Eleventh Sunday after Trinity August 15, 1999
540, 323, 388, 412
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. This is the Word of God.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who shows us the meaning of mercy, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
How’s your vocabulary? Are you pretty good at defining words? Maybe you’re like me, and you enjoy “testing your word power” by taking those Reader’s Digest quizzes. Although I’d have to say that quite a bit of the time, my definitions don’t quite match up with the definitions they give in the answer key!
Do you think you could define the word, “mercy”? Sound’s too easy, doesn’t it? Go ahead, try it: “The meaning of mercy is—” Maybe it’s not so easy after all! Actually, it’s rather difficult to define the quality of mercy—it’s just not a word that comes up very often. Especially not in our competitive, dog-eat-dog world of 1998! Well, on this quiet Sunday morning, our Lord Jesus would have us sit back, relax, and consider His definition of the word. It will make a lot of difference in your life! This morning’s theme is—
Of course, the first clue to the meaning of “mercy” is right there in what Jesus said, Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the unforgiving servant? This servant owed his master ten thousand talents of silver (that’s over ten million dollars in today’s money). When he couldn’t pay it back, the master said he’d just write off the whole debt. And that’s just the way our Heavenly Father forgives our debt of sin, for Jesus’ sake. We don’t have to pay for them; we couldn’t if we wanted to—we haven’t anything valuable enough to redeem our own souls. Stop trying to do something to make up for your sins; Jesus already did everything necessary on the cross of Calvary. As Isaiah says, “You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”—Isa 38:17. For Jesus’ sake, we are simply forgiven! In the same way, God wants us to follow His example and pardon those who sin against us. The meaning of mercy is forgiving, instead of judging.
Jesus says in our text, Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. “Judge Not!”—I’m sure you’ve heard those words before—probably in a bad context! Ever since our Lord spoke them, people have been MISUSING those words as an excuse for sin. “Judge not!” say the gays, “After all, ours is just an alternate lifestyle” “Judge not!” say the pro-abortion people, “all we want is the right to choose.” And a little closer to home, I find that, whenever I have the distasteful task of confronting one of my parishioners with a particular sin that they’re guilty of, chances are good that I’m going to hear this verse quoted. “Judge not!” they often say. “You have no right to rebuke me, because Jesus said, ‘Judge not!’”
—But that’s not what Jesus meant here at all. Not only does the Bible allow us to identify sin and condemn it—the Bible commands us to do so. Not as our own judgment, but as the judgment of God’s Word. We must condemn as sin exactly what the Bible condemns as sin—no more and no less. The fact is, that when your Christian brother or sister is involved in sin, and you stand by and do nothing—why, then, you’re not showing love toward that person, you’re showing hatred. You may even make yourself guilty of his sin by ignoring it! Lev. 19:17 says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.”
No, when Jesus says, “Judge not,” He’s talking about something completely different. What our Lord is warning about here is that self-appointed, hypocritical kind of judging. The kind of judging where you attempt to read somebody else’s mind and make your own decision on whether they’re right or wrong. Gossiping, talking people down, mean-mouthing people to their face or behind their back—these are essentially all ways of saying, “I’m better than you are!” And that’s just plain wrong. St. Paul says, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”—Rom 2:1.
Jesus says the meaning of mercy is just the opposite. Pardoning, instead of judging; forgiving, instead of condemning. Making allowances for people’s weaknesses, and always giving people the benefit of the doubt, as the Eighth Commandment says. There are a hundred ways you can show this kind of mercy everyday, at home and at work, when you’re shopping, or driving, or just talking to a neighbor over the fence. I think it’s especially important in small church groups like this one, where everybody knows everybody else so well. Being kind, and making allowances for people helps to keep the joy of the Gospel fresh and strong. The meaning of MERCY is—FORGIVING.
The meaning of MERCY is also GIVING. And for a person who’s inspired by the Gospel, giving isn’t all that hard a job. Someone with a million dollars isn’t likely to think twice about lending ten bucks to a friend. In the same way, to a Christian, who has the vast treasure of forgiveness and eternal life all sewn up, everything else that he owns sort of gets to be small change in comparison!
