The God of Mercy

St. Luke 6:36-42 (6/19/16)

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

St. Luke 6:36: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  Mercy is defined as not giving someone what they deserve.  It means that you know exactly what this person has done; you know what they deserve, if things were right and fair.  You know…and yet you choose instead to show mercy to them.  You forgive them.  You pay the debt yourself.  You do not give them what they deserve.

So when Jesus says, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful,” He is first of all giving us the Law.  Do this.  Be merciful.  It’s Law.  Jesus knows perfectly well that, in and of your sinful nature, you are not merciful.  He knows that you are full of judgment and hatred toward your fellow human beings.   How many times have you sat in the pew right where you sit now and sat in so-called “righteous judgment” over your fellow Christians next to you or in front of you, saying or thinking things like, “Well, at least I’m not like them.”  How many times have you looked at other people secretly with contempt, thinking, I am really a better Christian than those who don’t do as much, or who don’t come to church as much, or who’s life is a mess, or who have created some kind of scandal, or whatever it may be.

You see, what Jesus is really getting at in our text is the Eight Commandment.  “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”  In the Small Catechism Martin Luther reminds us what this means: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

And that’s the rub.  That’s easy to say, but terribly hard to put into practice.  “Be merciful.”  Don’t give in to your evil desires!  Don’t sit in judgment over others.  Part of the problem – in fact, THE problem – is that so many people don’t believe that they are really that bad of a sinner.  They think, “Gee, I haven’t really hurt anyone, so what’s the harm.”  Looking at this commandment and what it means reminds us all that we are all unkind and even cruel toward the people we claim to love the most.  When it comes to mercy, we are most often unmerciful and sometimes downright cruel.  We exhibit this cruelness toward those we love as well as to those we don’t like, even in the church.

How often have you lashed out at your spouse or one of your children?  How often have you kept score with your siblings or held a grudge toward a relative or friend, knowing that sooner or later you would get them back?  Every time you take it out on your spouse or your loved one because you know they’ll take it, you forget this word “mercy.”

This is what Joseph’s brothers feared when their father died.  In our Old Testament reading we heard how Joseph’s brothers believed that once their father was dead, they would get their just desserts.  They had sold Joseph into slavery; they had lied about him and treated him worse than their worst enemy.  And yet Joseph showed them mercy.

Here was Joseph, formerly left for dead by his brothers but now second in command in all of Egypt.  His brothers’ lives were in his hands, and he could have crushed them if he wanted to.  But “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.’”

This is what Jesus is talking about when he says “judge not lest you be judged.”  What He is saying is that none of us stands in the place of God.  It is not your job to stand as judge, jury and executioner over fellow Christians; that is God’s place.  Your job is to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Your place in life is to cover up the sins of family and friends, and even your enemies.  Your place as a Christian is to remember that, as we confessed earlier, we are all poor miserable sinners, and we are simply lying by claiming to be better than anyone else.

Now, this passage, “Judge not unless you wish to be judged,” is often misunderstood.  Many people take that to mean that we may never condemn sin, that we may never say that anything is right or wrong.  “Well, they’re living together before marriage.  It’s not what I think is right, but who am I to judge?  Gossip is wrong, but I’ve certainly gossiped before.  How can I condemn someone for that?”

But the problem with this view is that it confuses what Jesus is saying.  What Jesus is condemning is a double standard.  You can’t hold others to a higher standard than you yourself hold up.  And what is the standard by which we are all judged?  The standard is God’s holy law, not our own petty little rules or what we want God’s Word to say.  And God’s holy Law does not bend.  We all stand condemned before God’s Law, which we all break time and time again.  It is a fact and fruit of our sinful nature.

So what is Jesus talking about when He says, “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful?”  The point of this text, my friends, is that your Father in heaven is merciful.  We judge each other on the basis of our limited vision.  We look and see what we don’t like in someone else, and so we condemn that person for it.  But your Father in heaven knows all and sees all.  He knows what is in your mind this very moment; He knows what is in your heart.  There is nothing hidden from his sight.  There is no sin that goes unnoticed, no misdeed that is lost.  He knows all your faults, He knows all your shortcomings, down to the very end.

But He is merciful.  He does not give you what you deserve.  He does not give you death.  Instead, He gives you the very opposite – He gives you life.  And the reason He gives you life is that His Son, Jesus Christ, took all your sin, all your unrighteousness, all your hatred, all your failure to have mercy, and received it to Himself on the cross.  He literally became your sin for you and in your place; He suffered the full punishment that your sin deserved.  He died for you; He paid for your sin.  And in exchange for your sin, He gives you life.

Now this life that the Father gives by mercy isn’t just any life.  It is eternal life.  It is His life, rich and full of blessing.  And when you receive the body and blood of His Son in the Sacrament, you receive mercy in the flesh.

He gives you mercy.  He does not judge you.  He does not condemn you.  He forgives you.  He gives you Himself.  He gives you the good measure of His grace and mercy that has no end.

And what does this mean for you in the real world?  It means everything.  It means that this is a place where you receive the one thing in the world you need more than anything else: mercy.  Here your troubles are not glossed over or held up as a spectacle.  No, dear friends, here in this place your heavenly Father gives you this great gift of mercy, so that your sins are washed away forever.

Now perhaps this seems boring to you.  “We’ve heard this before, pastor.  Why don’t you get to something more useful?”  Well, dear friends, there is nothing more useful, there is nothing more important than the mercy and forgiveness of God toward us sinners.

Mercy never runs out of date.  Just like love, mercy knows no boundaries, and it delivers the peace of God that you long for and so desperately need.  This is why we may sing with the Psalmist: “Yahweh is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Yahweh is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Come to the Lord’s Table today and every time it is offered, and receive the very mercy of God in the flesh of His Son Jesus Christ.

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