September 25, 2019- Logs, Dogs and Mercy- Matthew 7:1-6, Romans 14:1-4

SacredHeart

Jesus taught: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Matthew 7:1-6 (ESV)

This passage in Matthew, especially verses one through five, is well known. Jesus warns us about being judgmental of others and of ignoring our own egregious sins in favor of nit-picking on the sins and faults of others.

It is easy for us to see others’ specks and miss our own logs. We can also make it difficult for people who are new to the faith by piling all kinds of rules and regulations on them instead of meeting them where they are and patiently teaching them and sheltering them. (The apostle Paul goes into great depth in the book of Galatians regarding the subject of law-keeping ) It’s easy to forget that the Holy Spirit works faith in us. Jesus transforms us to conform to His will. He is the one doing the acting. We don’t earn our way to holiness by our own efforts. There are no brownie points to earn.

The summary of the Law is love- to love God and love our neighbors. The problem is we don’t do it. We fail to keep every single one of the Ten Commandments every single day. Considering everyone is a law breaker, it is inevitable that we will hurt others and others will hurt us even if the hurt is completely unintentional. Our failure to keep the Law of love is a consequence of our brokenness, our fallen humanity, and our bondage to sin.

This is why Jesus emphasizes mercy. Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came to save us.  He has done for us what all our attempts at law-keeping cannot. We deserve and have earned death and hell, but Jesus offers us free pardon from all of our offenses on HIS merits. Jesus has the authority to put the hammer down on us for every single time we break the Law, but He shows us mercy instead. He took the punishment we deserve (Isaiah 53:5) so that we can be forgiven, redeemed, set apart for eternal life. We forgive others because Jesus forgave us first.

The apostle Paul – a former Pharisee- also taught us to be gentle and merciful with each other as he teaches in Romans:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:1-4 (ESV)

Thankfully it is by the Master’s hand that we stand or fall. If any of us were to be judged on our own merits before a holy God we would most certainly fall and fail. We can’t earn, deserve, beg, borrow or buy God’s favor. It is given to us as a free gift, bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

It is our calling as believers to preach the word and to share the Good News- whether or not our vocation is in full-time ministry. We know that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) and that as the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, we should be prepared to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

We should certainly be aware of the logs in our own eyes, and we should take Martin Luther’s advice and put on our Baptism as daily wear. Each day is a new opportunity to repent of our sins, to turn from them, and to remember that we are clothed in Christ and we are forgiven.

We should seek to be teachable and humble in our dealings with others, but we must remember there are people who are overtly hostile to the message of the Gospel. There are people who will mock and revile us for what we believe.

When Jesus told us not to give dogs what is holy or to cast pearls before swine, He was letting us know that not everyone will be open to hear the Gospel. Some will be overtly hostile toward it. We can’t pound faith into anyone, as faith is a gift of God. We are instructed to tell the story, to teach the Scriptures, and to display the fruits of faith for the world to see, but only the Holy Spirit can open ears and eyes and hearts to the Gospel message.

As the apostle Paul tells us, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:7 (ESV)

We thank God for Jesus coming to earth not only to be God With Us, but most especially for dying on the cross to break the curse of sin and death so that we can be forgiven and live with Him forever.

We pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ and as we live out our vocations in the world. Give us the discretion and the grace to be merciful and forgiving toward others as Jesus is toward us. May the Holy Spirit give us the right responses when we are questioned about or mocked for our faith.

August 21, 2017 – Jury Duty- 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

writing on the ground

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints?  Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters?  If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church?  I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?

In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?   But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that.

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.  And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 (NRSV)

I knew it would happen eventually, having been a registered voter since 1987. I got the little postcard from the city municipal court informing me that I have been chosen for jury duty.

Since I am an avid student of history, government and civics, I am more fascinated by the prospect of serving on a jury than I am bummed out about it. Yet being put in a position of judging the actions of others is a bit daunting.  We are not God, so there is no way we can ever know all the details or weigh all of the variables, so all we can do is make the best informed decision possible with the information we are given.  In such instances all we can do is take a cue from Solomon and pray for wisdom. We must remember that while behaviors necessarily have consequences, we are fallible and sinners too, lest we be tempted to be too harsh.

It’s really easy to air our own dirty laundry on Facebook or other social media, and to let the “court of public opinion” mull over our private things.  Unfortunately, random gossip and various conjecture seldom ends well. Hurtful things are too easily said, and so difficult to mend.  Those kinds of commentary are best left avoided on all sides.

As Jesus followers we do have a role to serve in helping moderate each other’s behavior, even though at times we are loath to exercise that role. It’s easy to become legalistic and measure hems- to make sure everyone is staying modestly dressed for example- or to count others’ swear word lapses as standards of piety or indicators of proper decorum. It is equally easy to do the opposite and be laissez-faire and just say anything goes and completely overlook inappropriate or potentially harmful behaviors that should be addressed.  The Christian church as a whole, in the past fifty years or so, has been struggling with the balance between being hyperlegalistic and having no boundaries or expectations at all.  Neither extreme is healthy, and the balance as almost always, lies in the middle. We should always seek to treat others as Jesus would.  Love is neither mollycoddling nor stifling.  If we would correct another, we need to examine ourselves first and only seek to address the issue from a standpoint of love for the other person.

No one can earn or deserve God’s favor or salvation. There are no brownie points to be earned for “adulting” today.  Yet as Jesus followers we are invited to a better and fuller, God-honoring life, right here, right now- a life of modesty, chastity, moderation and honest enterprise. In this way we honor God and we respect others around us. Our examples can encourage other believers to live in God-honoring ways too.

Our lives are meant to be lived in response to the grace and mercy and generosity of God. Not in measuring hems, or counting swear words, or majoring in other minors.

As always we can go back to the words of the Shema: Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (my paraphrase)

God is God. Love Him first.  Learn His Word and write it on our hearts. Spread it around.  Repeat.