05 - Become Merciful, Oct 4, 2020

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2 Corinthians 6.16 – 7.1

Luke 6.31 – 36

The Greek in our Gospel this morning reads more accurately: ‘Become merciful as your Father is merciful.’ I have observed in Scripture that it is often the case that the verb, ‘to become,’ opens onto a much profounder, even different theological teaching that remains hidden when ‘to become’ is translated as ‘to be.’ [In fact, it occurs to me that in certain places, as in our Gospel this morning, ‘to become’ is a synonym for ‘to be transfigured.’]

With regard to the LORD’s word this morning: there is a mercy natural to man. It is warm and compassionate, very much like God, for man was created in the image and likeness of God. But, it is not the mercy of God, which is as different from the mercy natural to man as the uncreated is from the created. Yet, the mercy natural to man is not truly human until it becomes one with and is deified by the uncreated mercy of God, for man was created for the purpose of becoming a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pt 1.4).

Let’s step back and come at this from our reading from St Paul this morning. St Paul quotes from Ezekiel: “You are the temple of the Living God, as God Himself says; ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God and they will be my people.’” In the Spirit of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, we recognize this as a prophecy of the Incarnation. It takes us to Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple of the Last Day in the midst of a City on the LORD’s High and Holy Mountain (Eze, chptrs 40-48)

The temple is the House of God. It’s where He lives, where He eats and drinks; and from its sanctuary, so He tells Moses, He makes Himself known to His people, and speaks to them concerning His will and His commandments (Ex 25.22). When the Spirit of God overshadows the Holy Virgin (Lk 1.35), just as He did the OT tabernacle and Temple, we see how beautifully the mercy of God fulfills His WORD to the prophets. The House of God the prophets are speaking of is the Virgin. She is the Living Temple of God in whom the LORD becomes flesh and dwells among us’ (Jn 1.14).

But, now let’s return to our Gospel this morning from St Luke. Our Gospel today is from St Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (Lk 6.17). This is St Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Mt 5.1). In fact, remembering that, in Scripture, geography is theology, the discrepancy appears only on the surface of geography. In the theological vision of the geography, the discrepancy, like the stone of the LORD’s Tomb, is rolled away to reveal the mystery of the LORD’s empty Tomb now opened to all who would wish to enter so that they can become partakers of the divine nature and, with God dwelling in them and walking among them, become merciful as God is merciful. It’s the prophet Ezekiel, in the very passages of his prophecy quoted by St Paul in today’s epistle, who reveals the beautiful theological teaching of the Church hidden beneath the apparent discrepancy between St Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and St Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

The LORD Jesus preaching on the mountain in St Matthew takes us to Ezekiel 40.1: ‘The hand of the LORD [the Holy Spirit] brought me in a vision of God into the land of Israel, and set me on a very high mountain, and upon it there was, as it were, the frame of a city before me.’ [Ezekiel was living among the captivity in Babylon.]

As it were: it seems that Ezekiel was seeing in a figure the same City St John saw in His vision (Rev 21). If so, and I think it is so, the City Ezekiel saw is the mystery of the ‘spiritual marriage’ of the LORD Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church which, in Ezekiel’s day, was yet to be accomplished in the mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation and Holy Pascha. As St John says of this City in Revelations: ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth [the ‘very high mountain’ Ezekiel saw], and I saw the Holy New City of Jerusalem coming down from heaven, from God, made ready as a Bride adorned for her Husband. And I heard a great voice from the Throne saying, ‘Behold the Tabernacle [skene] of God is with men, and (quoting now from the same passage of Ezekiel as does St Paul in our epistle this morning) He will dwell [skenosei] with them, and they will be His people, and He will be their God who is in their midst.’ (Rev 21.1-3). The Tabernacle of God is the Body of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ. As St John says in His Gospel: ‘And the WORD became flesh and dwelt [‘pitched the Tabernacle, the Temple of His flesh--eskenosen] among us.’ Jn 1.14; and, as St John explains when the LORD says to the Jews, “’Destroy this Temple and in three days, I will raise it up,’ He was speaking of the Temple of His Body” (Jn 2.19-21).

Now, in placing Jesus’ sermon on the mountain, St Matthew sets before us the mystery of the LORD on His Cross on the mountain of Golgotha, by which He destroys death by His death and sends out His Holy Spirit throughout the whole of space and time so that, as St Matthew says, the tombs were opened and many of those who had died were raised and were seen entering the Holy City’ [of St John’s vision?] (Mt 27.52-53).

