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Trinity 4 – Luke 6:36-42

by pastorjuhl ~ June 25th, 2010

(revised from 2003)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

One of the most misunderstood words in the English language is “mercy”. The most prominent example of mercy is showing compassion toward someone who has suffered much. Mercy’s opposite is revenge. When someone does something wrong to you, you go after him twice as hard as he went after you. Ah, what sweet revenge it will be! He will receive double payback for what happened to me. The way of sin is “Don’t get mad, get even!”

When you plot revenge, you play the God game. You try to control someone’s life by playing head games or being passive-aggressive, all for the sake of “getting even”. You might think God plays the same game with you. Perhaps you have thought that every bad thing that happens to you is God getting even for not coming to Divine Service, using His Name loosely, or some other excuse to brush aside His Word.

If God keeps a scorecard of all the things you have done to others and to Him, He would have so much revenge on you. There would not be enough hours in the day to enact His revenge. Every time you do not love God or your neighbor as yourself, you deserve everlasting death. God does not deal in revenge. He deals with Truth. When you condemn your neighbor, either by revenge or by spite, you play God.

Before you check your scorecard of those who have done evil toward you, look at your own scorecard of cruelty. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay. This doesn’t mean you should never admonish anyone face-to-face. When the Lord reserves vengeance to Himself, this means you are not to judge someone in order to condemn their soul. Judgment to righteousness or condemnation belongs to God alone.

Instead of revenge, Jesus says be merciful, just as your father also is merciful. Outside of the heavenly Father’s mercy, it is impossible to be merciful as He is merciful. There is civil mercy; doing the right thing toward your neighbor as a dutiful citizen. However, civic mercy for the sake of being nice does not save you from everlasting death. Civic mercy forgives neither your sins nor your neighbors’ sins. Only Jesus’ mercy in His innocent suffering and death forgives sins. Only Jesus’ mercy enacts perfect and righteous revenge against sin and death.

Jesus says forgive, and you will be forgiven. Forgiveness, with mercy, is not an inherent personality trait among sinful human beings. Forgiveness and mercy are learned in the school of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit draws you into God’s Word heard and preached. How else will you learn forgiveness and mercy if not from the Word made flesh, Who gives His life to rescue you from Satan’s clutches?

Consider Joseph in today’s Old Testament reading. Joseph had every right to be mad at his brothers. They sold him into slavery. Everything that could go wrong for Joseph did go wrong. Joseph rose from the lowest depths to the highest of heights, becoming second in command of Egypt. The perfect revenge against his brothers would be to send them into slavery ending in death. Hard labor under cruel taskmasters would give them a taste of their own medicine.

Joseph did not take that tantalizing opportunity for revenge. He feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. Joseph shows love to his brothers, love that flows from his heavenly Father’s love toward him. Instead of heaping revenge, Joseph has mercy on his brothers. They prepared for the worst. Joseph gives them the best. Joseph tells them, Am I in the place of god? You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.

Joseph’s words of forgiveness and mercy reflect the Way of the heavenly Father. Everything that happened to Joseph and to his brothers was meant to be in order to save them. They were saved from a famine by Joseph’s shrewd governance. They were also saved through God’s promise of doing whatever it takes to protect the family of Abraham in order that Messiah would come to bring eternal mercy.

Eternal mercy is rooted in forgiveness. God’s mercy is His only-begotten Son in the flesh, sent to suffer and die for our sins and to rise from the dead for our justification. God the Father measures you worthy of eternal life because of Jesus. What the Father does for you is beyond revenge for Adam and Eve. What He does is swallow up death forever. Childlike trust in the Promise and the in the One Who keeps the Promise for you delivers the Promise of eternal mercy. Because of eternal mercy given to us as a gift, you then show His mercy where God puts you. Because Jesus forgives your sins, you forgive the sins of others, just as you pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

The altar is where the Father’s mercy is given. His mercy does not come in clouds that ascend and descend over you. His mercy comes in tangible, concrete ways. His mercy goes in the ear through the Word of Absolution in Holy Preaching and in the liturgy. His mercy is poured over you with water and Word in Baptism. His mercy is put in your mouth in Holy Communion. Eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ is a foretaste of the eternal feast of mercy. Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Your suffering will find an end. Suffering finds an end in Jesus Christ’s perfect suffering and death. You are hidden in His wounds. On the other side of suffering is joy; joy in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, where He prepares a place for you to rest forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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