“Sharing in Your Father’s Character” (Luke 6:27-38)

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 20, 2022

“Sharing in Your Father’s Character” (Luke 6:27-38)

Listen to the things Jesus tells us to do today: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.”

Sounds like a tall order! Are you up to it? Well, I’m going to say yes! Why? Because you, dear Christian, you share in your Father’s character.

Yeah, I think Jesus really expects his disciples to do these things. This is not a trick. This is not a trap. Jesus really means for us to live this way. But we come up with all kinds of excuses, don’t we? How easily we dismiss what Jesus has to tell us!

One common excuse is that this is a trick, it is a trap. Jesus doesn’t really expect us to do these things. I mean, come on! Jesus knows that we’re sinners and that these sorts of things are way beyond ability to do. Really, love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you? Get real! Nobody can do that. Well, OK, maybe Jesus can do those things, but then he’s the Son of God. We’re not.

So why does Jesus tell us these things? According to this line of thinking, it’s to show us that we can’t do them. He wants us to try, and then when we fall flat on our face, we’ll be driven back to Jesus for forgiveness, and that’s the only point in here. Since you’re a sinner, you are unable to do any love beyond the ordinary, which is just to love the people who love you. You are a sinner, and therefore are unable to do good works. But when you realize that, it’s OK, because you’re forgiven, Jesus died on the cross, and thus you can dismiss the idea that Jesus really expects us to live like this. End of sermon.

Now there’s a little grain of truth in this. You are a sinner. You will not be able to do all these things perfectly. You will fail. And thus you do need to come back to Jesus for forgiveness on a regular basis. All that is true. But that’s not all there is to this. It’s a gross oversimplification. It only tells one side of the story.

But that’s what you’ll hear in some places. There are those who call themselves “radical Lutherans.” They say that you should never preach like Jesus does here–or like Paul does, or Peter, or John, in their epistles. They say you should not exhort Christians to a life of love and good works, because that’s just dumping law on their heads. The preacher should only mention these things in order to get people to realize that they can’t do them, that they’re sinners. But that’s OK, because they’re forgiven. And that’s about as far as these so-called “radical Lutheran” preachers go. They don’t really preach that you can and should actually live this way, as Jesus instructs us here in our text.

But that’s not really the Lutheran position. In fact, confessional Lutherans are in favor of exhorting Christians to love and good works. Just don’t think that you earn your salvation by doing them. But that doesn’t mean we are against teaching Christians to do good works. Quite the contrary. Our Lutheran Confessions state: “We teach that it is necessary to do good works. . . The Holy Spirit is received through faith, hearts are renewed and given new affections, and then they are able to bring forth good works” (AC XX:27, 29). “The adversaries falsely charge that our theologians do not teach good works. They not only require good works, but they also show how they can be done.” (Ap V:15). “Christians should not be frightened away from good works, but should be admonished and urged to do them most diligently” (FC IV:40).

And that’s what Jesus is doing here in our text–and what Paul, Peter, and John do in their epistles. They are exhorting believers to live a new kind of life, different from that of the world. The Bible teaches that Christians are not only sinners–yes, we are that–but that we also are new people in Christ, enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good works. We are the baptized children of our heavenly Father. And therefore, we share in our Father’s character, which is to be merciful and loving and forgiving. That’s exactly what Jesus is teaching here in our text.

What will this new life look like? It will look like Jesus. Jesus is the Son of the Most High, who gets it exactly right. Jesus was merciful, wasn’t he? Think of all the times he had compassion on the suffering and showed mercy to the marginalized. Jesus loved his enemies, didn’t he? He prayed, “Father, forgive them,” even as they nailed him to a cross. Jesus forgave, didn’t he? He restored Peter, after Peter had denied him three times.

Jesus reveals the character of the Father to us. Your heavenly Father is kind and loving, merciful and forgiving. The psalmist says: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. . . . As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Your heavenly Father is that way, and you and I are his children. We reflect his character in our lives, in the way we treat others. “But love your enemies, and do good,” Jesus says, “and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Do you love and do good to the people who love you and are nice to you? OK, fine, but that’s nothing special. Even sinners do that, Jesus says. But you as Christians are more than sinners. You are children of your Father, and his love goes deeper than that.

Think of the love of God, how high and broad and deep and wide it is. That God would love a bunch of rebellious sinners like you and me, so that he would go so far as to send his own Son into the world? That Christ would suffer and die for us, to forgive our sins and the sins of all humanity? That is love that goes far beyond the ordinary. Now, if God has forgiven our enemies, why can’t we? We can, because we are God’s children, and we share in his character.

Are you holding a grudge against anyone? Are you waiting until that person comes crawling back to you and begs for forgiveness, and then maybe you’ll consider it? That is not the love that Jesus is teaching us today. Repent of your unforgiveness. Forgive that other person. Be reconciled with your brother or sister. Take the initiative in seeking reconciliation. This is the love that reflects who you are as God’s child.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” says Jesus. Mercy is love put into action. Mercy is practical love, in acts of service toward your neighbor. Is there anyone you know whom you can serve and help this week? Think about that. And when the opportunity arises, do it. I know you know this. I know you are doing this. I see the acts of love and service that the people of our congregation are already doing. It comes naturally to you, because you have the new nature dwelling in you.

“As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” That is a good guiding principle in life, isn’t it? We call it the Golden Rule: “Do unto others, as you as you would have them do unto you.” It’s the same as saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When you see someone else in a situation where they could use some help, think about, if you were in that situation, what you would like someone else to do for you. Then go ahead and do that for the person in need. God will give you the opportunities. When you see them, go for it. You can do it. You are a new person in Christ.

Generous, giving, loving, forgiving, going the extra mile–this is who you are, in Christ. Now, to be sure, you still have that old Adam hanging around your neck, and you will be battling that old nature until the day you die. And so, when you see yourself fail, recognize that, confess it, and come running back here to church for the forgiveness from Christ you receive here in Holy Absolution and Holy Communion. You need that. I need that. We are not yet perfect in our life of sanctification.

Yes, we are sinners. But that is not all who we are as Christians. We are God’s children. We are new people in Christ. We are energized and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus really, sincerely, expects his disciples to live the kind of life he tells us to do today.

So, ask God to help you in your new life of love and good works. We will pray for that now, in a moment, in the Prayer of the Church. And come back here to church every week to receive the help you need to live as God’s child. You’ll get that help right now in the Lord’s Supper. Through this salutary gift, you will be strengthened in faith toward God and in fervent love–not just mild, but fervent love–toward one another. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Published in: on February 18, 2022 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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