Sermon for Trinity 4

By the time I get back to the office and can post my sermon, sometimes the week is far gone. But in case you couldn’t attend church on Sunday, here is my sermon. The text is Luke 6, about judging and specks in eyes:

Our prayers aren’t better because we say them a second time. But sometimes a prayer is so on point, it just has to be said twice. Let us pray again the collect for the day: O Lord, grant that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your governance that Your Church may joyfully serve You in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

There’s enough in that prayer for a whole sermon, without ever getting to the readings. But we want to make sure that, while we attend to prayer, we also attend to the Word of God. So only a few comments before we move on to the eternal word which our Lord gives us in our Gospel this day.

The church prays that God would order the world – he did in the beginning, creating marriage between man and woman, blessing them and all families, giving humanity dominion over the earth and all that is in it. We pray that he would continue to keep order – that the rain would come and water the ground, that the sun would shine, that crops would grow and we would move without too much trouble from seed time to harvest, that the seasons would come and go in their time. That there would be peace in the land, and peace between nations. And when we pray “by your governance…” we mean that God would govern the world – not only giving order and peace as we pray in the Lord’s prayer when we pray “give us this day our daily bread”, but that those who govern would do so according to the fear and knowledge of the Lord and his will. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We want to have wise leaders. The commandments of God are the only way to a peaceful and prosperous nation – blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Not that we should adopt the Old Testament code as our laws as if we would live under a church-controlled theocracy. But rather that, insofar as the laws of our nation are modelled on the ten commandments, we are seeking the blessing of God on all that we do. And insofar as we neglect and despise those commandments, any nation is testing God and seeing if it is true that he will judge the nations. He had promised that he will.

The reason for our prayer that the world would be ordered according to the commandments is so that the church can serve our heavenly Father and our neighbor in godly quietness. We don’t usually think in terms of godly quietness. But the church is most blessed in those times when it can serve peaceably and quietly in the world, when we can encourage our members to godly living without interference from the world. Those periods are shockingly few and far between, and surprisingly short. It appears we are now exiting one of those periods of peace and tranquility for the church, as our nation rushes headlong into a brave new world where the word of God is actively despised and rejected. This should not shock us. Jesus told us that the world will hate those who follow him. And it should not alarm us. Jesus also promised that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Jesus reigns and has already won the victory over death. What can man do to us?

This is our prayer today: That we would live peaceable and godly lives in all quietness. It encompasses so much beyond just our own selves. It’s not a prayer that we be left alone, it’s a prayer that all Satan’s efforts to disrupt our peace would fail – whether it be through war, famine, sickness, drought, or the weakness of our sinful flesh. We pray that God would keep all of these away from us. The Lord’s prayer sums it up so well “Deliver us from evil.” That’s what we pray for.

And that’s what the Gospel is about. We’ve been kind of zig zagging back and forth during Trinity between God’s commands – which tell us how to live our life as His child showing love to neighbor and what that entails, and then back to God’s promise of forgiveness for Jesus sake when we fail to live up to God’s perfect law. Today we are back to law – how to live as Christians. How to have lives that are as peaceful as the world will allow. We covered the fifth commandment a couple weeks back. Now the tricky one –the 8th commandment. Control of the tongue. That’s a tough one. Let’s see what Jesus has to say.

Do not judge. But this is not an absolute. There must be judgment in the world. Today you will eat meals – what will be served? A judgment. You judge and pick a car, a phone, a TV set, or you judge and don’t have those things. Any decision involves judgment. That’s not what Jesus is talking about here. Decisions – judgments must be made. Jesus is talking about judging others – again the 8th commandment. We are not to tell lies about our neighbor, but we are to explain everything in the ndest way – or as we used to teach in the old catechism “put the best construction on everything.” At times we must make judgments between people – employers must choose an employee from among several applicants. They must judge the qualifications. Promotions are a judgment based on past performance. Parents must judge whether to punish or reward their children based on what they have done. Teachers must judge whether to pass or fail a student. Police must judge when to arrest, and when to warn or release. Juries must make a judgment of guilt or innocence. Judges must make a judgement whether to let an offender off lightly, or throw the book at them. The world is filled with judgments, and they are good. The church must judge what it hears – is this the word of Christ given by Divine Inspiration in the Holy Scirptures as the only means by which we know the truth? Or is it the voice of Satan tempting us to false doctrine and practice? We must hear only the voice of our shepherd.

