How Shall We Live

July 6, 2020

 

A homily for Trinity IV

July 5, 2020

All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ

 

Text: Luke 6:36-42

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

 

How shall we live in times such as these? 

Does turbulence, tribulations, confusion, and hardship change how we approach the world, our lives, and the Lord? Or does it intensify our longing to live in a true, and a good, and a beautiful manner? Does it cause us to strive to live in a way that lets our whole life be spent in and to the glory of God?

Satan can use times of calamity to push us into despair and hopelessness. Jesus, on the other hand, calls us into the warmth of his affectionate love for us. 

How then shall we live in times like these? 

This morning Jesus calls us to be merciful... to not judge… to not condemn… to forgive… and to live generously. We don't get a pass because the times are hard. Rather, Rosaria Butterfield challenges us to live out our faith – especially amidst tragedy – when she wrote, "who else but Bible-believing Christians can make redemptive sense of tragedy?... where else but a Christian home should neighbors go in times of unprecedented crisis?" 

We are living in a time of unprecedented crisis. 

A friend posted something funny the other day he noted – "in retrospect, in 2015, not a single person got the answer right to 'where do you see yourself 5 years from now?'" We did not expect this season, we did not desire this season, we did not hope to pass through this season, yet we are here. It does not diminish our call, it does not diminish that we take the time to ask that question:

How shall we live in times like these? 

And Jesus says:  

"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." 

As we start to grasp the magnitude of our sin, the tragedy that is our broken nature, and the crumbling image of God that we bear, we start to slowly, dimly grasp the love that the Father has for us. As we come to grasp His mercy for us. As we grasp that He sent His only Son. As we grasp that the second person of the Holy Trinity became incarnate man to take our sin and our brokenness upon himself. Then in this, we see the incredible mercy of the Father. Then, we grasp the call to be merciful. Then, we are called to show mercy to others. Then, when we see the depth of the Father's mercy for us, we find it irresistible to show mercy to others. 

In a world where the wrong word, the wrong tweet, the wrong ideology, a misstep in the wrong direction means that you are done, that you are now a social pariah, that your friends may very well abandon you – in a vicious and unmerciful world – be merciful. 

Do not destroy a person simply because you disagree with them. Our cultural mindset has often been classified as a cancel culture. You do anything wrong, and you're done. 

Do not misunderstand. There are plenty of evils in this world that we should condemn – racism, extremism, pride, sexual immorality, and abortion, to name but a few. Even so, Christ died for the scared young woman who had an abortion, Christ died for the racist, Christ died for the obstinate man who thinks only of himself, Christ died for the womanizer, and for the woman who thinks she can only find love if she sleeps with the man. More simply put Christ died for sinners, just like you and just like me. When we grasp that fact, when we know that HE died for us while we were yet sinners, then and only then do we grasp the incredible mercy that we have experienced. 

But Christ doesn't say, "come, stay as you are." He says, "come as you are and experience my life-changing mercy. Come, experience my life-altering love. Come, experience the grace that washes away all the sin and shame of your past – and he sets you on a new path, a good path, into a new life. 

How then shall we live in times such as these? 

Be merciful.

And Jesus says

 "Judge not, and you will not be judged."

There is no other verse in the Bible that has been more misused and abused in our modern day and age. This verse is not an excuse for moral relatively. It is not an excuse to dismiss your favorite famous person from some awful action. This verse is not a verse to excuse evil and call it good. This verse does not dismiss us from discernment. Rather it stands as a poignant reminder that we must care for our hearts. We must care for the log that is in our own eye before we blindly and foolishly attempt to care for another's malady. 

No – we are still called to discern, we are still called to call evil what it is – evil, we are still called to watch for wolves who sneak in with the desire to destroy the Christian community and souls. 

We must be willing to discern and must be willing to call evil what it is. We must, also, be slow to condemn our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must rather tend to our hearts, show them mercy, and then walk together as we are sanctified and cry out for the kingdom of heaven. 

How then shall we live in times such as these? 

Be merciful – judge not

And Jesus says:

"Condemn not, and you will not be condemned."

This runs in parallel with the judging – and tells us how we shall be concerned with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must remember that the Pharisees would heap rule upon rule upon their disciples, and make it impossible for them to live. We, too, have this pharisaical tendency. It is easy to establish our outward moral superiority, stand over the other, and say, "ah-ha – see how much better I am than you?" 

It is much harder to walk along side them. To tend to their broken soul. To see the ugliness of sin and say, "my friend Jesus still loves you, Jesus' grace is sufficient, my friend, I see your pain, your sin, the darkness of your heart, and I still love you. I still love you in all of this." 

How then shall we live in times such as these? 

Be merciful – judge not – condemn not.

And Jesus says:

"Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

There are two things we must be careful of here – and I am afraid, in my imperfection, I have tackled this poorly, so be merciful and ask if I was unclear. 

First, too often, people who have experienced severe trauma are told by the church, "you must forgive this person," and that is all they are told. In some of the darkest cases, they are pushed back into the arms of the one who has abused them. The offender goes unpunished, and the very person that we were called to care for, the meekest in our communities, ends up getting hurt again, and again. 

Too often, we talk of forgiveness as being the same as reconciliation. These are not the same. Reconciliation, reunification, reuniting require that there be repentance on the part of the one who has sinned. These things require that the offender flees from their evil action. It requires that they throw themselves into the merciful and just arms of Jesus. And even then – an abundance of caution must be taken when someone has done something truly evil to another human being. There is grace even for the most wicked if they turn to Jesus – but when it is necessary, there are also earthly consequences. Forgiveness – forgiveness is different than reconciliation. 

