Dear Father in heaven, Fill your people with your Holy Spirit, that we may call on you as Father and adore the mercy you have shown us in Your Son. Grant us so to live every day of our lives by your mercy and so teach us to show mercy to others. Of ourselves we are but mean and selfish sinners, but by your mercy you have made us sons of the Most High. Make us to mimic you in word and in deed, to forgive those who sin against us, to speak the truth in love, to forfeit our own pride and even our stuff for the sake of peace and reconciliation in your church. Take from our hearts all obsession with the honor, riches, and pleasures of this world, rip all bitterness from our souls, and direct our hearts to love you and our neighbor. Ground us in your Holy Word and sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus says near the end of the sermon, from which we just read, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and then don’t do what I say?” It’s a sincere question. Are you really going to call Jesus Lord and then ignore what he tells you to do? Now, we conservative Lutherans have been very good at this when it comes to doctrine, to what we teach. We call on Jesus as Lord. The Lord tells us that baptism saves us and to baptize all nations and that babies can believe, so we baptize babies for the forgiveness of sins. The Lord says, this is my body, this is my blood. So we teach what He says. We don’t try to get around His clear words. He says marriage is between one man and one woman, that it is has been this way from the beginning, that what God has joined together man may not put asunder, so we teach that marriage is the beautiful pairing of a woman with a man, a life-long union, and we refuse to acknowledge the perversities of our day as holy or good or beautiful. And we could go on. Our Lord says it. We do it. And that’s a good thing, an honest thing, a thing we need to strive to keep. Lord, protect us from all hypocrisy. Let us do what the Lord has told us to do. But what about our daily lives? What about the way we treat one another? What about the grudges we keep? What about the judgments we make about those we don’t like? Because this is the context of Jesus’ words. “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and then not do what I say?”
Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful. That’s what Jesus says. And He tells you to do it. Be merciful. And then He tells you what that looks like. Don’t judge people. Don’t hold grudges against them. Don’t refuse to forgive. Know that with whatever judgment you judge others, that same judgment will come on you. Know that a disciple is not above his master, and if you want to know what it means to be merciful, how you are to treat other people, learn it from the way your master, your Lord, treats you. If you want to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, see how delicately and carefully the plank has to be taken from your own.
Our Gospel lesson should begin a verse earlier. Jesus says, “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.” He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. The Greek word for “kind” there means actually “useful,” “helpful,” and it’s significant that in heathendom you never have this word referring to the gods. They are described as mighty and powerful, but never kind and helpful and serviceable, because this would mean some sort of deficiency, some fault, something below them. This is how our flesh sees mercy. As a weakness. That if we don’t get full justice we’ve failed and our enemy has won. But mercy isn’t below the true God. In fact, all throughout the Old Testament, all throughout the Psalms, you have God described both as mighty, powerful, and righteous, and as merciful and kind. So mercy is not a weakness. It’s the strength of God. His righteousness. And then to whom does Jesus say He is kind? To those who love Him? To those who are serviceable and kind to Him. No, to ingrates and evil people.
And this is the mercy by which we live, personally, in private and in public, every day. It’s amazing to see that St. Paul, whenever he begins to talk about the Gospel, about God’s mercy to sinners, can’t help but switch to the first person. He starts applying it to himself. He can’t help it. I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, he says. Because this is how he lives his life. It is his life. He says it, “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 gave Himself for me.” For me, an ingrate, a formerly evil man, whose flesh remains evil. That’s the point. This is God’s mercy. He saw no good in me. He didn’t look down from heaven and say, “Boy, he’s trying so hard. I think He deserves My loving care and attention.” No, what do the psalms say, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not even one.” This is what God saw. But this mighty and powerful and righteous God, who had every right to punish me and to cast me away from his presence, to judge me, that is, and to condemn me, He had mercy.
And this is why Jesus says, Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful. He is talking to you, a Christian, to you who know what this mercy means. He calls God the Most High your Father and you know how it is that you can call on Him as your Father. Because God did not give you justice. He gave you His Son. God gave God. The Son became your brother. He laid down His life for you. He took your punishment on Himself. And He has given you His Spirit. He has sought you out and found you and brought you into His Church. He has given His name to you and made His Father your Father in your Baptism. He has fed you with His body and blood. His mercy is outrageously generous, totally undeserved, given to sinners and ingrates.
