Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Luke 6:36-42; Genesis 50:15-21

There are quite a few teachers and former teachers in this congregation, as well as many parents, who are the first and primary teachers in a child’s life. So many of you understand first hand that as a teacher you desire to form your student to whatever you are teaching. Especially for parents, you desire your child to learn from you and become more like you, at least in the good things you wish to impart, and not in your shortcomings. Even though no one expects the student to become a clone of the teacher, for a student to turn and reject what is taught is seen as a failure or even betrayal, depending on the relationship.

As we are given the command, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” the disciples, students, of Christ are expected to become more like God in mercy as they follow Christ. The mercy which Christians show does not come from us, but flows from God, who gives us his mercy through the work of Jesus. Mercy is not receiving the retaliation you deserve. Mercy is hand in hand with forgiveness, for in mercy the one who is wronged lets go of any claim to revenge.

In our Old Testament lesson, we hear of the mercy of God working through Joseph. Joseph was the eleventh of twelve brothers, but the favorite of his father, and was given a coat of many colors to show his special place. This made his brothers jealous and angry, and they threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery in Egypt. In Egypt, as a slave, he was falsely accused and thrown into prison for many years. All this suffering and difficulty in life was a direct result of his brothers’ actions.

Yet God had shown Joseph mercy. Despite this suffering, Joseph was successful wherever he was, even in prison. He was able to interpret the King of Egypt’s dream and become second in command over the whole country. In his position, he was able not only to save Egypt, but his family from famine. Eventually he forgave his brothers and they and his father were able to come live with him in Egypt, but after his father died, the brothers worried about revenge.

The brothers knew that Joseph would not upset their father by getting back at them while their father was alive, but after his death they weren’t so sure. They were so worried they wouldn’t even go to see Joseph but sent a message asking him for forgiveness and mercy for their father’s sake. Joseph had the power and really every right to get back at them. He was in a pit, they planned to kill him, he was a slave and in prison for many years. And Joseph forgave. Joseph showed his brothers, his worst enemies, mercy. Because he saw God’s mercy in his life.

Joseph’s mercy is a dim image of the mercy you have received in Christ. You have an almighty and loving God who has given you all good things in this world, life, health, friends, family, food and clothes, and yet you sin and rebel against him. Your natural desire is to reject him while still taking what he has given you. He wishes to teach you with His law, to make you like Him, and you reject that completely, like an ungrateful student. In Jesus you see the perfect life you cannot live up to. In jealously, you wish that didn’t exist, that a life following the law was not there. This is what led Jesus to die. See on the cross the depth of your sin, that Jesus Christ who did nothing wrong would suffer and take punishments much worse than the suffering of Joseph.  You would think with that kind of suffering that our sin caused Jesus you would deserve nothing but terrible punishment from God.

Yet Jesus’ suffering and death was your mercy. Like Joseph holding back from revenge on his brothers, the cross was God holding back from punishing you. Instead He sent His Son, Jesus, to take that punishment. He aimed His wrath at Jesus to spare you. And now He can show you mercy. There is no wrath and punishment left. Imagine Joseph’s brothers realizing – “it’s real – Joseph isn’t going to get back at us. We have no worries, we are free.” It’s like the relief of a good diagnosis, a loved one returning safely from war, or financial security. Yet this is eternal security. You are forgiven. There is no punishment for you – Jesus has taken it.

Therefore, Christian discipleship, being a student of Jesus, is to follow in this lesson. Become merciful like your teacher. In Christ you have been shown mercy by the father, you too show mercy for others.

Whoever rejects mercy for others is like the student who refuses to become like his teacher at all, refuses to learn. He is the petulant one who sits in the corner and purposely ignores the teaching. Imagine a student who refuses to learn and then expects the top grade in his class. This is to claim to be a Christian and not show mercy to others. The righteousness of Christ is first and foremost in His mercy.

Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? The unmerciful Christian is like the blind leading the blind. He cannot lead others to a better way of life because he does not understand the mercy He has received. If being a Christian is simply about being more moral than others, about judging and correcting them to be more like you, then the mercy of Christ is absent. The Christian first recognizes his own sin and is forgiven by Christ. Then in humility he may be merciful to his brother by showing him out of the way of sin, in a way of love and reconciliation.

Do not think that this means merely being nice. Niceness is not a part of it. It is not putting yourself in the place of God, in the place of judgment. It is not holding back mercy when you have received mercy. Having mercy may look like, recognizing your own sin as a parent and the forgiveness in Christ for it, you gently correct your child who is committing a similar sin. Mercy may look like not holding a grudge against the family member who treats you poorly, knowing that you too treat others poorly, maybe without knowing, and have been forgiven in Christ for that. Or mercy could be coming beside someone you don’t like to help them when you hear gossip about them.

Mercy in Christ is knowing you have been mistreated. It is knowing you deserve revenge. It is giving up on that desire, knowing you have you have received so much mercy from God in Christ. It is the most difficult part of the Christian life. We can follow laws, be outwardly good people, but it is so difficult to love our enemies. This is no doubt why Matthew records a similar saying of Jesus “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). For centuries Christians have attempted to construct all different ways of life to reach that perfection, from monks to the Amish to social justice causes. Yet the only way to perfection is through the mercy of Christ.

How do you find that mercy? How can someone pull that kind of attitude from within himself. He cannot. You cannot. You must cling to your teacher. Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Hear and read the Word of God to learn mercy from Christ. Learn from his gospel the mercy He has given you in His death and resurrection, and you too will be made new to be like him. Practice – forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Christ through the Holy Spirit makes you able to forgive, and in this forgiveness He promises you are continually forgiven. To the one who has, more will be given. Receiving Christ’s word and body and blood you are given more and more of that unfathomable mercy He won for you. Through that mercy, He works in you forgiveness for others, and you get the credit.

Christ your teacher forms you as a disciple to be like Him. In Him, you get to show His mercy to the others, forming them as disciples in Christ. This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us, which Christ promises will be completed fully on the last day, when both our bodies and souls will be made perfect, as our Father is perfect. Amen.

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