June 27, 2021 A+D
St. Luke 6: 36-42
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The center of Christianity is the forgiveness of sins. God became a Man in order to make Himself a Sacrifice for us, to be an atonement and take away our sins. He lays down His life in exchange for ours, taking our punishment and in its place giving us His inheritance. He does this for free, out of grace, without merit or worthiness in us. He forgives our sins and calls us the children of God.
Being forgiven, we are moved to forgive. We are not above our Teacher. We need what He gives, what He teaches. So do our neighbors. Why would we expect them to be without sin, to have perfect restraint and self-control? We are not. We need forgiveness, mercy. We are not above our Teacher. We need what He teaches and gives. So do they. So we do not judge them harshly. We do not condemn them. We forgive them. We open not just our cupboards and wallets to them, but we open our hearts to them. We love them as Christ loves us.
Now, this is easier said than done. Our flesh is still with us, as it is still with them. We are not above our Teacher. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. So we need some coercion from the Law. And here, Christ threatens us. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. If we judge, we shall be judged; if we condemn, we will be condemned. The measure we use will be used back on us. Repent. Turn back to God for is our highest calling: be like Christ, to care for one another’s spiritual needs, to sacrifice ourselves in love and mercy.
This is not to suggest that our forgiveness earns forgiveness or that our mercy moves Christ to mercy. It is the reverse. He is the source. He inspires us. We love because He first loved us. We are like Zacchaeus, restored to the Kingdom, reconciled to God, overcome with joy, we jump up on the table and pledge to give half of all that we have to the poor. Is that easy to carry out the next morning? No. But it was sincere in Zacchaeus. He was moved by love. But he was not above our Teacher. Neither are we. So the Holy Spirit moves us to imitate Him and when we balk, He rebukes us and again forgives us.
The flesh is with us. Tus the warning. Forgiveness and mercy are not optional. They are necessary. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. If we sin against our consciences, knowing what the Scripture teaches but ignoring it, knowing what God is like but choosing to be selfish and self-absorbed instead, loving our stuff more than people or God, then we give place to Satan and we drive faith out of our hearts. God forbid that should ever happen! Please, O God, send us brothers to rebuke us, to set us straight! Extend Your mercy to us in Your Church, by Your people, according to Your promise, lest we be destroyed.
We want to be like Christ. That is sincere. We want to forgive and be gracious and merciful, welcome and inviting, hospital, loving, and kind. So we set our wills to follow God, to sacrifice pleasure, money, and even health for one another. We do not do this to earn God’s favor, and though the flesh is still with us, so is the Spirit. While we do not do it perfectly, and still need ongoing forgiveness, we can and we do act in love. And in some sense and though it is an act in progress and imperfect, we are merciful, we are forgiving. And thus we exhibit the most defining virtue of God Himself for His mercy endures forever.
To forgive, however, is not to simply look the other way or to institutionalize sin as though it were good or natural. We don’t keep these commandments by not noticing sins. That is like not noticing that your neighbor is starving or lying in a ditch half-dead after robbers had their way with him. We must rebuke sin. We must. Sin is never victimless. God forbids nothing that is healthy and good. But there is danger here for the rebuker. We have planks in our own eyes. We need to be rebuked even as we need to rebuke, we need mercy even as we need to be merciful. There is, to be sure, danger that we will be hated by those we dare to love, but even more dangerous is that we fall into the sin we are rebuking or become proud and judgmental. And yet, just because this is dangerous, does not make it optional. We must do it. Therefore we proceed in faith, with prayer, asking and trusting that God will protect us from the world, our own sinful nature, and the devil, and that He will be merciful to us for Christ’s sake as He has promised.
Thus fortified, we can gently set our brothers and sisters straight according to God’s Word so that they do not harm themselves or lose faith. Thus fortified, we can also receive their rebukes and the corrections of our brothers and sisters graciously, with humble hearts, eager to repent and be restored. It is a service of love when we speak the truth in love, when we warn our brothers of what they are doing, and it is also a service of love when we accept rebukes given in love according to God’s Word, repent from our own sins and try to do better.
None of us is above our Teacher. We are forgiven but not yet perfected. We need what He offers, what He has won, what He promises. We need each other for we are called to help one another, to live as brothers, not only out of bodily necessity but also out of spiritual necessity. All this because Our Father is merciful and the forgiveness of sins is the center of our faith.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.