Monday, July 18, 2011

Of Specks and Logs and a Bloody, Wooden Cross

T Trinity 4 – July 17th, 2011 T
Guest Preaching – St. Paul’s, LBC
Text: Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 12:14-21; Luke 6:36-42

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Everyone loves when Jesus plays nice and says things like: “let the children come to me” or “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” But what happens when he drops the gloves and gets a little too personal: judge not, lest you be judged; condemn not lest you be condemned? No one likes talking about their own blindness and sin as much as we like talking about other’s. And what about when Jesus says: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Or is to become merciful as your Father is merciful? Which is it - threat or promise? What you must do or who you are in Christ? Infinite bar of perfection or infinitely perfect mercy in Jesus?

            What does it mean to be merciful? To be merciful is to be like Joseph, hated by his brothers, stripped of his robe, cast into a pit, sold into slavery – and because he wouldn’t sleep with another man’s wife – locked in an Egyptian dungeon. Mercy is, finally, after all those years, to have these same brothers standing before you, the most powerful man in Egypt, able to do anything you want to them, to exact any kind of revenge your heart desires, yet to pardon them, shed tears of joy and embrace them in love. That is mercy. Well, it’s a kind of mercy, but it is not perfect mercy. There is still more.

            What does it mean to be merciful?  To be merciful is to be like David, hated and hunted by, King Saul, through every field and cave of Israel; to play the harp to soothe his anger only to be repaid by a spear being hurled at you; to have served king and country only to have both betray you.  Mercy is to be so close to Saul to be able to cut off a corner of his tunic with your own knife, but instead to stay the blade from your enemy’s flesh.  Mercy is to stand over him while he sleeps in his camp, able to pin him to the earth with one stroke of your spear and yet instead to pardon him, spare him, and even rebuke those who tried to convince you otherwise. That is mercy.  Well, at least a kind of mercy, but it’s not perfect mercy.  There’s still more.

            Be merciful.  Jesus says.  Be merciful – not as Joseph or David but as your Father in heaven.  To be truly merciful is to be like God; to seek to embrace your fallen children only to have them shove you away and spit in your face; to heal the sick, only to have them reject the Great Physician; to feed the hungry only to have them grumble about the taste; to clothe the naked only to have them protest that you haven’t clothed them in name-brands; to open your hands and offer them everything the Father has to give, only to have them pierce those hands with nails, raise you in the air and watch, mock and chuckle as you slowly bleed to death.  That is perfect mercy. There is no greater mercy.
            For greater mercy has no man than this, that one lay down his life - not for his friends - but for his enemies. This is exactly what Christ has done for you.
            And yet, that is not how we treat our neighbor, is it?  We don’t hold ourselves to the same standard. It all sounds a bit absurd: what do you mean, Jesus? Specks and splinters are indescribably small – how can you miss a log in your eye? You don’t, unless of course, you are blind. Completely oblivious.
            That’s why Jesus uses this ridiculous example: uncover our blindness; to show us how absurd it is for us to point out the sawdust in our brother’s eye while we have an old-growth forest growing in our own. The teeth of the judgment saw blade cuts both ways: "For with the same measure that you use will be measured back to you.” .
            And just so we’re clear, Jesus isn’t talking about judging false doctrine or public sin in the Church – He covers that elsewhere. Don’t pit the commandments against each other.
            No, Jesus is calling for self-examination; He echoes John's sermon of repentance. Jesus’ words cut us to the heart. Jesus wants nothing short of complete and utter deforestation of our Old sinful flesh. Lay the axe to the root. Strip the logs. Ignore the slivers. Look in the mirror. Repent. For our old sinful flesh is a forest of hypocrisy. We are far better at confessing our brother’s sins than our own. Repent, for there is no sin greater than our own.
            But that old sinful flesh of yours has been drowned. The logs and splinters have been washed down the stream of the font, out of your eyes and into Christ’s death forever. And that speck in your neighbor’s eye that you were so worried about – well that’s paid for too. All evil, all debt, all logs and specks, all sin is paid for, cleansed, washed and forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus. Jesus takes all of your specks and splinters, logs and planks out of your eyes and He drags them on His back to the cross. There on the timber that binds and kills, He is killed for us. Jesus died for you – the hypocrite, the slanderer, the chief of sinners. The wood we have supplied becomes, by His death, a declaration of sin’s forgiven.
            This too is shocking, but in a marvelous, joyous way. This is what changes our hearts, minds, our whole lives. Our heavenly Father removes the logs despite us. Your Father is merciful. He sends Jesus to do what we have never done. He loves us more than Himself; He does unto us what He would have done unto Himself. He loves us perfectly, without fail, without holding anything back. He keeps the Law for us and then He allows the Law to do to Him all it should have done to us, and it counts for us. His good works, His mercy, His love is counted as ours and our sins are counted as His.
            That is mercy. While we were yet sinners – enemies of God - Christ died for us.
            He was slapped and offered his other cheek. He was forced to go one mile and went the whole way to the cross. They stripped him of his cloak and his seamless robe. He gave to all who asked of Him. He prayed for His persecutors - “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” The only-begotten Son of the Father does all this so that you might become sons of your Father in heaven.             And when Jesus does something He does it all the way. He gets the job done. When it was completed He said so. It is finished. Tetelesthai. It is complete. That’s the word Matthew uses in his parallel for today’s reading. “You will be complete, whole. Teleios. as your Father in heaven is teleios, complete, whole, perfect in Christ.” Hearing Luke and Matthew together, Jesus reveals to us: God’s perfection is found in His mercy. Now, when the Father looks at us, He no longer sees any sin: splinters or logs. He only sees the wood of the cross covered in His Son’s flesh and blood.
            This is what it means to be merciful. Jesus is your mercy. Merciful as your Father in heaven – for you. Unchanging love. Ceaseless, inexhaustible mercy. His compassion knows no bounds. Christ’s love seeks no reward or selfish gain. He loves all. He sees no log or speck in your eye, only perfection, as a bride adorned for her husband. That is perfect mercy, poured out in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over into the chalice, into your mouth, into your life for pardon, peace and forgiveness of your sins. Freely you receive; freely you give.

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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