Today’s readings center around the realities of our Christian life as people redeemed by Jesus Christ, but waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body, and the glories to be revealed. Until that day, we are in need of instruction on how we live together in this life, both in the Church and in the world. Besides instructions on moral living—how we keep the Law of God, what sins we are to avoid, and the like—our biggest need of instruction in Christian living is how to live with one another in forgiveness. Jesus gives us the model of how we must live together: we must be more eager to forgive than to hold onto anger or resentment, we must be zealous for our neighbors’ spiritual and eternal wellbeing, and crowning all of that is a life of repentance and reception of Jesus’ forgiveness which makes us able to live in God-pleasing ways.
The first thing Jesus tells us to do is to freely give forgiveness as He has given it to us. Jesus says “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.” The idea behind this is measuring flour in a cup. A legal measure is simply scooping a level cupful of flour. What Jesus describes is packing the flour, filling the empty space, and repeating the process until the cup is overflowing. The idea is giving a superabundance, more than what is paid for or deserved. This is how Jesus forgives you! He doesn’t just forgive once, but continually whenever you repent. And on top of that, He washes away all your sin completely, blots it out, remembers it no more. If God so forgives you, how ought you approach your neighbor in forgiveness? Should you hold onto their sin, tucking it away for a time you need to recall it to gain an advantage over them? By no means! While Christ-like forgiveness is impossible for us to do, it doesn’t mean we mustn’t strive towards it as much as possible by the Holy Spirit’s aid. Living together in the Church and in the world needs forgiveness for any semblance of a peaceable life. If all we do is harbor resentment and anger, it will overtake us. “For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” If you hold onto your neighbor’s sin, refuse to forgive it, and hold it over them, they will do the same to you and it will destroy your horizontal relationships and eventualy your relationship with God. And remember what St. John said in the Epistle Reading we heard just a few weeks ago: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20-21).
Loving your brother is not just forgiveness. It is also encouraging them in a faithful, God-pleasing life. Today’s Gospel is often taken out of context and divorced from a faithful Christian life. Twenty-first century culture hears things like “judge not” and “condemn not” and thinks it means that no one can say anything to anyone about their behavior. That is the most hateful idea ever put forward! That interpretation of Jesus’ Words is a lie, and is from Satan, the father of lies. Picture this scenario: a bridge has been demolished on a dark country road and bored teenagers have stolen all the barricades. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the road will drive off the cliff and into the water below. Tell me, what is the loving response: ignoring the problem, saying that it’s not your responsibility to tell people how or where to drive, or standing guard yourself until the appropriate authorities can replace the barricades, preventing unaware motorists from plummeting to certain death? Quite obviously, the latter response is the truly loving one! In fact, the first response—ignoring the problem and letting people do whatever they want—is irresponsible and hateful. But the first response is what people call for when they think that Jesus’ words, “Judge not and you shall not be judged,” means no one should say anything to anyone about their sinful and harmful behavior. Especially as Christians, ignoring our neighbor’s sins because we don’t want to upset them or rock the boat or whatever, is sin. Allowing your neighbor to sin, potentially destroying their faith and going to hell, is a violation of the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” Remember the Catechism’s explanation: “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” When Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn, He is not telling us that we are to remain silent, but not to cast eternal judgment because that is only for God Himself to do. We are to judge temporally between good and evil, to recognize what is good and bad for our spiritual wellbeing and that of our neighbors as well. So, do not condemn, that is, call down God’s eternal damnation on someone, because that is not a duty given to you to do. But, speak the truth in love. Call the erring neighbor to repentance because you love them and do not want them to perish eternally.
But what overarches all of this is Jesus’ Words in His parable: “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” In short: repent. Lament your own sin. Turn to the cross, to your Baptism where Jesus’ work on the cross was given to you. These things God wants you to do can only happen if first you are forgiven. When Jesus forgives you all your sins and you see what a burden is lifted off your shoulders by that freeing Word of Absolution, you desire the same for your neighbor who has sinned against you, and you extend to them the same forgiveness extended to you. And you can only lead your neighbor to recognize their sin and turn from it when you walk with them to a loving God, to the cross, and to the newness of life given only in Christ Jesus. You can only lead them to the repentant new life when you are open with them about your own sin that is forgiven in Jesus and how the Gifts He gives you in Word and Sacrament continually give that forgiveness and give you the Holy Spirit and His gifts of strength and fidelity to turn from the sins that tempt you. You have to show them that you are walking this journey with them, that you are no better than they are. If all you do is demand the amendment of a sinful life but don’t express that you are just as sinful, you are a hypocrite. When you show them how you, too, are groaning under the burden of sin, that your only reliance is Christ and that He is theirs, you are able to bear each other’s burdens and live together under the grace and mercy of Christ.
The hard fact is that you won’t do this perfectly. I don’t either. But the glorious truth is that there is forgiveness for this sin and all others. In the Blood of Jesus Christ is the delivery from the bondage of corruption and into the glorious liberty of the children of God. When you sin, Jesus forgives you. You may have sins worse than Joseph’s brothers from today’s Old Testament Reading, but there is forgiveness. Like we heard last week: There is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents. God is eager to receive you back to Himself through the work of His Son and Holy Spirit, and He wants the same for everyone whom He has created. So flowing from that Divine love shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the gift of Word and Sacrament, of the continual forgiveness of God. This is where we all meet as forgiven sinners, transformed by God’s grace. Forgiven by Him, we are able to walk together, eagerly awaiting that day when sin is no more and we stand in God’s glory.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.