Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 4 – 2012

1 July 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 6:36-42

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us this day just how edgy and controversial the Christian faith really is. 

Christianity is no religion for wallflowers who simply want to sing pretty songs in a cozy church building.  Rather, the Christian life is a paradox, a demand for the impossible made by Him who did the impossible and continues to do the impossible, even for us poor miserable sinners who are impossible.  For with God, all things are possible.

“Be merciful,” He exhorts us, “even as your Father is merciful.”  Jesus tells us to be like God.  After all, like Father, like son; like Father, like daughter.  Do we not pray to “Our Father who art in heaven”?

This is one of those paradoxes about God.  Our Father is merciful, even as He is just.  And yet in His perfect justice, one finds perfect mercy – even as His perfect Son died the death of perfect justice in the payment of sins in perfect mercy for us who deserved the punishment.  And then, the Lord tells us to be merciful in the same way.

“Judge not,” He says, “and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.”

So how does the Christian lead a life without judging and yet pursue righteousness?  How can the Church call sinners to repentance without being “judgmental” in the eyes of the world?  This is indeed a profound paradox.  The great doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, put it this way: “Hate the fault, but love the man.”  Just as a physician hates and kills cancer in order to serve and preserve the life of a man, so too should we Christians judge sin (according to God’s Word) and yet show mercy to the sinner (according to Christ’s cross).  For this is precisely how our good and merciful Lord treats us.

He judges our sins, He condemns our transgressions, and yet in love, He forgives our sins and pardons our transgressions.  He loves us poor miserable sinners while hating our poor miserable sins.  And this, dear friends, is why He calls us to repent: because He is merciful, because He loves us.

A controversial pastor likes to proclaim that “God hates homosexuals.”  He uses a more crude way of saying this.  But God does not hate homosexuals.  Jesus came into our world to save sinners.  God hates the sin of homosexuality – which His Word describes as a form of idolatry, a rebellion against the created order.  But Jesus died to forgive every transgressor of the sixth commandment – not to mention all of us who constantly and consistently break all the commandments in thought, word, and deed; intentionally and unintentionally; knowingly and unknowingly.

So when the Lord says: “Judge not,” is this license for people to live any way they want without the Church saying anything about it?  Is this a free pass to sin without comment from those who proclaim the Word of God?  Certainly not!  We are not to judge or condemn others.  We are to discern right from wrong.  We judge doctrine, we judge deeds, but it is not our vocation to judge people, to condemn people, to decide which people are saved and which are damned.  “Judge not,” warns our Lord, “and you will not be judged.”  God is the judge.  And thanks be to our Judge that He is merciful, that He sent His Son to die for us, and that He warns us and calls us to repent when we stray, when we begin to take sin lightly, when we play the hypocrite by judging others more harshly than ourselves.

Thanks be to God that in Christ, He loves the sinner enough to die for him as a Savior, and He hates the sin enough to die for it as a substitute. 

And when we point out the faults of others, we are like the blind leading the blind.  For we know our own faults better than anyone else.  We may think we know the faults of others, but this is only because we have a log in our own eye!  “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

The Church must call the world to repent before she can proclaim forgiveness.  And yet, too often, she seems to enjoy the former more than the latter.  We Christians are often unfairly accused of being “judgmental” because we cite Scripture to judge that which is evil and condemn that which is sinful.  But, dear brothers and sisters, we Christians are often rightly accused of being “judgmental” because we cite Scripture to judge our brothers and condemn that which we are guilty of.

We must be on guard against this hypocrisy which is not only a poor witness but is also sinful and spiritually poisonous to our souls – especially in an election year when politics often drives our faith.  We Christians are ever eager to condemn homosexuals, but become eerily tolerant of divorce, of disrespect to the husband as the head of the household, of lording over and even abuse of wives, of disrespectful behavior in the home and in public, of dirty jokes and pornography, of the badmouthing of spouses, of a cavalier attitude toward television programs and movies that belittle the very notion of marital fidelity and authority in the home.

“For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

We are also very good at spotlighting abortion: those who secure them and those who provide them.  Indeed, the Church must always have the courage and the integrity to defend life – all life – especially life that cannot speak for itself.  It is her prophetic voice which condemns the murder of children.  But it is not her mandate to condemn the abortionist or the people who make use of their services.

For as good as we are at marching, voting, putting bumper stickers on our cars, and protesting against abortion, we Christians are too tolerant of allowing our own children to be harmed by every manner of evil: highly sexualized and violent TV shows and video games, being lured into worldly ways at increasingly younger ages, not praying with them and for them, not teaching them the catechism and the Bible, not making sure that hearing the Word of God and taking part in the Divine Service is of the utmost importance in their lives.  And Christians are not exempt from being abusive to their children in thought, word, and deed.

“For with the measure you use…”

Dear friends, St. Augustine’s teaching is sometimes paraphrased as “hate the sin and love the sinner.”  And that is exactly what our Heavenly Father does with us poor, miserable sinners.  He hates our sins even as we brush them off.  He loves us sinners even as we brush Him off. 

But there is a warning to all of us poor, miserable hypocrites: “Take out the log!”  In our zeal for calling people to repentance, charity begins at home.  God loves sinners.  God dies to forgive sinners.  God rises again to justify sinners.  And God is transforming sinners into saints, judgmental scolds into loving examples of righteousness, hypocrites who emphasize the sins of others in order to ignore their own sins into humble men and women who confess their own sins and live out their lives in service to others – in mercy and in love.

Loving the sinner and hating the sin is a great paradox indeed – only resolvable at the cross – where our blessed Lord, motivated by hatred of evil, loves not His own life, and where motivated by love of His creation hates not His own death.  He embraces His cross for the sake of us poor miserable sinners, promising us forgiveness (not judgment) and transformation (not condemnation). 

And this peace, mercy, and love of God has been “given to you,” dear Christians, even as you give, forgive, and show mercy, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.”  For our Lord is no hypocrite.  He is merciful.  He has not come to condemn, but to save.  He is merciful, “even as [His] Father is merciful.”  Amen.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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