In setting us at the foot of the LORD’s Cross, however, the theology of St Matthew’s geography is setting us in the plain of St Luke this morning. It does so by taking us first to Eze 20. The LORD says through Ezekiel that on the Last Day He will bring Israel into the wilderness of the nations and plead with them there face to face. There in the wilderness, the LORD continues, “I will cause you to pass under my rod (think the LORD’s Cross on the mountain of Golgotha, the ‘place of the skull,’ and so a desertous mountain) and I will bring you in by number (think the faithful passing under the shroud at the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday). ‘And I will separate you from the ungodly. Therefore, put away your evil practices, for upon my Holy Mountain shall the house of Israel serve Me’ (20.33-40).

Ezekiel’s wilderness of judgment—because it is the place where Israel passes under the LORD’s rod of judgment, which we recognize as the Savior’s Cross—takes us directly to the plain of Ezekiel 37.1-14. This is the prophecy we read at Matins for Great and Holy Saturday as we stand inside the Savior’s Tomb, and we hear: “And the LORD brought me forth by the Spirit,” says Ezekiel, “and set me in the midst of the plain, full of human bones…and the LORD said,

‘Behold, I will open your tombs, and bring you up from your tombs. I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live, and I will place you upon your own land (Eze 37.1-14)…I will sprinkle clean water on you (the living waters of the Holy Spirit, carried in His life-giving blood?) and you shall be purged of all your uncleanness and I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and will put a new spirit in you. I will take away the heart of stone (and the stone of the tomb was rolled away) and will give you a heart of flesh (a living heart). I will put my Spirit in you and enable you to walk in my ordinances, to keep my judgments and to do them’” (Eze 36.25-27).

Does this not put in our ear the word of the LORD to us this morning? “I will enable you to become merciful as God is merciful.”

So, the geography of both St Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and St Luke’s Sermon on the Plain opens to us the theology of the LORD’s Holy Pascha. The theological vision hidden beneath the geography of both brings us to Golgotha, the mountain that, as the ‘place of the skull,’ is a desert, the desert that is a mountain.

St Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ leads us to the foot of the LORD’s Cross, His ‘Rod of judgment.’ But, the LORD’s Judgment is altogether unlike the world’s: the LORD’s Judgment is full of mercy, if it is received. For, by His Rod of Judgment, His Cross, He cleanses us and creates us anew, as we hear Him say in the City both the prophet Ezekiel and St John saw in their apocalyptic visions: ‘Behold, I make all things new!’ (Rev 21.5). How can we receive the judgment of the LORD’s Cross against us without opening our hearts to receive it? And, when we do open our hearts to receive it, the LORD does not condemn us. We experience Him not as a Judge who condemns but as a Physician who heals. From the Temple of His Body on the high and holy mountain of Golgotha, He ‘sends out’ His Holy Spirit upon us (Mt 27.50). He opens our graves, He  cleanses us and pours into us the living waters of His Spirit and creates in us a clean heart; He puts into us a new and right spirit; and in the healing power of His Spirit, He begins to raise us even now from our grave to the resurrection of life, and our daily life becomes transfigured into a daily ascent up the LORD’s Holy Mountain to His Holy City to serve Him.

St Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ meanwhile, leads us into the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, and so it brings us into the tomb of our heart, into the sanctuary of the temple of our body. There the LORD has become absolutely one with us, because when He was crucified and placed in the Tomb, He shared in our death (Heb 2.14-15) and became in every respect like us, except without sin (Phil 2.5-11). And, so we see, in both St Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and St Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, the LORD making Himself known to us from within the sanctuary of the temple of our body, teaching us how to ‘come out’ and separate ourselves from the grave of ‘sinners’. In the fear of the LORD’s Pascha, submit to the healing judgment of His Cross, and practice the mercy that is natural to you as a man or woman created in the image and likeness of God. He ‘promises’ that He will receive us as His sons and daughters. What does that mean if not that we become partakers of the divine nature; and if partakers of the divine nature, are we not deified, infused with the grace and power of His uncreated mercy, so that in the fear of God, with faith and love, our daily life is transfigured into our daily ascent up His Holy Mountain to the Holy City above and in union with Christ, we become merciful as God is merciful. We become sons and daughters of God; we become holy as our Heavenly Father is holy. Amen!