Balancing the Scales with Grace (Matthew 5:38-48)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany + February 19, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

It’s the way of justice, the way of accounting, and the way of nature.  An eye for an eye, reconcile every transaction, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  That’s fine for crime and punishment, economics, and science, but not fine when it comes to God.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, throw out all of your learning and experience of how things should balance.  Quit trying to keep track of what goes into which column.  It just doesn’t fit.
Here’s what happens when we do try to make the scales balance:
We think God blesses us because of our obedience.  When I go to church, everything just seems to go better!  That’s true as far the benefit of receiving the Word and Sacrament, but God is not looking to your faithfulness as reason to bless you.  Remember the catechism, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”[1]  Or even better in the words of our Lord, “He makes his son rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
The other half of that is we ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” when things go bad.  We try to connect a broken down car, a rebellious child, or severe pain with some dark secret God has found out.  If God indeed renders back to a person according to what we deserve, woe to us!  As the psalmist cries, “If you should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”[2]  Or for that matter, if God is putting out eyes, who could see?!  The Psalmist continues, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”[3]
Rather than giving us what we deserve, this is how God handles our sins.  Look back to the Introit we prayed at the beginning of service:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:8-10)
Instead of scales, when it comes to the Kingdom of heaven, we should picture the beam of the cross.   Are you looking for things to measure up?  The cross is where God settles up with humanity: “In Christ God reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”[4]  That’s where God brought all things to bear.  All human sin met all God’s wrath and the end tabulation was mercy for God’s enemies, even more than that—adoption as children with a heavenly inheritance.
But because God has quelled His wrath and canceled your debt, He is neither out to reward you for your Christian walk nor search you out as a fraud.  Instead, He has become your heavenly Father through Jesus Christ.  What makes Him a Father is that He begets children—Jesus in fact and you through faith.  You have become a child of God, and that means more than being reconciled.  It means learning the ways of Your Father.
Living in the midst of a generation that demands its rights be respected and its personal whims be catered to, that is not the way of children of God: “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Why?  Because for God, He has set aside what people deserve and replaced it with the grace of the cross.  Out of the world, He has made a Kingdom of people whose worthiness doesn’t add up and who know a God whose abundant kindness is lavished on even His enemies.
By virtue of your Baptism, the cross which marked you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified also marks you as one who sacrifices for those who may not even fully appreciate it.  The cross marks you as one for whom it doesn’t add up.  It doesn’t make rational, worldly sense to not retaliate, to do good to bullies, to give to wretched beggars who can never pay you back.
Someone once wrote, “You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that he has the same love for the person or people you most despise.”[5]  It’s true because that’s the love with which God loved you, and continues to bless you with all these undeserved benefits—“who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”[6]
Rejoice and live as God’s children, seeing the world not through the eyes of justice but through the mercy of the cross.  He has even made you perfect before your Father in heaven, through Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior.  Amen.
[1] Luther’s Small Catechism, Creed, 1st Article (
[2] Psalm 130:3
[3] Psalm 130:4
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:19
[5] Attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but source is unverified.
[6] Psalm 103:3-5

St. Valentine (Circuit Winkel) (Matthew 5:38-48)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
St. Valentine (Circuit Winkel) + February 14, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

We know what we’ve heard about Valentine’s Day since we were kids.  It’s about love.  But as with most things of God which the world gets a hold of, it gets turned into a human parody of the real thing.
The legend of St. Valentine is an example of a lot of “fake news” (as they’re calling it lately). It’s based on a story about a martyr with very little detail other than he confessed Christ before the Emperor and was killed for it.  It is also said that he healed his jailer’s daughter, resulting in he and his household believing in the Lord and being saved.  As for valentine notes, romantic love, and buying chocolates, these are all inventions of at least a century later.  But I doubt that Cupid will be standing in the unemployment line any time soon.
If the legend of the healing of St. Valentine’s jailer is true, it’s a beautiful example of what Jesus says in the Gospel, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  That he would show compassion even to those who are about to carry out his death sentence!  What an example to follow!
What an example for pastors to follow!  When I was about to leave for seminary, Pastor Carl Fischer (of blessed memory) sat down with me to impart the single most important lesson he could from his many years of service.  He said, “Love your people.”  That was it, but there’s a lot in those words.  I couldn’t really appreciate that wisdom until after completing seminary and being bestowed with the yoke of the Lord.
Yet those words weren’t just Pastor Fischer’s, gleaned from years of experience.  They were the Lord’s words, and they are the Lord’s words to each of us.
Certainly You, Lord, were an example to us of how to love—bearing shame, punishment, and anguish all for things you didn’t do.  How you prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”[1]  And it’s not even that your example of compassion made them realize the evil of what they were doing!
Yet You did it all out of true love—the kind of love which would sacrifice all for the ungrateful and cold, for even your enemies that never cease their hostility!
But how can we follow Your example, Lord?  It’s too much for lowly sinners, men of dust to achieve.  We don’t have it in us to bear reproach for your name and keep praying for the very people who insult You and walk away from you because of personal preferences or sins they don’t want to leave behind.  We don’t have the patience to wait for them to be converted and see the error of their ways and to apologize.  We would rather surround ourselves with friends and brothers than to seek out those who refuse to even talk to us.
Yet in spite of our weakness, You have made your Son to rise upon us who are evil.  You have declared to us through the mouth of a sinner, “Your sins are forgiven.”  You have displayed that love which transcends heaven and earth even to us.  Though we are unworthy to have you come under our roof, You graciously visit us in this place with your Body and Blood!  You have made us an example—as recipients of Your love.  We have known the example of Your love personally!
You have made us sons of our Father who is in heaven, and You create in us a clean heart and renew in us the joy of Your salvation.[2]  It’s Your love, Lord, not ours.  You put it in our hearts, and daily renew it.  Only through You can we love your people—not as our weak flesh would love, but with that love which has brought even your worst enemies peace and eternal salvation.  Amen.
[1] Luke 23:34
[2] Psalm 51