Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 7)

Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Full bellies, contentment, amazement, and wonder at His miraculous power and works – these, I suggest to you, are not the reasons that Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness. Jesus never did anything to glorify Himself, but only to bring glory to His Father. Nevertheless, men, in their fallenness and sin, are mighty impressed with spectacles and wonders, with full bellies, and with the satisfaction of the flesh, and thus, many walked away that day missing Jesus’ point.
But, if not to glorify Himself, then what was Jesus’ point? Jesus’ point was not the food, but the Provider of the food. Jesus’ point was not how they might devise to get food, but the fact that they could not possibly get food on their own. Jesus’ point was not that the multitude would realize their need and despair, but that the multitude would realize their need and, in realizing that God had provided for them all along, realize that they had no need to despair, but that their God who loved them and provided for them as His own dear children in the past would continue to provide for them in the present and into as many future days as He might grant them. Jesus had compassion on the crowd because Jesus is compassion – that is to say, Jesus is the love, mercy, and compassion of God in human flesh, dwelling in the midst of the men He created to live by His providence and to receive His love and return it.
However, as much as Jesus made this point to the crowds who had followed Him for days after experiencing a previous miraculous feeding and many other miracles and healings, His primary audience was not the multitudes, but, rather, the Twelve, His disciples. It was particularly to them that He said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” And, as in His previous Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus said this to them to test them, to see whether they would trust in Him and His Word or only in themselves and their own meager providence.
Perhaps this is why Jesus specifically stated that the crowd had been with Him for three days. Was there something significant about three days? Well, since it was our Lord Jesus who spoke these Words, of course there was something significant about them! Three days was enough time that those who followed Jesus would have exhausted their own resources. Moreover, Jesus had purposely lead them to a place where was little or no natural resources, a place the disciples described as desolate. However, the crowd did not appear to be restless or despairing. In fact, they seemingly followed Jesus willingly without concern for food or drink, clothing, and shelter. The crowds were riveted by Jesus’ Words, enraptured by it and in it, so that they were focused upon nothing else. Indeed, this test was much more for and about the disciples and their faith and trust in Jesus and His Word than it was about four thousand of a nameless multitude. The hoi polloi trusted in Jesus and followed Him. What about His disciples?
Jesus’ disciples, too, would find themselves without Him for three days, three days in which their faith would be tested, and in which they would all be found wanting – until the fourth day, or, the eighth day in another reckoning, the day of Jesus’ resurrection when He would openly appear to them all alive, God’s providence out of the desolation of death and the grave. Then they would all be changed, for they would be filled with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus taught them, and they would sacrifice all, even their lives, to follow Jesus and to proclaim to all the world that He is Lord that all might believe and be saved, and God His Father be glorified.
Jesus would teach them to have compassion by learning that compassion comes from God alone – they would show, share, and shower Jesus’ love, mercy, and compassion upon others to the glory of God. He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They answered Him, “Seven,” already despairing that it was not enough. And, according to the flesh and the efforts of man, they were correct, it was not enough. But, as with the number three, the number seven is also symbolic, for the number seven is a divine and holy number meaning fullness and completeness. Thus, as little and insufficient as the seven loaves were from a fleshly and worldly perspective, they were nevertheless sufficient when the Word of the LORD was attached to them.
No, it wasn’t much, but that’s where true faith kicks in. Jesus wanted them, not to despair of their meager provisions, but to trust in Him and His Word. He was saying to them, “Don’t count the cost, just do the work.” “How many loaves do you have?” Seven? Seventy-seven? Or, Seven hundred seventy-seven? It doesn’t matter! Do the work! After Jesus’ blessing, after He attached His Word of power and grace to the meager provision, it was enough, it was sufficient – the multitudes “ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.”
Dear children of our Lord Jesus Christ – we too are like the multitudes in the desolate wilderness. We have followed Jesus this far and He has never failed to provide for us. And, though we might look around us now and be tempted to despair of our meager provisions, are we going to place our fear, love, and trust in material things, in human reason and wisdom, in mammon, wealth, and money? No, for our faith is grounded and founded in the unchanging, powerful, creative, and life-giving Word of God today, as every day in the past, to our fathers and our father’s fathers before us.