So Jesus says, “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and then don’t do what I say?” Be merciful. A disciple when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Learn to be like your teacher. He had mercy on you. You have mercy on others. This is exactly what Jesus says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The soul that is constantly holding grudges, that refuses to forgive, that judges every nasty look or every misspoken word, that strives only for justice and grows bitter when it doesn’t get it, that soul is not at rest, because it doesn’t rest in Jesus’ mercy.
Don’t judge. Jesus is not saying that you can make no judgments. Of course you can. He gives you the ten commandments precisely so that you can make judgments on what is right and wrong. Parents have to teach this to their children. Pastors have to preach it. Governments have to administer it. Jesus is instead telling you not to judge according to your own opinion, but according to His, according to God’s, and His judgment includes not just the black and white directives of the law but the grace of the Gospel. It includes mercy. So Jesus doesn’t say adultery is ok, he tells the adulteress to go and sin no more, but He does have mercy on her and keep her from being stoned to death. And Jesus doesn’t say stealing is fine, he tells the tax collectors to knock it off, but he does teach them what is good and right and He does forgive them and cause a man like Zachaeus to give half his wealth to the poor. He doesn’t approve of murder, he condemns it even in the heart, but he does forgive and reform Paul, the murderer of Christians. And this is no weakness in Jesus. It is pure, divine strength. It is victory over sin and the devil. It is salvation for all who believe.
So we learn from our teacher to not judge so harshly. This is a problem among us. It’s very easy to see that the world out there is sinful. It advocates the murder of unborn children. It trades in the sexual exploitation of the young. Of course it’s sinful. But the bitterness and the harsh judgment and grievances we hold against people in our personal lives, this is very easy to ignore. But we can’t. We live by God’s mercy. We depend on Him not holding grudges against us, not growing bitter toward us, not being too harsh with us. Here is why Solomon tells us not to be too righteous. Don’t be so righteous that you out-righteous God, who forgives sinners. So you think someone has insulted you or robbed you of what was rightfully yours or said things to undercut you? Join the crowd. We have to do with sinners. Never deal with another person’s sin without first repenting of your sins and asking God to have mercy on you. Because that’s the only way you’re going to know how to treat others. Jesus doesn’t say you can’t remove the speck from you brother’s eye. He doesn’t. He doesn’t say you can’t confront your brother when he says something untrue or unkind. He doesn’t say you can’t seek justice when you’ve been wronged. But He does say that before you do it, you’d better get that log out of your eye, the thirst for vengeance, the insistence that you’ll guard your own pride and your own right at all costs, the demand for full and merciless justice, get it out by confessing your need for mercy to your God and receiving from His hand double for all your sins. Then you will see rightly to deal with your brother, and to love him even as you correct him.
This is what Facespace has made almost impossible. It’s why you should either not use Facespace or use it sparingly or say a prayer before you go on it. Because it thrives off people attacking one another without mercy, making harsh judgments, and then walking away from the conversation as if they don’t have to deal with their brother. And the forced isolation of the last year enhanced this too. It’s so easy to judge people harshly when you’re not face to face with them. Texting does this too. I give you my sincere pastoral advice, for your marriages, for your relationships with family and friends, never have a serious conversation, and especially not an argument, over text messaging. It is so much easier to be unmerciful when you can’t see the eyes and the face and the tears of the person you’re dealing with. We need to deal with one another personally, in the flesh, because this is how God made us to deal with one another and it’s how God has dealt with us. He didn’t have a conversation with us from heaven. He didn’t throw a book down to earth with sacred text messages. He came down from heaven. He joined our human race. He spoke face to face with the prophets and apostles. And His conversation with us now isn’t impersonal either. We are face to face, as He commanded: do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together. We are together as one body as He puts His body and His blood into our mouths.
Jesus tells us that He will teach us the truth and the truth will make us free. That freedom is a freedom from the condemnation of the law. It’s a freedom too to walk in God’s commands, to want to do His will. But it’s also the freedom from bitterness and grudges and seeking our pound of flesh. It’s the freedom not to need to seek your own vengeance, because you can commend all things to your merciful God. It’s a freedom to be content even if you lose out on money or property or recognition, because money is just money and the only recognition you really need is God’s and His saints’.
You call on Jesus as Lord. Do what He says. Learn from Him. He is your Teacher. Be merciful, because He has revealed His merciful Father to you. Pray to your Father, who has promised to hear you, meditate on His mercy every day, and He will guide your hearts and your tongues to keep from thinking or saying words that later need recalling, to guard your lips against ungodly and nasty and mean and gossiping talk, but when you’re called to speak the truth within your place, He will give grace to your words and your works, so that they give strength to the weak and glory to your Father who is heaven, to the praise of His eternal mercy. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.