Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 5:20-26

                                                                                    Trinity 6
                                                                                    Mt 5:20-26

            When teaching the Ten Commandments in Catechesis, I always enjoy arriving at the Fifth Commandment.  Right from the start, the First Commandment drops like a hammer: “You shall have no other gods.” Then we reflect on Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism: “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”  We learn that at god is anything in which you put your trust; anything you value most; anything that gives you a sense of security and well-being. 
            The list of things that take on this role is nearly endless: money, popularity, possessions, sex, hobbies, sports … and you can go on and on.  Each person knows that this is true about him or herself – that we put all kinds of things before God and so break the First Commandment.
            Certainly, when teaching youth, they recognize that they break the Second and Third Commandments.  But when you get to the Fourth Commandment, you have another one that hits them in the face.  Of course they recognized that they don’t obey their parents all the time.  They don’t obey their parents as they should.  Luther’s explanation drives home the point that is already painfully obvious: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
            Then finally, we get to the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.”  I always like to ask: “So has anyone here killed a person?”  And of course, the answer is always no. No one there has killed another human being.  And then, on cue, I like to say: “Great! Finally, a commandment that we can keep.”
            In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus takes that thought away as he teaches us about the truth depths of the Fifth Commandment.  He teaches us that God’s will includes the physical, but extends far beyond that.  It extends inside us to our heart – to our thoughts, attitudes and emotions.  In doing so Jesus shows us our sin.  There’s no doubt about it.  But is he only doing that?  Now that is something that we will have to consider as we go.
            Our text this morning is part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus begins our text by saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’”  In this section of the sermon, six times Jesus states, “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you.”  In each case our Lord is taking up an understanding of Scripture that was present among Jews in his own day, and then explaining how it is either insufficient or just wrong.
            This way of speaking was very striking in the first century Jewish world.  There authority was based on quoting what previous authorities had said.  “Rabbi X, said that Rabbi Y said that Rabbi Z said this” was the kind of thing people were use to hearing.  Authority was to be found in the chain of authority that went back into the past. The Pharisees spoke about the “tradition of the elders” when describing their interpretation of the Torah that directed people about how they were to live.
            But Jesus didn’t do that.  In fact he did the exact opposite. Six times Jesus declares, “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you.”  Jesus was not playing the same game as everyone else. And people noticed, “Matthew tells us at the end of the sermon, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”  Jesus had authority because he was the Son of God who had come into this world.  He was God with us, telling us how things really are.
            But what he tells us is hard to hear.  Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.”
            Our Lord says that to be angry with a person is to break the Fifth Commandment and be subject to judgment. To treat another person with contempt is be subject to judgment.  And our text leaves no doubt that when Jesus speaks about judgment, he means hell – the hell of fire. 
            Now I am confident that no one here has murdered another person.  But I am also absolutely confident that every single person here has felt anger, spoken in anger, and acted in anger.  We have nourished and fed anger, cherished it and held onto it.  As fallen people, this is what we do.  Jesus said to the Pharisees later in this Gospel, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” 
            There is no getting around it.  This is Law in its most penetrating and killing form.  As we stand before the just and holy God we deserve nothing but hell. It can only lead us to confess the anger in our life, and the way it causes us to treat other people.
            Yet as we confess our sin, we need to listen to how Jesus began this sermon.  In what we often call the Beatitudes he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus began the sermon by declaring that those who are poor in spirit – those who are in need of spiritual deliverance – are blessed for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.           You are poor in spirit.  You struggle with anger in your life, and all of the things anger causes you to say and do. But Jesus says that you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is yours now.  When our Lord speaks of the kingdom of heaven, he describes the saving reign of God that he brought into the world.  Jesus began his ministry by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He told the Pharisees, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
            Jesus brought the reign of heaven – the reign of God – into this world as he was sent by the Father.  He came to defeat sin, death and the devil.  He came to do that by dying on the cross.  Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for you.  His suffering and death for your sin was the cost of forgiveness for you. That is what had to happen for you to be just and holy before God.  But on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead, as he defeated death itself.  And so now through faith and baptism you are holy in God’s eyes. 
            You have received the gift of eternal life with God. Sin and death cannot take this away.  And death itself which looks so threatening is already whipped.  It cannot separate you from Christ. It has no power to hold your body. Because Jesus Christ the risen and exalted Lord has announced that he will return in glory with all the angels.  And on that day he will raise your body and transform it to be like his resurrected body that can never die again.
            Yet the words of our text this morning do more than just show us our sin when we fail.  They also show us what God has now made us to be through the work of Jesus Christ. We have seen that Jesus begins the sermon by addressing us as people who have already now received the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God. To have received the reign of God is to receive Christ’s saving work through the Spirit. The apostle Paul says in Titus that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
            Those who have received the reign of God – those who have received regeneration through the Spirit in baptism – are different.  You are different.  And that is why just a little before our text Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
            Jesus says that because you have received his saving reign – you are the light of the world.  He tells us to live and act in ways that let our light shine before others – ways that cause out good works to be seen by others for this give glory to God.  Our Lord says that those who have received his reign, live in ways that show his reign. Why? Because that is what his reign through the work of the Spirit does.
            This means that while we never cease to be fallen people –old Adam - who stumble and fall, we are also a new creation in Christ who through the work of the Spirit can live in ways that are true to God’s will. We are people who want to live in those ways.  And we are people who know what those ways look like.
            In our text Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  Our Lord describes the setting that existed in his time when the temple was still standing and in operation.  He says that if a person is bringing an offering to God, and remembers that there is someone with whom there is a dispute – someone with whom anger had been created and exists – he is to leave the gift at the altar.  He is stop right there and first go and be reconciled.  Only then should he follow through making his offering.
            So what does it mean to live as those who have received the reign of God, as those who are a new creation in Christ?  It means that we seek to be reconciled with others.  It means that we ask for forgiveness for Jesus sake. It means that we forgive others for Jesus’ sake
            Now this is not something we can do on our own.  It is only Christ’s reign that can make it possible.  It is only Christ’s Spirit who can make this possible.  Christ’s reign through his Spirit now is present for us in the Means of Grace.  He read God’s Word and hear it proclaimed to us. We received Holy Absolution. We come to the Sacrament to receive Jesus Christ’s true body and blood for forgiveness of sins and strengthening of the new man.  Here we find forgiveness for those times we fail. Here we also receive strength to live as what Christ has made us to be



