September 5, 2017 – Justice vs. Mercy and Life Together- Romans 3:21-25, John 8:5-7

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Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced. Romans 3:21-25 (NRSV)

(Jesus said, speaking of a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and who was brought to the scribes and Pharisees for judgment): ”Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:5-7 (NRSV)

It’s not easy trying to do the right thing. There is a fine line between justice and mercy, and a vexing paradox between, “should we dish out what they deserve,” or “should we just forgive it all and move on?”

Part of us wants to seek out vengeance and justice and not be merciful at all. Here in the earthly kingdom we necessarily categorize- and levy sanctions for- individual transgressions based on their impact and the damage they do to society. The purpose of law on earth is to maintain order in society. When there is no consequence for breaking the law, anarchy, rioting, looting and all sort of debauched behavior become the norm.

“Everything goes” is not a good way for humans to live. This is why God gave us the gift of the Law, and the Ten Commandments, to put protective boundaries around our behavior so we don’t hurt ourselves and others.

When forgiveness becomes enabling and we make excuses for our bad behavior as well as for others’, we are not living the life that God has intended for us.

We are called to forgive. We are called to leave judgment to God. But we are also called to encourage each other (in love) to strive to become the people God created us to be. In the earthly kingdom we have an obligation- if we respect the rights and livelihoods of others- to administer justice and to keep people safe from those who would do them harm. Those who commit crimes against others should face the consequences of their crimes.

Martin Luther speaks in depth of the obligation of society to maintain order and safety in his explanations of the fifth, sixth and seventh commandments in the Large Catechism.

Even though we must have order in society to live together, we must always be willing to help, to forgive and to encourage each other.

How do we encourage in love? How do we find that balance between justice and mercy that we need to have as Jesus followers?

May 30, 2017 A Man After God’s Own Heart- 1 Samuel 16:6-7

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When they came, he looked upon Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature, for I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:6-7 (NRSV)

Throughout Scripture King David is known as a man after God’s own heart. In spite of his many failures and episodes of disobeying God, and in spite of the fact that he was a rather ruthless warrior, God loved David and used him in mighty ways. God loved David so much- in spite of David’s shortcomings- that he is included in Jesus’ human ancestry, along with some other unlikely people such as Ruth the Moabitess and Rahab the prostitute.

Even though David screwed up (a LOT,) he always had a heart for God even when his actions were questionable.

This is the quality God saw in David when he chose David to take Saul’s place as king. David wasn’t a perfect man.  God wasn’t looking for a perfect man, but an authentic man.  In some ways David reminds me of the heart behind Martin Luther’s admonition to “sin boldly.” Sometimes that quote is misused to infer that we have license to do anything because we are named and claimed by God, which is not the message at all.  The meaning of “sin boldly,” is that we are intended to live life honestly and authentically, without being timid and afraid, confident of God’s grace. The reality of living honestly and authentically is that in being human, we are going to screw up along the way.

David was a very unlikely pick for God. He was young.  He had older brothers who looked like better choices on the surface.  Still God saw beyond David’s years and beyond the appearance of his brothers.  God has a reputation for choosing unlikely people to do His greatest work.  God doesn’t always do what we expect Him to do.  God is not into the latest trends, and He doesn’t have a bias toward what society considers the beautiful people.  Jesus Himself is even referred to in Scripture as “the stone the builders rejected.”

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. – Psalm 118:22 (NRSV)

Jesus explains the concept that God chooses as He chooses, in more depth –

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone-this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.’

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” – Matthew 21:44 (NRSV)

It may sound strange, that Jesus says the one who “falls on this stone will be broken to pieces.”  Yet we understand this when we come to the point of crisis, or of rejection versus faith, that C.S. Lewis describes as, “It’s Christ or nothing.” When we come to the end of ourselves, and fall upon the Chief Cornerstone, we are broken- but then He puts us back together- His way.  God gives us every opportunity to “fall on Him” rather than to be crushed by our rejection of Him and our indifference to Him.

This is good news for those of us who have flaws, those who are materially or spiritually poor, and those of us who don’t necessarily meet society’s standards of prosperity and beauty and influence. God has a purpose for everyone, and the capacity to make a hero out of anyone. He will build His kingdom with anyone He chooses.  It doesn’t matter to God what flaws you were born with, or whether you are the first or the fifteenth child, or whether you are male or female.  God chooses who He chooses, likely or unlikely, for the purposes He created us for.  He wants us to see our worth in HIM and He wants us to walk in the confidence that it’s HIS will that prevails.  He wants to use us as His instruments to make His will happen here on earth- just like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

The fact that God chooses the unlikely for His purpose should also caution us to seek the Holy Spirit and His discernment when we deal with others. Outward appearances can be deceiving.  Society may have a bias toward the “beautiful people,” but what does God consider beautiful?  Can someone have a rough exterior but a heart that is beautiful and dedicated to God?  How is God working in and through unlikely people – people who might not appear to meet our requirements or standards?

When we remember that God is the ultimate hero of the story we can see where it is God Who makes everything out of nothing. It is God who restores and transforms and brings life where there was no life.

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