Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sermon for Trinity4 July 1, 2012

Luke 6:36-42              Trinity 4         June 30-July 1, 2012
Be merciful, even as Your Father is merciful. – St. Luke 6:36

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

Mercy. It’s a much criticized and often misunderstood word. We normally use the word to refer to not giving a guilty party the punishment he deserves. The word evokes, for instance, images of prisoners in the Tower of London asking their Sovereign to spare them out of mercy. However, the opening words of today’s Gospel lesson—“Be merciful, even as Your Father is merciful”– have more depth than our common use of the word “mercy.” It is not the same word used in our Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy.” Indeed, here we have a word for “mercy” that is used twice in this Gospel lesson, but nowhere else in all four Gospels. It could be translated “pity,” “compassion,” or even “heartfelt compassion.” Tracing it through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit today will help us understand the mercy of the Triune God toward us and our mercy for our neighbor. “Be merciful, even as Your Father is merciful.”

The word “mercy” describes God’s compassion in the OT, especially the Psalms. In Psalm 86, David prayed for God’s mercy, saying, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” David prays nearly identical words in Psalm 103:8 and Psalm 145:8. The composite picture from these three Psalms is a God who is gracious, granting His people everything that they need to support this body and life. He is also merciful, showing sympathy or pity to His people, slow to be angry and quick to forgive. Similarly, St. Paul uses the word in 2 Corinthians to describe God as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” Again, we see that mercy is paired with a similar trait that helps us understand God’s mercy. He is the Father or source of mercies and the God of all comfort, for He alone comforts us in every need. Finally, the lack of mercy for the impenitent is described in Hebrews 10, where we read that “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy.” God is by nature merciful and gracious, but those who hate His commandments will lose God’s mercy to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. In view of God’s merciful and gracious character, Jesus says to imitate the mercy of the Father in your daily living. Do not judge or condemn. That is to say, do not take it upon yourselves to be God. You may call fellow sinners to repentance, judging their outward breaking of the Ten Commandments. But leave judging the heart and condemning the soul to God alone. Moreover, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Drop dead to one another’s sins, just as God the Father dropped dead to your sins on the cross. As we pray in the Fifth Petition, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Along the same lines, “Forgiveness will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” God the Father is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. He is the Father of forgiveness, mercy, and grace. He has given us all His gifts by faith in the suffering Messiah. The excess, the “extra” forgiveness, spills over our laps and flows to our neighbor. That’s what David means in the Psalms by God “abounding in steadfast love.” He has enough love, mercy, and grace for all men, with plenty to spare. By His grace, you are merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

As it goes for the Father, so it goes for the Son. St. Luke only this unique word for “mercy” only here (6:36), but the concept of pity or compassion from Jesus is laced throughout Luke’s Gospel. Consider, for instance, the Gospel lessons from the last three Sundays. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31, Trinity I), the rich man refused to share the abundance of his wealth with poor Lazarus, painting a portrait of one who will die by Moses’ Law if he does not repent. Yet God showed compassion to poor Lazarus who, though a beggar in this life, received the reward of being in Abraham’s bosom. In the Banquet Parable, many rejected the King’s offer of mercy by refusing His feast. However, after sending His servants into the “red light” district and eventually to the outer highways, the King’s hall was filled with guests. Here mercy is expressed in table fellowship with Jesus, who dines with repentant outcasts. In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, the Good Shepherd was compassionate enough to leave 99 sheep in order to seek and save the lost. The woman who lost the coin swept her house with the broom of the Gospel to bestow her pity upon the lost. In short, mercy or compassion is the way of Christ in Luke’s Gospel, and it is the way of all who are in Christ.

No wonder Jesus describes the relationship between the student and the teacher as one being like the other. “Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” According to the custom of the day, students developed a father-son type relationship with their teacher or Rabbi. Perhaps some of you have heard of the phrase “doctoral father” in European academia. The word “doctor” means teacher, which, paired with the word “father,” suggests a love, fruitful, and productive relationship between teacher and student. Applied to Christ and His disciples, the essence of being like the Teacher directs us to the cross. Christ was willing to leave His heavenly home, to die for the sake of the right doctrine and confession, and to go to the cross for all sins of all men. He bid all of His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him, even to death. In the book of Acts, Jesus’ followers became like their Teacher, working miracles of compassion, teaching that Jesus was the Son of God, and suffering all, even crucifixion in some cases, for the sake of the Gospel. What does it mean for you, the faithful students of theology, to be like your Heavenly Teacher? To share the compassion of Christ with your neighbor, even if it means “suffering all, even death”(Confirmation Rite) for the sake of Him who had compassion on us and shed His blood for us.

As it goes for the Son, so it goes for the Holy Spirit. The word “mercy” at the beginning of our Gospel lesson is used by St. Paul to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. In Romans, St. Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” God has had mercy on us, forgiven us, and sanctified us. Therefore, you are a living sacrifice of praise, in body and soul. In Philippians 2:1-2, St. Paul says, “So if there is any . . . affection and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind.” In other words, live out the fruits of the Spirit in your daily lives. Have the mind of Christ among you, the mindset of Him who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. In Colossians 3:12, St. Paul admonished the church to “Put on them, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” This is the language of baptism. In baptism, you have put on Christ. You wear the robe of His own righteousness. Continue to wear the fruits of the Spirit as your daily dress, including mercy or compassion for your neighbor. In short, mercy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, Christ in action through you to carry God’s mercy to the world.

So Jesus spells out exactly how this mercy goes in motion. Are you obsessed with the speck in your brother’s eye? Repent! Take out the log in your own eye before you call your neighbor to repentance. How can you call your neighbor to repentance if you yourself are not repentant? Repentance, then, is the beginning of the holy life of sharing the compassion of Christ with our neighbor. Through repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit shows us the depth of God’s love for us. In the Lord’s Supper, He reminds us of all that Jesus’ suffered for us. Nourished by His body and blood, the Holy Spirit sends us back to our daily lives to share the compassion of Christ with our neighbor. No wonder this Gospel lesson is followed by Jesus’ teaching on the fruits of the Spirit. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good fruit” (6:45). Or, in a previous image, a good tree bears the good fruits (6:43) of repentance, faith, and holy living, taking the compassion of Christ Himself into the world.

Finally, it is worth noting that the word “mercy” in this Gospel Lesson usually appears as a plural noun to express the manifold mercies of God in our daily lives. He is merciful at all times, from protecting us in the womb to guarding our bodies in the grave. He is merciful in all places, from the safety of our home to the imminent danger of death. He is merciful to all people, from the lifelong saint to the most impenitent sinner. In short, here we see the good news that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is merciful to us. And, having received the gifts of His mercy, He works through us to share that mercy with our neighbor. Perhaps the post-Communion prayer puts it best: “We beseech You that of Your mercy You wouldst strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another.” Amen.

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

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