Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 4

5 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 6:36-42 (Gen 50:15-21, Rom 8:18-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged.”

Most of us do not work in the judicial branch of government – though some of us do. Most of us are not employed in the business of detaining, trying, and punishing people accused of crimes – though some of us are. But all of us break the Lord’s commandment to be merciful, not to be judgmental. We all deserve to be detained, tried, and punished.

Of course, there are those whose vocations, whose callings from God, require them to judge others. One cannot live in a civilized society without not only due process, but also the threat of punishment and the containment of the violent.

This is not the kind of judgment our Lord is warning against.

Nor is our Lord telling us to adopt an anything goes attitude toward what is practiced in our society, church, and homes. In some ways, all people have to exercise judgment. In your job, you may have to assess a person’s claim to some benefit or entitlement, you might have to judge whether a person should receive a loan, you may have to judge whether or not a person deserves a raise, you could be placed into the situation of judging which student is telling the truth in a classroom conflict.

Parents certainly judge the behavior of their children, rewarding that which is honorable and punishing that which needs correction. Pastors too must judge whether or not a person is sinning and in need of the law, or whether a member of the Church actually needs a word of forgiveness. In fact, much of pastoral work is a judgment call.

But again, this is not what our Lord is warning against. Rather He is urging us not to be self-righteous. He is teaching us that to live in this fallen world, we need to cut people a lot of slack. We need to be merciful “even as your Father is merciful.” For it is easy to be impatient with people, to be slow to forgive and quick to condemn. But our Lord asks us to see ourselves on the receiving end of the same kind of attitude: “For with the same measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Do you want your Father in heaven to treat you with mercy and patience, or with stern rebuke and righteous indignation? Does God have the right to judge you harshly? Do you wish God to be merciful with you, or judge you as you deserve?

We all wish to be treated mercifully – especially by God. We want our own shortcomings and failures, our own sins and errors to be overlooked by our merciful Lord. And we are not disappointed, dear brothers and sisters. Your Father is merciful! He does overlook our sins and refrain from the judgment that we deserve.

And how can we be above our teacher? How can we expect mercy from our master and yet be judgmental against our brethren? How can we complain of the speck in our brother’s eye when we have a log in our own?

This is the real meaning of living in forgiveness. It is not the failure to call others to repentance, but rather to call ourselves to repentance first. It is not the overlooking of the sins of others, but rather it is addressing our own sins first.

It is in this spirit of repentance that we learn what mercy is. Having been forgiven, we can forgive. Having been shown mercy, we can show mercy.

This is the lesson of Joseph. For is anyone had a valid issue due to the sins of others, it would be Joseph’s complaint against his brothers. And furthermore, God placed him in an actual position of judgment over them. Joseph could have avenged the wrong done to him with the wave of a hand. His brothers, who kidnapped him, sold him into slavery, lied to their father about the incident, and continued the falsehood and crime for many years – could have been beheaded, or hanged, or thrown to lions, or subjected to whatever judgment their brother desired.

But Joseph did not desire retribution, but rather repentance. He wanted them to acknowledge their sin, confess it, be forgiven it, and move beyond it – all in love and mercy, all under the reality that he too was a forgiven sinner.

As a result of his brothers’ jealously and hatred, Joseph suffered many years of slavery, imprisonment, and being falsely accused. And yet, he can with St. Paul confess that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Joseph knew that glory did not lie in his position of power, in his ability to extract revenge, or in his wealth – but rather in his being in a position to show mercy, to forgive, to reconcile, to bring life out of death and righteousness out of sin. Joseph knew that his “sufferings of this present time” were something that “God meant for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” For from their forgiven flesh was to come the Savior, the one for whom “creation has been groaning together,” eagerly waiting “for adoption as sons.”

And without Joseph’s mercy to his brother Judah, Joseph himself would be without the mercy won for him by Judah’s descendant, our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who implores us to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Mercy is not just a slogan or a nice name for a hospital. Mercy is the very embodiment of the Christian faith. Mercy is love in action, it is forgiveness given to the undeserving solely by grace. Mercy is what gives us the hope of eternal life. Mercy is that which is given to us in “good measure” and “running over,” so that we might in turn share this abundance with others. Mercy is what separates the hypocrite from the saint, the judgmental from the joyful, the condemned from the redeemed.

In the face of our own sins, we pray in the liturgy: “Lord, have mercy.” In the face of those who sin against us, we are to show mercy. And because our Father is indeed merciful, because the Son has promised us “adoption as Sons,” and because we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” we can live a life not only of receiving mercy, but showing it – not only seeking it, but eager to dispense it.

And the sweetest words we can hear from our merciful Lord Jesus are wrapped up in this life of mercy received and given: “Your Father is merciful…. You will not be condemned….You will be forgiven….it will be given to you.”


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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