“Almighty God, Merciful Father” / Trinity 4 2017 / Luke 6:36-42Pr. Christopher Gillespie
July 09, 2017
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
“The distinction between law and Gospel is an especially brilliant light which serves the purpose that the Word of God may be rightly divided and the writings of the holy prophets and apostles may be explained and understood correctly. We must therefore observe this distinction with particular diligence lest we confuse the two doctrines and change the Gospel into law. This would darken the merit of Christ and rob disturbed consciences of the comfort which they would otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached purely and without admixture, for by it Christians can support themselves in their greatest temptations against the terrors of the law.” (Formula of Concord, Article V.1)
“Become merciful.” Is this a statement of Law or Gospel? I’ll give you a grammatical hint: it’s imperative, that is, a command, and belongs to the Law. So, also, “Judge not…condemn not…forgive…give…” are all imperative. This is the Lord’s command for you, the sort of Christian instruction you so desire. Not merciful? Better change. Judgmental and condemning? Stop it. Unforgiving? Better start. Neglecting your neighbor and the offering plate? Shape up.
There you go. Now you have something to work on this week. And if you can’t get your act together, all your failures will come back to haunt you. If you keep up your unmerciful, judgmental, damning, unforgiving, miserly behavior, don’t be surprised when others treat you the same way. But worse than that, fail to live up to this standard in any way and in any of its detail and you’ll have damned yourself in eternity to hellfire.
And this alone, my friends, is not Christian preaching. We don’t need the Bible or Jesus to tell us to be merciful, colorblind, forgiving, or generous. We already know that’s how we should be in our hearts. And our hearts agree with the Buddha, Confucius, and the rest of the pagan pantheon of religious gurus. Only giving you something that you need to improve on, or work on, or strive for is not Christian preaching.
It is the preaching of the Law alone. It may be useful. It may be edifying. But it’s also always accusing. It always disturbs consciences. It always brings into doubt whether we are truly children of God and inheritors of heaven. This is because the imperative words do not and cannot give the power to accomplish them. And God does not give these imperative to show you what you can do, but instead what you absolutely cannot do.
The Father forces you to look at your life with consciences informed by His Word. Only then can you be truly honest and confess, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” The goal is to show you “the log that is in your own eye” and bring you to confess you’re absolutely powerless to remove it. The Law must reveal to you your great need before you might receive the remedy and answer. You are blinded by your sin and need your eyes opened by the good Surgeon. Blind men cannot lead blind men, without everyone falling into the pit of hell. You are blind and your Father comes today with healing.
What, then, is the good news? What is the Gospel that must be preached today, from this pulpit, and into your ears? You are not merciful, true. But your Father is merciful. That’s good news! You are judgmental, no doubt. But you will not be judged eternally despite it. Good news! You condemn and damn your neighbor. And yet, your Father will not damn you. More good news! You refuse to forgive but your Father never stops forgiving. Sweet news! You don’t give to help your neighbor in need or to support the work of the church as you should. And still, the Father never stops giving to you everything you need for your body and life. Sweet, good news!
Why would your heavenly Father do all this for you, when you don’t deserve any of it? Now that’s a good question. For God to act towards you precisely the opposite of what you deserve makes Him a crazy and unjust God. Why would He give commands you cannot possibly keep, only to not hold you to account for your disobedience? What kind of father doesn’t reward his children for good behavior and punish his children for poor?
But we’ve so far, we’ve missed the heart and center of the Christian faith, Christ himself. God is just. He doesn’t go against His word. Your sin is punished, God’s wrath is suffered, and your death sentence is carried out. But the good news, the absolutely best news you’ll ever hear, is that the wages, penalty, justice, and wrath of God the Father was put upon His Son Jesus, in your place.
Your Father is merciful because His son Jesus willingly suffered for your sin. Your Father does not judge you guilty because Christ was judged guilty by Pontius Pilate in your place. You are not damned because Christ suffered all the wrath and damnation of His Father for you upon the cross of Calvary. You are forgiven because Christ the Lamb of God shed His blood to atone for you. You are given life and salvation as Jesus suffered death and hell for you.
Now that’s good news! That’s Gospel! Everything the Father requires of you He gives you in Christ Jesus. “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” Your sins are completely atoned for as you were washed in Christ’s blood in Holy Baptism. Your every sin is buried and forgotten in the solid declaration of Holy Absolution. Your confidence is strengthened, your hope renewed, and your comfort restored in the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you that we Christians eat and to drink. Your Father is merciful, absolving, redeeming, forgiving, and giving in Jesus.
And what now, what about those imperatives that we could not possibly do? Don’t be surprised when you who are in Christ Jesus, baptized into His name, and given His Spirit, bear fruit in keeping with your repentance. Don’t be surprised that the forgiveness you abundantly receive from Jesus today overflows in forgiveness for others. Don’t be surprised when you who have been given mercy now show mercy to others. Don’t be surprised when you withhold judgment and condemnation as you have been declared not guilty and set free in Jesus. Don’t be surprised when you are generous with the poor, the needy, and even this congregation as your heavenly Father has been abundantly generous towards you.
Remember the Word given by St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is how the Father gives what He demands, by giving you the good news, Gospel, of His Son Jesus. Live in Christ Jesus, receive His mercy, and trust His forgiveness. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church