A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Romans 8:18-23 & St. Luke 6:36-42
by William Klock
Last week’s lessons were all about grace—about the unmerited favour that God has shown to us. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Pharisees didn’t understand that. They would have rewritten those words from Romans to say something like, “While we were so righteous, Christ came to affirm us.” Self-righteous people don’t understand grace. That’s exactly why Jesus spent time with the tax collectors and sinners—with the people who knew that they were sinners, who knew that they stood condemned before God, and who knew that they needed a Saviour. They were ready to hear Jesus’ message of grace and they were ready to turn to the cross for forgiveness. But as we also saw last week, we can’t humbly accept the saving work of Jesus at the cross and then turn around and be proud in our other relationships. If we’ve truly received the grace of God, if we truly understand what grace means—that it’s God’s favour that we really, really, do not deserve—that should have a practical impact on how we deal with others. If God has forgiven us so much, we can never be proud, unloving, unforgiving, or bitter towards others, no matter who they are or what they’ve done to us. Humility is the way into the kingdom.
Our collect and lessons today take us to the next step. If living in the kingdom means living humbly—living graciously—living in the kingdom also means living in mercy. We don’t always fully understand what that means. Yes, we get that to be saved we have to receive God’s mercy, but brothers and sisters, mercy doesn’t stop there. We need to continually pray for and live in God’s mercy so that we can persevere to the end. As we prayed just few minutes ago in the Collect: “Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; so that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.”
Today’s collect and lessons—especially the Epistle—were seared into my brain about five years ago. I was on my way home from work, it was a hot day, and the fan switch on my Honda quit working in traffic on the freeway. My head gasket blew and the cylinder head cracked. Thankfully I managed to get off the freeway. I called a tow truck, but it was going to be more than an hour wait. And as I sat there in my car on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck to show up, I had with me in my bag my laptop and my Prayer Book. I needed something to do for an hour that would take my mind of the fear that I was looking forward to a very expensive car repair. Stupid me, I went for the laptop in the hopes that I might be able to pick up a wireless signal and do some web surfing to kill the time. But in his infinite wisdom and perfect knowledge of what I really needed, God saw fit that my laptop battery was dead, so instead I pulled out my Prayer Book and spent an hour contemplating the lessons for that week—the same one we just read this morning. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
We need these little reminders from him sometimes. A friend of mine calls times like that “Psalm 27 Days,” because it was on those days that the only way he could get through the events surrounding him was to rely on the promises of God in that Psalm:
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?
When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord. (Psalm 27:1-6)
When things get rough those are words we can take to heart—words we can make our own prayer. We can have confidence in the words of St. Paul in our Epistle: “I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Our Old Testament lesson from Lamentations reminds us that God is looking out for us no matter how bad things look to us: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
This is a lesson we need to hear. It’s a lesson that exhorts us to live as kingdom people—people living in grace and living in mercy. Who here doesn’t have things going on in life that are hard to deal with? Today the Epistle assures us as it gives us that reminder of our situation: the host camped around us, the misery of the world, the sufferings of our time, the futility of so much that goes on around us, and the inward groaning of the redeemed as we wait for deliverance from it all. But the point of St. Paul’s words is that all this misery and difficulty are temporary things, in fact, it’s all part of God’s mercy as he works all things for our good. Again, we come back to God’s love. Last week’s lessons showed us how God’s love manifests itself as grace and this week we see how it manifests itself as mercy. All these trials are a part of God’s plan, as he mercifully prepares us to be his redeemed children. Our Gospel lesson takes it a step further. As we hear St. Paul describing God’s mercy, we also hear Jesus’ words calling us to imitate our Father and to show mercy to others. God has been merciful to us and has prepared amazing things for our benefit. We need to take him as our model and Jesus gives us examples in the areas of judging, condemning and forgiving. The loving mercy of our Father shown to us should be the motive and the guide of our mercy in our relationships with others.
If St. Paul could be confident in the mercy of God, then so can we. His words in Romans 8 describe his calm assurance that God’s divine plan for mercy is working all things for good, and that what might seem at the time terrible to us, is really a part of God’s plan and that those same “terrible” things aren’t just consistent with God’s love, but they are in fact themselves instances of God’s love.