And this brings us to the second point. There are two ways in which forgiveness is talked about in the New Testament. What Christ is saying here does equate to forgiveness. Perhaps a better way to understanding is letting go, letting loose, or better yet – setting free. We can set the pain of our past free. We can set the wickedness done to us free. We can let go of how horrible things have been done to our hearts, souls, bodies, or loved ones. 

Even this act of letting go sets us free from the pain that we experience because of our past. We can forgive – we can set free without there being reconciliation. I have told some of you in more detail about a terribly painful season in my life. One which now that I am older and wiser I recognize as spiritual abuse. For the longest time – I hated the person who was spiritually abusive to me and others I love. I would wake up every morning seething, wake up in anger, and wake up with hatred boiling over in my heart. 

One day, by God's grace, the Holy Spirit worked through something I was reading by CS Lewis. In it, he talked of his own battle to forgive someone. He wrote of how he had prayed that he would forgive that person for twenty years. Then one day, he realized he had forgiven a deep sorrowful, hard past. And so I likewise prayed that I would forgive, and over time the pain has subsided. Over time, I have set free the pain.

If we set free the pain of the past, the pain of evil done unto us, we will be set free from it. Likewise, we will know all the more what Jesus has already done for us by setting us free from the pain of our own sin. 

This, especially in the shadow of so much evil, is difficult. The task of forgiving can be challenging and can take a long time. I know for some of you – simply going to the Lord and saying "this person did this evil thing to me, I don't know how to move on, I don't know how to live, I don't know how to proceed," may be all you can muster at this point. 

If you've faced such horrible things – please don't hear an imperative that you MUST forgive today or else. Instead, hear a gentle beaconing into Christ's immeasurable love into the healing that comes from His grace. And please, if you need to talk with someone, know that I am always more than willing to sit and listen and to walk with you through the pain you are struggling with.  

How then shall we live in times such as these? 

Be merciful – judge not – condemn not – set free. 

And Jesus says:

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

The last part of Christ's instructional words for us today is that we would be generous and it is in living generously that we find an abundance of life. Too often, these words are abused by those who would mislead – and we are told if you give to me, you will be rewarded. But this is not what Christ is saying – rather: Mercy, grace, and love – the way of Christ are not things that we can ever run out of and something he gives in abundance to all who would have them. 

I was thinking the other day about Christian love. It is not as though – if you love someone well, you will someday run out of love. Instead in learning to love them well, learning to pour out yourself, you are not diminished. Instead, you grow in love, grow in your ability to love them better, grow in your ability to care – not only for them but for all people you interact with. Love, true love, Christian love turns us outward – not inward. 

Again, C.S. Lewis writes of a fictional person in his book The Great Divorce, who was a great saint. Yet, she wasn't someone any of us would have ever heard of if she were real. She was a simple woman who loved well because she knew intimately the lof found in Christ. He wrote of her that "her motherhood was of a different kind. These on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives." 

When we live in the abundance of generosity – when we are generous with our love – generous with mercy – generous with forgiveness – when we are generous with our spiritual and temporal gifts – we find that we have an abundance of all we ever need – we find that we know the inestimable love that Christ as poured into our lives deeply and profoundly. 

Jesus' description of this abundance is graphic. It is: Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. – He speaks of measuring grain or corn, which is pushed down so more will fit into the scoop. The measuring scoop is shaken, so the grain settles and more can be fit into the scoop, and then the scoop over flows and the grain is poured into the pockets of the one who has come. 

Generosity produces generosity. 

How then shall we live in times such as these? 

Be merciful – judge not – condemn not – set free – with abundant generosity. 

And why shall we live in this way? 

We shall live in this way because we have first seen the incredible mercy of Christ. We shall live in this way because we were once blinded by our sin, but now we see. We shall live this way because we have been given a great gift. Now we know what true life is. 

The way we live reflects the faith we have in Christ. Our lives do not earn his love. Our lives do not earn his grace. Rather, his grace in us drives us to and produces in us a desire to Be merciful – to judge not – to condemn not – to set free – and to live with abundant generosity. We shall live in this way because in the world there are millions who need a friend to come alongside them, to say to them, "my dear friend, it seems you are wounded, it seems you are blind, it seems you are struggling, here, let me take this load and walk with you a pace. Allow me to show you the incredible love I have been shown in Christ." 

I started this morning with a quote from Rosaria Butterfield's book "The Gospel Comes with a House Key." I started reading this book, so I could talk with one of you about how we can foster intentionally hospitable here at All Saints so that we can show people the gospel of Jesus Christ. Butterfield starts with a story about how her neighbor – who had started as a gruff man who wanted nothing to do with her and her family. Through prayer and intentionally caring for him, love blossomed. But then – one day, DEA agents stormed that neighbor's house. She challenges her readers, when tragedy and horror strike, we can react in fear or live in love for others as we first know the love of Jesus.  

Jesus ends with "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." Christ does not say, "do not help your brother with the speck in his eye," but rather – tend to your soul, to your heart so that you can then walk with your brother who is in pain. It is not a prohibition against discernment. It is not a prohibition against calling evil for what it is – but it does call us to tend to our own heart first. It calls us to learn to love as Christ loved. 

He calls us to live in the incredible mercy of the Father, that he may be glorified. 

And so, my beloved – How then shall we live in times such as these? 

We shall live by the grace of God so that we may be merciful – that we may judge not – that we may condemn not – that we may set free – and that we may live with the abundant generosity we have been shown in Christ. 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.  

 

 

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