Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement

There is an old story about a woman who brought her child to a well respected religious teacher.

"Teacher," the woman said, Please tell my child to give up sweets. Tell her they are bad for her and will hurt her teeth and her health."

The teacher replied, "Please come back in two weeks."

After two weeks, the woman returned and made the same request.

Again the teacher replied, "Please come back in two weeks."

Two more weeks passed. Once again the woman returned. She said, "Will you speak to my child now?"

The teacher responded, "Not yet, please come back in one week."

After a week, the woman returned once again. She asked the teacher once more to talk to her daughter about giving up sweets. The teacher agreed.

As the woman and her daughter were leaving, she asked, "Why did it take so long for you to talk to my child?"

The teacher replied, "I am sorry for the delay. I did not realize how long it would take me to give up sweets."

There’s a lot to be said for this story. A lot. There’s a lot here about integrity; honesty; and having a do as I say and not as I do attitude. There’s a lot here about loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self. And, in my opinion, there’s a lot here about judgement as well.

In the eight years I have served as your pastor, you have not heard too many hell, fire, and damnation sermons. In fact, I’d hazard to guess you haven’t heard a single one. Now, that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard me urge all of us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus or to obey God’s commands. I think it’s important for all of us to do that, but if I am recalling things correctly, you haven’t heard me condemn anyone to hell or otherwise for committing sin.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out more strongly about certain decisions the national church has made.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out more forcefully about choosing to do things other than worship on Sunday morning.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out more forcefully about giving to the church and supporting the mission and ministry of our congregation.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out forcefully against some of the policies and decisions made by our congress or elected leaders.

Perhaps there are those among you who would appreciate it more if I firmly stood up here week after week and pontificated upon who was right and who was wrong and who was a sinner and who was a saint and who would receive God’s wrath and who would receive God’s blessing.

I am sorry to disappoint you. As easy as it might be to do such things, I am influenced by something rather profound when it comes to pronouncing such judgements. I am influenced by something rather horrifying as well. For you see I am greatly influenced by something I see everyday; something I deal with every morning, every evening, and several times during the day. I am influenced by the reflection I see in the mirror.

For when I gaze at myself in the mirror, I do not see an image of perfection. Even on Sunday mornings when I put on my clerical collar, I do not see a man who has perfected the Way of Christ. I do not see a man who follows God’s laws to a tee. I do not see a man who is whole and complete. Instead, I see a man who is broken. I see a man who struggles to follow Jesus. I see a man who commits sin on a daily basis and deserves God’s punishment.

"But you are a pastor!" you might say. "You preach and teach God’s Word. How is it that you see yourself in such a fashion?"

Look again carefully at our second lesson this morning from the book of James. Look again carefully beginning at verse eight. Hear those words once more. 8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law."

Oh, the line that grabs me and holds me accountable is verse number 10. "For whoever keeps the law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." Let that sink in. Let that go deep. If you want to live by the law, and if you fail at even one point, you are held accountable for the whole thing.

Which brings up the next question: do I follow the whole law? Do I keep the precepts of Christ and follow His instructions on what it means to live a good live and be a good person? Three chapters of the book of Matthew are widely cited as Jesus’ ethical framework for living according to God’s law. They being in Matthew chapter 5 and run through chapter 7. We know these verses as the Sermon on the Mount. When I read through these chapters, I see just how far removed I am from following God’s commands. I see just how sinful I actually am. For as I read through these verses, I see how many I actually break. Here’s a few I can say I do not follow well:

Matthew 5:22 is extremely difficult, "22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool", you will be liable to the hell* of fire."

Matthew 5:28 is impossible, "28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

I haven’t done too well with 5:38 and 39, "38 ‘You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

And verse 44 is not encouraging, "44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." And this is just chapter 5. There are two more chapters to go full of such teachings of the law, and they are places I stumble repeatedly.

As James articulates, I am under judgement. I have failed in more than one point of the law. I stand condemned. I am no better than those who break God’s commands–those whom some might like me to condemn. I am in the same sinking boat they are sitting in. But am I, and they, going to drown?

No, there is good news. James continues, "12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."

Mercy triumphs over judgement. God’s mercy; Christ’s mercy triumphs over judgement. God forgives that man who looks back at me from the mirror. God forgives my transgressions, and I am humbled by this.
When I deserved judgement, I received mercy. When I deserved punishment, Christ took that punishment to the cross and redeemed me. And now what am I to do? Am I to rain judgement down upon others, or am I to offer them the same mercy I was given? Am I to act with integrity or with a do as I say but not as I do attitude?

And perhaps the next time you and I are tempted to rain down judgement, perhaps we need to take a good long look in the mirror again. Perhaps we need to realize that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Perhaps we need to realize mercy triumphs over judgement in our own lives, and then we need to show that same mercy to others. Amen.


Kathy said...

Now this is a fine kettle of fish. You completely missed the mark on this sermon, and I do not need to get an A+ in Homiletics to say so.

When a person gets cancer and goes to his oncologist, does the doctor say, "Wait a couple of months so I can get cancer, too. Then I can help you." ???

I wish I had a nickle for every time a non-Catholic told me: When the Pope gets married and has kids, then I will listen to him about (fill in the blank).

If you don't like the man in the mirror, then go to Confession! Confess your sins, receive absolution -- and then preach the Gospel!

Don't cop out by saying you're not perfect!!!

The ELCA is flatlining -- the mainline denominations are now flatline denominations. The reason is bad doctrine: relativism and compromise with the culture. Don't just give up!!!

Kevin Haug said...

Actually, Kathy, I think you missed the point of the sermon, and the point James makes.

