God's Mercy on All

Text: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Date: Pentecost X Proper 15A + 8/17/14

God’s mercy is for all. God’s mercy is on all.

In light of recent news, if I haven’t said it lately I wish to say it plainly and again, “suicide is wrong.” When studying the Fifth Commandment I always try to beat that into my 8th graders’ heads, “suicide is wrong.” Everyone, I’m told, thinks about suicide at some time or other, usually passingly and not seriously. “But if and when you do,” I emphasize, “if you remember nothing else, remember this, Pastor said suicide is wrong.” I do not wish to downplay the danger and seriousness of this sin.

The Church used to refuse Christian burial for victims of suicide. Some mistakenly called it the unforgivable sin. Their graves were dug “on the other side of the fence” as you can see demonstrated in the historic site of St. Lorenz Church in Frankenmuth. The LCMS has no official position neither on the eternal state of individuals who have committed suicide nor on whether a pastor may or may not provide a Christian funeral service. It seems that our increasing awareness of the variance of a person’s mental state prevents us from making ultimate judgments. Already Martin Luther even said, “I don’t have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil”[1] The purpose of a Christian funeral service is not to speculate or judge as to a person’s eternal spiritual condition except with relation to the preaching of the gospel of forgiveness and deliverance for all. We all live in the forgiveness of our sins and believe God’s Mercy is for all and on all.

God’s mercy is for all. God’s mercy is on all.

Last Tuesday evening I viewed the movie “Journey to Justice,”[2] the story of Howard Triest (who was in attendance that night at age 91), a German Jew who fled Munich in 1939 when he was 16 years old, returned as a U. S. soldier and then served as an interpreter for prison psychiatrists at the Nuremberg Trial. He met with the Nazi leaders co-responsible for the death of six million Jews, including Howard’s own parents at Auschwitz. At Nuremberg, Howard says he felt transformed, from victim to victor, and was able to reclaim parts of his German identity. Our own Terry Herald composed and recorded the music for the film. It was a sobering reminder of the extent to which human madness and cruelty can go. In our minds it tempts us to put a question mark on our theme, “Is God’s mercy really for all, after all?”

I couldn’t watch that movie without making the comparison of the almost identical madness and cruelty increasing in our day in both the movements of the Hamas and the radical Islamic Isis terrorists today. It is a shock on the one hand to hear the daily reports of the hatred and murderous attacks especially on innocent religious groups and then to have to sit down to write a sermon entitled, “God’s Mercy On All.” Oh, really! How can one believe God’s mercy is for the wicked while at the same time wishing or urging for their destruction? Mercy? What mercy?

The answer, of course, is the difference between God’s expressed will of grace for all mankind on the one hand and the refusal of many to receive it on the other.

Today we heard the foreigner Canaanite woman crying out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” That mercy was given because of her faith. We also heard the words of St. Paul, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” God’s mercy is for all who are disobedient to Him! Therefore the first step in answering our question is not to emphasize the disobedience and unbelief of the others but, first, to recognize and confess our own disobedience, if indeed we are to receive God’s mercy too.

What is God’s mercy? Our Old Testament reading describes it well. It is based in the love of God that reaches out to save sinners. Like the Canaanite woman, however, it must be received according to God’s word and design. The woman called Jesus “Son of David” thus revealing her knowledge and faith in Him as the promised Messiah, Deliverer and Savior. So God says through Isaiah, He has mercy on those who serve Him, those who love the name of the Lord, those who keep the Sabbath, that is, who faithfully hear God’s Word, and those who hold fast to His covenant. That covenant is in His sending of His Son as the Lamb to be slaughtered for our transgressions. That covenant is received by faith, given and sealed in Holy Baptism.

The Bible says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his [mercy or] steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Ps 103:11). It is as Mary, the mother of our Lord sang under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “And His mercy is for those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50). God’s mercy comes first as when St. Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4).

On the one hand we pray God’s mercy for ourselves and on our enemies. On the other hand it is up to you and up to them to desire and receive it, which is beyond our control but by the gift of faith created in the heart by God through His Word. So certainly it is sad, very sad, especially to see people manipulated by oppressors, tyrants and dictators to reject God’s mercy. As evidence of their having been manipulated in the movie Herr Triest commented that after the war no German dared claim or admit to have ever been a Nazi! Therefore, as Christians we witness to and pray for those in the darkness of unbelief, for those who hate us. On the other hand we leave it to and support God’s institution of the secular government to wield the sword of His wrath against evil. Yes, God’s Mercy is for all and is on all, on all who fear Him.

[1] Luther’s Works, AE 54:29.
[2] Steve Palackdhary filmmaker.