Instructions in mercy for those subjected to hope

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Sermon for Trinity 4

Romans 8:18-23  +  Luke 6:36-42

In our Gospel, we are given some instructions by Jesus, including one of the most well-known instructions in the Bible: Judge not, and you shall not be judged. It’s well-known, but not well-applied by most, because before you can practice the words of Jesus in the first part of this text, you have to practice the words of Jesus in the second part, and most people never do that. So we’re going to begin today with the second part of our Gospel

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

When Jesus says to judge not, condemn not, forgive and give generously, your natural reaction may be to think of examples of people you know who do judge, who do condemn, who do not forgive, or give. But, Jesus says, your first reaction should be to check your own eyes for planks. Otherwise, you’re just a hypocrite, a pretender, pretending to help someone else with a problem that you haven’t yet addressed in yourself, a problem that’s far worse than the little problem your brother has.

Jesus knows your sinful flesh better than you do. He knows that you are prone to judge when you have no business judging, to condemn when you have no business condemning. He knows that you are, by nature, inclined not to forgive the ones who have sinned against you, even if they ask for your forgiveness, and He knows that you are not given to giving freely and generously. It’s easy to find faults in other people when it comes to judging, condemning, forgiving and giving, but you’re a fool even to attempt it until you first deal with yourself.

And you deal with yourself by addressing any plank of impenitence, any plank of carnal security that will forever keep you from seeing the right path both for yourself and others.

The call to repent first goes out to people as unbelievers, as those who are outside the kingdom of God, still dead in sins and trespasses. Jesus doesn’t try to get unbelievers to live a more righteous life. He doesn’t tell unbelievers to be merciful. He’s talking to believers, to His disciples in our text when He says, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” He’s speaking to those who have been made sons of God through faith in Christ. To the unbeliever, He simply says, “Repent! Be crushed under the weight of God’s holy law, because you lack true fear of God and true faith in God, and so nothing you do can be good in God’s sight! Be terrified by the condemnation you have earned for yourself with your judgmental, condemning, non-forgiving, stingy heart, and all the words and deeds that have flowed from it.”

Repent, and believe the good news! That God, the heavenly Father, has been merciful and is merciful, that He has given His Son to pay for every one of your sins, and even for your sinful, diseased heart itself. God has given His Son to be the Righteous Man by whose righteous deeds He will judge all who believe in Him. In other words, those who believe in Jesus will not be judged according to their deeds, but according to His. So be baptized, He says, and wash away your sins. Be baptized and so be clothed with Christ in a robe of righteousness, and be assured that, by faith in Him, you have already been adopted; you have God as your merciful Father in heaven.

That puts us within a certain framework, if you will, in a covenant-relationship with God. We Christians, we children of God, have been reborn into this framework, we now live between the bookends of Holy Baptism and the resurrection at the last day. We have not been given an easy life between those two bookends, as Paul points out in today’s Epistle. On the contrary, we have been given to struggle, to wrestle with our sinful flesh, to resist the devil and the world, to suffer, in many ways, and for many reasons. But what we have also been given in this life, between the bookends of Baptism and the resurrection, is forgiveness, and hope and a future. We, like the whole creation around us, have been subjected to hope.

To be subjected to hope means that the hardships and the suffering that we have now is not what we want. It’s hard. It’s sometimes painful. Because of the sin in the world, we are forced to live, not by sight, but by faith, in hope—hope that things will get much better, incomparably better, in the future, knowing that that future begins at the resurrection of the dead. For now, we suffer and struggle and fight against our sinful flesh, but always with the sure and certain hope that something better is coming when Jesus comes.

For now, during this age of hope, we have the Holy Spirit instructing us and teaching us, reproving us and correcting us, training us and comforting us, so that we have all the divine strength we need to keep facing this life between the bookends of Baptism and the resurrection.

Now, as those whose sight has been restored through repentance and faith in Christ, as those who have been subjected to the sure hope of eternal life, we can see Jesus’ commands in the Gospel in a new light.

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. You have come to know the mercy of your Father in the person and in the words of Jesus. Now be like Him. As Paul says to the Ephesians, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

You have work to do during this time between your Baptism and the resurrection. You’ve already received God’s mercy. You know the glory that awaits. Now it’s time to show mercy to your neighbor, as God has shown to you. Mercy begins in the heart. It’s sympathy, it’s care and compassion.

And that compassion that begins in the heart is shown outwardly in many ways, including the ways Jesus outlines for us. Judge not. Some people are in a position where it’s their vocation to sit in judgment over the behavior or the teachings of other people. Judges, magistrates, ministers, parents over their children, employers over their employees, teachers over their students. But most of the judging that goes on in the world is not the kind to which God has called people. It’s sinful people sinfully, mercilessly pretending to play God in the life of their neighbor. As those whom God has chosen, for the sake of Christ alone, not to judge, even though He could, why would we go around judging the people we encounter? Instead, think of them with mercy.

Condemn not. Again, as those who have been freed from our well-deserved condemnation by the mercy and grace of God, why would we go around condemning others? Mercifully pointing out how people are destroying themselves with their sins and then pointing them to Christ as the Savior? Yes! Mercilessly condemning? No!

And you shall not be judged. And you shall not be condemned. You see, there God holds out that hope again, an added incentive to withhold judgment on our neighbor when we have no business judging him or her, an added incentive to refrain from condemning people, because God holds out this hope of not being judged and not being condemned ourselves.

Forgive, and you will be forgiven. As Christians, we live daily in the forgiveness of sins. You received it again today in the absolution. It’s not as if we’re sitting here working hard at forgiving others in order to maybe someday earn God’s forgiveness for ourselves. But as the baptized children of God, we are given a charge by our Father, to forgive those who repent of their sins against us. He’s serious about it, and adds this slice of hope again, that God will respond in kind toward us, that God is pleased with us when we forgive others as He has forgiven us.

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. God sees every gift His children give, the big and the small. He sees it and rejoices over it, and even promises to reward it. All that hope, all that incentive tacked onto the merciful generosity that should characterize every Christian, reborn in the image of our Father. St. Paul expressed the same thing in 2 Corinthians 9: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.

Remember hope, the hope that is yours in Christ Jesus during this life between the bookends. And may that hope enable you to be ever more merciful to your neighbor and to your brother, as your Father in heaven is merciful. As Jeremiah wrote in his Lamentations, Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” Amen.

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