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.

January 25, 2019- Judgment Belongs to the Lord- Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:1-12

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(Jesus said) “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.  Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

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.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:1-12 (ESV)

When children are gathered together, they tend to tattle on each other. It is human nature to compare and compete with each other to the point that such comparison and competition become unhealthy. We tear each other down instead of building each other up. We can be so busy judging others’ failures that we fail to examine ourselves and pay attention to the places in which we fall short.  Hypocrisy comes naturally to fallen humanity.

Jesus tells us to pay attention to our own failings and shortcomings before we examine the faults and the sins of others. How are we supposed to see to remove another’s speck with all the logs we have in the way? Other people are not accountable to us. They are accountable to God just as we are accountable to God.

When we celebrate, it is to the glory of God. When we fast we fast to the glory of God.  It is the Lord who makes us able to stand before Him, not what we do or don’t do, and we are certainly not justified or condemned because of what another person might think about us.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a result of public opinion.

It is better for us to show mercy to others the way that Jesus shows mercy to us- and to confess our own sins to God before we even think of looking at the sins of others. Others’ sins don’t look nearly so bad once we have honestly assessed and confessed our own. We are accountable for what we do or what we fail to do, but not for what other people do or don’t do. Our aim should always be to build other people up and do what we can to strengthen their faith. God will deal with us, and God will deal with them.  We have no reason to tattle or titter or gossip about the sins of others.  We have enough sins of our own to confess and for which to ask God to be forgiven.

At times we are all like children who need to be reminded to keep our eyes on our own paper and to be more concerned with our own behavior rather than the behavior of others.

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Jesus died and rose again so that by faith in Him we could have forgiveness instead of condemnation.

Thankfully by faith, we are covered by God’s grace in Jesus. We are not judged by what we deserve, but instead we are washed clean in the water of our baptism, and we are covered by the blood of Christ.  For the sake of His mercy on us, we can focus on building others up and living peaceably with others even if their practices and observances are different from our own.

March 14, 2018 Spreading the Light- Mercy vs. Judgment John 8:12-20, James 2:12-14

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When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (NIV)

The writer of the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being the light (light of the world, light of life, etc.) in thirteen specific references. The concept of Jesus being the light obviously was a point the Holy Spirit wanted the writer of John to get across.

The Pharisees did not want to acknowledge who Jesus was because they were not able to see Him as He is. They were looking for a mighty warrior who would restore the physical kingdom of Israel. They were thinking in terms of an earthly king.  Their vision was limited.

Sometimes we get caught up in what we think we want to see in Jesus that we lose sight of the real Jesus.  Sometimes we get so preoccupied with our own fears and our own darkness that we don’t- or can’t- look up and see the real light.  We all experience those dark nights of the soul where God seems far away.

Even though we struggle and often we have a hard time with the challenge between doubt and faith, at our Baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We belong to God even when our feelings or our behavior might indicate otherwise. We are called and made able- not by our own will, but by God’s will- to not only see the light of Christ but to reflect and radiate that light.

Do our lives testify to the light and to the reality of Jesus? Do others see His light shining in and through us?

We can get so mired down in the laws God gives us for our own good that we see them as chains that bind us, or as hammers to hit others over the head with, instead of boundaries given out of love and designed to protect us.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees at numerous points where they used the Law as a hammer, to bring down judgment on others rather than to use the Law to bring people to repentance and to show us our constant need for Jesus.

Do we look at other people and say, “At least I don’t do that sin!” It’s tempting to do when we see what we perceive to be truly scandalous behavior, but sins of the heart and sins committed in the dark outside the public eye are still grieving to God.  We are all guilty under the Law.

It is better for us to look at ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner, of whom I am chief?” (to borrow from the apostle Paul-1 Timothy 1:15 .)

The Holy Spirit is always there for us to call upon- in those dark times when we can’t see, in those times that we struggle with doubt, and in those times that we forget that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Lord, may we be vessels of your light and comfort to those around us, and may we remember that it is only by your grace that we are forgiven and made your own.

 

 

February 9, 2018 God is Not Silent- Psalm 50:1-6, James 2:12-14

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The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. 

From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people:

“Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice. Psalm 50:1-6 (NIV)

God will not be silent. Why do we think He is silent at times?  Do we lose sight of Him in the darkness of all the evil that threatens to prevail in this world?  Does His voice get drowned out in the vapid soundbites and machinery of modern life?

Judgment is always a squirmy topic, especially if we examine our hearts fully and truthfully. Even though we fall short and fail regularly, God’s judgment is always in our favor. For Jesus’ sake He has mercy on us and forgives us and redeems us. That isn’t to say that His judgment is always fair.  In the name of fairness we are all law-breakers and have earned the penalty of eternal death.

Our hearts cry out when we see the injustice of this world. Things happen that should not be allowed to happen- war, famine, death, decay, sorrow, loss- the list is long.  It’s easy to get angry and become disillusioned and wonder where God is in all of it.

Jesus came to earth as the one perfect sacrifice for all, but He also came to show us how to live, and to empower us to be His instruments here on earth.

If we aren’t hearing God, is it because our voices are silent? Do we affirm the goodness of God with our speech and conduct?

If we aren’t seeing God, is it because we aren’t reflecting Him in our actions?

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Jesus is the New Covenant. We as Jesus followers are the consecrated people He lives in and through. There is a popular “new age” saying out there that states one should “Be the change you want to see.” We should strive to follow Jesus’ example. We should want to live in a way that makes God known in the world.

Mercy and judgment may seem to be mutually exclusive. However, by God’s mercy in Christ we are not judged according to what we have earned, but we are given grace instead.

Are we merciful and gracious to others? Are we becoming the change we want to see?

God is speaking. Are we listening?