And there are lots of different ways to give. Supporting the work of the Gospel here in our home congregation is important, of course, as is giving to the work of Missions abroad. All it takes is one look at Ascension’s treasurer’s report, and it’s easy to see that this is something our people here take very seriously. But giving is more than that. It’s also a daily affair, one which involves you with your friends and neighbors, Christian and otherwise. And I’m not talking just about money, either; but time, consideration, friendship, help and encouragement. All these things you give, remembering everything that God has given you, “Not grudgingly or of necessity;” the Bible says, but rather gladly, “for God loves a cheerful giver.”—2 Cor 9:7.
To top it off, God promises a rich return on your investment when you give. Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. The more you give, the more you’ll get, and that’s a promise from the Lord!—Gifts so overflowing and abundant, you’ll hardly be able to believe it. So far in my life, I’d have to admit I’ve been a pretty poor giver to the Lord. But when it comes to the Lord’s giving to me, well, that’s another matter! If I stood here and talked all day, I couldn’t begin to count all the gifts, spiritual and material, that the Lord has dropped right into my lap. Many of you, I’m sure, could say the same thing—and you’ll hear the same story from almost any Christian. If you want to really cultivate the art of “cheerful giving”, the best way to do it is to think long and hard about everything the Lord has given you!
The meaning of mercy?—It also involves a process of LEARNING. Learning from our one true Master how to live. How can we show mercy to other people if we haven’t learned about God, the Source of all mercy? It’s impossible! Jesus proves it with a parable: Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?
You’ve got to learn to see, yourself, before you lead others! The vast majority of people in the world, even of people in America, are lost in total blindness, without Christ in their lives. That probably goes for a lot of your friends and neighbors, too. But you know—it’s hard to remember that when you’re talking about the weather with your best friend at work. That person needs you, whether he know it or not. The greatest mercy you can show him is to witness your faith in Christ by the way you talk and the way you live. And the only way to prepare yourself for that kind of witness is to learn from the one true Master, Jesus. Our text tells us what kind of students we should be: The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
If only we can be like our Master! If our eyes are open to the real truth about God and man and eternity, then we’ll have the 20/20 vision we need to guide other people, mercifully, toward the truth.
The mean of mercy is forgiving. It’s giving. It’s learning. And finally—it’s TURNING. Turning a critical eye upon ourselves, so that we can help others. “Hypocrisy” is a big word for a very common problem—the problem of saying one thing and doing something else. Hypocrisy is when you expect perfect behavior on the part of others, but not yourself. It’s when you pick out other people’s faults, while conveniently overlooking your own. Jesus always had touch words for hypocrites. In our text, He says, Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
Like I said before, there are a lot of people out there who desperately need our witness of the Gospel. But we won’t be able to help them unless we’ve got the guts to take an honest look at ourselves in the light of God’s Word. What place does religion hold in your life, anyway? Is it just a crutch, to help you make it through the hard times? Is it perhaps a tranquilizer, to ease your fears about the life to come? Is it an elevated platform that allows you to look down upon others from a great height? If it is, Jesus says, then you’ve got a piece of wood the size of a log in your eye, and you aren’t ever going to see your way clear to pulling a tiny speck out of someone else’s eye. You won’t be able to help a friend with the smallest problem, much less lead him to Christ!
That’s why we have to keep constantly turning a critical eye upon ourselves. Examining our own motivations and actions and lifestyle, repenting of our own sins, so that we can humbly assist others to overcome theirs. And the truth is, there’s only one thing that will keep the log out of our own eye, and let us see clearly to help others. There’s only one motivation that separates us from the dog-eat-dog, grab everything you can world that we live in—and that’s a simple joy in the forgiveness won for us by our crucified and risen Savior. Peter says it best in his first Epistle, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you!” —1 Pet 1:3-4.
I’d like to go back, once more, to that parable—the one Jesus told about the unmerciful servant. He soon forgot the joy he felt when his master forgave him that $10 million debt. He refused to forgive his fellow-servant a small debt of a few measly dollars, and his master ended by reinstating his debt in anger, and throwing him into prison till he should pay the last penny. Let’s not be like that servant. Jesus has clearly defined mercy for us—let’s remember the definition! Let’s remember how the Lord has had mercy on us, and use that vivid memory to help us have mercy on others. May we ever keep forgiving and giving, learning and turning; and finally, we will realize the goal Jesus spoke about in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” In His saving name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.