Friday, July 26, 2019

Mark's thoughts: Are we ready?

This graffito was scratched onto the plaster wall of a room on the Palatine Hill in Rome.  Though it cannot be dated with certainty, most likely it was made around 200 A.D.   The inscription says, “Alexamenos worships [his] god.”  Alexamenos is pictured looking up in reverence and worship toward Jesus Christ, who is depicted on the cross with the head of donkey.  Alexamenos was obviously a Christian, and the creator of graffiti was mocking his faith.  The graffito says that to worship the crucified Jesus is to worship a jackass.

This graffito captures in graphic terms the offense that the cross of Christ presented to the Greco-Roman world.  Paul told the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  The apostle went on to add, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). We find this same truth expressed when Paul told the Philippians about Christ: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). 

The graffito is a reminder that Christianity in the first five centuries faced great resistance in the Greco-Roman world.  It was a “world of full of gods “and pagan worship flourished everywhere Christianity went.  This paganism was established, widespread and often possessed impressive temples.  Into this world, the Christians went forth proclaiming that a crucified Jew was the Son of God, and Savior of the world.  This message was met with public scorn and rejection by many, such as the creator of this graffito.

Most of us are old enough to recognize that a tremendous shift has occurred.  We have entered into a post-Christian world.  Where before Christianity held a privileged status in western culture, now it no longer does. Beyond this, increasingly aggressive opposition is being raised against Christian beliefs.  Powerful forces such as academia, the entertainment industry, big business, and the technology industry seek to promote a worldview that opposes God’s will, and in doing so Christians find themselves as targets.