For, the first and the greatest commandment is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. This was the commandment broken in the Garden by our First Parents, the original sin, and the origin of all sin. Did you catch who the subject was for all of the verbs in our Old Testament Lesson from Genesis today? The subject for each and every one of them is the LORD God: God formed. God breathed. God planted. God made. God took. God put. God commanded. Man did absolutely nothing, but was the receiver of God’s creative work by His Word alone up until God “put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Then God made Adam to be a steward, a manager, of His creation, to tend to the plants and the animals of the world, to use them in a God-pleasing way, recognizing that they were not his own but His LORD’s over which he was given management. In his care and tending for His Master’s provisions, Adam would demonstrate his faith and trust in his LORD and would share in his LORD’s work by sharing His love, mercy, grace, and compassion.
Though Adam was given stewardship over the Garden and all things in it, his most important task involved the tending of one particular tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What stewardship of this tree really amounted to was where Adam would place his fear, love, and trust – in God’s Word and will, or in his own. For, it was the Word of God alone that made this tree’s fruit forbidden, not anything about the fruit or the tree itself. Moreover, this Word of the LORD set forth a choice for a way, a path, and a religion – the way of the LORD, or the way of the flesh. For, when it comes down to fundamentals, as confessed by early Christians in the Didache: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death! And there is a great difference between the two ways. The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.”
Satan’s temptation to our First Parents was to put their fear, love, and trust in themselves, and not in God’s Word and will. He was successful, and that has affected the fall of all humanity. Jesus’ Feeding of the Multitudes are, in a sense, a didactic reworking of that first temptation. Once again, Jesus’ disciples had a choice between trust in God’s Word and trust in themselves, but this was a teaching moment, a discipling moment, offered in love and compassion for the disciples and for all people. Jesus knew what He was going to do; He would not send the multitudes away hungry to their homes, to faint on the way. Did the disciples know what Jesus was going to do? Did they believe that He could and would do it? Do you?
Proverbs teaches that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” It is also true that fear of the loss of material possessions, wealth, bodily necessities, and even life is idolatry and the way of death. These things make you a slave, living in fear of loss and need. Jesus would have you live free as a slave of God. Free? As a slave? YES! For there are only two ways, the way of life, and the way of death; you are a slave – but, are you a slave of God and life, or are you a slave of sin, death, and the devil? St. Paul teaches you: “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness [that is, you were free from righteousness, meaning having none]. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Children of God, do not fear loss and need, but fear God and trust in His Word and in His will for you. This is a charge, not to be foolish, but to be faithful in your stewardship of what He provides you. Spending money you do not have is poor stewardship, for it displays unbelief in God’s providence through means and vocations and a foolish trust that God will provide in ways and means He has not promised. Likewise, fear of stepping out and doing what is necessary for the good of others and for the proclamation of the Gospel is also poor stewardship, for it displays unbelief in God’s Word and will for you and for His Church. Therefore, let us walk the way of life, in humble, obedient fear, love, and trust in God’s Word and will. For He is God, and He is life and all its providence. To God alone be all glory.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”  You see, that’s what it’s like to live under the holy and righteous Law of God. It’s kind of like trying to pay off your credit cards, or a student loan, except that it isn’t, because, at least, if you keep on paying the minimum amount due, you will in, say, twenty or thirty years or so, pay them off. But, not so with the Law of God. No matter how good you are, no matter how well you strive to keep His commandments and His Law, you can never, and you will never, pay back God for the debt you owe Him, the debt of your sin and your guilt. No, you will never, ever pay Him back. So, what, then, should you do? Ok, here it is; listen up: “Stop trying!” “Stop trying to pay God back for your sin and your guilt. Stop trying to earn and merit God’s favor. Stop trying to assuage God’s wrath by obeying His Law. It’ll never work. You’re bound to fail. It will only end in tears, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus knows this, and He wants you to know this too. That’s why He assures you that His Father’s Law will never, ever, pass away. You see, a lot of folks today – heck, a lot of folks in Jesus’ day – want to relax the Law, to minimize the Law, to lower the bar on the Law and make it more do-able. But, Jesus actually expands the Law. Well, He doesn’t really, though He appears to, but what He does is He throws off all the attempts men make to relax, minimize, and lower the demands of God’s Law. So, what Jesus really does is that He shows the Law for what it really and truly is – unflinchingly holy and righteous and perfect – such that, unless a man keep it absolutely one hundred percent perfect every single millisecond of his life from conception to death, and that’s not even addressing the very real problem of original inherited sin, he will surely, most certainly, and without a doubt die, not just physically and temporally, but also spiritually and eternally.
