Sermon for the 15h Sunday after Pentecost September 2, 2018
Text: Romans 12:1-8 ILCW Series A 18:2082
Theme: Oh! The Greatness of Mercy.
How many of you have been to the Grand Canyon? The Rocky Mountains? Yellowstone? Yosemite? How would you describe what you saw? Breathtaking? Magnificent? Amazing? Awe-inspiring? Think of a place you’ve visited with a fantastic view. Now imagine yourself standing on that highpoint and instead of looking out over a vast landscape of mountains and trees and lakes and rivers, you are looking at the ways God has manifested His wondrous mercy in your life. Paul writes: “In view of God’s mercies…” To the Christian, such a view is more breathtaking than the Grand Canyon, more spectacular than Yosemite, more awe-inspiring than anything you have ever seen. Oh, the Greatness of God’s Mercy!
I. What’s it like? The other day I read a story in which the author described what it was like to attend a dinner in honor of the queen of the Netherlands. It happened years ago. The queen and her husband sat on a raised platform at one end of a ballroom. Important people sat on the platform with her – the governor, the mayor, the US ambassador to the Netherlands, and other high-ranking officials. The remaining guests sat at small tables below, some distance from the queen. Who gets to have lunch with a queen? Limited guests, carefully selected and vetted, all wearing their finest clothing: senators, professors, dignitaries from Washington D.C., and so on. There also was an official greeter, sent to give the queen the key to the city. As the author looked around at the crowd, she noted the types of people who had not been invited: no gamblers, no hoodlums, no delinquent teen-agers, nobody on probation, no homeless, only the good, respectable, hard-working, successful, well-dressed people. There is a proverb that says, “A man (or woman) is known by the company they keep.” How would you be known by the people around you? A queen symbolizes dignity, nobility, and wealth. If she eats lunch with society’s riffraff, the symbol appears tarnished and soiled. The Pharisees accused Jesus of tarnishing Himself. “This man claims to be a prophet,” they sneered. “But look at the kind of people with whom He associates! If He were really a prophet, He would see that these people are sinners. They are not fit company to be around. He even goes into their homes and eats with them.” The Pharisees thought most highly of themselves. They were careful with whom they ate. They took pride in their good lives. They not only obeyed all the laws God had given His people, but they obeyed hundreds of other rules that others made. But never once did they remember what the Bible said about loving God and your neighbor and not showing favoritism. They sometimes prayed for forgiveness, but they didn’t think they needed it. They were quite sure they were good enough all by themselves. God had to be pleased with such fine people. But Jesus preferred the company of society’s less desirables. Now, don’t misunderstand. God does care whether or not a man is honest; He does care that people obey the commandments. Indeed, He cares so much that Jesus gave His own life to pay for all our dishonest and disobedient acts towards God and man. Why did He do it? Because He knew how weak we are in sin, incapable of doing that which is right before God for salvation. That’s what mercy does. With tender compassion and loving concern, it reaches out and sacrifices of itself that which people cannot do for themselves. Before a man can be saved, that man must acknowledge his total depravity and inability before God. He must know the only thing that can save him is the mercy of God and he must look to God for forgiveness. If he does, there is hope for that man, no matter how wicked and dreadful his past life has been. There is hope because of the mercy of God and the suffering and death of the Savior. No matter how wicked? Yes! No matter how wicked. The classic example is the story Jesus once told of a prosperous man who had two sons. The older one seemed obedient and respectful. The younger son was rebellious and lazy. “Give me my share of the property,” he demanded. So, the father gave it to him and the young man took off, going as far away as he could from his father and that place that he despised. There in a distant land he wasted his money on wild parties. It wasn’t long before he spent everything. At that time a famine hit the land. The young man’s friends who gladly helped him spend his money had no use for him when he had nothing. Desperate for something to eat, he got a job herding pigs. He was so hungry that he wanted to eat garbage with them. It was bad. How often does it happen that God uses dreadful troubles as the means to call people back to Him? Perhaps it’s happened to you. That’s not meanness on His part; that’s actually mercy. One day the young man recalled how even his father’s servants had plenty to eat. “I will go home,” he said, “and say to my father: ‘I have sinned against God and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son. Treat me like a hired-man.” His father saw him coming in the distance and ran to meet him. He threw his arms about him and kissed him. The son stammered a confession: “I have sinned and am not worthy to be called your son.” But the father called the servants, “Bring him a robe; put it on him. Put a ring on his finger; get new shoes on his feet. Let’s celebrate. I thought my son was dead, but he is alive again. He was lost but is found.” That’s what mercy is like. It reaches out to the undeserving and downcast. It’s the way God has been to each of us. It doesn’t matter whether a person be a Jew or a Gentile. But to all who look to Him, not thinking more highly of oneself than he should, to all who look to Him in Christ there is forgiveness, life, and rejoicing in heaven over each sinner that returns. It’s happened in the course of world history millions and millions of times over. It has happened to you, if you believe. What mercy! Then consider all the other blessings that are yours. In view of God’s mercies…. Oh, the greatness of it!
II. How should I respond? Paul writes, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.” How does one respond to mercy? With sacrifice! This isn’t just an offering; this is a sacrifice. An offering is partial; a sacrifice is complete – the entire thing is given. “In view of God’s mercies, offer your whole self to God as a living sacrifice. Paul meant don’t live in bad, self-serving ways like the Pharisees did. Rather live in ways that please God. Use the gifts which He has graciously given you. “In view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices, pleasing to God.” Active, not dead, completely, not partially. Only you can make use of those gifts God has given you. No one else can do it for you. In describing this, Paul uses the illustration of the human body at work. The body has many parts. Each does a different thing. The hand doesn’t do what the foot does; the eye doesn’t do what the nose does. They have different abilities, and it works well that way. You wouldn’t want to have 2 hearts but no kidneys. You wouldn’t want to have 4 feet but no hands. God put our bodies together in a beautifully functioning way. We are wonderfully made (Ps.139:14). Even the minor extremities like the big toes and the less noble organs like the intestines – we couldn’t function without them. They work together in tandem, using what God gave them to get the job done. So it is with God’s people. We are different in size and shape, in background and vocation, in interests, abilities, and gifts. A merciful God gave you your gifts. Use them. If you sing, sing in the choir. If you can teach, teach in Sunday school. If you are good at leading, lead. If you can encourage people, do it with God’s Word, using what He has given you to show others the greatness of God’s mercy in Christ. Use it all in service to the Gospel – in view of His great mercy. Oh, the greatness of mercy! Don’t miss it. You may like the view at the Grand Canyon or Yosemite or from any place with a fantastic view. But climb the mountain of God’s mercy to see the most breathtaking sight of all – a Savior, heaven, redeemed people, and the gifts that flow through Him to you and others – all undeserved, but graciously given. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.