This is the third week of our four week series we are calling “Labor in the Lord.” We hear in the writing of Paul, that in the Lord our Labor is never in vain. It may seem what we do for God does not accomplish anything, or we are not convincing people to become a disciple, or perhaps we think when we serve we are not making anything better. But when our labor is done in the name of the Lord there are always benefits. On our own we can do very little, but when we labor in the name of the Lord, God will accomplish much through what we are doing.
Two weeks ago we used the Sunday readings to reflect on laboring for the Lord with a context of the least are made worthy. We may never feel ready, or adequate to be a laborer in the Lord, however God makes us ready. There is nothing God will give us to do that requires more than we are able to accomplish.
Last week we looked at how we are challenged to speak well from the heart. We are rooted, bearing fruit, sustaining faith with a righteous attitude. We must be rooted to receive living water, bear the fruit of the Spirit, and to sustain life. We sustain faith knowing Jesus provides new life, and with a good attitude our heart speaks well. We saw in the readings a transforming message to be led by our heart so that we may do all we can for God.
This week our readings have us looking at the merciful Father. In this first reading David comes to learn that his trials were leading him to be King and that it was God’s goodness and mercy that protected him. Paul speaks of our earthly and heavenly body, both coming together to be the image of God. Despite our sinfulness the mercy of God leads us to this glorified image. The gospel teaching from Jesus points us to being merciful as our Father. This week’s readings reveal the common idea that mercy is required to create the Kingdom of God.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time; 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 and Luke 6:27-38. These readings guide us this week to look at how we can be merciful as the Father is merciful.
The reading from Samuel concerns the conflict between Saul and David. Saul was King and was concerned about David, jealous in fact, about taking over his throne. So Saul did many things to try and have David killed, But God protected David who would be the future king. In this reading Saul has an army out to find and destroy David. As they sleep, God puts the entire army in a deep sleep, David walks into the middle of the camp and has access to a sleeping Saul. Saul’s spear was at hand, a symbol of his office. David’s nephew who entered camp with him, Abishai, believes God has delivered Saul to them and wants to use the spear to kill Saul. David, who is faithful does not believe God wants him to kill Saul, so he merely takes the spear and his water jug to prove to Saul he had no intention of taking his life although he was near enough to do so. In the morning David calls from a faraway hill showing the evidence and declaring God had delivered Saul to him but he would not harm Saul who is God’s anointed King. Although David is pursued by Saul unjustly, he shows the mercy of God. God does not want the future king to kill the King of the people to claim the crown. David eventually becomes king, and he would look back on these years of wandering and being tested as a means of being prepared for sitting on the throne and ruling God’s people. David would look back on these difficult years and see in his painful experience only the goodness and mercy of God.
In the second reading from First Corinthians Paul is discussing life in the flesh and the spirit. We receive our earthly body from the first human Adam, and we receive our spiritual body from the second human, Jesus. Adam was made from dust in the image of God, as we too are made from dust in the image of God. Jesus is a life-giving spirit and we are reborn in his image and will receive our glorified body at our resurrection. We will bear the image of the earthly man and the heavenly man. It is what we believe when we have faith in God and faith in Jesus resurrection. Paul is saying we are earthly first then spiritual. Paul is clear, we have both images of God within us. Here again we see the mercy of God, although we come from the first man and our natural inclination is for sinfulness, God in his mercy finds a way to clear away our sinfulness so that our spiritual image and earthly image can be united as one, in a glorified body, at our resurrection. We would be without a spiritual body if we remained sinners and were never reborn in the image of the spiritual human, Jesus. We would simply return to dust. It is our faith and the mercy of God that gives us so much hope. We can trust in Christ our Savior that we too will be glorified and meet God in the resurrection of the body.We would be without a spiritual body if we remained sinners and were never reborn in the image of the spiritual human, Jesus. We would simply return to dust. Click To Tweet
In the gospel reading from Luke Jesus is teaching those who want to be his followers how to treat others. Jesus teaching is contrary to any model that people would have followed up to that point in time. Love your enemies, bless those who mistreat you, and on and on. Two principles stand out in Jesus teaching; we must treat others as we want to be treated and we must imitate our Father in heaven and be merciful. It is not important that we are vindicated before our enemies or those who treat us badly, but that we become more like God in our character. The teaching is for us to have the very best spirituality for ourselves. We aren’t meant to be good, as much as we are meant to be like Jesus. Anyone can get even with someone who has hurt them, but forgiving and loving as Jesus does so freely is truly our intended journey. It all comes from mercy. Justice is receiving what we deserve but mercy is receiving what we do not deserve. God is a just God, but more so God is merciful. We receive forgiveness and goodness that we cannot earn but God freely gives. Jesus teaches very specifically that we must be merciful to others to be his follower and to deepen our life.It is not important that we are vindicated before our enemies or those who treat us badly, but that we become more like God in our character. Click To Tweet
We learn from these three readings that God can very easily treat us justly, giving us what we deserve. But it is likely we would deserve more condemnation and punishment than reward. We think we are good but in fact we are nowhere near as good as God. Thankfully, God is a merciful Father, and so we are given a great chance for blessing and spiritual richness. As we see in the gospel Jesus wants us to pass this mercy along. When we labor for the Lord our attitude should be an attitude of mercy, overlooking the flaws and errors of others and have an attitude like God, an attitude of mercy. When we do God’s work, we must give God’s undeserved mercy. Thus others will see our labor and want to be with our Father.When we labor for the Lord our attitude should be an attitude of mercy, overlooking the flaws and errors of others and have an attitude like God, an attitude of mercy. Click To Tweet
Merciful as the Father
We have grown up in a culture that depends on the law to keep systems and people moving and safe. It has become a system that teaches us if we don’t get caught than we are not really breaking the law. If the light turns red and we drive through it but there is no police and no one gets hurt than we feel like we haven’t broken the law at all. If we are driving too fast and we don’t cause any problems or get stopped by the police than we really aren’t breaking the law. We have worked our way into secular system that has us thinking that it is only when we get caught that we are really do wrong. And even when we do get caught we find the help we need through attorneys or friends in the right place to minimize the impact on our life. We certainly never want to pay full penalty for our actions.We have worked our way into secular system that has us thinking that it is only when we get caught that we are really do wrong. Click To Tweet
It almost seems that we really don’t understand justice. Justice means you get what you deserve. If the fine for running a red light is two hundred and fifty dollars, points on your license and traffic school than that is what everyone should receive. After three such offenses we risk losing our license for a year. I personally never take a chance, I always enlist a lawyer who gets the ticket reduced, I still might pay a heavy fine (which seems what the local township really cares about) but my license status is not at risk and my insurance rates never see a rise. I/We know how to work the system of laws to survive with the least amount of impact on our lives. And the more money we have the better we can keep law breaking penalties at bay. For those without much money the justice systems works as defined. It is a justice system that allows different people to receive different kinds of penalties.
