Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sermon: Trinity 4

19 June 2005 at Faith Lutheran Church, Harahan, LA

Text: Luke 6:36-42 (Historic)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Just about everything in our God-given universe has an opposite. In his wisdom, our Lord created everything in pairs. Male-female. Positive-negative. Up-down. Life-death. Good-bad. Right-wrong. Win-lose.

In today’s text, Jesus presents us with a surprising pair of opposites. He decries hypocrisy as a sin to be avoided, and gives us its opposite, a virtue to be practiced. Now, the opposite of hypocrisy is not, as reason might tell us, honesty, or piety, or true religiosity. No, Jesus identifies the opposite of hypocrisy to be mercy.

At first, this makes no sense at all. For a hypocrite says: “Do as I say, not as I do.” A hypocrite might be a TV preacher who decries the immorality of our age and gets caught with a prostitute. A hypocrite might be a parent who tells his children not to smoke when he himself smokes. A hypocrite may gossip about his gossipy neighbor. A hypocrite may be like the joke about the churchgoing teetotalers who pretend not to recognize each other at the liquor store. We all know about hypocrisy, because we all practice it. Indeed, there are many people who refuse to come to church because they don’t want to be around all those hypocrites. We Christians have the perfect response: there’s always room for one more.

I don’t mean to make light of hypocrisy, as it is really no laughing matter. It is sin, it is rebellion against God, and it is Satanic. It clings to our nature like tar, and like Brer Rabbit, the more we struggle against it, the more covered in tar we become.

And just as hypocrisy is of the devil, its opposite is of God. And that opposite is mercy. As sinners, we have no business pointing the finger at other people, wagging our heads, and holding ourselves as more virtuous. When we see other people engaged in sin, rather than seizing the opportunity to blast them (and make ourselves appear better by comparison), the truly Christlike thing to do is to show mercy. We ought to love our neighbor who struggles with sin, even as we love ourselves. We ought to commend them to God and pray for them, lest they suffer for eternity. We ought to emulate the saintly attitude of the Apostle Paul, instead of mocking the sinner, rather saying “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Mercy is the opposite of hypocrisy.

This is why our Lord tells us “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” For the measure we use will be applied to us. If we insist that our neighbors be perfect, God will insist that we be perfect. But if by God’s grace we are able to exercise mercy, our Lord will be merciful with us. Mercy, not perfection, is the opposite of hypocrisy.

Jesus tells us right off the bat that mercy is a divine attribute. The theologians speak of God’s omnipresence (his being everywhere), his omniscience (the fact that he is all-knowing), his omnipotence (the fact that he is all-powerful). And these are all true indeed. God is eternal, almighty, immortal, invisible, and perfect. And none of these attributes are really all that good for us. The Sunday-school chant “God is good, all the time” or the Muslim chant “Allah akbar!” (which means the same thing) has nothing to do with the Gospel. In the book “Hammer of God” – written by a Swedish Lutheran bishop – a man lies on his death bed, and is convinced he is going to hell, that God will not forgive him. The young pastor struggles trying to bring peace to the man. The pastor blurts out: “But God is good!” The old man groans and says: “Yes, God is good, very good. It is just for that reason I am in such a bad way. Pastor, you do not know how good God has been to me. He has sought my soul and bidden me walk in the way of life. But I have not done so.” The perfection and goodness of God are not good news for us poor, miserable sinners – as the old man confesses on his death bed. For we, like the dying parishioner, are all hypocrites. And no amount of appeals to God being mighty, or good, or awesome are going to comfort us. Only the Gospel, the good news of God’s mercy can do that.

God is no hypocrite – he is the opposite. He is all-merciful. He is all-forgiving. In fact, he has every right to gossip about us, to judge us, and to condemn us. But he won’t. In fact, the ultimate show of the mercy of God is right there above the altar – the crucified Christ. For God loved the world in this way, that he sent his only-begotten son to die for us poor miserable sinners, for us hypocrites, for every one of us who lacks mercy toward his neighbor and love toward his brother. And our Lord implores us to be merciful. He points out: “A disciple is not above his teacher.” If our Teacher was merciful to the point of death, who are we to think we are above showing the same mercy – even if it means suffering at the hands of evil people? In our Old Testament lesson, Joseph shows this kind of mercy toward his hypocritical brothers. Remember, his brothers sold him to slave traders who took him to Egypt where he was wrongfully accused of rape. He spent many years in a prison, suffering a punishment he didn’t deserve. God allowed this injustice to happen so the lives of many would be saved from famine. For Joseph was released from prison to become Pharaoh’s advisor. He saved thousands of people from starvation – including his brothers who put him in the mess in the first place.

And notice the attitude of his brothers. These evil-doing hypocrites implore their brother to show them mercy, not to give them justice, but let them get away without being punished. And merciful Joseph, by the grace of God, is able to forgive them, and even provide for their children. This is truly the work of God, for this kind of mercy is something only God is capable of.

And notice what St. Paul says in our epistle text. When we suffer, we should not lash out. But rather we should remain focused on our eternal reward. For “creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” And this is why we cry out again and again in our liturgy: “Lord have Mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.” For even as we have crucified the Son of God, and deserve nothing but his wrath – we, like the brothers of Joseph can be so bold as to ask him not to punish us. Even though we sin again and again, hypocritically pointing the finger at others for their transgressions, we again and again can come to this place, drop to our knees, and beg for mercy. Even though our bodies are dying, corrupted rotting flesh, and even though our mouths are like filthy sewers, we still indeed have the nerve to come before this altar and open those mouths to receive the holy body and blood of Jesus whom we mocked and crucified. And that is as it should be.

It is our gracious Lord’s nature to show us mercy in “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” It is more than our humble hands can even hold. Our cups run over with the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. We are shown so much undeserved grace that we can in turn show that kind of mercy to others. Not because we can do it of ourselves, but rather as a gift of God. For every time you hear the words of Holy Absolution, every time you hear the words of the Holy Gospel, every time you eat and drink of Holy Communion, you are being remade in the Lord’s image. When you were washed with Holy Baptism, the tar of your sins were washed from you – and when you return to that font by seeking his forgiveness, you are again and again washed clean.

On this side of the grave, we will never be completely free from the bondage of sin and the mortality that threatens our bodies. But as Paul says in our epistle: “we have the “firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

Indeed, God is not through with us yet. He continues to show mercy to us again and again. And he delights when we ask him for more. For indeed, God is good. He is good, perfect, and almighty. Like old man Johannes in “Hammer of God,” the Law crushes us. When the Law does its work, we can either cover up our sins with more hypocrisy, or we can confess them, and plead for mercy, as do the brothers of Joseph. And like Johannes, we can hear the Gospel, and receive the grace and mercy of God.

So, dear Christian friends, you have no reason to linger in hypocrisy. Confess your sins! Receive God’s grace! And that overflowing grace will well up in you, and the Lord will use you to bring reconciliation, forgiveness, and mercy to others.

Thanks and praise be to God that our Lord Jesus Christ is no hypocrite like us. In fact, he is the opposite. He is merciful! Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy! Alleluia!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: