As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, God’s Kingdom is Mercy, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday March 3, 2019. The Reading was Luke 6:27-38.
Follow the leader
Our reading today follows on from the reading we had last week, so it makes sense that my sermon should follow on in many aspects. We still have Jesus speaking to his disciples in that level place. But we also need to remember that Luke is writing this gospel for his congregation, and as such, much of what he is writing here are instructions for his church. Just as Jesus is saying this is how I want you to live, Luke is saying to his church “This is how you need to be as a church”.
In Jesus’ day, many groups believed that not only did the individual need to imitate their leader, but the community needed to imitate their leader as well. Therefore, the values that Jesus and God showed and show as central should also be the values that the church holds as central.
For us, in our passage today, that grounding is found right in the center of our reading. It’s a short verse, but it sums up everything that comes before and after it in the passage, as well as being our guide for what we should be as a community. Verse 36 says “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
We don’t deserve what God gives us
You see, we don’t deserve to have a relationship with God. We don’t deserve to have Jesus be a part of our lives. We don’t deserve it, because we are by our very nature, sinful. A few weeks ago, we heard Simon Peter ask Jesus to go away from him because he was a sinful man.
Similarly, we are all sinful people. Our fifth doctrine states that “We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.”
When Adam and Eve were created, they were made in the image of God. They were designed to be image bearers, and live in a harmonious relationship with God, with others, with themselves, and with creation. In that original sin, where they ate the apple, they damaged that relationship with God, they damaged the relationship between themselves, they damaged their relationship with each other, and they damaged their relationship with the environment. That was the original sin. But we don’t just live in that sin. We continue to live in and commit sins.
Now, I like to think that I’m generally a good guy. And I have such a high opinion of all of you here today that I think you are all good people as well. When I think about the 10 commandments, I’m fairly certain that none of you worship other gods, that you’re not making graven images, that you’re not taking the Lord’s name in vain, you’re all here on a Sunday so you’re remembering the sabbath day and keeping it holy; I believe that you have all honoured your father and mother; I don’t believe anyone has killed anyone, committed adultery, stolen, bore false witness, or coveted their neighbours belongings… though that last one could be the one that I may be wrong about. But in terms of these things, none of you seem like sinful people. So how can I say that we all continue to live in and commit sins?
Cornelius Plantinga, a theologian from America, wrote a very helpful definition of sin.
Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony….God hates sin not just because it violates his law but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be. (Indeed, that is why God has laws against a good deal of sin.) God is for shalom and therefore against sin. In fact, we may safely describe evil as any spoiling of shalom, whether physically (e.g., by disease), morally, spiritually, or otherwise. Moral and spiritual evil are agential evil – that is, evil that, roughly speaking, only persons can do or have. Agential evil thus comprises evil acts and dispositions. Sin, then, is any agential evil for which some person (or group of persons) is to blame. In short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking…. “Culpable disturbance of shalom” suggests that sin is unoriginal, that it disrupts something good and harmonious, that (like a housebreaker) it is an intruder, and that those who sin deserve reproach. To get our bearings, we need to see first that sin is one form of evil (an agential and culpable form) and that evil, in turn, is the disruption or disturbance of what God has designed….Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be: A Breviary of Sin – Corneilus Plantinga
In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder.
“A Culpable disturbance of shalom” – so whenever we are aware of something that is against God’s design for creation and redemption – that is, God’s shalom – and we don’t do anything about it, then we are culpable in that disturbance of shalom.
In Jesus’ day, conflict and violence seemed to go hand in hand. Perhaps, that is not so far removed from today. So if someone hated you, you would hate them back. If someone cursed you, you would curse them, if someone struck you, you would strike them back. But that is not the way God intended it, and to continue in that way is that culpable disturbance of shalom. Instead, Jesus tells his church to love those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Instead of an escalation of violence, Jesus calls for a movement towards God’s kingdom by calling for attitudes and actions that seek the good of the other, and build up the community.
If people are being exploited, by having to beg or steal, then we are called to move towards’s God’s kingdom and be generous. That is the direction that Jesus wants his church to move in – towards a place of mercy.
We have received God’s mercy
Because that’s the thing about God’s Kingdom – it reflects who God is. And God is merciful.In Exodus 34, the Lord passes by Moses and proclaims “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” God is merciful, and we have received God’s mercy. We don’t deserve it – but through God’s grace, we have received God’s mercy.
There is a story told of a mother who sought from Napoleon the pardon of her son.
The emperor said it was the man’s second offense, and justice demanded his death. “I don’t ask for justice,” said the mother. “I plead for mercy.”
“But he does not deserve mercy,” said the emperor.
The mother responded, “Sir, it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask.”
“Well then, “ said the emperor, “I will show mercy.” And her son was saved.
If we were to receive justice, then we would not be able to be in a relationship with God. But the Lord is a god like no other. In Micah 7, the prophet writes:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquityMicah 7:18-19 (NRSV)
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
19 He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
Through God’s mercy, our sins have been forgiven. The anger God should show us has not been retained. God effectively ignores our sins, because God loves us so much. God wants to be in a relationship with us, and so God has compassion towards us, shows mercy towards us, and welcomes us into God’s kingdom.
We can extend God’s mercy to others
Therefore, as a church, we need to reflect the values of God. If God is merciful, then we also need to be merciful to others. And that’s what Luke is describing through this passage. The examples he gives are examples of how the church can show mercy – but they are not the only way. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is an example. We are merciful when we change the pattern of violence that society tells us is just the way things go. We are merciful when we are generous to those who are less fortunate as ourselves. We are merciful when we love all people – not just those who love us, but those who are different to us. We are merciful when we are willing to change our ways in order to welcome in new people. We are merciful when we will welcome anyone who comes through that door, no matter what they look like, what they’ve done, where they come from, or who they’ve come with.
We bring about God’s kingdom when we extend mercy to others.
When I pray the Lord’s prayer, one thing that really sticks out to me is the line, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Many of you may have picked that up in my prayers. Whenever I’m praying about our community, my prayer is that I will see God’s kingdom come here in Rochester. Right where we are. And this isn’t some far of, escatalogical end times thing that I won’t ever see. When we extend mercy towards all people, just as God has extended mercy to us, then we will see God’s kingdom here on earth, here in Rochester, as it is in heaven. Because as we are merciful, so God is merciful.