So what is Jesus forbidding here? He is forbidding private judgment. What is that? Judging the conduct of another person apart from an office God gives. As an example – God gives the authorities to us. Police, judges, and so on. If a person holds that office, they are to judge what they see and hear according to their office. Going 120 miles per hour on the interstate will get you a ticket or time in jail from the police. If you see someone speeding and decide to run them off the road yourself, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a judgment. So when a parent disciplines a disobedient and unruly child, according to their God-given office, they are justified. But not every adult may punish a child – only the parents God has given to be authorities over them.

And, because of the sinful world we live in, we also need to clarify – when a police officer harasses or arrests someone who is innocent as an abuse of power, this is a corruption and an injustice. The same is true for parents who abuse their children and unjustly punish them – scripture says “fathers do not exasperate your children.” In such cases, there must be repentance and a turning away from such abuses of authority. But abuses do not cancel out the legitimate use of an office. Injustice or corruption must not be tolerated. But proper use of an office must be respected, encouraged, and upheld. We are commanded by God to obey the government – even the unjust and the wicked, as far as we are able without disobeying the command of God. So, back in the second century when the Roman government forbid churches from having festive meals – what we call potlucks – because they feared the church, the church complied, even though it was not a just rule. When the Romans forbid the church from worshipping, the church had to obey God rather than man. As one early Christian responded when called before the authorities and told not to worship – we can not live without the Lord’s Supper.

We don’t reject all judgment. And if you carry an office of authority, you have a responsibility to use that office and authority and to make judgments for the sake of good order – whether it be parent, police, teacher, landlord, employer, etc.

Private judgments are those made outside of an office of authority. So, if you are a judge or on a jury, you may sentence someone to prison. But you don’t get to imprison your neighbor in your basement because you saw him steal flowers from your garden.

What applies as actions in obvious situations, Jesus says we are to do also in our words, and in our thoughts. We do not talk about our neighbor to others, even if we think he is a thief. We call the authorities God has instituted. It’s one thing if you see someone walking off with your belongings. It’s another if something is missing, and you decide to tell your neighbors who you think did it, even if you don’t have any evidence. Luther says in the Large catechism, if you know something, “Why do you not make accusation to regular judges?” If you won’t tell those responsible for making judgments according to their office, then you should not make any statement about it at all. Saying anything that makes your neighbor look bad – even if it is the truth – is gossip if you say it to anyone but the proper authorities.

Jesus is not telling the church that it can not speak the Law about sin, or make judgments about doctrine. That’s an obvious misuse of Jesus words. Instead we are to do things in an orderly way, according to the authorities which God has given us and to no other place.

And all of this is because of the first sentence Jesus says, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” : The goal is always mercy. Even if we punish criminals – we do so because they harm their neighbor unjustly. Stealing, assault, vandalism, corruption and embezzlement, and so on. They take what is not theirs and so deprive their neighbor of it. In love and mercy, we must punish such sinful actions, for the good of all.

But the goal of that is that there be order, that men don’t cheat, steal, cause harm. The church is given no authority it punish. Punishment is given only to the worldly authorities. The church has only the power of the Word. And we always use that toward forgiveness – the mercy of God. The goal of everything the church does is the forgiveness of sins. Even when the church must remove someone who refuses to hear and abide by the word of God, we do it so that they would recognize that their sin is great, repent of that sin and return to Christ and His church.

Why do we preach the Law? So that people would know their sins and repent of them, and turn to Christ for forgiveness. Why do we have divine Service? So that people can come and receive the forgiveness given through the body and the blood. Why do we baptize babies? So that Jesus would be given the little ones. So that they would have the mercy and love of the Father poured over them in that water. Jesus says “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.” We see that mercy most clearly in Jesus – who went into death for you. Having been freed from the Law by Jesus death and resurrection, we really have no cause to judge others who sin against us. Instead, we are to be merciful – loving and kind – to all whom God places in our life. Whether it be disciplining a child in love, or forgiving an enemy the wrong he committed against us. We live lives that are defined by the mercy and love of God through Jesus Christ. And we show that mercy and love to others in all we do.

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