Jesus says, “You know that Law ‘You shall not murder?’ You actually think that you keep it, don’tcha? Well, here’s news for ya – ya don’t. I say to you that if you are angry with your brother – you know, seething with fury and hatred in your thoughts, cursing him with your words, hoping, even praying that the thing he did that ticked you off so much comes back to bite him in the rear – if you are angry with your brother, and you do not help him and befriend him in his bodily needs, you have broken the commandment of my Father and, unrepented of, you are going to hell.” The same goes with adultery. Listen closely: Any sexual relations outside of the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman – you know, the way my Father instituted it in the beginning with the first man and woman – any sexual relations outside of the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman is a transgression of my Father’s commandment – period! That means heterosexual sex before marriage. That means co-habitation without marriage. That means homosexual sex which cannot possibly be within marriage. And, that means cheating on the spouse that you’re married to. Yeah, that even includes divorce. And yet, there’s more! If you have lustful thoughts about a man or a woman that you are not married to, that is a transgression of my Father’s commandment too!
You get the idea, right? Jesus doesn’t lower the bar of the Law, He raises it back to its proper place. Jesus doesn’t abolish the Law, but He fulfills it. And, Jesus says to you that, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Well, there you go, right? Might as well pack it all in and head home, right? Well, yeah, that’s right – that’s right if you actually could, or had, to make yourself righteous. That is an impossible task. You cannot possibly do it. “You will never get out until you have paid the last penny,” and, let’s face it, you’re spiritually penniless and broke. Yeah, prisoners often earn pennies on the dollar for their work in prison with which to purchase simple comforts – things like scented soap or a bag of sunflower seeds – but, not you; no, in the prison of hell you earn nothing but punishment, suffering, and death, for that is the wages for your sin. There is no way that you can pay off your sin debts or make yourself right with God – on your own.
Thanks be to God, in Jesus Christ, you are not on your own. Jesus has taken the debt you could not pay upon Himself, and He has paid it in full in His death upon the cross. Jesus has made amends for you with your accuser, with the perfect, holy, and righteous Law of God, by fulfilling it for you, in your place, perfectly, in thought, word, and in deed, and by then taking the judgment, condemnation, and penalty of your transgression – death – upon Himself. “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.” His alone is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, and He credits it to you. That is to say, all that rightly belongs to Him, – righteousness, holiness, perfection, sonship with the Father – Jesus willingly and freely gives to you, no strings attached.
“You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” That is the Law. It cannot save you. You cannot save yourself by doing it. It condemns you – period. My advice to you: Let it. Let God’s Law condemn you. Let it convict you. Let it kill you. Let it damn you to hell. But, then, receive the Gospel – finally – as the free, perfect, and holy gift of God’s grace that it is, no strings attached. Your debt is paid in full in the precious, holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. Now there is no judgment and condemnation for you who are in Jesus Christ. Well, there is a judgment: Righteous, holy, not guilty – on account of Jesus.
