Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Fourth Sunday After Trinity, 7/14/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Fourth Sunday After Trinity, click here.
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Once, years ago, a teacher of mine told me never to poll the congregation, and so I won’t. But I wish I could, because I’d love to know whether you thought this was good news or bad – that when you are fully trained, you will be like your teacher.
Perhaps it depends on who your teacher is. Is it Jesus? Is it someone else? Is it yourself? How can you know? What questions could you ask?
Well, you can start with Jesus’ teaching about judging others. These words to His disciples are Law, and so they occasion self-examination.
Have you demanded more of others than you ought? Have you judged others unfairly, with a double standard?
If that seems too abstract, just ask yourself if you’ve ever driven in Boston traffic. Did you get upset when the guy in front of you misjudged and had to stop suddenly; or when the guy in the BMW cut you off as an expression of his entitlement?
When Brady fumbled for no apparent reason with just two minutes left in the Superbowl, did it occur to you that you probably would have held on?
When the President took a less than perfect trade deal, did you fold up the paper in disgust, convinced that you could have gotten a better one?
When you came home from work to find your house a wreck, your children crying, and no plan for dinner, were you upset because you imagined that you would have had the whole scene looking like the set of Mary Poppins?
And when your spouse came home upset at the mess, did you wonder just what the heck they were doing all day that made it fair to come back full of such indignation?
Who is your teacher? Is it not yourself? Have you not become your own teacher?
This would explain the unfair critiques and criticisms; the imbalanced judgments and condemnations. This would explain how you can withhold forgiveness and mercy, as if they were the reward a child receives for eating all his broccoli.
The logs in your eyes have brought on a double vision, one that is blurry and unfocused. Logs appear to be specs and specs appear to be logs. You appear to be fine, and the world has gone mad.
Repent. You are not as wise as you think. But you can be made wise. You do not see as well as you ought, but you can be made to see.
Though you would teach yourself, you have a Teacher, and you have been taught better. Though you have logs in your eyes, you have a Teacher who sees perfectly, and removes them.
Jesus is your Rabbi; He is your Teacher. But He is also your Savior and Lord.
He does not merely point out flaws and give useful lessons. Jesus pulls the logs out of your eyes, those sins that blind you. He takes them away from you. And then He lashes them together and dies on them. And He does it for you.
On the cross Jesus, Your Redeemer, and Teacher, shows you how merciful Your Father is. He does not forgive you because you are forgiving. The atonement is not an if-then, as though your Father will be merciful if you are.
The most straightforward translation from the Greek is also the clearest:
Be merciful. And your Father is merciful.
Period. Full stop. Your Father was merciful first. He is merciful now.
And this ought to be evidenced in your life. Your mercy toward others is to reflect the mercy of your Father.
That mercy will not be perfect because you are not yet fully trained. And so you are not yet as much like your Teacher as you should hope. But this ought not prevent you from showing mercy and forgiveness.
Joseph was still a sinner to be sure. And so, the mercy and forgiveness he showed to his brothers was not perfect. But by God’s grace, with the aid of His Holy Spirit, Joseph did give a picture of His own Father’s mercy.
It must also be said that these words of Jesus do not mean that Christians may never judge. You are, in fact, called upon to be your brothers’ keepers. You are to take notice of specs and logs alike, but with empathy, humility, and patience. Thus, St. Paul addresses the Church in Galatia this way:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression,
you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
It is the merciful thing to do, even if men hate you for it. Better for them to curse your name now in this life for your warnings, than for them to curse your name later for your silence. And remember that it is only possible for you to see their specks and logs when Jesus has removed yours first.
But since He has removed them, go be merciful. Your Father is merciful.
Be patient. Your Father is patient.
Forgive. Your Father is forgiving.
Be gracious. Your Father is gracious.
He has poured out His Gifts on you in abundance:
Family and Friends,
Knowledge and Wisdom,
Spiritual Sight and Hearing,
Word and Sacrament,
Baptism and Eucharist,
Life and Salvation,
Now and Forever;
And all of it in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, overflowing into your lap.