Preached June 27th, 2010
St. Luke 6:36–42
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the fourth Sunday after Trinity and the second Sunday in our three Sunday sequence on the theme, “Grace, Mercy, and Peace from God our Father.” Therefore the central point of our meditation today is the mercy of God, particularly as extended to us in a suffering world. Suffering is real and undeniable; it is all around us, and yet, there is the mercy of God as well.
In our Epistle lesson for today, St. Paul certainly does not deny the general misery of mankind in the world, and for many, we know that this makes it difficult for them to believe that we live under the hand of a merciful God. They are inclined to say, “If God is good, why doesn’t He simply make us happy?” but that totally misunderstands the nature of who God is, and who we are. We are not put into the world for our own happiness, but rather to love and serve the Lord God to His eternal praise and glory. This will lead in the end to our eternal happiness, but that is not an immediate result, nor is it our true purpose. The sufferings of this world are a part of our sanctification, difficult though we find that to understand.
St. Paul speaks of the wide spread sufferings of mankind in the world, and we know that he himself experienced many sufferings in his travels to spread the Gospel, including shipwreck, arrest and being cast into prison, hunger, and fatigue. As Christians today, it is unlikely that any of us will experience shipwreck, although not entirely impossible, but some of us may very well be arrested and cast into prison, and we may see the day when hunger comes upon us although it has not come to many of us yet. Even so, there is more than enough suffering for modern man as we see our society wracked by declining morals, distrust, selfishness, greed and disappointments, and a hedonistic culture that multiplies suffering on individuals. The death of a spouse, a child or a parent, or even a close friend, remains a great trial for men today, just as it has been throughout the ages. Marriages fail because they are no longer founded upon Christ and His Church, and man and wife seek to exploit each other rather than to love God in each other. Businesses fail because honesty and integrity are cast aside, and everyone works to the minimum standard today, doing only the bare minimum required instead of what is really right. Governments become oppressive as they seek to legislate equality and in so doing they stifle human freedom. Disease spreads because our heavy handed public health officials are more concerned with being seen to be doing something than they are with being effective. Ecological disasters, such as the one currently happening in the Gulf of Mexico, are encouraged to continued unmitigated because they serve political purposes. The security of air travel is a complete sham, all for the sake of political correctness while remaining totally ineffective by design. The list goes on and on, but the point is that mankind suffers in at least as many ways today as it did in St. Paul’s day.
Christians suffer these things exactly the same as do non–Christians. This is what St. Paul means when he says Romans 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Thus it is not only they, the non–Christian world, but also we, the Church, those who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we still bear the same burden of sufferings in this world; that is what St. Paul is telling us here. But then look back to the very beginning of our lesson for today, where St. Paul is weighs the sufferings of this world against the glory yet to come. He does not say, “I do hope that it turns out favorably,” or “I am counting on a good outcome,” but rather that he is certain; he has done the math. He says, Romans 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. It is not an unfounded hope, just a wish, but the result of a careful calculation on St. Paul’s part that shows that the glory that is our future far out weighs the sufferings of this present age, however great these sufferings may seem to us right now.
The final redemption of man includes the redemption of nature as well. At the fall of mankind into sin, the whole of creation suffered, but as St. Paul says, Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. The coming of Jesus Christ has begun to lift the curse that has been upon the earth ever since the sin of Adam and Eve, and the natural world looks forward to the eventual total release from sin. It is not an instantaneous process, but gradual, just like our sanctification, and not without set–backs.
Just as God our Father is merciful, we must be merciful in our dealings with other as we are to love them as fellow creatures of God. This is what we read in the beginning of our Gospel lesson for the day, Luke 6:36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. The mercy of God must be the motive behind our actions in dealing with other people, the pattern for the way we structure those dealings, and the measure of our success in those dealings.
When we deal with other people, we inevitably make some sorts of judgements about their conduct. Whatever standards we use as our basis to judge other people will be those by which God judges us; He will weigh us on our own scale. How foolish it is then for us to expect perfection in others and thus raise the standard for ourselves. On the other hand, He will not excuse us for having no standard either, because He himself has given us standards that we must employ. We must apply His standard with mercy.
In our Gospel lesson, we come next to a verse that has caused me much consternation over the years: Luke 6:38 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 plain meaning of the words is sufficiently simple that they hardly need any comment, and the idea behind them is clear as well. If we give good measure to all people, we will receive the same in return; that is a simple, straight–forward concept that presents no difficulty at all. The problem that I have encountered with this verse is that it presumes that we are giving from our own goods, and only on that basis is it right and good. How many times have I gone to the hardware store to buy a piece of rope, electrical wire, or similar material, only to have the clerk measure off the quantity I request and then give me a substantial overage, “just for good measure.” In so doing, he is robbing his employer, which is not right. I have seen butchers do similar things, and just about any merchant that sells things by weight or measure may potentially do it.
Nevertheless, the idea presented in this verse is that we will get from other people the same sort of behavior that we present to them. We should certainly be generous with our own goods.
The remainder of the Gospel lesson moves quickly over three topics that seem at first to be disconnected:
1. The matter of the blind leading the blind;
2. The proper ordering of the disciple and the Master;
3. The beam in the eye versus the mote in the brother’s eye.
It is immediately evident that the blind cannot not lead the blind, and the disciple is not greater than the Master. Both representing an inversion of the proper order of things. For this reason, we cannot condemn other people when they do not think or do as we do; we are not the Master, but rather simply others among the blind. The only question should be, “are they like the Master?” This is still a question that we can ask, a question that we must ask.
In the same manner, before we would judge our neighbor, we have to remove the beam that is firmly lodged in our own eye, a task we are unable to do .Without this, however, we are completely unable to remove the things about our neighbor that we find irritating.
The critical spirit brings down the wrath of Jesus more than anything else does. He is clearly incensed at the idea of one man presuming to judge another, something that is reserved for Himself alone at the end of time. One Christian judging another simply will not be tolerated.
We are often told that we need to take the world as we find it. This is good everyday wisdom for living life. In the Gospel lesson for today, our Savior shows us another, much deeper truth, namely that we shall find both this world and the next as we take them, and the merciful shall find mercy.
In our Collect this morning, we offered a prayer that begins with a recognition that human weakness cries out for divine strength; human sin can only beg for divine mercy because we are nothing by ourselves. We pray for God’s mercy, that it may “increase and multiply,” that is, that we may have the largest possible amount because our need is so very great. We ask this mercy, not only for the here and now, but throughout our journey that we may be guided through to our heavenly home with God.
Let us offer again the Collect of the Day:
O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.