So, what then shall you say? Keep on sinning? Keep on doing the sinful, lawless, godless things you were doing before? By no means! You have died to sin, right? How then can you continue to live in it? Oh, I see, you haven’t died to sin completely. In truth, you often like to sin, right? The point is this: Jesus has died to sin for you. Jesus has died for your sin. You are justified in Him, in His death and resurrection. So, if you will have this justification in Jesus, then you too have died to sin and must turn from sin from now on. Of course you are still going to slip and make mistakes, you are still going to sin in thought, word, and deed. But, from now on you are not going to give yourself over to sin. You are not going to willfully engage in what you know to be sinful and a transgression of the LORD’s commandments. You are not going to bless what the LORD condemns, calling evil good and good evil. There’s a big difference between a sinner who sins and repents and a sinner who refuses to acknowledge his sin as sin and therefore refuses to repent. Only sinners can be forgiven. Therefore, let the Law convict you, condemn you, kill you, and damn you to hell. But, likewise, receive the Gospel as the free, perfect, and holy gift of God’s grace that it is, no strings attached, in and through faith in Jesus Christ.
You have died, and you have been raised. In Holy Baptism you died with Christ, and you were raised with Him to new and eternal life. And, if you have been united with Him in a death like His, you shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. Your sin died with Him too. Likewise, your new life was raised with Him. Therefore, without Christ, you are a 100% sinner, wholly accountable for, and dead in, your sins. But, with Christ, you are a 100% justified, sinless, and holy child of God. Even your occasional sinful thoughts, words, and deeds cannot change that fact as you repent and receive forgiveness anew, again and again. But you must not, and you cannot, willfully and intentionally give yourself over to manifest sins. You are freed from your sins, but you are not freed to sin. “For,” writes Martin Luther in The Smalcald Articles, “the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present.”
So it is that you live in this life in the dynamic tension between your sinful flesh and your new spiritual man. You are simul justus et peccator, at the same time both justified saint while also a sinner. This truth God’s Law and Gospel reveal to you: “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If you were left to your own devices, your sinful flesh would succumb and fall. Even St. Paul struggled with his flesh saying, “The good that I would do, I do not do, while the evil that I would not do, that I continually find myself doing. Who will save me from this body of death?” Therefore, thanks be to God in Christ Jesus, you are not alone and left to your own devices. For this reason has Christ established His Church, that His Word and Blessed Sacraments would be administered to you to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, and to equip for good works and holy living unto the death and resurrection of the body and life everlasting. These gifts, these Sacraments, are not for the righteous who need no forgiveness, but they are for sinners who repent of their sins. Come, and receive God’s grace by receiving Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His blood covers your sin and guilt. His life and death have fulfilled God’s holy, righteous, and perfect Law for you. God looks at you through Jesus’ blood and He sees holiness and righteousness. God looks at you through Jesus and He sees only His child, His Son. For, you have died in Christ, and now you live in Him.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)

Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your vocation is your God-given calling, but it is not your job. For example, to be a father or a mother, a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife – that is your vocation. But to be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker – that is your job. Further, your vocation is quite likely not what you like or want to do, or feel especially gifted, skilled, and equipped to do, but your vocation is simply what God has given you to do in service to others to the glory of His Name. As a result, your Christian vocation is not normally a call to do something, but it is a call to be someone. Your vocation is to be the Christian you have been baptized to be in all the places, and in all the relationships, in which God has placed you.
Elijah had the vocation of being a prophet of the LORD. Arguably, neither Elijah, nor any of the LORD’s prophets, wanted their vocation or believed themselves to be especially gifted, skilled, and equipped to be a prophet of the LORD. Moses, for example, made all sorts of excuses to get out of his vocation, claiming that he had a speech impediment and that he was ineloquent. Jonah fled the other direction when the LORD called him to go to Nineveh. Jeremiah protested that he was too young. Doubting his own abilities, Gideon put the LORD to the test, not once, but three times.
For, the truth is that the vocations the LORD calls you to often do not seem attractive, and often you do not feel up to the task. Yet, still it is the LORD’s call, it is your vocation, and you must do it, you must go. A Mother is still a mother even if she doesn’t enjoy it or want to be. Still she has a service to provide to her children and they depend upon her to do it. A husband is still a husband, even if he is tired and distracted, and would rather be playing golf. He still has a wife and a family to serve who depend upon him to do what the LORD has called him to do. Your vocation is selfless and sacrificial, just as your Lord Jesus sacrificed all to save you from sin and death. And, there is peace and joy in doing your vocation when you recognize and confess that the Lord has chosen and called you to this work. It is a needed work. It is a good work. And it is a holy work.