The question then, is whether we are ready for the world in which Alexamenos lived?  Increasingly, in order to live as Christian we will be forced to confess Christ by what we do and say. This will involve cost, but we should not be surprised by this.  We read in Matthew’s Gospel:
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27).
Just before this text, we learn, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).  Jesus Christ died on the cross in the fulfillment of the saving mission given to him by the Father.  But as he told his disciples on several occasions, his death on the cross was not the end.  Instead, on the third day God raised him from the dead.  He has conquered death, and as the ascended and exalted Lord he is the One who will return in glory to vindicate his people and give us a share in his resurrection.

The apostles went into the world proclaiming Christ crucified.  They proclaimed this because they knew that Jesus had risen from the dead.  They had seen him. They had talked with him. They had touched him. They had eaten with him. They were witnesses.  Peter told Cornelius:    
And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:39-43)

Peter was a witness.  He was a martyr who took up his own cross as he was crucified in Rome because of faith in Jesus Christ (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.1.2)  Yet he did so because he knew that these words he wrote were true: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).  May the living hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ strengthen each one of us to confess Jesus Christ in the days to come.

Related image Related image

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Feast of St. James the Elder, Apostle

Today is the Feast of St. James the Elder, Apostle.  James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, was one the first apostles to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22).  James, John and Peter, were the only apostles present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and the agony in the garden.  James was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom and the only one whose martyrdom is recorded in Scripture (Acts 12:1-2).  He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I, probably between 42 and 44 A.D.

Scripture reading:
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (Acts 11:27-12:5 ESV)
Collect of the Day:
O gracious God, Your servant and apostle James was the first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ.  Pour out upon the leaders of Your Church that spirit of self-denying service that they may forsake all false and passing allurements and follow Christ alone, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The cross? - Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity - 1 Cor 1:18-25

                                                                                                Trinity 5
                                                                                                1 Cor 1:18-25

