Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” What is mercy? Maybe it’s easier to say what mercy is not. Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve. Mercy means that you know exactly what someone else has said or done to hurt you, and if things are right and fair, you know precisely what they deserve. And yet, you choose to show mercy to them. You forgive them. Perhaps you even absorb yourself what they should have received.
So when Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” He is first speaking Law to us. This is how we are to be. Do this. Be merciful. But He knows perfectly well that we are not merciful, but in fact we are often full of judgment and anger, and at times even hatred toward our fellow human beings. How many times have you sat in this church, listening to God’s Word of grace and mercy, while your hearts were full of anger and judgment, even toward someone who may have been sitting near you? How many times have you looked at others, secretly with contempt, thinking that you are really a better Christian than those who don’t do as much as you do, or whose life is a mess, or who have created some kind of scandal, or whatever it may be? Every time this happens, you are forgetting this word of mercy.
Look at what Joseph said to his brothers: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” This is what Jesus meant when He said: “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” None of us stands in the place of God when it comes to passing judgment on others, especially the motives of others. It is not my job to stand as judge and jury over my fellow Christians. God is the judge of all. While we must strive to remain faithful to the Word of God, while we must endeavor to teach our neighbors what it means to be faithful, our place as Christians is to remember that we, too, are poor, miserable sinners, no better off than anyone else.
When we judge others, we do it on the basis of a corrupted and limited vision. I look and see what I don’t like in someone else, and then I condemn him or her for it. But our Father in heaven knows all and sees all. There is no sin that goes unnoticed, no misdeed that is lost. He knows all your faults, down to the very end. Even so, God is merciful! He doesn’t give you what you deserve! He doesn’t give you eternal death. He gives life in Christ, a life that is rich and full of blessing. In Holy Baptism, in the Absolution that is given your sins, in the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, in every word of the Gospel that goes in your ears, you are receiving the mercy of God! He gives you mercy! His judgment against sin has already been carried out against His Son! He doesn’t condemn you; He forgives you! He gives You Himself. He gives you that measure of grace and mercy that has no end.
Now what does this mean for you in the real world? It means everything! It means that here, in this place, you receive the one thing you need more than anything else; the mercy of God. Here your troubles are not glossed over, nor are they held up as a kind of spectacle to shame you. Here in this place, your heavenly Father gives you this great gift of mercy, so that your sins are forever washed away. He also gives you that mercy so that you may cover your neighbor’s sins, speak well of your neighbor, so you may say everything in the kindest way.
To some, I suppose, all of this is old news. “I have heard all of this before, pastor. Tell me instead how I can be a better parent; how to manage my money; how to manage my anger—you know, something really practical like that.” But as important as those things may be, the truth is this: what you need more than anything else is the mercy of God. And like the love of God, His mercy knows no boundaries; it will give you the peace of God for which your heart longs. That is why we earlier joined the Psalmist in saying: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Receive the mercy of God this day, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and know and live that life of peace with the God of mercy. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.