Saturday, July 13, 2019

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.
If there is one verse from the Bible that nearly everybody knows and regularly quotes from memory, whether they go to church or not, whether they are a Christian or not, whether they even know it is from the Bible or not, it is the second verse from our Gospel reading today where our Lord Jesus commands us to “Judge not.” In truth, it would be no exaggeration to say that “Judge not” has become the one universal law and religion that binds us together in our world and culture today. You can pretty much do anything and think anything and say anything and wear anything you want, but the one thing that is universally forbidden, that is unconditionally not to be tolerated, is to judge others.
Indeed, you will be condemned for judging when you even suggest that it is improper that a young couple should live together outside of marriage. You will be condemned for judging when you suggest that someone you care about is engaging in behavior (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, pornography, etc.) that is threatening to their health and to their relationships with others. You will be condemned for judging when you suggest that abortion is the killing of a human being and is morally wrong. You will be condemned for judging when you suggest that homosexual acts and homosexual marriage are morally wrong, even though such things are clearly condemned by God in His Word. You will find that those who have absolutely no regard for God’s Word and Commandments suddenly become great scholars of the Holy Writ as they condemn you with Jesus’ words – completely misunderstood and stripped of their context – “Judge not.”
However, Jesus did say that, didn’t He? Yes, indeed He did! But, what do those words mean? You will undoubtedly be surprised if you too have misunderstood those words because you have taken them out of their context. As I noted earlier, Jesus’ words “Judge not” are taken from the second verse of today’s Gospel. They are not to be separated and interpreted apart from Jesus’ words that immediately precede them in the first verse, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Indeed, “Be merciful” is the command of our Lord that defines what He means in commanding “Judge not.” Mercy means overlooking or not counting one’s sins against them, but it absolutely does not mean denying that sin is sin. I typically teach that the difference between God’s grace and God’s mercy is this: Grace is when God gives us good things that we don’t deserve. Mercy is when God doesn’t give us the bad things that we do deserve. You see, we deserve only bad things for our sin, and not the good things God actually gives us by grace. You confessed precisely this just a few moments ago: “I, a poor, miserable sinner […] justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Thanks be to God that He doesn’t give us what we deserve! Rather, He graciously gives us what we don’t deserve – forgiveness, for the sake of, and because of, Jesus. God doesn’t say that we are not sinners, or that our sin doesn’t matter; rather, God is merciful and He chooses to overlook our sins and not count them against us, because He has laid all of our sins upon Jesus and has crucified and killed Him in His wrath against our sins upon the cross. And, that is why Jesus commands us to “Judge not,” because God has judged Jesus guilty in our stead, has condemned Him and sentenced Him to death, and He has carried out the execution. And, because God has been merciful and has overlooked our sins, we too must be merciful and overlook the sins of others – even though they are still serious and damnable sins.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven,” Jesus commands. Our Lord treats the words “judge not,” “condemn not,” and “forgive” as synonyms for “be merciful.” Indeed, they are the same in the eyes of our Lord; indeed, they are descriptive of and essential to who our LORD is and what He has revealed Himself to be as we heard in our Old Testament reading from Micah last Sunday: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression.” Can a blind man lead a blind man? Is a disciple above his teacher?These are rhetorical questions Jesus asks to which the unequivocal answer is understood to be no. Jesus’ point is that, because we have been given eyes to see that our LORD is merciful by the mercy He has shown to us, and because he has taught and revealed His mercy to us in His Son Jesus, we now can show and teach others of His mercy, that He overlooks our sins and does not count them against us for the sake of His Son Jesus. Jesus intends the same in His teaching, “Give, and it will be given to you,” for you can only give to others what you have first received yourself; and, if you have so received, you must also give, lest you forfeit what you have graciously received.
To illustrate all of the aforementioned points, Jesus asks, “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.” Once again, many know this passage and quote it from memory while completely misunderstanding it and taking it out of its context. Jesus does not teach that you are not to “see the speck that is in your brother’s eye,” but that first you must “notice the log that is in your own eye.” That is to say that you must first acknowledge, confess, and repent of your own sins, receive forgiveness, and humble yourself before God and your brother so that you may able to seeingly lead him and teach him as you have been taught to find the same mercy and forgiveness that you have graciously received from the LORD. For there is a sinful speck in your brother’s eye that must be removed, even as there is a sinful log in your own eye that must first be removed if you are to assist your brother. The hypocrite is not the one who points out his brother’s sins, but the hypocrite is the one who points out his brother’s sins while denying his own sins. Indeed, the LORD would have you teach and guide other sinners and lead them to repentance and God’s mercy and forgiveness as you yourself have received and known them. But, to do this, you must first yourself repent and receive the LORD’s mercy. Then, but only then, you can, indeed you must (!), help others to acknowledge, confess, and repent of their sins that they, too, may receive the LORD’s mercy and forgiveness.
This truth is illustrated well in our Old Testament lesson in which Joseph forgave his brothers who had meant only evil against him. Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me.” You see, Joseph did not deny their sin; he did not falsely tell his brothers that they were not sinners, but he plainly said, “You meant evil against me.” Joseph truthfully pointed out the sinful speck in their eyes. However, Joseph also acknowledged his own sinfulness and the sinful log in his own eye, and in repentance and humility, as the recipient of God’s mercy himself, he forgave his brothers and overlooked their sins, all the evil they had done to him.
When the Lord commands you to “Judge not,” He is not commanding you to be laissez-faire with the sins of others, telling them, either actively or passively, that they are ok and no sin at all. That is precisely what the Prophet Jeremiah warned against saying, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” No, but you are duty bound by love for God and for your brother to help him to acknowledge, confess, and repent of his sins so that he may receive the LORD’s mercy and forgiveness. However, just as you are not to ignore your brother’s sin and leave him in it, neither are you to condemn him and consign him to the LORD’s judgment and hell. Being a forgiven sinner yourself, you have no righteous foundation from which to do so, but only the LORD can condemn a soul to hell. Therefore, the Lord invites you to acknowledge and confess the sinful log in your own eye this day, and every Lord’s day, that you may receive His mercy and forgiveness anew, and that you may see clearly to remove the sinful speck from your brother’s eye that he might receive the same. And, in so doing, the LORD is glorified and His kingdom is filled as you share with others the mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness you have yourself received from His gracious hand. So, now He has prepared this meal for you to fill you with His mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness that you may have an abundance to share as these overflow out of you into the lives, hearts, and minds of your brother, your neighbor for whom Jesus also died. Come, and be filled with His good measure, pressed down, shaken together, His body and blood poured out for you and into you, running over, with His promise that, with the measure you use, you will not be depleted, but it will be measured back to you in abundance.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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