Living as children of light in a godless world

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Sermon for Trinity 4

Isaiah 58:6-12  +  Romans 8:18-23  +  Luke 6:36-42

As our members know, we don’t preach politics here at Emmanuel. We don’t concern ourselves overly much with what the secular government is or isn’t doing right, because we are not called by Christ to set up or to seek out a godly society or a glorious earthly kingdom in which to live. We are called to be godly citizens in the midst of a depraved society, to, as St. Paul writes to the Philippians, do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.

That Word of life does speak to the things going on around us. It does, for example, address the depravity and perversion of men pretending to marry other men or women pretending to marry other women. And it does address the lawlessness of rulers and of judges who pervert justice, as several of our Supreme Court justices did this past week. And it does address the perversion of a world that calls good evil and that calls evil good and that celebrates the evil in which it wallows. Part of our shining as lights in the world is to reveal the light of God’s judgment against such things. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

But there’s a difference between revealing God’s judgment and passing your own judgment. There’s a difference between announcing God’s condemnation against all sins for the purpose of bringing the sinner to repentance and pronouncing your own condemnation on certain cherry-picked sins for the purpose of making you feel good about how righteous you are because you don’t think you commit those particular sins. There’s a difference between speaking to your neighbor out of mercy and speaking out of self-righteous arrogance and spite. In our Gospel today Jesus issues some earnest instructions to those who follow Him: Divine instruction for children of light living in a godless world.

Therefore, our Gospel begins, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. “Therefore.” Wherefore? Why should we be merciful? We search the context, we go back one verse, and we find this: You are sons of the Most High. And your Father is kind to the unthankful and the evil. So, if you are sons of God the Father, children of light, then be “like Father, like son.” Imitate your Father’s mercy.

How is God the Father merciful? How has He displayed His mercy to the unthankful and the evil? First, He is merciful in His providence. He makes His sun shine on the evil and the good. He provides food and nourishment, crops and harvest, rain and shelter, health and necessary skills to all people everywhere, even to those who don’t acknowledge Him or worship Him or thank Him. He does it out of mercy, because without His providence, we would all perish.

How else is the Father merciful to all? He has sent out His truth to all men: His truth in nature and His truth in His Word. God is merciful in revealing, both biologically and Scripturally, that marriage is to be between a man and a woman, that the family is to be composed of a father and a mother and children. God is merciful in proclaiming His holy Law, His Ten Commandments, because there is great benefit in keeping them. God is also merciful when He, in His Word, explains what sin is and when He accuses and charges all of men with sin, because it’s only by acknowledging our sins that we can ever be saved from them.

Thirdly, the Father’s mercy is shown in sacrifice—His sacrifice, the sacrifice of His only begotten Son on the cross for the sins of all men, even for the unthankful and the evil. That sacrifice was made out of pure mercy and grace, out of God’s desire to reconcile sinful men with Himself through the cross of His Son, because God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

That is what your heavenly Father is like. Out of pure fatherly mercy and grace He provides for all. He is truthful to all. He sacrificed His Son for all and now calls all men to repent. Be merciful like that, Jesus says.

And then He gives some specific instruction about how to put that kind of mercy into practice. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Believe it or not, this verse from the Bible is the only verse from the Bible that some people know or want to know. Just try referring to certain things as sins that God’s Word refers to as sins. And you will hear from those who practice those sins, “The Bible says, ‘Do not judge,’ so you’re sinning by telling me that I’m sinning.” You might reply, “So, you’re judging me for judging you? I thought you weren’t supposed to do that.” But in reality, those who use the Word of God this way are blind to the truth and want to remain blind. Their condemnation is deserved.

Of course, the same Bible says, “You shall…” and “You shall not…” Or, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” Or, “Watch out for false prophets.” Or “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” But all of that requires a certain kind of judgment. You can and must judge between right and wrong. But you must only do it on the basis of God’s Word, not on the basis of your personal feelings. You must only do it on the basis of fact and knowing all the facts, not on the basis of some snippet of information you think you know. You must only do it with the goal of turning a sinner from the error of his way. And you must only do it as one who recognizes himself or herself as a sinful human being who deserves nothing but judgment and condemnation from God.

In addition, certain vocations require a certain kind of judging and condemning. God Himself most certainly judges. A human judge in a courtroom is supposed to judge and, often, condemn. A policeman sometimes has to make an on-the-spot judgment on someone—to shoot or not to shoot, as does a soldier on the battlefield. Fathers and mothers are called to judge and sometimes punish their children. And pastors and bishops are called by God to exercise and to pronounce spiritual judgment in His name, to forgive sins or to retain sins. Imagine what the world would be like if Jesus’ words, “Judge not!”, meant that all forms of judging were to cease.

But there is a form of judging that is evil. People do it all the time. It’s all over the media, the internet, and it grows very naturally in the corrupt human heart. It comes from pride or hatred, not from mercy. It’s when you pretend to know another person’s heart. It’s when you set yourself up in your heart as righteous and as the model of perfection, and then look down your nose at all the people around you who don’t live up to your standards. It’s the “pointing of the finger” that Isaiah referred to in today’s first Lesson and the “speaking of wickedness.” That has no place among the children of the light.

Instead, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” That’s just another form of being merciful. Children of light, children of God are to be characterized by a spirit of generosity and by a readiness to forgive. Because that’s what our Father is like, and we have been born again to this Father by His Holy Spirit, who works in us to mold us into the image of our Father, which is the image of our Brother, Jesus. Here in God’s kingdom there is no room for greediness, or for stinginess, or for grudges.

To spur us on, Jesus even adds a promise: 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. Let that serve as an encouragement to you. Everything you have has been given to you from above as a solemn trust, to be used as your Father directs you to use it. That includes giving to those in need, and giving generously. But your Father promises that you won’t run out, you won’t be lacking. He sees His Spirit working in His children to produce good works that flow from faith, and He will see to it that you are rewarded for it.

How does a Christian continue to be merciful in a world that is so wicked and that hates us so much? Only by continually remembering that we, too, by our deeds, have earned God’s wrath and punishment, and that it was only the grace of God that moved Him to send His Son for us, to be hated by the world and crucified for us. It is only the grace of God that has cured us of our blindness and brought us into His kingdom of light by giving us the gift of faith. As Jesus said, If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. The world may hate you, but your Father loves you and has chosen you out of the world to be His dear children. Let that be your inspiration to confess God’s truth boldly, no matter what the consequences in this world may be. Let it also be your inspiration for living as children of light in this godless world, to be merciful as your Father is merciful. Amen.

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