Sometimes as Christians we sell people a false bill of goods. I’ve heard evangelists tell people that once they turn to Jesus they’ll never have any more problems. There are preachers out there saying that if you’ve got problems in your life it’s because you don’t have enough faith. And a lot of us might recognise we’ve got problems, but somehow we’ve got the idea that because we’re Christians we can’t let anyone know about them—we have to hide them so that no one knows our lives aren’t perfect. I wonder how many people have been brought into the Church having been sold a false bill of goods—thinking that life with Jesus is always going to be one big party and that once they make him their Lord everything will be smooth sailing. All too often, I think, we’re afraid to answer the question of suffering. Sometimes we don’t know how to answer the world’s questions: “Why does a good God allow suffering?” We’re afraid to answer so we ignore suffering altogether or we gloss over it. St. Paul doesn’t do that. He writes about “the sufferings of this present time,” about the “futility” or apparent failure under which creation is groaning with us, and about the troubles and sufferings even of those “who have the first fruits of the Spirit.” None of that shook his faith in the mercy of God. How often do we look around us and mentally create a scale and put all the suffering and evil on one side and the good on the other, only to despair because, by our limited impression, it looks like the scale is completely weighted down on the side of evil. We get depressed. We mope. We get angry with God. St. Paul knew better than to trust in his own perception of things, because he had the assurance of what we find in God’s own words throughout Scripture and the examples he’s left us of his dealings with men and women throughout history. St. Paul saw that mental scale loaded down on the side of evil, but he knew that even if the side of the balance for good was completely empty of anything he could see, all he had to do was to place God’s promise of mercy over there and it would tip the side of evil up into the air and bottom out the side of good. He travelled the Roman Empire as a missionary and saw the world at its darkest and most evil, and he acknowledges what he saw, but he says, “I consider, I reckon…”
He doesn’t give us a full explanation as to why God allows evil, but he gives us an answer that should be enough for us—an answer that changes our perspective and makes our trials a lot easier to bear. He writes,
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
Suffering is only temporary. If you put it in perspective you realise that suffering is a thing of the present that will soon be a part of history. Not long from now it will only be a memory. When you look at it that way our present situation is nothing compared to our future in glory. Think of today as a dot. For that matter, think of your entire life, even if you live to a hundred, think of that as a dot. And then picture a line running from that dot off into the distance, going on forever. That line is eternity. When you picture it that way, the dot is nothing compared to the line that stretches off behind it. Our present situation amounts to very little, no matter how bad it might seem right now, when we compare it to our future and the promise of God that we will be glorified. And if we think about the hardships we face, consider that God has only that little dot—this short time we have here on earth—to prepare us for Glory. Is it any wonder that we have to deal with so much in so short a time? And consider how much we resist learning his lessons and so he has to teach them to us over and over until we do learn.
St. Paul goes on:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:19-22)
Suffering isn’t just temporary—it’s also transitional. It’s not just passing away—it’s passing into something better. Suffering is a necessary part of our journey to glory. It’s a part of our education. Think back to all those classes you had to take in school that you hated, but that in hindsight you now realize you benefited from.
When I started University I was an architecture major. I’d planned on being an architect from the time I was four years old and there was no one who could tell me that I should do anything differently. But being an architecture major meant taking Calculus and it didn’t take long to figure out that Calculus was something I was never going to get the hang of. I aced every other course and was number one in my first year architecture studio, but there was something nagging at the back of my mind. In hindsight I know that it was God trying to tell me that he had other plans. I wouldn’t listen and God used that Calculus course to get me out of architecture. It was the only course I ever failed and at the time it meant sleepless nights and a lot of stress, but I now consider it one of the most gracious things God ever did for me, because he used it to get me off of my own track and firmly onto his.
Our times of suffering are God’s plan of education. The future won’t erase the past, but it will take the character and the shape that’s being built right now in our present trials. God is using the present to mold and shape us and to prepare us for the future. All the futility we see and the apparent failure of God’s creation around us in the present is just the beginning of a journey toward deliverance from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. The groans of Creation will be transformed into praise, and the groans of the saints of God will be transformed into the final song of redemption.
It’s a lot like braces. Who’s had braced on their teeth before? I hated those things. You go in and the orthodontist twists and tweaks the wire and attached it to the brackets on your teeth and within just a few minutes you start to feel that ache. And as the hours go by it gets worse and worse. It hurts to eat anything. And then a week or two later, just when the ache is starting to go away and just when it doesn’t hurt so much to bite down on things you go back and they do it all over again. It’s miserable, but in the end you’ve got straight teeth. God’s does his spiritual work in us in a similar way. In his providence and in his wisdom he takes us through the hard times of life so that he can teach us how to rely on him—how to live in his grace. It’s hard and sometimes it hurts, but it teaches us to mourn who we used to be and rejoice in what we are becoming! God transforms sinners into saints and makes us ready to join him at his heavenly banquet.
But it’s not just we who are transformed by this. St. Paul goes on:
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
The glorification that comes at the end of our suffering isn’t just limited to us. At the Fall allcreation fell into suffering and God’s restoration will include all creation too. Creation has suffered because of the consequences of our sins and so it will be included in our restoration. Even now it waits around us in expectation for the revelation of the children of God while our slow process of transformation plods along. This is St. Paul’s understanding of divine mercy. He didn’t just mope because things are bad. He saw in the situation of this life a gracious process of healing that will one day be completed and perfected in a time when the mystery of suffering and pain will be solved in the light of the mystery of his love.
The mercy that God shows us is our example as we deal with others. As I said earlier, God’s mercy is our motive, our pattern, and our measure of our interactions with those around us. The practical side of this is the focus of Jesus’ words in our Gospel lesson:
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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.(St. Luke 6:36-38)
As God has been merciful to us, we need to be merciful to those around us. That means showing mercy rather than being critical. Being judgmental is the exact opposite of having a merciful spirit. When we judge wrongly we’re setting up a standard of conduct that will apply to us just as much as to the person we’re judging. God makes us our own judges and will weigh us with our own weights. When you look back on all the times you’ve been judgmental and think about God weighing you with your own weights, it should scare you. Expecting perfection from someone else is a foolish thing in that respect, because in doing so we’re raising the standard for ourselves too—raising it to a standard we can’t measure up to anymore than the person we’ve judged. And just approaching this in practical terms, a harsh and critical spirit on our part will come pouring back in on us from those around us. In contrast, love will be poured back onto the loving, forgiveness on the forgiving, and mercy on the merciful. In fact, when we allow God’s character to be our model and to shine through us, his blessings and the blessing of others will pour in on us so that we’ll be left amazed at the “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.”
Please pray with me: Our Father, you are the protector of all who put their trust in you; multiply in us your gracious mercy and be our guide and ruler so that we may pass through the trials of this temporary life and be made ready for eternity. Remind us, we pray, to live in the assurance that you are in control, working all things for our good, as we are day by day drawn closer to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.