            “It’s the cross!”  That cry used to go out from the Surburg vehicle when the kids were younger and we reached Effingham on trips to Danville to visit Amy’s mom.  It’s not hard to understand why this cross caught their attention.  Standing
198 feet tall and 113 feet wide, the cross in Effingham is the tallest cross in the United States. Forged out of more than 180 tons of steel, it was intentionally built to be larger than the giant cross that already existed in Groom, Texas.  Apparently that cross is 196 feet tall. So why did they build the Effingham cross at 198 feet?  Why not go even bigger?  It is because FAA regulations state that at two hundred feet a standing object must have a flashing light on top of it, and the cross builders did not want that.
            A giant cross built in a location where it can be seen by as many people as possible - reportedly twenty million people drive by every year.  You could not have suggested something more bizarre to a person living in the first century Mediterranean world.  It’s not just that the idea would be bizarre.  It would have been crass and offensive – something that violated basic standards of decency.
            A number of peoples in the ancient world used crucifixion as a means of execution.  It was found among the Persians, the Indians, the Assyrians, the Scythians and the Carthaginians.  It has been suggested that the Romans may have picked up the practice from that last group, against whom they fought a series of wars in the third and second century B.C.
            To say that the Romans embraced the practice is an understatement. They used it against slaves, non-Romans in the provinces and traitors. In general, Roman crucifixion began with a flogging using a whip studded with pieces of lead or bone.  This shredded skin and muscle, and caused profuse bleeding.  The victim was then forced to carry the cross beam to the place of execution. There the outstretched arms were nailed to the beam, and the beam was hoisted up onto a vertical post that was already in place.  The feet were then also nailed to the post. 
            While this gives us a general description, we need to be aware that the practice varied greatly. As the scholar Martin Hengel has described, “crucifixion was a punishment in which the caprice and sadism of the executioners were given full reign.” Some crucified victims upside down. Some impaled the private parts of those being crucified. At the siege of Jerusalem the Roman soldiers entertained themselves by nailing Jewish prisoners in different postures to the crosses.
            Crucifixion was a slow, painful and humiliating death. The people who were crucified – who were subjected to this – were viewed as the lowest; as worthless; as the scum of humanity.  Crucifixion was such a horrible thing, that polite people simply didn’t speak about it.  It was considered uncouth – improper among good company. And of course, those who died by crucifixion were not worthy of a second thought.  Often their bodies were left on the cross until they were eaten by birds – a warning to any who might oppose the Romans.
            In the verse just before our text, Paul has told the Corinthians that Christ sent him to preach the Gospel, “and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  Rhetoric – the way that you developed, ordered and delivered speech – was the central feature of the ancient education system.  People and their message were judged on the basis of rhetorical skill.  St. Paul was theologically profound, but when it came to the rhetoric of that message his background didn’t give him the skills to impress people in the Greco-Roman world. And Paul said that was just fine, because that meant that the cross of Christ would not be emptied of its power.  The Gospel wasn’t about impressive use of language.  It was about the cross of Jesus Christ.
            Paul said that he did not want the “cross of Christ to be emptied of its power.”  And he goes on to say in our text, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  In two verses in a row, Paul uses the word “power” when speaking about the cross.  Now, to most people in Paul’s world, the idea of describing the cross using the word “power” was absurd.  The cross was instead everything that was the opposite of power. 
            The apostle acknowledges this fact when he says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”  To those who didn’t believe in Jesus Christ the word of the cross was folly.  It was stupid.  It was a joke.
            Yet Paul said that people who took such a view were perishing.  And then he went on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  The cross looked like weakness and foolishness. But the reality was very different, because God was at work in the cross.  The apostle went on to quote words from the prophet Isaiah, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’” Rather than being foolishness, the cross was God making foolish the wisdom of this world.
            Paul says, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
