7/10/22 – Trinity 4 – “Be Merciful” – Luke 6:36-42

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I. Introduction

1. We live in a society that wants to be all about mercy and compassion. The problem is, they have a different definition of what it means to be merciful and compassionate. To show mercy to someone according to our society’s definition means to affirm them in who they are and to help them to be true to themselves. There is nothing greater and more merciful than to help someone to look deep within themselves and recognize and become their true self. Conversely, the most un-merciful thing you could ever do is to tell someone that they are wrong or broken in their pursuits or desires. And so, according to our society’s definition, to be truly merciful means to be affirming. When you encounter someone in the LGBT+ community, you show mercy by affirming their feelings and choices. When you know someone who is contemplating an abortion, you show mercy by affirming their choices and desires. When a loved one brings home a boyfriend or girlfriend of whom you don’t approve, you need to show mercy by affirming them and articulating how glad you are that this person makes them happy. For our society, mercy is primarily about affirming other people’s feelings, but this is not what Scripture means when it talks about mercy.

2. Our Gospel reading for today begins with the words:

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

If you ignore the second half of our Lord’s statement here, you can easily justify the worldly definition of mercy as affirming other people’s feelings. But when you recognize that our Lord commands us to be merciful according to the manner in which our heavenly Father is merciful, the assumption that mercy means affirming other people’s feelings is untenable. The Scriptures have much to say about the Lord’s mercy and what that means for how we ought to show mercy. But in our text for today, our Lord talks about two particular ways in which we can show mercy:

Mercy is expressed through
1.) acts of forgiveness
2.) and acts of generosity.

As we explore what our Lord has to say about these ways of showing mercy, we will see that both of these ways of showing mercy are first founded on our Lord’s acts of mercy toward us.

II. Mercy through Forgiveness

3. First, we consider how mercy is expressed through acts of forgiveness. Again, consider our Lord’s words:

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

And then in the next verse:

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37c).

There is perhaps no greater Old Testament example how the Lord shows mercy through forgiveness than in the story of the Exodus. The people of Israel have been brought out of bondage in Egypt. The Lord delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. He provided food and water in abundance for them. And he granted them safety from the enemies who sought to destroy them. And then, the Lord brought his people at last into his very presence at Mount Sinai. There the Lord spoke directly with his people and established a covenant with them. If they would agree to be his people and submit to his will, then he would be their God and he would dwell in their midst. And so, we’re told in Exodus 24 that when these basic terms of the covenant had been established, the Lord invited the leaders of Israel: Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel to come closer and worship him. And as the covenant was confirmed, the people cried out:

“All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (Exodus 24:7).

Immediately after this, Moses went up to the top of Mount Sinai to meet with the Lord alone. He was there for forty days and forty nights. After many days had passed, the people of Israel began to be impatient. The very people who had just a few days earlier cried out: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient”, those very people resolved to rebel against the word of the Lord. They resolved to be disobedient to the covenant which had been established. And so, in Exodus 32, the people of Israel build a Golden Calf to worship. In doing so, they broke the very first command of the covenant:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:3-5a).

They made a carved image in the likeness of an earthly creature and they bowed down to worship it. And so, when Moses came down the mountain and saw what had happened, he threw down the tablets of stone containing the words of the covenant. This act visually demonstrated the shattering of the covenant which had happened through the people’s act of rebellion. Yet in the face of this utter rebellion, the Lord demonstrated that he is a God of mercy. He instructed Moses to make two new tablets. The covenant would be re-established. And more than that, the Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed his name aloud so that he could see and hear the very character of the Lord. And so, in Exodus 34:6, we read:

The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh is a merciful and gracious God, [he is] slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

See, even in the face of utter rebellion and disobedience, the Lord, at his very core, is characterized by mercy. He delights in demonstrating his mercy to sinners through forgiveness.

4. And so, in our Gospel Reading for today, our Lord Jesus instructs us:

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

My friends, you and I are called to live lives characterized by showing mercy through forgiveness. In a similar way to Israel in the book of Exodus, you and I have sinned against our Lord. We have worshipped the gods of money and pleasure, power and prestige, sports and entertainment. And yet in an even greater way than for Israel in the book of Exodus, our Lord demonstrated his mercy to us by going to the cross so that we might be forgiven. And he continues to pour out his forgiveness on us continually through his Word and through his Sacraments. My friends, in the face of such mercy, how can we not be people who show that same kind of mercy through forgiveness? How can we not forgive when a spouse, a sibling, a co-worker, a classmate, or a friend sins against us? My friends, we can and must forgive. The way that we demonstrate our acceptance of our Lord’s forgiveness to us is through forgiving one another. And in forgiving one another, we fulfill our Lord’s command to be merciful even as he is merciful.

III. Mercy through Generosity

5. But mercy is not only shown through forgiveness. Next we must consider how mercy is expressed through acts of generosity. In verse 38 of our Gospel Reading, our Lord uses an example to illustrate mercy through generosity. Our Lord says:

“An excellent measure, having been pressed down, having been shaken together, running over will they give into your bosom; for with what measure you keep measuring, it shall be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38, translation by Lenski).

Picture yourself as a Jewish man or woman in New Testament times. You go to the market to buy some grain to make bread for your family. At the market, you give the merchant the proper payment for five cups of grain. He takes his five-cup measuring scoop and dips it into the large bin of grain. As he lifts it up, you expect him to level it off and give it to you, but instead he pulls the scoop out of the bin. He sets it on a hard surface and uses his fist to press down and compact the grain in the scoop to ensure that you get the maximum amount of grain in that five-cup scoop. He then gives the scoop a little shake to help it settle and begins adding more grain to the scoop. He repeats the process of pressing down and shaking until the scoop is holding well more than the amount of grain you paid for or expected. But as if that weren’t enough, he takes the already overfilled scoop and adds more grain to the top so that it is completely overflowing and he pours the grain into the fold of your jacket to carry home to your family. This kind of profound generosity is completely unheard of. What kind of merchant goes to such great lengths to ensure that his customers receive every bit of what they paid for and then more? And yet, this is the kind of profound generosity our heavenly Father shows to us.

6. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther invites us to confess:

“[God] richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

Everything that we have in this life is a generous gift of God’s mercy. He doesn’t have to provide us with an abundance of clothing and shoes. He doesn’t have to provide us with seemingly endless food and drink. He doesn’t have to provide us with a safe, warm home in which to live. He doesn’t have to provide us with a loving family, with pets and animals, or with anything else that we have. And yet he does. Our heavenly Father demonstrates that he is a merciful God who delights in demonstrating his mercy to sinners through generosity. As Luther says:

“All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”

My friends, in the face of such mercy, how can we not be people who show that same kind of mercy through generosity? How can we not be generous with our time, talents, and treasures toward our spouse, family, or friends? How can we not be people who see someone in need and desire nothing more than to meet that need generously? My friends, we can and must be generous. The way that we demonstrate our acceptance of our Lord’s generosity to us is through showing generosity one another. And in showing generosity to one another, we fulfill our Lord’s command to be merciful even as he is merciful.

IV. Conclusion

7. My friends, the church sees mercy very differently from the world. In the world, mercy is all about feeling good. But our Lord instructs us to be different than the world. He instructs us to show mercy to others in the way in which he has shown mercy to us. The Lord’s mercy is not about making people feel good, although that often comes as a part of it. The Lord’s mercy is about meeting real needs by acting in concrete ways that make a difference. He has demonstrated in each of our lives time and time again how he shows mercy through forgiveness and generosity. May you and I be moved by our Lord’s mercy toward us to show mercy in concrete ways to those around us who are in need.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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