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

honest

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?

June 23, 2017- The Blessing of Persecution- Matthew 5:10-11

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(Jesus said:) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.   Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-11 (NRSV)

As a frequent recipient of a good deal of bullying at the hands of my peers when I was a child, I have a difficult time with seeing persecution (which is a form of bullying) as a positive thing.

But persecution can be considered a blessing- if it comes about for the right reasons.

Granted, I was bullied because I was small, sickly, near sighted, strange looking, had very bad coordination, and didn’t always have the best wardrobe.  Those weren’t very good reasons for bullying, but then kids can be cruel.  Anyone different than the norm is automatically a target, and I was a particularly easy target because no one would defend me.

If anything experiencing persecution requires one to think about the reasons why.  Are some people jealous of the peace and hope that we have in Christ?  Are we sometimes targets for others’ vitriol and poor attempts at humor because we don’t exactly conform to the world’s standards?

As a Jesus follower, being persecuted or mocked for our faith may be evidence that we’re “doing it right.”

This doesn’t mean that we are supposed to sit back and be doormats, or to get thrown head first into bushes or trash cans and do nothing about it.  Self defense, and the defense of others is a basic human right.  It does mean that we are called to have God’s beautiful attitudes in the face of persecution anyway, even if we get made fun of or much worse, for living them out.

It also means that we are called to speak out against injustice.  When we know how it feels to be persecuted, we see God’s heart towards others who are living with persecution.  We are more compelled to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, to defend the innocent and the suffering, and to work to end the systems that make persecution possible.

June 21, 2017- The Beautiful Attitudes of Desiring Righteousness, Being Merciful, Being Pure, and Being People of Peace- Matthew 5:6-9

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Matthew 5:6-9 (NRSV)

These four verses set up a rather tall order for Jesus followers. The heart of God is such that He wants us to want righteousness– all the things that are good and proper and fitting- so badly that it is a hunger in our souls.  The desire to bring about God’s will here on earth is a noble aim, but are we really passionate about righteousness?  Righteousness is not a thin goody-goody veneer or an attitude of holier-than-thou, but it is simply doing, being and living the right way.  It is a beautiful attitude of wanting things God’s way.  Of course in today’s world of moral relativism the definition of what is good and proper and fitting can be rather muddy.  One wise pastor put the longing for righteousness this way: “Love God and seek Him, then do what you want.”  Do we seek God and want to live His way so badly that He transforms our living from the inside out?  He promises us that if we want His way, that He will make His way happen for us.

Mercy goes hand in hand with forgiveness. Forgiving isn’t forgetting, but it is choosing to let go of the hurt someone else imposed on us so that we can let God heal us from that hurt.  Mercy is the beautiful attitude of knowing what the other party may deserve, but giving him or her better treatment anyway.  Mercy implies empathy and having a kindred heart with one who has in some way offended us or fallen short.  It’s just plain easier to be merciful to someone who understands what it is to be fallible and to fall short than it is with someone who either does not understand or who has a hard heart.  Even so, mercy is at the very heart of God.

Purity can have many different connotations, but physical purity (i.e. chastity) is only one manifestation of purity.  The beautiful attitude of purity means being authentic and being free of guile or pretense.  Are our motives and actions pure?  Do we show loyalty to God as well as to our family, friends and spouse?  When we put away the lies and games and drama that this world seems to glorify, we can see the world around us more clearly and live more simply.   We see God more clearly too, without all that clutter.

Peace seems to be an ever elusive, almost impossible goal in today’s world.  The world teaches us to fight for what’s ours, to reach out and grab the gusto, and to get what we are entitled to (and maybe a little more than what we are entitled to) no matter what.  Having a beautiful attitude of peacemaking means we think about God’s heart in relationships and in the situations we find ourselves in.  Interactions with fellow humans will inevitably include conflict.  We might not be able to eliminate conflict altogether, but can we resolve conflict in the most beneficial ways for everyone involved?   How can we be the solution instead of contributing to the problem?