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?

December 8, 2016 -Of Heaven and Earth, and Render unto Caesar-Luke 2:1-7, Matthew 22:17-21

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In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.   All went to their own towns to be registered.   Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.   He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.   And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)

The secular requirement made by the Roman governing authorities that all the world go register to be taxed plays a big part in the Christmas story.  Jesus’ parents lived in Nazareth, yet they were required to go back to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor, David, to complete this registration. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, on this road trip, rather than in his parents’ residence in Nazareth.  As the prophet Micah had foretold:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  Micah 5:2 (NRSV)

Most of the time when we have to pay tax, or have to do some of those not so nice civic responsibilities, we don’t associate them with God’s plan for our lives.

I know I don’t always think terribly Godly thoughts while filling out those nasty complicated tax forms, or when I’m waiting in line at the BMV.  But as Martin Luther pointed out in his teachings regarding the Two Kingdoms, civil government is also there to fulfill God’s purpose and keep order in the physical world, even if we don’t always quite see it.

Jesus had an answer for the Pharisees who thought that the faithful were above participating in or being governed by civil, worldly governments.  The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were ruled by a foreign government who demanded they follow certain rules and pay taxes to their occupiers.  Not too many of them were very happy about that (and who of us pay tax with a smile on our faces) but Jesus pointed out that even if we don’t like it we still need to participate in civil government, and even pay tax, for our own good and the good of the community.

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.  Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” *They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Matthew 22:17-21 (NRSV)

(*They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.- Matthew 22:21 -KJV)

How can we see God at work even through people and situations that don’t seem to be of Him at all?  How can we see that sometimes “rendering unto Caesar” is just another way of that God works out His will and purpose for our lives?