Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Trinity (September 14, 2014)

LEVITICUS 9:9-18
GOD’S WILL IS TO SEEK MERCY FOR YOUR NEIGHBOR.

In the name + of Jesus.

     As the Lord gave his commandments to his people, he continued to repeat the phrase: “I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:10,12,14,16,18)  The Lord put his name on his Law because the Law is good and right and holy.  It is good, right, and holy because God is good, right, and holy.  This particular portion of God’s Law is summed up in the final verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) 
     You recognize that God’s Law is good when you consider how other people treat you.  You recognize that it is good that no one defames your reputation or tells lies about you.  It is good when no one tries to con you, defraud you, or deceive you.  It is good when no one is working behind your back to get some kind of revenge on you.  And it is good when your fellow man grants you the same patience, understanding, and kindness that you wish people would have for you. 
     Now, if the commandments are right and good when others treat you this way, they are also right and good in defining how you treat others.  It is good that you do not hurt or harm your neighbor in his body.  It is right that you see your neighbor’s good in his marriage, in his possessions, in his name, in his honor, or in his business.  And it is good that you be merciful, kind, and patient with him as you would want him to be with you.  God’s will is that you seek mercy for your neighbor.
     God punctuates all of these commandments with this reminder: “I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:10,12,14,16,18)  The Lord God is holy.  His word and his will are holy.  And since you bear his name, he expects you, too, to be holy.  You bear a holy status before him for the sake of Jesus who has redeemed you.  And that holy status is to be seen in your words and actions toward your neighbor.  God’s will is to seek mercy for your neighbor.
     Now, all of this sounds good, but you know how this all works in practice.  Each commandment is a stab to the heart, as it highlights that you have not done the good that God seeks from you.  You have borne the grudge against your neighbor.  You have lied to him to take advantage of him.  You have shown partiality to others—either because you thought siding with the rich would produce a favor, or because you thought that opposing the rich made you a more noble person. 
     “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)  The Lord is not vague in this command.  But we are like the lawyer from the gospel.  We want to know—who does God really mean here?  Who is my neighbor?  You and I are pretty good about serving our loved ones.  Even pagans are good at that.  But you and I show very limited mercy to the stranger.  We have none to show to someone who is a jerk or a schmuck.  God does not limit it in any way.  God does not limit the audience whom you are to love.  Nor does God put a quota on how much good you are to do.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)  That means the people you like, the people you don’t know, and even the jerk and the schmuck.  And it means that you always seek their good.
     God’s will is to seek mercy for your neighbor.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)  You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)  You bear the name of Jesus, but you do not reflect the love of Jesus.  You have not gone and done likewise.  You have not regarded your fellow man as someone whom God has given you to serve, but as a pest who should be shooed away as fast as possible.  You have withheld your love from your neighbor.  Repent!
     God’s Law is good and right and holy.  But it also shows us that we are not.  God’s Law is good and right and holy because God is.  God’s will is to seek the mercy of our neighbor because God does.  Jesus declared, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)  Yes, your heavenly Father is merciful.  He sent Jesus not merely to tell you about what it means to be merciful, but to be merciful to you.  Jesus did not limit the audience he would be merciful to.  He had mercy on all—on his loved ones, on the stranger, the jerk, the schmuck, and even on the ones who demanded his death.  Jesus did not put a quota on how much good he would do.  He came to be merciful and to save.
     Jesus had mercy upon you by fulfilling all that God’s commandments require.  Jesus did not profane the name of the Lord his God.  Rather, in the name of his God and Father, Jesus served his neighbor with healing, mercy, and compassion.  Jesus did not show favoritism among the people he preached to; for, there was no difference—from the most learned scribe to the most simple peasant.  All were sinners.  All were called to repent.  All needed salvation.  And so Jesus came for all and supplied righteousness and forgiveness to all.  There is no favoritism, for Jesus does not deliver different salvations to anyone.  He has had mercy on all people.  Jesus does not even steal us away from death, the devil, and damnation.  Rather, Jesus paid to get us from them.  Jesus offered up his own holy life and poured out his own innocent blood as the cost to redeem us and set us free.  This is God’s will—that Jesus seek mercy for his fellow man.
     Jesus did not take revenge on people—though he had every right to.  All are sinners, and that means that all have sinned against him.  The problem is not limited to those who shouted, “Crucify him!” or who smacked him and mockingly demanded, “Prophesy!  Who hit you?”  The problem is with you and me.  With our sins, we have slapped God in the face.  And yet, God does not seek revenge or even harbor a grudge against us.  Mercy upon mercies!—he has sought our salvation!  Jesus endured the wrath of God for us.  God emptied his vengeance upon his own Son, Jesus, so that you are forgiven of all your sins.  Jesus was shown no mercy so that God would have mercy upon you.  He did not limit his target audience.  He died for all.  He did not put a quota on his mercy.  He takes away all your sins.  This is God’s will—that sinners be saved, that sins be forgiven, and that mercy is shown to mankind.  God our heavenly Father has had mercy upon us, and has sent his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for us.  You are forgiven.  You have been shown mercy.
     As he gave his Law, the Lord punctuated all of these commandments with this reminder: “I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:10,12,14,16,18)  That Lord has redeemed you and has put his name on you.  Now, you are holy before him.  And not only before him, but you are to be holy before the world.  You have been set apart from all that is cursed, and you have been called blessed.  Just as you are children of the heavenly Father, you shall be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.  Seek mercy for your neighbor, whether your neighbor is your spouse, child, co-worker, boss, a stranger, or even a schmuck.  This is how you love and serve your neighbor as yourself.  You do it because your neighbor needs this mercy, kindness, and compassion.  It doesn’t matter if he does not deserve it; you don’t either.  But God’s will is to seek mercy for one’s neighbor.  God sought yours and, in this way, brought you forgiveness and salvation.  Your neighbor needs your mercy, and by your words and actions, your neighbor may also learn of the Lord’s love, forgiveness and salvation, too.  This is God’s will.  It is good and right and holy, just as God is and just as God has declares you to be.


In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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