Vocation is sacrifice, period. When Elijah’s vocation as prophet had come to an end, the LORD called Elisha to be prophet after him. Elisha was out doing his job, plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. And so, to demonstrate in a powerful and visual way the unchangeable and sacrificial nature of his vocation, Elisha sacrificed his oxen and boiled their flesh with the yokes and served it to the people to eat. There was no going back from the LORD’s call and his vocation. Elisha wasn’t even permitted to return to his father and mother to say goodbye. And so, to reiterate, God’s calling, your vocation, is a calling you have whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not. And, yet, there is blessing in doing your vocation – blessing for both you and for those you are called to serve.
Similarly, Simon had just returned to shore after a long, hard, and disappointing day at sea, doing his job, catching fish. He had just finished cleaning and mending his nets and he was ready to go home to supper and to bed when the Lord Jesus called to him to go back out to sea and to let down his nets for a catch. Though he was tired and exhausted, though he thought it was foolish and he didn’t want to go, he submitted and he obeyed the word of the Lord and out he went and dropped his nets into the deep for a catch. And, what did he get for it? Such a great catch of fish that he was literally at risk of drowning! Other fishermen, James and John, came to help, and even their boats were beginning to sink! Exasperated and terrified, Simon thought, as you have likely thought before, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. He wanted to be free from the danger of his vocation. He wanted to be anywhere other than there, and if that meant sending Jesus away, then that’s the way it had to be.
Often our vocations can be overwhelming. The responsibility can be terrifying. Simon was made acutely aware of his weakness and his frailty. His ship and his livelihood were sinking, the great catch of fish would be lost, and he himself was critically near death. His cry “Depart from me!” was not a confession of faith, but of unbelief. Simon knew his sin and his unworthiness, but he did not trust in his Lord’s providence, goodness, and mercy. Therefore, like Judas, he despaired and he prepared to die.
But, you can’t quit your vocation. To be sure, many try, but there are consequences in terms of guilt and fear and real-world ramifications – just think of Jonah attempting to shirk his vocation to preach to the Ninevites! The breadwinner of the family can change jobs, but she cannot quit working when her family depends upon her to bring home the bacon. A husband cannot morally quit fulfilling his marital vows to his wife, nor a father his fatherly responsibility to his children.
Therefore Jesus said to Simon, and Jesus says to you who are overwhelmed, fearful, and despairing at the responsibilities of your vocations, guilty in your failings and sins, and ready to chuck it all overboard, to give up and die – Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid!” Jesus absolves you of your sin and guilt and He restores you. More than that, He blesses you and He equips you to do what He has called you to do. “From now on you will be catching men!” And, from that moment on, Simon and the others left everything behind. They left their boats and their nets and all the gear of their job, their profession, their livelihood. They left everything behind, just like Elisha, and they followed Jesus.
We all have vocations. We all have callings from God. Elisha was a plowshare, called to be the prophet of the LORD to succeed the prophet Elijah. Simon, James, and John were fishermen, called to be fishers of men. Matthew was a tax collector. Saul was a Pharisee. And, David was a shepherd. Still, a Christian’s calling is not normally a call to do something, but to be someone. Not all are called to be prophets, apostles, and pastors, but all Christians are called to be Christians in their various and numerous vocations. And, this can often seem an unbearable, unthankful, and a dauntless task. Therefore, St. Peter exhorts you, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” In your vocation, you were called to be a blessing. And, when you faithfully fulfill your calling – that is, when you do what you are called to do – you will be blessed in doing it. Quite often, when you help someone else, you will find that you also have been helped. But, do not do it in order to receive the blessing. Rather, do it because it is your vocation, your calling, and it is what you are supposed to be doing.