            We want to be on God’s level. That’s what the Fall was about – trying to be like God. The world thinks that God can be allowed to be God if he makes sense to the world – if the world can “put him in a box” and be in charge of God. And we still act that way too.  We think that God should justify his decisions to us - the things that occur in our life and the lives of others.  But God is God, and we are not.  Not only are we creatures acting like we should be able to understand the Creator – we are in fact fallen, sinful creatures.
            So instead, God turned everything upside down by working salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.  The apostle says that “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”  Paul states in our text that the folly preached is Christ crucified.
            The apostle says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  A crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to Jews. A crucified Savior – a man who died the ignominious death of the cross – was folly to Greeks.
            It did look like folly. Jesus was nailed to the cross, and like everyone else whom the Romans put there, he died.  He died, mocked and humiliated. And he was buried.  But then on the third day, God did something that had never happened before.  He raised Jesus from the dead with the resurrection life of the Last Day.  As Paul wrote later in this letter, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
            In the resurrection of Jesus we learn that the cross was not folly.  Instead the Son of God was sent to die on the cross – the sinless One who was sent to become sin for us; the One who received God’s judgment against sin in our place.  That’s what was happening on Good Friday. And so as Paul says in our text, for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Or as the apostle says in the next chapter we are those who are in Christ Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
            Yet, when Paul speaks about the cross in our text in this way, he is not only talking about how God acted to save us – about what it looked like.  He is also describing how God works in his Church and in our lives.  Immediately after our text the apostle goes on to say, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” The Corinthian Christians themselves were examples of how God worked in the way of the cross – of how he worked in ways that were the exact opposite of what they appeared to the world.
            This is true of the ways that Jesus Christ now gives the benefits of his cross.  You come to church and hear the words of Scripture read. You hear a pastor proclaim that Word of God to you.  You see bread and wine on the altar.  There is nothing impressive about these things. God declares that through this Word he gives the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ.  He says that in the Sacrament you receive the true body and blood of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and strengthening in faith.  To the world this is foolishness.  It is stupid.  It is something they can blow off and ignore altogether.
            Or think about your own life.  God says he loves you, and yet you get cancer or diabetes. You experience anxiety and depression.  You experience difficulties and hardships in family life and at work.  To the world … and even sometimes to us … God’s claim of love sounds like foolishness.
            But in the cross of Jesus Christ God has shown us that this is how he works.  As Paul says in our text, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  It looks like folly. But in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we learn that the cross was in fact the power and the wisdom of God for us and our salvation. And it is in the resurrection of Jesus that we find Christ is the power and wisdom of God for us in the midst all that the world considers to be folly.
            The Scriptures and preaching are not mere words.  They are the life giving work of the Spirit that brings forgiveness, strength and salvation. The Sacrament of the Altar is no mere bread and wine.  It is the miracle of Jesus Christ, the risen and exalted Lord, giving us his true body and blood.  It is Jesus present here and now giving us salvation for our whole person – body and soul.
            And because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know that the hardships of life are not the absence of God.  Yes, they are life in cross form.  But because we have seen in the resurrection of Jesus that the cross was the power of God for our salvation we can believe and trust that God is with us in the midst of these too. We can believe and trust that our God will give us strength and sustain us in faith. We can even believe and trust that God is at work in these circumstances for his own purposes.  They are not meaningless, but instead times that God uses for our good as he crucifies the old Adam in us; as he turns us away from ourselves and towards him.
            A crucified man as God and Savior?  It’s foolishness according to the world. But in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have learned that appearances could not be more deceiving.  Instead, as Paul says in our text this morning, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
            It’s not what the world wants.  It’s not what the old Adam in us wants.  But the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead has worked faith so that we can see God’s saving wisdom for us.  As the apostle says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 6:26-42

