The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Today’s lessons are all about the mercy of God. I know that may sound strange to some of you. You may not want to admit it, but out of all that was read, some of you ONLY heard the part about not judging. Sadly, that’s about all the world tends to hear. That’s all the world prefers to hear. What’s truly sad is that the way this little blurb is so often cited is flat-out wrong. “Don’t ever judge anyone” is NOT what Jesus was saying! All of this talk about not judging and not condemning and forgiving can only be rightly understood in terms of the Father’s mercy. That’s the whole key to understanding and making sense of this text; of the Christian faith, for that matter. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Perhaps the best place to begin is by seeing what this mercy looks like and sounds like in “real life action.” Consider Joseph in our Old Testament lesson. Talk about family dysfunction! This guy’s brothers sold him into slavery! They hated him. And yet years later they needed some serious help; help that only Joseph could provide. Who wouldn’t love to be in Joseph’s shoes at this point? Finally! After all these years, Joseph will be able to get even! Sweet revenge! This is what his brothers are obviously thinking, and can you blame them? They should be scared! After all they did, they should be terrified. I can’t even believe that they would show their faces and ask for help. I don’t know if I could be that humble (or stupid) to show up with my hand out after I did something like that to my own flesh and blood. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess. The threat of starvation and death can make a person do some pretty drastic and foolish things.
And yet…Joseph doesn’t do what they expected him to do. He doesn’t do what nobody would fault him for doing. He doesn’t do what we would do. Nope. Joseph shows mercy to these very undeserving fools. Not only that, we’re told that Joseph actually wept when these guys showed up, claiming to have a deathbed message from dear old dad. “Dad said right before he died, ‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did evil to you.’” Did Joseph’s dad really say all that? I don’t know. I suppose we’ll never really know. He may have, but the context strongly points to the fact that these guys concocted the story in an attempt to sway Joseph to mercy. It was an attempt to ‘fess up to their evil…kind of. They never really do confess, do they? Dad (allegedly) calls it like it is, calling their actions sinful and evil, and the boys don’t disagree. But…they also don’t necessarily agree. They say nothing. They put it all on dad.
This makes Joseph weep. Why? Well…we can say why he wasn’t weeping. Joseph wasn’t weeping because he heard a message from dear old dad that softened his heart and brought him to tears. He wasn’t weeping because FINALLY he was vindicated, and his brothers were finally being called out for their heinous behavior. Nope. Joseph wept because his brothers felt the need to concoct a story. Joseph wept because his “God-fearing” brothers were terrified that they might receive their justly-deserved wage for their evil words and deeds. Joseph wept because his brothers thought he was just like them; because they knew nothing of him, his mercy, or God’s mercy.
Again, Joseph had every reason and every right to drop the hammer on these lying, half-apologetic fools, who only bothered to show up at his doorstep after they were in a bad way and needed something from him. He had every reason to get even. But…he didn’t. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”
Why does Joseph show mercy to such undeserving wicked people? Why does Joseph not give them what they so justly deserve? Answer: Because Joseph knows his own standing before his God and Father. Joseph knows his own reality; his own sin; his own evil nature and deeds. He knows what he justly deserves, and he knows that His heavenly Father is merciful to him, not because he deserves it; not because of who he is, but solely because of who his heavenly Father is. If God shows Joseph mercy, then Joseph has no business putting himself in the place of God and not showing that same mercy to his sinful brothers. After all, God was sending the Messiah to make atonement for their sins too.
Now, Joseph doesn’t let the evil go unnoticed. He’s not unaware. He loves his brothers enough to speak the truth. “Make no mistake: What you did was evil, and you meant it for evil. You can try and dress it up or excuse it all you want. It was evil, and that’s exactly what you meant it for when you did it. However, our God and Father worked good out of this evil. He permitted this evil to happen so that He could work good and provide for many people today, which He has.” How’s that for faith?! Joseph has no intention of bringing about justly-deserved retribution because Joseph recognizes God’s good and merciful hand in these events…even in/through his own suffering. “Do not fear. I am not in the place of God.”
What about us? What does God do for us? Answer: He sent His only-begotten Son to perfectly fulfill the Law in our place—the perfect Law of God that we cannot and do not fulfill—suffering our justly-deserved punishment and death on the cross. He sent His only-begotten Son die and to be resurrected on the third day in order to gain eternal life for us. He was merciful to us; merciful to us through Christ and because of Christ.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Folks: This same mercy that God has so unconditionally shown to us must be reflected in our lives. Yes, I said “MUST.” I know that sounds very law-oriented, but it’s not. I’m not saying that you must to do your part in order to be saved. No! But to not show mercy is to not be of the Father. It’s not Christian. When the world sees you or hears you, they should see and hear Christ. Do they? As a redeemed child of God—a child of mercy—when someone does wrong against us, our will and desire MUST be to forgive them, and if possible, restore a good relationship between them and us. This does NOT mean that we shouldn’t call sin “sin.” We MUST treat others with humility, love and mercy (just like the Father treats us), but we must also declare the Truth of God’s Word. That’s true love…the love of the Father.
Indeed, this proclamation and confession of God’s holy Truth—full Law and full Gospel—is all part of Christian love. It’s love in action; God’s love in action, in us and through us. I know our culture disagrees, but it is our God-given baptismal responsibility to confront others with their sins, not to condemn them and send them to hell, but to call them to repentance and salvation. If your friend is heading towards a cliff, in what does love consist? If a friend or loved one is getting ready to dive into deceptively shallow, rock-filled water, in what does love consist? If you see a child wandering towards a busy street, in what does love consist? To not do or say anything? We don’t want to judge, do we? No! Love warns of the danger! Well…the same goes for when a loved one (or even a complete stranger whom Christ loved enough to die for) walks in sin. Love says to that person, “You are in danger. Turn around. Return to the Way of the Lord.”
Now, we must not be hypocritical in these cases. The Lord says, “First remove the log from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother's eye. The blind can’t lead the blind.” The meaning is clear. We should not apply to others expectations that we do not apply to ourselves. How often, though, we’re quick to drop the righteous hammer of God’s wrath upon someone for committing the very same sins we continue to trespass in.
Understand: This doesn’t mean that you should say nothing if you’ve ever committed the same sins. That’s what people prefer to hear, but that’s not what our Lord is saying here. For instance, I’ve learned a lot from my own sinful past, and out of love I speak words of warning and prohibition to my daughters. Does that make me a hypocrite? I suppose it does, but I don’t want them to make the same stupid and sinful mistakes I did. I don’t want them to have to experience the trials and tribulations I had to experience as a result of my selfish and stupid sin. But that’s the difference. It’s one thing to condemn sin I’m still willfully doing. It’s quite another thing to speak from experience; to speak as one who knows the darkness of that particular sin and the joy of God’s rich and undeserved mercy.
“Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful”…to you. If there’s one thing you take away from today, I pray that this is it. If there’s one thing you want to focus on today, focus on God’s mercy and love to you. Focus on Christ; the very epitome of God’s mercy and love for you; God’s mercy and love for you in the flesh and in your very presence right here and right now.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Let us go forth and deal with each other and with all the other people God brings us into contact with in the love and mercy that God has so unconditionally and fully shown to us in Christ Jesus. Let us go forth and live in the mercy and peace that passes and surpasses all understanding.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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