And, when you are doing what you are called to be doing, there is always the possibility that someone will notice. They might ask you, “Why are you being so kind to me? You don’t even know me,” or, “Why are you so kind to those who mock you and ridicule you for your faith?” or “How can you be so calm and at peace when everything seems to be falling apart?” Then you will have an opportunity to share with them the hope that you have in Jesus Christ. This is part of your Christian vocation as well.
Truly, our collect prayer today sums up vocation well: “O God, You have prepared for those who love You good things that surpass all understanding.” Here we acknowledge that God has called us to perform the works He has prepared for us to do before the foundation of the world. This is why your vocation, your calling, is holy and truly a good work, for it is the Lord’s calling and work that He has specially called you to perform. “Pour into our hearts such love toward You that we, loving You above all things, may obtain Your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.” Here we pray that the Lord would fill us with His love so that we might truly love our God-given vocations and serve our neighbors in love and joy and find that we are blessed in being a blessing, which is so much more than we could ever want or desire.
We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, who selflessly fulfilled His God-given vocation for the life of the world, laying down His own life in selfless, sacrificial service, even unto death, that we might live. Let us then, likewise, lay down our lives for others, knowing that in so doing we lose nothing, but all is gain. You are blessed to be a blessing. But, you can only fulfill your vocation if you trust in and receive Jesus. Therefore, your Lord Jesus comes to you, who are weak, weary, and burdened by the travails of this past week, fearful and anxious at what looms in the week ahead. Your Lord Jesus comes to you, to serve you with His very own precious and holy body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of this Blessed Sacrament. Your Lord Jesus comes to forgive you, to commune with you, to strengthen you, to equip you, and to send you. This is His God-given vocation.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

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.
Their father loved him so because he was the child of his old age and the son of his favorite wife Rachel, and that made them jealous and angry and filled with hatred for him and for their father as well. And so, they plotted against him, and they threw him in a pit and they sold him into slavery to some Midianite traders. And then, to cover their evil deed, they brought the symbol of their father’s love for him, the object that inspired their jealousy and hatred, the beautiful robe of many colors their father had given him, tattered and torn and smeared with animal blood, and they told their father that his beloved son had been attacked and killed by wild animals.
Approximately twenty years later, they traveled to Egypt to obtain grain, as there was a severe famine in the land. Pharaoh’s second-in-command was merciful to them and provided them grain for their families. When they returned a second time, Pharaoh’s second-in-command revealed himself to his brothers. The brother they envied and hated, whom they sold into slavery and lied to their father about saying that he was dead, he was alive and powerful and merciful.
But, still, they were fearful and full of jealousy and hatred. Though they knew he was their brother, and that he had shown them mercy and kindness instead of wrath and punishment, still they feared him and they hated him. They murmured amongst themselves, maybe he will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him. And so, they continued their deceit and they devised yet another lie. They sent a message to their brother saying that his father had given this command before he died, that Joseph would forgive his brothers and, get this, himself too!
Joseph wept. Jesus wept. God the Father weeps. Why do they weep? They weep because we human creatures are so very, very corrupted by sin that we are truly blind and cannot see. They weep because we men, women, and children have such huge, sinful logs in our eyes that we cannot see the grace, mercy, and love that is being offered to us. Moreover, we are so very, very corrupted by sin that our flesh and reason do not want God’s grace, mercy, and love. We do not trust it. We resent it. We fear it. And so, we lie, and we flee, and we hide. We plot murder, we try to kill God, and we make excuses to cover it all up. We are afraid of being caught, of being exposed, and so we hide like cockroaches in the darkness of our sinful depravity. We assuage our feelings of guilt and fear by judging and condemning others, so that we can feel righteous and justified ourselves – at least, more righteous and justified than others.
