Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Text: Luke 6:36-42
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Our Lord goes on to illustrate the life of mercy with four imperatives, two negative and two positive: Judge not, condemn not, forgive, and give.
Now this text has very often been taken out of context. Some have claimed that since the Bible tells us not to judge then we can never tell anyone they are wrong. Since we are not to condemn, then we cannot call anything a sin. Since we are to forgive we cannot hold anyone accountable, and since we are to give, we are selfish if we do not give everything to everybody who asks.
Is this what Jesus means when He says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”?
If Jesus is the One sent by the Father to reveal the Father to man, then we need to go no further than to ask if this is how Jesus is merciful. Does Jesus call sin wrong, does Jesus warn people to repent, does Jesus hold anyone accountable, does Jesus give everything to everyone who asks?
We only have to look as far as the rest of the Sermon on the Plain which contains our Gospel reading today. From the very beginning Jesus speaks words of the beatitudes: Bless are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!...For behold your reward is great in heaven.
Merciful words indeed, but what about the words that follow: Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Are these not words of judgement? Do these woes not condemn those who live for themselves, close their hearts to their neighbors, and reject God’s Word? How can anyone then claim that our Lord’s command to be merciful as God is merciful means that sin should not be identified and rejected, and that those who commit sin should not be warned of the danger into which their sin places them?! Indeed Jesus’ entire teaching ministry can be summed up by the evangelist as “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.” It would be entirely unmerciful to let a dying world continue without the call to repentance and faith.
To judge not, then cannot mean that we close our eyes to sin. But rather that we do not let the sin of another make them an enemy in our eyes. To condemn not, does not mean that we do not warn against the fires of hell, but that we do not sit in the place of God sending people to hell. This is why the word damn is not in itself a forbidden word. The Bible speaks of damnation to come on those who reject Christ and turn from God, but let such a curse of man or nature never be found on our lips. We should always be ready to warn against the danger of sin, but let the pronouncement of such condemnation never come from our lips.
This can be seen no more clearly than when comparing the words of the absolution with those of the excommunication. It has been rightly said that absolution is the verdict of the last judgment spoken today. Therefore the pastor speaks: in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We confess I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this id just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Now it would seem logical that in the case of excommunication when the binding key is used instead of the loosing key that the language would be as direct and straight forward. Where one remains impenitent that the final verdict of condemnation would be spoken today. Yet it is not. Absolution is always absolute; otherwise, it could not create faith. Absolution delivers what it promises so that we may hear the words of forgiveness and not hope to be saved on the last day, but know that we have already entered into salvation. But the excommunication is not like this.
In the sad circumstance where a Christian falls into sin and refuses to repent, the excommunication does not say in the stead and by the command of Christ you are and forever will be damned. But rather, the excommunication is announced with these words, In order to show the seriousness of his impenitence and, as a last effort to win him back to our lord, I announce that Bob/John is now excommunicated from the holy Christian Church. Until he repents, Bob/John, may not come to this or any other Christian altar for the Lord’s Supper. He is also not permitted to serve as a sponsor at Holy Baptism nor engage in any other rights or privileges of the church, except to hear the preaching of God’s Word. May almighty God mercifully grant him grace to confess his sin so that he might receive the Lord’s forgiveness and be restored to communion with God in His Church. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Do you see the difference? The absolution delivers forgiveness that endures for eternity. The excommunication places one outside of the church, but it does not damn. It is not without hope for repentance and restoration.
This sort of discernment and judging is not contrary to the way of Christ or the mercy of our heavenly Father. Therefore do not be afraid to call sin what it is. Do not be afraid to warn your children against the temporal and eternal dangers of following in the ways of the world which seeks after wealth and pleasure. The rich have their reward, the full will be hungry, and those who laugh will mourn.
This is what it means to be a city on a hill and a light for the nations. We cannot call the nations into the riches of Christ’s kingdom without pointing out the emptiness of the world’s treasures. We cannot forgive as Christ has commanded us if we refuse to acknowledge sin.
But be careful that you do not let your own judgment tell you what is right and what is wrong. The blind cannot lead the blind without both falling into a pit. Yet that is what has happened in many churches over the last two centuries. Churches and pastors have grown weary of God’s Word. They have turned to their own reason and strength, and even looked to the world for guidance. The world has found portions of scripture too fantastic to be reliable and churches have gradually caved. Maybe Jonah wasn’t really swallowed by a great fish. Maybe the six days of creation are really six eons and everything did evolve over millions of years. Maybe gender isn’t part of God’s design and marriage doesn’t have to be between one man and one woman. Maybe the dead aren’t really raised.
In an effort not to be judgmental many have let slip all discernment. In doing so, we trade our birthright of the eternal truth for a bowl of lentils of the world’s blindness. Be careful then that in your attempt to be merciful and highly regarded by the world, you do not become blind. For that is a pit that has only one escape—repentance wrought by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
Your reason will not get you further than the words of your Teacher. But when Christ’s Word trains you, then you will be like your teacher, able to rebuke sin and comfort the sorrowful, able to stand fast on the truth, when the world shouts your condemnation, able to give as it has been given unto you, even when you have nothing left to give. For Christ dies homeless, friendless, naked and alone. Yet He does not withhold His blood or Spirit.
Take the log out of your eye. Be informed by the Word of God that you might see clearly. Be ready to repent and your eyes will be opened. Confess your sin, and you will see clearly to lead your neighbor to repentance.
The life of mercy knows no limits, because Christ knows no limits. But the life of mercy never contradicts the truth, For Christ the merciful one is the Truth.
St. Peter addresses us as those who have been brought out of blindness and stand under the true Judge as those who are filled with hope. This, dear Christians, is God’s gift to you in the midst of a blind and broken world.
If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
To God be the glory, now and forever.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria