Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 5:38-48
Dear sons of the Father: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fathers take special pride when their sons take after them in some way. A gifted athlete is proud of his son’s athletic accomplishments. A gifted academic takes pride in his son’s academic accomplishments. A gifted farmer is proud of his son who has learned from him and is taking over the family farm.
Of course, this does not mean, for instance, that a gifted athlete is not proud of his son’s academic competency or that a gifted academic is not proud of his son’s athletic performance. However, there is a special connection when the father sees some of himself in his son. It’s not just because of the genetics passed down, but also because the father can share in coaching and teaching his son. The father can encourage him to avoid the same pitfalls and errors he made when he was working towards success in the same field. There is joy in a father encouraging his son to be like him in the ways that he has been successful, and seeing them come to fruition.
As sons of the heavenly Father, He wants you to be like Him. In fact, God the Father demands that you be like Him. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s not just a matter of pride or coaching or teaching. God the Father demands that you be perfect if you are to be His son.
Therefore, the heavenly Father tells you not to resist someone who is evil or abusive. Turn the other cheek to one who strikes you. Give your cloak to the one who takes your tunic. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.
That’s what God does. He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. This may seem unfair to us. It may seem unjust to us. Why do the just and the unjust get the same blessings from God? Why does God bless the evil with so many great blessings even though they despise Him and do not even acknowledge that the blessings come from God?
The answer is love. God loves everyone in the whole world. We don’t deserve His blessings any more than those who are evil, because we of ourselves are also evil. Without God, we are evil and unjust.
Why are we evil and unjust? Because we don’t act like His sons. We resist those who are evil or abusive. We don’t turn the other cheek. We don’t give our cloak to the one who takes our tunic. We don’t love our enemies and we don’t pray for those who persecute us. We have a hard enough time helping out, forgiving, and praying for our family members and those in our church family, and we think it is unfair when we see God rain blessings on the ungodly.
That is, however, exactly what God does. God doesn’t look at the worthiness of people to receive His love; He simply gives it to us. “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In this realm of creation, God gives His blessings to all. He doesn’t withhold His earthly gifts even from those who have set themselves against Him in unbelief. If He did, we also would not get His blessings.
Romans 5 tells us that while we were enemies of God we were reconciled to Him by the death of his Son (Rom. 5:10). While we were still dead in our trespasses and sins and were by nature children of wrath, God made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:1-5). He didn’t look at us to see if we deserved it – because we did not. He didn’t examine if we had acted like His sons should act – because we had not. He didn’t judge us based on our ability to turn the other cheek, to give to those who beg, or to love our enemies. He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins even though there is no merit or worthiness in us. He sent Jesus to die while we were His enemies and dead in our trespasses and sins as all men naturally are.
Christ gave His life as a ransom for evil and wicked sinners like us. He was struck on the cheek, and turned the other cheek. He gave His back to be whipped, His hands and feet to be nailed, His side to be pierced. He even gave up His tunic and cloak as they divided and cast lots for His garments. He gave up His very life for us.
Through His suffering and death, Jesus fulfilled for us the demand, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14) By the single offering of His death on the cross Jesus covered us with His perfection; He paid for and covered our sin.
He covered us in His perfection in our Baptism. He speaks His perfecting Word to us in holy Absolution. He feeds us His perfection through His true body and blood. He gives us His perfection, covering our sin.
He continually fills us with His love and forgiveness to the point that it overflows us. His love overflows us to the point that we won’t resist those who are evil or abusive, we’ll turn the other cheek, give our cloak to the one who takes our tunic, love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. God fills us with His love so that we can act like His sons to the glory of His name.
Your perfection, however, does not come from your love, actions, or good deeds. Your perfection comes only from Jesus’ offering of Himself on the cross, through which He has perfected you. Your perfection only comes from Jesus who has covered all of your sins. Because your sins are covered, you are like your heavenly Father.
The only reason we are like the Father is because of the Son. In Christ we not only act like the Son of the Father, but we are sons of the Father. Through our Baptism we have been adopted as sons of God, and we are perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. When God looks at us, He sees His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. You are like your Father, and He is pleased with you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.