Joseph wept. He wept because, though he had shown them nothing but mercy and compassion, still they feared him and did not trust him, still they hated him and despised him. Joseph wept because, despite all that, he did love them. Joseph loved his hateful brothers who wanted him dead. Joseph loved them because he loved God, and he knew that God loved both him and his brothers. Joseph did not judge himself better, holier, more righteous than his brothers. There but for the grace of God go I, he confessed. Joseph knew the grace and mercy he had received from God, how God delivered him from his brothers, from the Midianites, from Potiphar, and ultimately from Pharaoh himself. Therefore, Joseph loved his brothers, even though they hated him. Joseph loved his brothers despite themselves, and he could see, he knew, that God had worked everything – even all the evil and hatred of his brothers and the treachery of Potiphar’s wife – Joseph knew that God had worked everything for good, just as He promised in His Word. When his brothers threw themselves down before him and offered their lives in service to him – because they could not see his grace, mercy, and compassion, but thought only evil of him – Joseph wept and said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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.” The Joseph comforted his brothers and spoke kindly to them. He gave them the best land in Egypt and provided for his father, his brothers, and their families.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” Any of you heard that lately? People love to cherry-pick passages like this to make the case that Jesus is all about grace, mercy, and love, not judging and condemning. And, ya know, they’re right about that! But, that’s not the whole of it. Jesus is full of grace, mercy, and love for those confess that they are sinners and turn in repentance. However, for those who deny that they are sinners, who refuse to repent, who claim righteousness in themselves, while He continues to love them and call to them, Jesus can be very, very heavy wielding the Law of God.
Indeed, Jesus follows His teaching, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned,” with an additional couplet that gets conveniently left out, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Why do they leave that part about forgiveness out, I wonder? Ah, it’s because they don’t believe that they need to be forgiven anything. They haven’t sinned, right? So, they just ignore that part. They just leave the forgiveness bit off. Therefore, they completely miss Jesus’ point in this teaching. They cherry-pick and take His words out of their context, and then they misunderstand, misrepresent, and misapply it.
So, what does Jesus mean to teach us in this Gospel? It is this: Do not judge, do not condemn, but forgive, because the holy and perfect Law of God judges and condemns us all, and what we all need, whether we recognize it or not, is forgiveness. That is why you are like the blind leading the blind – you are all blind in your sin and will fall together into the pit of death. That is why you cannot help your brother to remove the speck from his eye, because you have a giant log in your own eye obscuring your vision.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how timely is this Gospel for us today! We are in no position to judge or condemn anyone, for we, ourselves, are sinners in need of grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Let us learn this lesson, not only from our Lord today, but from the example of Joseph who, though he was wickedly wronged by his brothers, would not judge and condemn them, but showed them grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Joseph could do this, Joseph had to do this, because he knew what a wretched sinner he was himself, and he knew the boundless grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness the Lord had shown him.
Still, only sinners can be forgiven. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. There is a judge of sin, and that is the Lord and His Word. No, it is not our place to judge. We are judged ourselves. But the Word of the Lord is the judge of all. All who confess their sin and repent receive the forgiveness Jesus died to give. But, those who refuse and reject His forgiveness, claiming they are righteous and just and without sin, they are judged and condemned already. We are all sinners. Our sin goes all the back to our First Father, the First Sinner, Adam. Adam plunged all of his progeny, even all of creation, into sin, and corruption, and death. Ever since then, creation has been trapped in an endless cycle of deterioration leading to death. Joseph knew this, and he wept. Jesus knew this, and He wept. God knows this, and He weeps.  This is why we must not, we cannot judge or condemn. We’re all in the same sinful, sinking boat!
But, we are not like those who have no hope! No, indeed! Even as Joseph, despite all the evil that had been done to him at the hands of his brothers, and at the hands of enemies of the Jews, did not despair, but he recognized that, though they meant evil against him, God meant it for good, so, too, will God work through the terrible situations of our world and of our lives for good.
Truly, we have behaved much like Joseph’s brothers towards our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father. We have been jealous of Him and have feared Him and have even sold Him into slavery and murdered Him. And yet, He says to us, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Because of His love for us, and His grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, we do not judge, and we do not condemn, but we stand firm on the Word of our Lord, never flinching on the Truth, while loving and serving in grace, mercy, and compassion, just as we have received these in fullness and abundance in Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.