But God wants us to go beyond even this kind of justice. God used the law to establish the community and teach a moral code. But for God justice is never sufficient. Although God is known as a just God he truly is a merciful God. Justice means we get what we deserve, and mercy means we get what we do not deserve. So we can always count on God for mercy and it doesn’t matter how much money we have, how many prayers we say or how pious we are in our life. God’s system of mercy is the same for everyone because it begins with complete undeserving love.Justice means we get what we deserve, and mercy means we get what we do not deserve. Click To Tweet
The message this week is teaching us that we too are to be merciful as the Father. Our life is not our own. We live for others. It may sound strange, and we may not believe it but it is true. First, look at your parents, how much of their lives were lived for you. They created a safe home for you, they worked to ensure meals, clothing, enjoyment. Our parents tried to provide everything they thought would give us a good life. Usually, they had to sacrifice so that we would be satisfied. Their lives were not their own.
When you marry, you now live for that other person. You entire being lives for their happiness, you sacrifice so they may be happy. You give up things you love so you can provide them things they love. You entire role becomes more about how to be a good couple, how to serve the other and how to make the other live a life of joy and happiness. If your Christian then you live for them is such a way that you bring them closer to God and reborn in Jesus so that they may have the best life always. Wives submit to their husbands and husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church. (Ephesians 5) This is Paul teaching us how to live for the other.
When you have children you flip to become as your parents, you do everything you can to make your children happy and to give them the most beautiful life. There is nothing you wouldn’t sacrifice of your own in order to be sure your children have everything they want and need for a fulfilling life.
In each of these cases we never look for justice, we never want the other to pay the maximum penalty for anything they might have failed at or done disobediently. In every case with someone we love, our desire for them is mercy. We want them to have what they do not deserve. It comes from our love for them. Just as the Father loves us and is merciful, we love our children, our spouse and want the best for them and certainly mercy when there is wrong doing.
We are called as followers of Christ to have this love and mercy for all. We are to sacrifice for all. This is the model that Jesus lived showing us, it is God’s message throughout history and it should be our hope as disciples to be able to serve everyone we know, which includes loving them and showing them mercy whenever they need it.
Because of our cultural system of laws we feel like people should pay when they do wrong. So it is difficult for us to forgive and it is even more difficult to forget. But God’s teaching is forgive, forget, be merciful.God’s teaching is forgive, forget, be merciful. Click To Tweet
Jesus gives a great example. He predicts Peter will deny him three times. Then we see Peter does deny him three times. At a moment when Jesus felt all alone, his close friend did exactly what Jesus predicted and said he did not know him. When Jesus returns, he did not even mention it. He gave Peter a chance to say he loved him three times perhaps to ease Peter’s guilt. (John 16) But from Jesus it is a lesson in mercy. He forgave Peter, and didn’t mention it. Jesus showed mercy as the Father who is merciful.
This is a hard teaching, but it is best for us if we live giving mercy. Many of our regrets, our thoughts in the past are around how we were hurt by someone, and how we will get even. This perpetuates the violence, first in our own mind and then if we do exact revenge with new violence which is pushed into the future by the person we hurt. As disciples we are to help usher in the Kingdom of God. This is a kingdom of mercy. We can only show others God, create a Kingdom of God by living as God wishes. We must be merciful as the Father. Not only will it reflect on the Father well, it is a more joyful approach to life for us.We can only show others God, create a Kingdom of God by living as God wishes. We must be merciful as the Father. Click To Tweet
Labor in the Lord
God needs our labor. God depends on us to fulfill his plan. It is through our mercy that our labor will be seen by others as pointing to God. When we labor with a merciful heart than God can use our labor to show others what it is like to be a disciple and to come to God. We must labor, so we should let our labor be for the Lord. Laboring for the Lord we should always be merciful. Justice is the system of secular people, basically a community of people that doesn’t know or love one another. God’s community is a community of love and relationships. We love one another and we always show mercy. Labor in the Lord with a merciful heart and we will be laborers who are growing the kingdom and pleasing our Father who is merciful.