                                                                                                Trinity 4
                                                                                                Lk 6:36-42

            Now don’t get me wrong. The professors that I had at the seminary were very smart guys.  There were among them minds that were not just bright, but also dedicated to pondering the depths of God’s Word, and what that revelation from God means for the lives of Christians and the Church as a whole.
            Among the best of them, their command of the material – the depth of their knowledge – was something that initially blew me way.  But it didn’t take very long before I realized something that put things into perspective.  Yes, these professors were talented and knowledgeable. But on the other hand, they taught and talked about this material every year. Many of them had been doing this for several decades.  The amazing insights were things that they shared year after year.  For the most part, this was not stuff that they were coming up with on the fly.  Instead it was a stock body of knowledge that they had acquired, and over the years, and they had honed the delivery of this material through repetition in class after class.
            This is really just the nature of teaching anything.  Certainly one always is looking to learn new things. But there is usually a certain body of knowledge that needs to be communicated.  Do this enough times and you figure out the best and most helpful ways to do so. This is not a matter of completely reinventing the wheel every time you are going to teach a group of people.
            Our Lord Jesus was no different. Yes, he was the omniscient Son of God and Creator of the universe.  But he also had a body of knowledge – essential truths about the Gospel, about the kingdom of God – that he was teaching people during his ministry.  And while Jesus was incredibly gifted as a teacher – something even non-Christians recognize – that does not mean he said something completely new and different every time that he taught a group of people.  During three years of teaching in different parts of Israel, with different groups of people, he certainly repeated things.  This fact in itself helped the apostles lock into their minds the content that we now find in the Gospels – something that they were far better at than would could ever be, because they lived in an oral culture.
            Our text this morning is part of a sermon – a time of teaching – by Jesus.  Luke introduces it by saying, “And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.”  Now you will notice that Jesus stood “on a level place.”  For this reason, it has often been called “the sermon on the plain.” Yet when you look at Matthew’s Gospel you find much of the same material, and there it is introduced with the words, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.” This, of course, we know as “sermon on the mount.”
            So was it a sermon on a plain or a sermon on a mount? The answer is yes.  Surely our Lord shared this same teaching in sermons like these, and lots of other places as well. At the same time, the fact that Jesus repeated it should catch our attention. Because this morning, he sets it before us.  He repeated it because he really means it.  It really is true.  And it is really is true for us.
            Our Lord begins our text by saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Jesus says that we are to be merciful and compassionate, just as our heavenly Father is merciful and compassionate. This statement concludes one section of the sermon, and also introduces the part that we have in our text this morning.  The mercy that God the Father has for us, becomes the pattern for how we are to treat others.
            Jesus has just said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who harm you. Treat all people the way you want to be treated.
            This is not how we naturally act. This is not how we want to act.  So in case there is any confusion on our part, our Lord adds, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”  Anyone can love the person who loves them in return. Anyone can do good to the person who does good to them. You don’t have to be a Christian to act in that way.
            But what Jesus describes is something very different. And so in the verse before our text he says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” This action that looks nothing like the world finds its source in God.  As Jesus says, God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  That’s the way God is, and so Jesus says in our text, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” It turns out, that’s the way we are supposed to be too.
            Now we haven’t even arrived at the main part of our text, and no doubt you are already thinking: “I don’t do those things.  I don’t want to do those things.  I am not able to do those things.” And you are right – at least in part.  You often don’t do those things. You don’t love your enemies, or pray for those who wrong you. And you are right, that you don’t want to do those things. That’s how the old Adam is – the fallen, sinful nature that clings to us.  But when you think, “I am not able to do those things,” well, that’s where you are wrong.
            The sermon on the plain is introduced by a description that people “came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.”
            Jesus Christ wasn’t just there teaching to order to give good advice or to tell people what to do.  We see this in the way that power came out from to Jesus to heal all. In fact, his word itself – his teaching - was different.  When our Lord first began his ministry in Capernaum we learn that the people “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.  Indeed, Jesus’ teaching and miracle went hand in and hand we are told, “They were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’” 
            Jesus Christ taught and healed as the Son of God anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. At the synagogue in Nazareth he read these words from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And then he declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
            Anointed by the Spirit, our Lord came to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God to fallen people in a fallen world. That mission was always directed towards one place; one moment; one event.  He, the sinless One, defeated sin and the devil by taking our sins and making them his own on the cross.  He received God’s wrath and judgment that culminated in death.
            And if that were the end of it, I would agree that you are not able to do the things Jesus describes in our text. But on Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Holy Spirit. And as the ascended and exalted Lord, he has poured forth the Spirit.  Through the world and baptism you have received the Spirit of Christ. And so it is Christ who is at work in you, both to will and to do those things that Jesus teaches.
            Jesus begins our text by saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” You have received God’s mercy in the ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ.  You have received compassion. You have been forgiven. And so now Christ’s Spirit leads and enables us to act in mercy and compassion towards others
            What does that look like? Jesus says in our text, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.”  In those settings in life where God has not placed us in the vocation with a responsibility to oversee the actions of others, we don’t look to judge and tear people down. We don’t look for opportunities to condemn.
            Our Lord illustrates this by saying, “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? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”
            We confess the sin in our own lives.  We admit it and live in the forgiveness that God has given us in Christ.  When we are living in this way in Christ, then we are able to speak to our neighbor in love and care – in ways that are meant for their well being, seeking to help and build them up, rather than to tear them down.
            Jesus says in our text, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  Our Lord’s ministry to bring the reign of God, has given you forgiveness.  You are baptized.  You hear absolution spoken to you.  You receive the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. But to be forgiven in Christ, must result in you forgiving others. It will have this result, that is, if we want Christ to continue to forgive us.
            Like love, forgiveness is not an emotion – though it can indeed at times be accompanied by moving and powerful emotions.  In its essence, forgiveness is the recognition that I cannot choose to hold something against another person.  I cannot choose to return to the wrong and bring it up.  I can’t do it, not if I want God to forgive all of my wrongs and treat them as if they never happened because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
            It is the Spirit of the risen Lord who makes this possible.  And we pray that over time the Spirit will also bring about healing in us so that we feel at peace with those we have forgiven; so that our emotions “catch up” as it were with the act forgiveness worked by the Spirit.
            How does this happen?  Well, we listen to Christ’s word, because it is still a word that has authority.  It is still the word in which the kingdom of God – reign of God – comes to us.  We receive all of his Means of Grace regularly, because through them the Spirit is at work to strengthen the new man in us. 
            And we engage in something that Jesus tells us to do in our text as he says, “pray for those who mistreat you.” Just do it.  Pray for that person, even if at first those prayers seem to be nothing more than rote words that we force ourselves to say.  Pray for that person.  Keep praying for that person.  Praying for that person is forgiveness put into action. And over time the Spirit uses this to change us so that the whole of our person is brought into sync with Christ’s forgiveness for us that we are passing on to others.
            In our text today, Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  God the Father has been merciful and compassionate to you in his Son Jesus Christ.  Yet this action of being merciful is not something you now do on your own.  The very act of being merciful to us in Christ was achieved through the work of God’s Spirit.  Conceived by the Spirit; anointed by the Spirit; raised by the Spirit, Jesus has now given us the Spirit who makes it possible for us to be merciful, and to do those things that Jesus describes in his sermon.