17. July 2011
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Our heavenly Father gives us all things, earthly and spiritual, temporal and eternal, superabundantly. We are captives to death and he gives us life. We are children of hell and he gives us heaven. We are poor, naked, hungry, and thirsty, and He satisfies us with all good things.
The Father’s mercy is unreasonable. Reasonable would be loving those who are beautiful, giving to those who can repay, redeeming those who can best serve Him. But true compassion does not judge. The Father gives to those who do not deserve it. He gives to the ugly, the wasteful, the greedy, and the gluttonous. His eyes judge not friend or foe, worthy and unworthy. He gives mercy without distinction. The love of Father does not seek the lovable, the likable or the one who will love him back. Instead He embraces and kisses His disobedient children, heal their wounds, feeds them, clothes their nakedness, and opens his pierces hands to lift them to his bosom.
The Father’s mercy is Gospel. It is a free gift, to everyone without expectation of return. Our Father has shown great mercy to each and everyone of us. He did not judge our potential for faith but showered us richly with saving waters. He does not condemn us to hellfire but continually rescues from the snares of Satan. He does not hold our terrible sins against us, but forgives them, forgetting them to eternity. He gives to us good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, spilling into our lap… every need of body and soul.
God’s grace transforms the sinner from a creature of wrath to a creature of mercy and love. Witness the example of Joseph. His brothers come to him knowing full well that they deserve to be punished for selling their brother into slavery. They expect he will pay them back for their evil. But Joseph, expecting nothing in return, forgave them. He did not condemn them, nor judge them. Instead he gave to them and to their children of his surplus. This is showing mercy, giving without expecting return. Looking past their treacherous deeds and deceitful hearts. Forgiving without being asked or deserved.
Witness the example of Zacchaeus, who after hearing the saving message of the Gospel uttered by Jesus himself, went and gave half of all that he owned to the poor. Witness Saul, the violent persecutor of Christians. After hearing the word of God on the Damascus Road, he was given not just in simple faith but transformed into the apostle Paul with faith lived out in mercy, in grace and love.
The gift of faith does not leave the believer to his old ways of greed and lust and self interest. The faith granted, the forgiveness proclaimed, transforms the hearts of the hearers to faithful service to God and his neighbor. Works are the spontaneous fruits and proofs of the indwelling of our Lord. Mercy is manifest in the Christian due to the Father’s mercy on him. He is thankful for being spared and grants the Father’s mercy himself to those in need. The Father makes known to us his presence when his faith blossoms forth in service to others.
“If you love those who love you, what a benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” God uses man as a conduit for his mercy. We are to forgive just as God has forgiven us, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. We forgive not seven, seventy, but seventy times seven times. (Mt 18:22).
As with any command, especially this command to mercy, we rightly shake in our boots. It is impossible for us to shake off our selfishness and show the kind of mercy God demands. We have failed to forgive as we have been forgiven. We have neglected the needy. Sinful service seeks glory. False mercy seeks a tax break.
If you saw a beggar by the door of the church, what would you do? How would you show him mercy? Perhaps you’d give him money or food. But maybe you’d call the authorities, ignore him, among other things. Unmerciful, that’s what we’d be.
Mercy is deeper than looking past the motives of the heart and helping our neighbor in his physical need anyway. Mercy is looking past our own judgment of the neighbor. Forget about judging your chances of success, the likelihood of faith. How would one do that, anyway? If someone is tattooed and pierced, or long-haired and unkept, or clean and well-dressed, how does that in any way indicate their divine election? How does that give you any idea if they will receive the Gospel to their salvation?
Repent. We have all failed to withhold judgment from the neighbor. We have all neglected to share the saving Gospel with the stranger in need, condemning them to doom. We have used our logjam-blinded eyes to judge our neighbor, all the while ignoring our own condition.
If you saw that beggar outside our door, maybe you wouldn’t help him. Yet, even worse, would you invite him into church? Would you bring him into the sanctuary where he is fed with the spiritual food of Christ? Or would you consider him unworthy of our Lord’s forgiveness, too smelly, too dirty, or two raw for good company? Would you ignore the heed of the Gospel and judge him and condemn him by your inaction? This hypothetical situation shows how hard it truly is for us to show mercy. We might give him alms but from one hand but judge and condemn him with the other.
So how can the believer ever expect to fulfill this command? Not by our own power but by the power of God which is within us. The Holy Spirit first grants faith to our hearts. Faith grants sanctified hearts that believe God is a gracious and merciful Father. Without faith, we fail to see the Father’s mercy at work in us. From the faith, flows mercy for the neighbor.
When we teach others, do we teach ourselves? (Romans 2:17-23) Lord, teach us to recognize our own error. Remove the plank in our eyes that we may guide others in your truth. Without You, we are the blind leading the blind. Teach us to judge not the hearts of men. Teach us to forgive so that others to may learn to forgive. Teach us to give of the great bounty you have provided us.
The Gospel commends all Christians to be like Joseph. Take care of your neighbor’s physical needs. That’s mercy. Forgive those who do you wrong. Mercy. Care for the spiritual welfare of those outside or weak in faith. Mercy. Do not judge the heart. Mercy. This is a testament of the faith given to you.
The Father’s mercy is not merely for selfish pleasure. The Father’s mercy is not to comfort for comfort sake. He intends His goodness to flow through us towards those in need. As we gather today around His table to commune as one body with many members, let us not forget to show mercy especially to those in our own fellowship of believers. “But God composes the body… that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:25-26)
Many are currently suffering. May the Lord teach us to “be merciful, even as our Father is merciful.” Many are in need of the Father’s mercy. Let us not hesitate to show mercy upon all in need, not not judging nor condemning, but forgiving and giving. May his grace which saved us from our trespasses and rescued us from death be proclaimed and may he have mercy upon us so that we may have mercy on others.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church