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The First Item on the Agenda (St. Luke 6.36-42)

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

“The First Item on the Agenda”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus

St. Luke 6.36-42

27 June 2021



Any successful meeting, including those in the church, should have an agenda. An agenda is simply a list or a plan of things to do or discuss. An agenda keeps us on track, or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to do. Over my 40 years in office I’ve had to sit through many meetings that didn’t follow an agenda and we ended up wasting everyone’s valuable time. Synodical conventions can be big offenders even though there is an elaborate agenda. Discussion often ended up in the weeds! We can lose track of what is most important, what demands our immediate attention.

The Sermon on the Plain, as St. Luke calls it, is not meant for the general public. It’s meant only for disciples, that is, only Christians. To keep us on track during this sermon I’m following an agenda. There is an order to what Jesus says in his catechetical instruction. Jesus implores us to to love our enemies, to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful to us. Therefore, “The First Item on the Agenda” is repentance. It is that log in your own eye, the log in my eye. It must be removed before we can be merciful to others.

Getting that log out is painful, much more painful than that little splinter. Growing up I used to get those splinters in my eyes while playing. They hurt and sometimes I’d have to go in and have my father or mother try to find it. Usually it was lodged under my eyelid and their treatment consisted pulling of my eyelid and fishing with the corner of my dad’s handkerchief to try to retrieve said splinter. I remember well the words they spoke, “Hold still! Hold still!” No matter how times my father might have used it, sterilization of said handkerchief was not considered. As kids we even drank out of the garden hose! We rode bikes without helmets! Those were different times! But sometimes that splinter was stubborn and my father would retrieve the dreaded glass eyewash cup from the medicine cabinet! I knew it was going to hurt because it was plain tap water that was used along with the corner of his handkerchief.

Jesus has given us a verbal cartoon, so to speak. A log contrasted with a splinter! A log is very large while a splinter is insignificant. Imagine how much it must hurt to have that log taken out! Major surgery! But that’s what Jesus says. He’s talking about repentance. Real repentance is always painful because it involves a drowning, a death. That’s what the Apostle Paul calls it in Romans 6. Luther calls it the daily drowning of the Old Adam. We fear that more than having someone take a splinter out of our eye.

The second item on our agenda centers in acts of mercy. You and I are to be as merciful to others as our heavenly Father has been to us. We must get this right! When Jesus says, ” . . . forgive, and you will be forgiven,” he doesn’t make your forgiveness with God depend upon your efforts. Remember that he has already bestowed the Father’s mercy on you in Holy Baptism. We forgive because God has forgiven us first. “We love because he first loved us.” [1 John 5.19] God forgives solely by grace for Christ’s sake through faith. Mercy is what a Christian practices with others because you have already received mercy in Christ. Literally, the Greek says “continue being merciful” and it connects with what you have already received from the Father. God’s mercy is to flow through you to others. Here in this sanctuary you receive God’s mercy continually through Word and Sacrament. The fountain of God’s mercy overflows from the never empty chalice of Christ’s holy blood.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and lawyers did not practice mercy. Jesus called them “blind guides, blind fools” [Matt. 23.16, 17] because acted hypocritically and showed no mercy to others. They refused to lift the burdens they placed on others but presumed to judge them for their failures. [Luke 11.46]. They judged everyone else as unworthy of the kingdom of heaven without realizing that they had shut themselves out. [Luke 11.52]

Sadly, this Pharisaism lives on. Many neither know nor practice mercy. They know only accusation and recrimination born of hatred of the things of God. The “Woke” crowd has been labeled by some as “The New Puritans,” a reference to the early New England settlers who practiced a rigid and unbending hypocritical faith. They censored those they considered to be worse sinners than they and singled them out for punishment, like making adulterous women wear a scarlet A on their foreheads or shaming people by putting them in the stocks where others mocked them. They were the spiritual descendants of the Pharisees who believed themselves to be morally superior to others they called “sinners.” They were not able to notice the log in their own eye.

These new Puritans, however, have no god except that which they have invented, namely, themselves. At the altar of self-righteousness they worship for all to see. Mercy is not practiced by them except to certain elites who get a free pass. Most are condemned to be outcast from society because they are considered irredeemable. If no mercy is given, there can be no forgiveness either. A violator of the ever-changing code of language and conduct is “one and done,” outcast, canceled forever. In this electronic age something one said 30 years ago can be dredged up and a kangaroo court is held. Guilty! There is no defense. One is damned forever even if such conduct is merely perceived to be “intolerant.” No attempt can or will be made to take the splinter out of that person’s eye. That individual has been damned by the court of public opinion. No mercy is shown. This man-devised religion can be traced directly to the father of lies, the old snake, the deceiver of all mankind, who seeks to bring all to ruin.

This second item on our agenda reminds us that you and I are not in the position of judging others’ sins. Let’s be careful that we don’t practice self-righteousness here. This passage is often used against Christians for telling the truth about certain sins but our Lord has not commanded us to be silent in the face of sin. If so, then John the Baptizer got what he deserved for calling out Herod’s and Herodias’ sin. So too, the Apostles, most of whom were martyred for telling the truth. The public office of preaching and teaching is the place for this. Christians may also make clear that it is God who condemns sins which threaten to overwhelm common decency and our whole society. When someone tries to use that against you it might be better for you to say, “Well, I am not condemning you. You’ll have to take it up with God.” Remember what we heard a few weeks back about the Holy Spirit convicting the world of sin [John 16.8].

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. [Jn 16:8–11]

You may get that snarky reply, “Well, MY God wouldn’t condemn anyone.” Of course, the idol this person has created is merely an image of himself. He’s blinded by himself.

We come back to mercy. You surely don’t want even your enemy to fall into the pit because he is spiritually blind. That person may not want God’s truth about his sin but you can be merciful to him nonetheless. He may not want your mercy but give it anyway. You see, it is our Father’s will that all receive his mercy in Christ and it takes fellow human beings to deliver it. You can speak the truth without doing it in a condemning way.

You heard the outcome of Joseph’s life in our Old Testament reading. What his brothers did to him was unforgivable, some would say. It would be pretty hard to let go of that hurt. It was evil. Joseph’s brothers feared retaliation. They knew that they deserved it. They expected it.

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. [Ge 50:21].

Joseph didn’t put himself in the place of God by condemning them. Neither should we. Joseph is an antitype of our Lord who prayed for his enemies on the cross,

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Lk 23:34].

“The First Item on the Agenda” for the Christian must always be repentance. And the second is sharing the mercy of God in Christ Jesus so that your brother is rescued from the pit.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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