What we give will be given back to us.
That’s what Jesus says. He says,
Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you:
Mercy begets mercy. The focus here is not on giving stuff to get stuff. The focus is on imitating the God of grace, the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ
If this text is distorted by those who are anxious to find ways of getting people to give more money to support the work of the Church, it is more commonly and severely distorted by those who would silence the voice of the Church. Christ’s words, “Judge not,” are twisted to forbid the Church from teaching what her Lord commands that she teach.
When Jesus says, “Judge not,” he is not saying that we may not judge what is right and wrong, true and false. Were that the case, we could not speak God’s words. But we can. Christ gives his Church the words to speak to the world. The words that Christ gives his Church to speak are words of mercy and forgiveness. But these words are meaningless except to sinners who feel the guilt of their sin and desire mercy from God. The Church must proclaim God’s law.
“Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” But is God our Father? Could he be our mother? If fatherhood and motherhood are interchangeable, then perhaps there’s no difference between being male and female? So why not ordain women to be pastors? Why not bless homosexual unions, if there is no difference between male and female? And if there is no difference, then surely the physical intimacy between a man and a man or a woman and a woman – intimacy that cannot possibly bear fruit – is as God pleasing as that of a husband and a wife. But if that is so, then God the Father has no interest in creating new life. And is not life the greatest gift of all?
We must judge the assault on traditional Christian morality because God is our Father and we are his children. Such sins as fornication and homosexuality deny the fatherhood of God. It is precisely because God is our Father and he is merciful that he forbids and condemns sexual activity outside of the lifelong bond of marriage between a man and a woman.
No, our Lord’s command not to judge is not a command not to judge between what is good and evil, true and false. We must take our stand on God’s word and praise what it praises and condemn what it condemns. Our Lord’s command not to judge or to condemn, but rather to be merciful and to forgive is a command to do for others what our heavenly Father has done for us.
Jesus teaches us to call God “Our Father.” How did we come to know him as our Father? God did not reveal himself to us as our Father by judging us and condemning us. He revealed himself to us as our Father by forgiving us. He took the judgment and condemnation that we deserved and he placed it on his beloved Son who went to Calvary to suffer and die for us, to bear our sins and our guilt. This Jesus, our God and brother, never wanted to do any kind of sin. He displayed mercy to sinners. Yet he who was full of grace and truth was judged to be guilty of all sins and he suffered and died on account of the sins that we have done and the sins that have been done against us. This is how he turned away God’s judgment against us and brought God’s peace to us.
This is what made us Christians. He made us into Christians, taking the stony heart out if us and replacing it with a trusting heart by speaking words of forgiveness to us. We become Christians and we are sustained in our Christian faith by means of the gospel that proclaims God’s forgiveness to us for Jesus’ sake. We don’t become Christians by the law. The law condemns us to hell. The gospel tells us to look to Christ his obedience and suffering for us. This is what has taken us out from under judgment and placed us under God’s mercy.
We receive our identity as Christians from God’s mercy. This is what we display to others. This is why we forgive those who have done us wrong. This is why we put the best construction on what others do, even when it appears to us that we are in a position to judge them. The life of a Christian is a life of showing the mercy we have received.
A judgmental spirit comes from a guilty conscience. You hold on to your own judgment because you know you are guilty before God. You hold on to your own guilt and then you impute evil to everyone else so you won’t look so bad in comparison. Instead, we lay out guilt on the Lamb of God who took it away.
When we take our stand on the word of God we will be accused of being judgmental and bigoted. That you can count on. When we stand for what is right and pure and true and holy we do so, not for the sake of being right, but because for Christ’s sake we are already righteous and we cherish the righteousness of Christ’s obedience and suffering that is ours by faith. When we show a humble and forgiving spirit to those who despise our Christian standards, we do not compromise those standards. We extol them.
There is no point in defining away sin. There is no forgiveness for what isn’t a sin. When we call a spade a spade in matters of morality and decency we do not do so in service to judgment, but in service to the gospel that forgives penitent sinners for Jesus’ sake.
God is merciful. He sees us doing without and he provides what we need for both body and soul. He sees sinners caught in their sins and he comes to them in mercy and love. He shows compassion to them. Look at how Jesus treats sinners. He perfectly reflects the Father’s love. He showed mercy on the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. He did not condone their sin. He did not excuse the false teaching the Samaritan woman espoused. But he dealt graciously with people who were bound in their sin and deluded by lies.
Only a Christian can understand the words, “Judge not.” Christians have been delivered from divine judgment. We have seen ourselves as the law depicts us and we have agreed that the law is good and what it says about us is true: we are poor, miserable sinners who deserve nothing but God’s judgment and punishment. Our own unforgiving and judgmental attitudes, words, and deeds are sins against God. The God we worship is a God of mercy and forgiveness. This defines who and what we are as children of God. God does not judge us or condemn us. He forgives us for the sake of Christ’s most holy obedience and suffering. As we have received, so we give. Amen