Sunday, June 23, 2013

Homily for The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)



Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21

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

Why do we stand for the reading of the Gospel? We stand because the Gospel is the very Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. For, while “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” we afford the Words of our Lord Jesus the highest honor. And, when Jesus speaks His Word to His disciples and His apostles, He speaks His Word to you. And, when He speaks His forgiveness to repentant sinners, when He heals the sick, cleanses the unclean, and raises the dead, He speaks His powerful, re-creative, salvific, and life-giving Word to you. And, when He rebukes the self-righteous and the hypocrites, so does He rebuke your self-righteous and hypocritical Old Man that he may drown and die in the baptismal waters of repentance once again, and rise up to new life as God’s adopted son. Therefore, when you listen to Jesus’ Words in the Gospel, you must listen to Him as if He is speaking directly to you. For, He is. And, not with mere words does He speak to you, but with the living, powerful, and life-giving Words of God the Father. For, indeed, He is not merely speaking to you, but He is speaking into you.

And, Jesus’ Word to you today is this: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” If these words are just words, then Jesus might as well have commanded a stone to become bread! Ah, but therein lies a clue, does it not? For, Satan knew and believed in the power of Jesus’ Words. He knew that Jesus could indeed turn stones into bread by the power and authority of His Word alone if that were in concord with His Father’s will. Thus, when Jesus commands you to “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” He is not commanding you to do something that He is not at the same time empowering you to do! For, when He says to you, “Be merciful,” He is speaking His mercy, His Father’s mercy, into you. In fact, it is with His Father’s mercy, alone, that you are able to be merciful, just as, without Jesus’ Word, a stone is just a stone. However, with His Word and His Father’s will, even a stone becomes life-giving bread.

Likewise, the same is true with Jesus’ other commands in today’s Gospel: “Judge not, 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.” You must note the conditional tie between your own attitudes and actions and the attitudes and actions that you will be treated with. And, though it may sound, at first, as if the Father’s attitudes and actions toward you are normed, ruled, and governed by your own attitudes and actions, I suggest to you that all of these conditional commands are normed, ruled, and governed by the first command Jesus spoke in today’s Gospel: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” That command is the key to understanding the others. For, again, your ability to be merciful is conditional upon the Father’s mercy shown to you so that, in truth, it is with the Father’s mercy that you are able to be merciful to others. For, apart from the Father’s mercy, you have nothing to show, nothing to give, and nothing to do. Apart from the Father’s mercy, you are like a stone. Likewise, apart from the Father’s judging you not, condemning you not, but forgiving you, and graciously giving to you for Jesus’ sake, you have nothing to show, nothing to give, and nothing to do, but you are like a stone, dead and lifeless.

Jesus illustrates this point brilliantly by saying, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Now, again, though it may sound at first as if Jesus is saying to you, “Give, then the Father will give to you,” that is not it exactly, for, you can give only of what you have first received. And, what you have received has been a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over,” that is to say, the Father has shown mercy to you, has not judged you or condemned you, but has forgiven and given to you an abundance, even more than you need, so that you are overflowing with His mercy, His forgiveness, and His grace. In fact, it is with that surplus that you are able to show mercy, forgiveness, and grace to others; for, it is not your mercy, forgiveness, and grace, but it is your Father’s. Therefore, with the measure of your Father’s mercy, your Father’s forgiveness, and your Father’s grace that you show to others, will you be compensated, filled up again, to overflowing, that you may show it, and do it, again, and again, and again.

But, then, Jesus changes the direction of His teaching to another point: “You must be holy, that is perfect, as your heavenly Father is holy and perfect.” Now, Jesus does not say that, exactly, in the Gospel, but, in so many words, he reiterates what Moses taught in Leviticus 20:26. What Jesus does say is this: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your 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.” Jesus’ point is, as Bo Giertz has written, that “He who takes the commandments seriously will cease comparing himself with others. The Law demands instead that we compare ourselves with God. We ought to be perfect as He is perfect, merciful as He is merciful, holy as He is holy. The law does not allow any possibility for us to be satisfied with ourselves.”

A little over a decade ago, much ado was made of God’s purpose for each one of us, thanks to Southern Baptist mega-church Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. Warren was right in at least one thing, God does have a purpose for each one of us, and Jesus proclaimed that purpose clearly, summarizing the Torah, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Unfortunately, Warren must have believed that would have made too short of a book, and so he went on to write hundreds of pages filled with advice and counsel on how to find our what God’s purpose for you is and then how to do it.

But, that’s precisely where Warren, and all who seek to do the Law of God, get it wrong: The Law of God is not something for you to do, but it describes what you are to be in Christ Jesus. For, when it comes to the Law, you have more than a log in your eye, you are a disciple and not the Teacher, and you are as blind as anyone else on this planet. Only Christ, who is not corrupted by sin, can see the Father’s Law clearly and do it and be it. Therefore, Christ alone is the Teacher who’s Words must not be spoken merely to you, but into you, that you may truly be His disciple, and one day be like Him. Likewise, only Christ, whose eye is clear of sin and guilt and shame, can remove the log of sin, guilt, shame, and death from you that your eye may be clear. Then, forgiven and washed clean in His blood, restored to sight, and disciplined in the Law of love, you will be equipped and empowered to lead, and to teach, and to remove the speck of sin from the eye of your brother. For, this is your Father’s purpose for you, that you might serve your brother and neighbor in love and glorify Him in Christ Jesus.

Another thing that Warren gets wrong, however, is that, if you are doing and being what God has purposed for your life, all will go well, or at least mostly well, with you. Actually, quite the opposite is true; don’t forget Jesus’ teaching, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” After all, what did Jesus’ mercy, forgiveness, and grace get Him: Ridicule and mocking, scourging, crucifixion, and death. That is why today’s Gospel about what you are to be in Christ through your attitudes and actions towards your brother and neighbor is coupled with Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers and Paul’s comparison of “the sufferings of this present age” to the “pains of childbirth”. For, after all that his brother’s had done to him – throwing him in a pit and telling his father he had been devoured by lions and then selling him into slavery – after all those years they believed him to be dead, and how he so missed his father and his young brother Benjamin, in the end Joseph confessed, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Likewise, Paul confessed, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Beloved children of the Father: You are loved that you may love others. You have been shown mercy that you may show mercy to others. You have been forgiven that you may forgive others. And you have received from the LORD a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” Your Lord Jesus is speaking directly to you, His disciples, His brothers, and friends today. Yet, He does not merely speak to you, but He speaks into you His powerful and empowering, creative, and life-giving Word that you may be as He commands, for He will be these things for you and in you and with you. Even now He is present with His life-giving Words and His healing Wounds that you may receive Him into you physically and spiritually, that you may remain in Him, and He in you, that you will bear much fruit. And, His fruit is love, the fulfilling of the Law. Go in His Peace.

In + the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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