He doesn't say murder or adultery is right, neither do I. Yet, James clearly says instead of raining down judgement, we are to show mercy.

In Matthew, Jesus says, "Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect." Even going to confession does not enable or empower a person to do this. No one can ever become perfect this side of eternity.

Yet, we do have an opportunity to strive toward that perfection. Luke's synopsis of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount concludes, "Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful."

It's plain and straight foward, and I think you've missed that.

Kathy said...

Of course we are to show mercy. We are also to stand up for the truth. Going to Confession empowers a person to overcome his sins and move forward toward perfection. This is one of the great problems in Lutheranism -- as history is showing very clearly.

Kevin Haug said...

Yes, Kathy, we are to stand up for the Truth. That is very important, but again, you missed the point of James and the sermon. You can't fully stand for the Truth because no matter how hard you strive in this lifetime, you will never attain it. Never.

Confession is useful as it is instructed by Christ--not as an empowerment of overcoming sin--as a means by which we acknoweldge our brokenness, our need for a Savior, and our failure to live up to Christ's commands.

Such confession doesn't mean one is then empowered to live an upright, moral life. More than a few times, I've observed those who go to confession commit the same sins over and over and over with no sanctification taking place.

It is the Holy Spirit's movement through us and in us that brings such sanctification to fruition, and we are all works in progress as He does His work.

Kathy said...

I do think this is a necessary line of questioning, so I will take a risk and continue it....

You shifted the issue from "perfection" to "truth." I am not sure we can attain perfection in this life -- the Church implies that canonized saints did, and Jesus does give us the command. "Truth" is another matter altogether. Of course I can know truth and know it very well. I can strive to attain it and succeed. John Keats says: "That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." This sums up the Catholic Faith. The Catechism contains enough truth for us. The ELCA is collapsing precisely because people have lost confidence that it possesses truth.

You say you know people who go to confession, yet still sin. This is a Lutheran attitude. You are reacting to an abuse, not the teaching of the Church. This is what Luther did, and this must be exposed. I know people who have gone to confession and are great saints. There is great grace from the Sacrament of Confession. It is one of the many reasons why the Catholic Church continues to prosper.

Even Luther recognized the Sacrament of Confession. It is Christ's gift to the Church -- those whose sins you forgive are forgiven.... be continued... buenas noches...

Kevin Haug said...

I believe, Kathy, you were the one who shifted the conversation to Truth. Take a look at your second comment for evidence of this.

And as for absolutely knowing the Truth, I point you to 1 Corinthians 13 as to St. Paul's answer to whether or not we can obtain the Truth in this lifetime. In no way does this mean we shouldn't strive for it, but it is unattainable in its completeness.

As once again to the topic of Confession: I agree there are those who go to confession who are great saints. I do not believe there has ever been a saint who achieved perfection. It's not possible. While some church tradition leads us to that directionl, Scripture certainly does not. St. Paul articulated the human condition well in the book of Romans and the struggle we all find ourselves in every day of our lives. I trust Scripture more than Church tradition.

And you might just want to cease and desist on the "Catholic Church continues to prosper" rhetoric. I have said on numerous occasions and it is backed up by the numbers that the Roman Catholic Church would find itself in the same predicament as the ELCA and other denominations in the U.S. were it not for Latino immigration. You are in the same boat we are in this nation. Globally, the Church is thriving--including the Lutheran Church, but in the U.S., it's declinging.

Kathy said...

OK, truth or whatever. Use whatever words you want. This is reality:

All six of Minnesota's ELCA Lutheran churches have come out against the marriage amendment, along with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota and all Minnesota Jewish Reform rabbis. Actively supporting the amendment is the Roman Catholic Church, Assembly of God and many evangelical churches.

Kathy said...

Here it is! Welcome to the future! The new Emerging Church in America.

Results An audience is attracted A spiritual movement

(How quickly we forget history.)

Kevin Haug said...

Kathy, you have an incredible ability to extrapolate one person's statement to an entire church body. Stick to the arguments at hand and don't try adding in extraneous stuff irrelevant to the discussion. You are dealing with me, not Clint or the six MN ELCA synods.

Kathy said...

That's cool. Let's forget abstractions. Here's a quote from Bishop Rinehart. I don't think it needs a "translation." Bible's out, Modernism's in. I tried to say in my very first comment what I thought of your reasoning in the homily. My so-called "ability" is the fruit of around 40 years of studying and meditating on this Lutheran/Catholic thing -- and I think I am pretty good at it! (Ouch! I just sprained my arm patting myself on the back!)

In many of today’s churches it is not the most positive, creative and energetic people who are setting the a genda. It is the most negative, recalcitrant and passive aggressive people who are setting the agenda. — Richard Blackburn, Mennonite Peace Center

Debra Reed said...

The Blood of Jesus Christ is the reason that mercy triumphs over judgment. I believe the meaning of the sermon is to not cast judgment over someone because we have no right to do that, but we must show mercy just as we have been shown mercy by Jesus' perfect sacrifice. If you look closely, there is a church within the church, meaning that not all will go to heaven just because they go to church, but only those who are true followers of Jesus Christ and obey His word. We all sin, but as committed followers of Jesus Christ, we do not habitually sin and that is the difference. There has only been one perfect sacrifice and that his Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, a priest would offer up a sacrifice of the sprinkling of blood from a unblemished lamb to cover the sins of the people and he had to do that yearly. Now, there is no need because Jesus Christ is our High Priest and has given Himself as a Sacrifice. Life is in the Blood and as Christians, we are under the blood of the Perfect Lamb of God. Jesus is Mercy, once and for all.