Trinity Four Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| St. Luke 6:36:42| July 13, 2003
The reason we cry out for mercy at the beginning of the Divine Service every Sunday morning is because we know that our God is merciful and He will give us the mercy for which we pray. Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father. He teaches us by word and deed that our Father in heaven is merciful. He sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to reveal this mercy to us and to enable us to trust in it. So we sing:
O God the Father in heaven, have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Ghost, true Comforter, have mercy upon us.
Mercy is not just an attitude on God’s part. It always includes divine action. God does what needs doing for us. He does it for us even when it may appear to us that He isn’t doing anything at all. We cannot understand or trust in God’s mercy simply by looking at what happens in our lives. Sometimes His mercy is hidden under our own suffering. This is why we need to come to church faithfully to be fed by the word of God so that we may learn to expect God’s mercy and that we may learn how to recognize it.
From God’s word we Christians learn of our home in heaven. It is a wonderful place. It is a place where there is no suffering of any kind. In fact, the suffering we experience here in this world cannot compare to the glory of heaven. St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle Lesson, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” We will experience a joy deeper than any earthly sorrow and a peace more serene than any earthly strife is bitter. God is merciful. This means he is compassionate. He feels sorry for us in our pain and He does what is necessary to take it away. This is why we look forward to heaven with keen anticipation. We know that our Lord Jesus did not die and rise for no purpose. He died to destroy our death and He rose to guarantee our rising to eternal life. This is ours through faith in Him.
The promise of heaven means that the lives we live here on earth have a meaning that they would otherwise not have. Of what value is a life that is lived for seventy or eighty years only to end in the grave after which we cease to exist? As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Receiving mercy is not simply a matter of God alleviating our suffering and providing us with the necessities of life. Receiving mercy means that we enjoy God’s loving favor. To live under God’s mercy means that we know that God does not judge us. He does not condemn us. Instead, He forgives us all our sins for Christ’s sake. He claims us as His own dear children whom He loves with a love that is strong and constant.
When Jesus invites us to call God Father He invites us to regard ourselves as God’s children. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father by nature. We are children of God by adoption. It is because Jesus is God and has become our brother that we are God’s children. We know Jesus as the One who died for us and in dying for us obtained for us God’s eternal mercy.
Faith and love are the defining features of every Christian’s life. By faith in Christ we receive mercy from God. By love for our neighbor we give this mercy to others. At the very beginning of mercy is the removal of judgment. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.” When God removed His judgment from us, this did not require God to change His law. It did not require God to repudiate the demands of justice. No, it was because Jesus faced the judgment of God’s law in our place that God could in justice remove that judgment from us. Jesus, the Innocent, was judged to be guilty and in this way we, the guilty, are set free from God’s judgment. Jesus did not ignore God’s law. He fulfilled it. He obeyed it. He suffered for our disobedience to it. There was nothing required of us that Jesus did not do to the spirit and the letter. He took the condemnation of the law away from us by suffering the condemnation of the law as if He were the one guilty of breaking it.
This is why it is a great offense against God’s word to argue that Christ’s command, “Judge not,” means that we may not apply the standards of God’s law to people today. Of course we can. We must. Only those who find themselves to be judged and condemned by God’s law will want a Savior. As soon as the law stops judging and condemning sinners, sinners will no longer flee for refuge to the infinite mercy of God in Christ.
I can think of few biblical texts so grossly abused and misapplied than these two words of Jesus: “Judge not.” These words have been twisted to say that we may not judge false doctrine and point out who promotes it. But false doctrine that leads folks away from Christ leads them away from God’s mercy as well. We must identify and condemn all false teaching. These words are also cited to forbid the judging of immorality. The Supreme Court of the United States has recently discovered a constitutional right to commit homosexual sodomy and apparently any other kind of sexual perversion known to man, as long as only consenting adults are involved. By a vote of six to three, the highest court in our country has just repudiated God’s law as being unconstitutional. What God calls an abomination, the Supreme Court calls a constitutional right, though for well over two hundred years since adopting the Constitution our nation knew nothing of this “constitutional right.”
The majority of the Court simply reflects the abandonment of God’s law that permeates our culture. It goes from the culture into the church and there it eats away at the church’s very foundation. In the name of inclusion and openness, nominally Christian churches endorse the “right” to abortion, homosexual unions, women preachers, and other perversions of God’s law. In support of this wholesale abandonment of God’s word, the appeal is made: “Judge not.”
That’s not what this text means. When the Christian Church stands opposed to sin, she judges no one. She merely gives faithful testimony to God’s law. It is God who judges, not man. It is God who condemns, not man. And when sinners are led to despair of themselves as they admit their sins against God, it is God who forgives, not man.
But God speaks through men. He’s always spoken through men. When men, who are sinners themselves, speak God’s law against sin, it is God Himself who is judging and condemning. When men, who are sinners themselves, speak God’s gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ sake, it is God Himself who is forgiving and saving sinners. This is the very heart of our Christian faith and this is why at the heart of our Christian lives must be a willingness and deep desire to show mercy to those who need to receive mercy from us.
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.” So says Jesus. Just as Jesus has borne our sins, so He calls us to bear the sins of others. No, we cannot take away another’s sins like Jesus did, but we can put up with them. Putting up with the sins of others is not to condone them. Jesus did not condone our sins when he covered them up by His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. But he surely endured them! And so must we. We must endure the faults, weaknesses, bad habits, and just plain sins of others. We must do so without making ourselves anyone’s judge. When we endure the faults, especially of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we reflect the mercy we have received from our Father in heaven.
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.
Jesus promises that giving out mercy will not make us the poorer for it. It will make everyone richer. You cannot become poor by being generous. It’s true what the children say: “Cheaters never prosper.” They don’t. Those who are so concerned about not being taken advantage of and who are cheap in expressing mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and everything else needed by their neighbors do not end up wealthy. They end up bitter, poor, and unhappy. The joy that comes from being set free from God’s judgment is best expressed in setting others free from our judgment, and from that freedom comes a generous spirit in every area of life. Jesus is not in these words giving us a formula: If you give a generous offering, you will receive more money back. Rather, Jesus is giving us the merciful promise that we will never lose anything good we have when we are generous with what we have received from God.
The judgmental spirit often parades itself as being very kind and helpful. But as it seeks to take the speck out of the brother’s eye, it is blinded by the plank in its own eye. Only those whose eyes have been enlightened by God’s grace can see clearly to help their erring brothers and sisters. Only in personal repentance for our own sins are we fit to lead others to repentance. Taking the plank out of our eye is confessing our sins to God and trusting in the forgiveness that He gives us for Christ’s sake.
Today, as we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus that is given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins, we lay before our merciful Father not only our own sins, but the sins of those who have wronged us or hurt us in any way. As we receive God’s pardon, we ask God to uproot from our hearts the judgmental and condemnatory spirit that clings to us and to make us merciful, even as our Father in heaven is merciful. We ask God to make our lives conform to our faith. And for our every failure to do so, we cry out in repentance to our Father in heaven and live alone by His mercy.