Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Merciful Father and His Merciful Chldren

Luke 6:36-42 In the words that Jesus speaks to us today we hear one of the funniest and most familiar images in the Bible—the person with the log in their own eye trying to get a speck out of someone else’s eye---Jesus’ point being that we are often times blind to our own faults but have perfect 20/20 vision when it comes to the faults of others.
That log in our eye (which is really self-righteousness) blinds us to our own sins—blinds us to our need for God’s mercy—it blinds us to the truth about others.  What Jesus wants to do for us today is to take that log out of our eye so that we can see our own need for God’s great mercy but also see that others need the same mercy from us. 
In other words, God wants us to know and believe that we have in him a merciful Father and that he expects us to be his merciful children.  Jesus says:  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 
What do you want from your life with God?  What do you want your relationship with God to be based upon?  Justice or mercy?  We may not phrase it as justice, but isn’t justice what we really want from God? 
That God would recognize what a great person I am, much better than the rest of the folks around me, and reward me accordingly for being such a fine fellow.  That God would take a little bit closer look at those around me and punish them for their failures.
The fact of the matter is, we wish God were a little bit more exacting in his judgments because surely then we would be lifted up above those around us.  So says our sinful flesh that does not recognize the depth of our sinfulness or the height of God’s holiness. 
We may want justice from God-- but Jesus tells us that what we really need is mercy.  He says:  Your Father is merciful.  Those words tell us something about ourselves—that we need his mercy.  And they tell us something about God—that we can count on his mercy.
The fact of the matter is, we have an elevated view of how good we are because we measure ourselves against the standard of other men.  But that is not God’s standard.  God’s standard for us (what we think and how we live and the things we say) is himself-his holiness and goodness.  And by that standard none of us can stand under God’s justice—all we can do is cast ourselves upon his mercy.
And he has had mercy on us in his Son.  Jesus was the One who met God’s standard in all that he said and did -and what was in his heart- and how he lived his life.  And yet the justice of almighty God fell upon because he came into this world to take our place under God’s judgment at the cross so that all we would know is God’s mercy.
We are God’s children because of his mercy Jesus Christ and because of that mercy we are called to be merciful towards other people—to have compassion on them-to take pity on them—to empathize with their plight—and reach out to them with forgiveness and love.  Jesus said:
“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.
            So far we’ve asked:  what do we want from God for ourselves?  And now the question is what God does want from us when it comes to others?  The answer is very simple:  as his sons and daughters he wants us to be like him:  merciful and generous and forgiving. 
The verse that we have before us about not judging is one of the most often quoted and yet misused and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.  When Jesus says that we are not to judge he is not contradicting himself and the rest of the Bible when it comes to spiritual discernment and the moral judgment of the church.  When we measure behavior against the standard of the Bible we are not judging—God is. 
But what Jesus is talking about- and what is absolutely forbidden to the child of God- is the self-righteous, self-exalting judgment of those who make themselves the standard for everyone else—the kind of judging that always seems to acquit us while condemning others. 
This kind of judgment and condemnation ALWAYS earns God’s condemnation because it removes God from the judgment seat and places us upon it.
Instead of being judgmental and harsh, we are to be forgiving and generous towards others just like the Father has been forgiving and generous to us--with the promise of Jesus that we will receive his abundant grace.  Jesus says we can expect that:
[A] 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.”
            This picture comes from the ancient marketplace.  A woman goes to the market place and makes her purchase of grain.  But a generous merchant refuses to use an exacting scale and instead fills her order with an overflowing abundance—far beyond anything that she had any right to expect—far beyond what was merely just.
That’s the way God has dealt with us.  His overflowing grace has been poured into our lives.  Not only has he given us life—not only has he provided for our material needs—but he has forgiven our sins and given us a place in his family and promised that we will live with him forever.
Unexpected, overflowing gracious generosity—that is what we have received from our heavenly Father.  And because we are his children—he expects us to use the same generous measure in our dealings with others.
Our forgiveness is not to be grudging.  Our giving is not to be pinched.  We are gracious, generous, forgiving people because we have a heavenly Father who is gracious and generous and forgiving and Jesus is the one who puts flesh and bone on what that kind of life looks like: 
Jesus also told them a parable: “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.
            When Jesus calls us to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful-- and to be as forgiving and generous to others as God has been to us--he is calling to live a life for which there are no earthly parallels or analogies.  
While the world may know something of mercy-- it knows nothing of mercy that reaches out again and again to lift up those who are avowed enemies.  While the world may know something of forgiveness and generosity-- it knows nothing of forgiveness without limits and generosity that extends to the giving of one’s own life.
But this is the mercy and forgiveness and generosity that we are called to live out in our lives as children of the heavenly Father and the only place to learn of it—the only place to see it in action-- is in the life of Jesus Christ. 
Jesus called the religious leaders of that day “blind guides” because they knew nothing of the true nature of God-- and all of those who followed them could expect the same fiery judgment that they would receive in the pit of hell. 
But Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind—to give us the ability to see God for who he really is through his own life.  And so Jesus is the God-given teacher who leads us in the ways of mercy and forgiveness and generosity. 
We come to him with our sins and he forgives us.  We come to him for assurance that we are really his people and he feeds us with his body and blood.  We come to him needing guidance and direction for our lives and he speaks to us in his Word.  And though his word and through the sacraments he is forming and shaping our lives to be like his own.
This training in Christ-likeness doesn’t take place overnight—all of us are growing in our faith and we need his ongoing help—but day-by-day we are becoming more like Jesus until that day we stand in his presence with the burden of sin and selfishness cast away and we will be like him for we will see him as he is.
Until that day we need to recognize the limits of our own righteousness while we do everything in our power to be merciful and forgiving and generous to those around us when they don’t quite measure up to our standards.  Jesus said:
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.
            Occasionally Caroline or I will get an eyelash in our eye and we will get the other one to help us out--which is like a Three Stooges skit because neither one of us can see all that well. 
“Can you see it?”  “No, I don’t see anything!”  “Well, I feel something.”  “Look up--now look down!”  “There I think I got it!”  It’s hilarious!  But imagine how ridiculous—how absurd it would be if one of us was trying to help the other with an eyelash in their eye while we had a wooden fence post sticking out of our own eye!  There’s something not quite right with that picture.
But Jesus says that’s the way it is when we look with judgment on the shortcomings of others—constantly focused on their little failures-- all the while we are blind to the big problems in our own lives that need to be recognized and confessed and forgiven by Jesus. 
Jesus doesn’t say that we are not to help our friends and family and fellow believers with the problems in their lives anymore than Caroline or I would not try to get an eyelash out of the other’s eye.  But we begin, not with the failures of our loved ones, but with our own failures—asking God to help us see what our sins and shortcomings are so that we can get rid of them through repentance and faith.
It’s only that person who recognizes how good God is to take those fatal logs of sin out of their eyes, who can clearly and compassionately see what needs to be done in the lives of those around them.  Then the help that we give to others doesn’t come from a place of self-righteousness and judgment--but from the mercy that was first given to us.

And so let us turn away from self-righteousness and hard-heartedness and rejoice in the Good News that in the Lord we have a merciful Father who calls us to be his merciful children.  Amen.

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