Merciful Like Our Father

Text: Luke 6:36-42

In the Lutheran Church, nearly every confirmation class follows – more or less – the same course. Using Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, we first learn the Ten Commandments, which are God’s will for our lives as His people. Then, we learn the Apostles’ Creed – which is what God would have us believe – and the Lord’s Prayer, where our Lord teaches us to pray by putting His Words in our mouths. After these three come the Means of Grace: Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. Every confirmation class in the Lutheran Church learns these things. But, there’s one part in particular that goes well with the Gospel this week, and I want to see if you remember it.

In your mind (or in the hymnal) see if you can find the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. (It’s the part that goes, “Our Father who art in heaven.”) Martin Luther writes that, “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” In the Our Father, Jesus teaches us to pray to God the Father as our Father; our true father. He is our Father and we are His children through Baptism and by faith. Just as in human families there is such a thing as a “family resemblance,” so also in the family of faith. In the family of faith the resemblance is this: that our heavenly Father calls us, His children, to lives of mercy and forgiveness.

I.

These are the words that begin our text. Our Lord said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36, English Standard Version) You see, He’s already calling to mind the family relationship that God has brought us into through the washing of Holy Baptism. A couple weeks back I brought up the idea of “clobber passages,” which, I said, are those passages that people pull out during theological conversations which are meant to end said conversations. Sometimes our text today is turned into one of those, particularly the part where it says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” (v. 37) That part is used by many as an excuse to either allow others to continue living in unrepentant sin, or else to comfort themselves in their own. By others, this passage is used as a condition for being a child of God. As in, if you want to be a Christian, you must first not judge. But then, that is to make our relationship with Christ one based on our works and not His – when the Scriptures clearly teach that He chose us.

Our text today comes from a part of the Gospel we know as “The Sermon on the Mount.” These words are teaching that Jesus gave to those who already had been brought to believe in Him by the work of the Holy Spirit. If we back up just a little bit, St. Luke tells us that, “ [Jesus] came down with [His Apostles] and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of His disciplesand He lifted up His eyes…and said…” (vv. 17, 20) The words here are not conditions of becoming a disciple of Jesus, but descriptions of what the life of a child of God looks like. He’s describing the family resemblance, and He starts with mercy. And this word that our Lord uses for mercy means to be concerned about someone else’s sorry state, their misery. Such has our Father had toward us.

In the service today, together we confessed that we are all sinners. And though we said it in only a few words, the impact is profound. You see, as sinners, we deserve nothing but death and punishment. We have all disobeyed God’s Commandments. We have sinned not just by accident, but on purpose. We have spoken and lived contrary to God’s good will, and acted as if we know and want what is best. This is what sinning is, and it’s what we have done, and we deserve the full and just punishment of our evil deeds. But, God, rather than pouring out His righteous wrath on us, instead, offered up His own Son, our Lord. He saw us in our sinful state and had mercy. Our Lord, as well, had compassion on us by willingly bearing our sins on the cross. Our God saw our sorry state and had mercy so that we might be saved eternally. This salvation He gives to us by grace – as a gift – through faith. He makes us to be members of His own family.

II.

Just as our earthly families have a family resemblance, whether it’s eye color, nose, jawline or whatever, so does the family which God has brought us into. This is what it looks like. Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” (vv. 36-38) Yes, it’s true, as I said: many take this passage and use it as a clobber passage or else to teach works-righteousness (that these are conditions to be met in order to be saved). To do these things, however, is to destroy the context and miss the point. God our heavenly Father saw us in our sorry and sinful state, without hope and only on the path to eternal punishment. He saw us in our misery, and had mercy on us by sending us His Son. He purchased for us the forgiveness of our sins and brought us into His family by grace through the washing of Baptism. We are His children now. How do God’s children act? With love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity. These are the things He works in us by the Holy Spirit.

In our lives of faith, we do often fall into sin. We remain simul justus et peccator. That is, simultaneously saint and sinner. We often sin against others, and they sin against us. How should we react when someone sins against us? With harsh comments and anger? Or, with forgiveness? If someone hates us or speaks against us, should we do the same? Of course not. We have all behaved in hatred toward God (that is what sinning is), imagine if He acted so toward us? Instead, our God has called us, His children, to lives of mercy and forgiveness. He even produces these things (mercy and forgiveness) in our lives when we are regularly hearing His Word and receiving the Sacrament. Should we find ourselves lacking in generosity, love, or willingness to forgive there is a solution: come and receive the Supper. We confess in the Post-Communion Collect that our Lord gives us this meal to strengthen us in the faith and in “fervent love toward one another.”

Now, sometimes showing mercy and compassion to another is making known their sin to them – this is what our Lord brings up near the end of the text. Is it loving to allow another Christian, who may be unaware of a sin they’re committing, to continue in sin when the end result very well might be a loss of faith? It is not. When it is within our place to have mercy on a brother or sister in Christ by showing them their sin, we do it with a humble awareness of our own sin. We do not set out to condemn our neighbor and justify ourselves, but to remind them of the mercy we have all received, first, from God our heavenly Father. He stands ready to forgive all who repent, and to forgive to a greater extent than we could ever need.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray to our heavenly Father as dear children ask their dear fathers on earth. We can pray this way because our God has had mercy on us: forgiving us our sins, bringing us into His family and, even, seating us at His table. Just as earthly families resemble each other, so we as God’s children resemble Him: in lives of mercy and compassion. May God the Holy Spirit work these fruits of faith in us all. Amen.

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