Fourth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 19, 2005| Luke 6:36-42
When we think we need justice more than we need mercy we had better think again. Justice is fine if you are just. If not, you deserve whatever penalty Justice requires. So take a serious look at yourself before you judge or condemn your neighbor. You think you know what is wrong with him. You think you have the right to say so. You think you may pass judgment and call for justice. Is that what you think?
We think this way because we forget what we are. We forget what mercy is because we lose sight of how much we need it. Receiving mercy is a bit like having little children. You remember it only for a little while. When the children grow you have a hard time remembering what it was like. It is something you need to experience and even when you do, you forget, so you need to experience it again and again.
Mercy must be experienced. No, you don’t have to have a certain kind of feeling or emotion. But you cannot give what you haven’t received. Jesus says, “Don’t judge. Don’t condemn. Forgive. Give.” Jesus is teaching us that we must do for others as our Father in heaven has already done for us. He says, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” If we haven’t received God’s mercy, we won’t be able to do as Jesus here tells us to do. We will remain judgmental, unloving, unforgiving, and stingy. We need a life-changing spiritual experience. Confessional Lutherans are often accused of elevating doctrine above life as if we don’t care much about the Christian life as long as we have the sound doctrine. But we cherish the pure doctrine because of what it gives to us. It brings us a new life to live.
There should be no conflict at all between the true teaching and the right experience. In fact, these two go together. Jesus says, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus is the Light of the world. Jesus is the teacher. Jesus teaches us about mercy and forgiveness and generosity. But he doesn’t just say words to us. Jesus brings us mercy. Jesus takes away God’s judgment and condemnation. Jesus forgives us our sins. Jesus gives us eternal life. He teaches us by doing for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. This is how we learn the true nature of God.
When Jesus bore all of God’s judgment against sinners on the cross, He revealed true mercy to the world. Jesus did not argue that God should simply set aside His judgment against sinners. Jesus knew the justice of God because He was and is God. He met justice. He never denied it or tried to evade it. And because He loved us He chose to do what justice required of us. He chose to suffer the punishment that Justice demanded of us. He met Justice with Mercy.
If Christ is not for us, God is not merciful, we stand under judgment, we remain condemned, our sins are not forgiven, and we have nothing in this life worth anything at all. If Christ is not for us, we are losers one and all.
But Christ is for us. And this means that God’s mercy is not just talk. When Jesus says, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful,” he is talking about a real mercy, not just words about mercy. For many centuries the Holy Christian Church on earth has gathered together on Sunday mornings to hear the gospel and to receive the Supper of Christ’s body and blood. At the beginning of every service is the Kyrie, which is Greek for “Lord,” as in “Lord have mercy upon us.” This is how the church service begins. It has always begun in this way. We come before God and we plead for mercy. We invoke the name of Jesus. And as the Divine Service progresses, we see quite concretely and specifically how God is merciful to us. We sing of Christ’s birth, which brought God’s peace and goodwill to this world. We hear the Scriptures tell of this same Jesus and we confess our faith in the words of the Creed. We sing praises to God for what he had done for us. We hear the gospel preached. We sing of what God gives us in the Lord’s Supper. We eat and we drink Christ’s body and blood. What is all this about? It is about people who need mercy receiving mercy. That’s what church is all about. It’s about receiving mercy from the Christ who is for us. He lived for us. He died for us. As the Creed puts it, “Who for us men and for our salvation was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
Jesus teaches us about Himself. But this is never just facts to memorize. It is about our relationship with God. We experience God’s mercy. The experience isn’t simply a matter of feeling or emotion. It is Jesus telling us that God’s judgment against us and His anger against us are now gone. Jesus really did face divine justice on the cross. He really did gain for us our heavenly Father’s mercy. It is not a wish or a dream or an idea. It’s the truth.
Consider this truth. God knows you. He knows everything wrong about you. He knows the sins you’ve committed. He knows when you broke your word and lied to cover up your lie. He knows when you stole and when you cheated. He knows you. He sees the plank that is stuck in your eye that blinds you to your own sin. But instead of standing in judgment against you, your God lifts off of you all of your sin and guilt and He lays it on His dear Son, Jesus. He sends the Holy Spirit into your heart who converts you and so you repent of your sins and trust in Christ. This is mercy.
Now you know what mercy is all about. It is about removing judgment. It is about setting aside condemnation. It is about forgiving people who have done wrong, even when they’ve done it again and again. It is about giving to those who have nothing to give in return. You know this is what mercy is because this is what you have received from God. In receiving this you are changed by it. That’s the way it works. You believe the teacher when He teaches you. Jesus teaches you and in so doing He takes the beam out of your eye so that you can see. Now you can see enough to show mercy to others.
People worry about being used or taken for granted. They don’t want to waste their time, their effort, or their goodwill. But goodwill or mercy can never be wasted. Was it wasted on you? Did God do wrong by showing you kindness and taking your guilt away? Did God act foolishly by meeting His judgment against you on the cross and taking it away by the sacrifice of Jesus for you then and there? Was it a good idea for God to give His dearest treasure for you?
We say yes, of course. What else can we say? We say yes by doing what God has done. And this is the point of Jesus’ sermon to us this morning. Have you received mercy from God? Then give it! Did God take away his judgment against you? Then stop judging your neighbor! Did Jesus bear your condemnation and set you free from it? Then don’t demand that your neighbor pay for his own sins if God hasn’t demanded it of you! Has God forgiven you? Then forgive those who sin against you. Has God stopped forgiving you? Then don’t you stop either. Even when it requires you to put up with more than you think you can tolerate. You cannot show too much mercy.
As traditional Bible believing Lutherans who insist on holding to the pure doctrine of God’s word without compromise we are often accused of being judgmental. All you have to do is to insist that you know the truth and someone is sure to think you are standing in judgment of everyone who doesn’t know the truth. To be dogmatic about your Christian convictions is less than a popular thing to do. But at the center of our Christian convictions is the fact that God, for Christ’s sake, has removed His judgment from us and forgiven us all our sins. Let’s be dogmatic about that! Let’s insist that our doctrine is true and that it is focused, not on the judgment of God against sinners, but on the mercy of God revealed in Christ. God doesn’t judge us for our sins in order to leave us under His judgment. He judges us in order to lead us to Christ in whom there is nothing but pure mercy and forgiveness.
Listen to the promise Jesus gives: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” God isn’t cheap. He doesn’t try to fake us out by appearances. He always gives us much more than we give in return. He rewards generosity because he rewards his children and his children learn generosity from Him simply by trusting in Him. He gives and He gives and He gives. He won’t stop, because He loves you. And He won’t stop telling you that the greatest gift you can ever show anyone is the kind of mercy you have been shown.
Everybody needs something we have to give. The boss needs your hard work. The church needs your offering. The wife needs your kindness. The husband needs your respect. The parents need your attention. The children need your care. But what people need the most from you, dear Christian, is precisely what God has given you in Christ. They need your mercy. They need you to forgive, to stop judging, and to love as God has loved you. In this way you show what it means to be a Christian. You act as a child of God. And when you fail, cry out for mercy once more. God will hear your cry and he will answer. He will give you what you need.