Monday, February 25, 2019

Be Merciful

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 6:27-38
February 24, 2019
Epiphany 7C

Dear Saints of Our Savior~

Mercy is on the menu today. For today’s Holy Gospel can be easily summarized in a single sentence from the lips of our Lord: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

All of the imperatives—all of the commands—spoken by the Savior today are really just different expressions of mercy. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To do all that is to render mercy. Judge not; condemn not, forgive all, and give to others. It’s all mercy. If you can muster the strength to show kindness and do good where it is least deserved, then you are on your way to mastering mercy.

The liturgy teaches us our need for mercy. And the liturgy leads us to pray for mercy—as we do in the Kyrie—nearly every Sunday. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. But admiring mercy and recognizing our own need for mercy is one thing. Actually showing mercy to another person—that is something altogether different.

In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Portia describes mercy this way: It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest, It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes. She goes on to say of mercy: It is an attribute of God himself And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. But if showing mercy to others is so divine and virtuous, why don’t we do it? Why are we more inclined to live our lives like Shakespeare’s Shylock, always demanding our “pound of flesh” from those who fail us?

Today’s Old Testament reading gives us a great illustration of mercy. What does it mean to be merciful? To be merciful is to be like Joseph. You remember Joseph, don’t you?—how he was hated by his brothers, how he was stripped of his robe, cast into a pit, sold into slavery and, how because he refused to sleep with another man’s wife, ended up in a dank, dark, Egyptian dungeon? Mercy is years later to have these same brothers standing before you—now the most powerful man in all of Egypt—able to do to them anything you want, to take any kind of revenge your heart desires—but then to forgive them, kiss them, shed tears of joy, and embrace them as your long-lost family. That is mercy.

If only Jesus had said, “Be merciful, just as Joseph was merciful.” For then we would have something to shoot for—something to aspire to—a goal on which we could set our sights. But what Jesus said was, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” To be merciful, then, is to be like God. God shows mercy by sending His Son to gather up all His children, only to have them shove away His Son and spit in His face. God shows mercy to the world by sending His Son into the world—by opening His hands to sinners and offering them the treasures of heaven—only to have them pierce those hands with nails, crown His head with thorns, and watch with glee as blood and oxygen drain away into death. That is the mercy of our heavenly Father.

Be merciful, Jesus says, just as your Father is merciful. But you can’t do it. Loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, turning the other cheek—none of this is hardwired into the content of your character. What is hardwired into your DNA is a boundless love for yourself. You can’t be merciful to others, ultimately, because you love yourself too much. You think you have to defend your honor. You think you have to protect your future. You think people will take advantage of you if you start showing mercy like some saint. You think . . . well, you think primarily of yourself. And that’s a problem.

Who needs mercy from you? It’s not those who love you and do good to you. It’s your enemies who need your mercy. It’s those who aim to make your life miserable—those who, if given the chance, will drive you to despair and sometimes even to tears. They work overtime to bring out the worst in you. They cause you pain. They cost you sleep. They have taken advantage of you and might just do so again. And to them, Jesus says, be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Martin Luther, preaching on this same text, said that “the mercy of Christians must . . . be complete and comprehensive, regarding friend and foe alike, just as our Father in heaven does.” And then Luther spoke the Law in its full severity in one short sentence: Where this mercy is absent, faith also is absent.

All we can do is repent. All we can do is confess that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. It’s true that we are far, far from showing mercy as our Father in heaven does. But what is truer still is that your heavenly Father is still merciful to you. On us—who are much more like Joseph’s brothers than Joseph—our gracious God lavishes forgiveness, pardon for sin, and embraces us with tears of joy as His own dear family.

Jesus is our brother indeed—the new and greater Joseph—who for us men and for our salvation was stripped of His robe by the soldiers and was cast into the pit of the tomb. Your sin is no match for His mercy. No matter how hot the flames of your sin may burn, His font of grace contains more than enough mercy to douse the fire.

Luther said it this way: If [God] should give us according to our merit, He could give us nothing but hell fire and eternal condemnation. Therefore, whatever good and honor He gives us, it is out of sheer mercy. He sees that we are stuck in death, and He has mercy upon us and gives us life. He sees that we are children of hell, and He has mercy upon us and gives us heaven (Day by Day, p.258).

Jesus Christ has done it all for you. He is God’s mercy in human flesh. What seems and sounds impossible and absurd to us was actually the beating heart of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was Jesus who turned the other cheek again and again—who wound up broken and bruised, beaten and bloody. It was Jesus who gave the tunic off His back, to have that back stripped of skin by the soldiers, who died in nakedness and shame. It was Jesus who gave away all He had and all He was—who lived in such a recklessly generous way that He poured out His life unto death. Jesus Christ was merciful to all the enemies of God—including you and me.

All that would condemn us before God has been attached to the bloody wood of Jesus’ cross. Our idolatries and infidelities, our greed and our sad love of self—they are forgiven. Jesus is judged that you might be acquitted. Jesus is condemned so that you might be justified. His mercy droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, falling into the font, and washing you clean in your baptism. His mercy seasons your life as your lips receive His most precious body and blood. In this meal His perfect mercy is made manifest in you.

If you’ll permit me, I’d like to borrow from “the Bard” one last time—again, Portia’s plea for Shylock to show mercy: Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. God grant it also to us, for Jesus’ sake.

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

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