05 Be Merciful as Your Father is Merciful - Sept 30, 2007

2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Luke 6:31-36

Be merciful, therefore, as your Father is merciful. I believe this is the key phrase that tells us how the love that Christ commands of us looks different from the love of the world. The world’s love, with a supercilious air tinged with anger, demands what it calls tolerance of diversity, but which seems in fact to be tolerance of perversity. It is the demand to be left alone to follow one’s own will, to love those who agree with you, to vilify those who don’t, and to follow after whatever religion makes no demands of you, and even smiles benignly as you indulge, for example, your ‘diversity’ of sexual proclivities. Love in the world’s definition, so it seems, is letting you do whatever you want, believe whatever you want, live any way you want, so long as no one hurts anyone else; or rather, so long as your views on things conform to my views.

This is not the way of the Father’s love. The Father’s love is manifested in sending his Son into the world that the world might be saved. And the Son manifests the Father’s love by calling the world to repentance. The Church, which is the body of Christ, sees us lying dead in our transgressions, covered with the stench of corruption as we follow after our own way in the darkness of the wisdom of our own opinions. She sees us sound asleep, fallen back into the nothingness of the abyss because we have forgotten our true nature as made in the image and likeness of God, destined by nature to be partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal, clothed in the garment of light and immortality, walking in the light as Christ is in the light. The love of the Church, then, is a call, a demand to wake up, and submit in obedience to the discipline of God, which is given in the ascetic and moral disciplines of the Church, in order to ascend to the light and life of God. The ways of the world lead to corruption and death. In her love for us, the Church gives us the Cross of Christ in the form of the commandments of Christ. Take hold of his Cross in the ascetic and moral disciplines of the Church, and climb the Cross as you would a ladder out of darkness and into the light and life of the Father’s Kingdom.

God’s love is expressed in the discipline he enjoins on us. He speaks to us in the Proverbs of Solomon: “My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe his reproof, for whom the Lord loves he reproves, even as a father reproves the son in whom he delights.”[1]

St Paul writes in his epistle to the Hebrews: “And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? “My son: do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?”[2]

You see that according to the Scriptures, the Father’s love is expressed in his discipline. And in his Son, the discipline he has given to us is the ascetic and moral discipline of the Savior’s Cross. If we take offense at the discipline of God or of the Church, which is the body of Christ, we only show the measure of our vanity. We show that our prayer is in fact not to do the will of the Father but our own will. We are joining ourselves with those whom the Scriptures call stupid and the wicked. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,” says the wise Solomon in his Proverbs, “but he who hates reproof is stupid.”[3]

The world seems to take especial offense at the Church’s call to moral purity, in particular her condemnation of sex outside of marriage and other perversions such as homosexual activity. But it is the love of God that inspires this warning against fornication and homosexuality. Again, drawing from the Proverbs of Solomon: “Listen to me, my sons, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from the adultress, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your vigor to others, and your years to the cruel one; lest strangers be filled with your strength, and your hard earned goods go to the house of an alien, and you groan at your latter end, when your flesh and your body are consumed; and you say, ‘How I have hated instruction! And my heart spurned reproof! And I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to my instructors!’ His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin. He will die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he will go astray.”[4]

The world’s idea of love is formed out of its unbelief regarding the after life so that there is no reason to deny oneself the pleasures of indulgence in this life, or from its utter ignorance of the nature of God. Therefore, worldly love makes no demands on you except to conform to the world’s notion of love. As I said, its byword is tolerance of diversity, but this works out to be a tolerance of perversity. This is the love of the serpent’s tree. It is a tolerance that encourages self-indulgence. It is the lie of the serpent that seduces the stupid into believing that the real God just smiles at our perversities as insignificant foibles or mistakes; who scowls at the God of the Church for the imperiousness of his moral demands and his severity on those who indulge their ‘innocent’ immoralities. But the bible tells us that this is the mind of the wicked who in their stupidity have listened to the lies of the serpent. The Psalmist writes: “God says to the wicked, ‘What right have you to tell of my statutes, and to take my covenant in your mouth? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you associate with adulterers. You let your mouth loose in evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I kept silence; you thought that I was like you; I will reprove you, and state the case in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.”[5]

These are to be sure harsh words and the world takes offense. But as the words of the Lords’ reproof, they are the words of his divine love; for the reproof of his anger is intended to set those who would listen on the path to life. As the Proverb says: “There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die.”[6] But, “the commandment [of God] is a lamp and his teaching a light, and his reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”[7]

Christ our God tells us that the soul is of more value than the world because the soul lives on even as the world passes away. This is why the Church does not tolerate perversity; at stake is the salvation of our souls. God is love because he desires not the death of the wicked but that he turn from his wickedness and live. Because he is love, he calls not the righteous but the sinner to repentance. Even though we have disobeyed God, even though we have each one gone our own way so that there is none who is righteous, no not one, even so, God the Son shows his love for us by coming to us and becoming one with us even to the point of death on the Cross. By his Cross, he has destroyed death by his death. He has destroyed hell with the splendor of his Godhead and he has filled it with light. Into the bowels of the earth and into the depths of our soul, Christ has planted his Cross that we may lay hold of it and, by submitting to his moral and ascetic discipline, we may climb the Cross as a ladder out of the darkness of our corruption and death and into the light and life of his heavenly Kingdom.

The world doesn’t like the pain of discipline; it prefers the comfort of indulgence and scorns the demands of discipline as harsh ‘mean’ and ‘unloving’. This is not the biblical view. “For the moment,” writes St Paul, “all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”[8] The discipline of the Lord is painful because it calls us to die to our own will, to renounce the soul-destroying desires of the flesh and to crucify our self-love and our self-will to the Cross of the Savior, that we may die in him in order to be raised up in his holy resurrection.

Therefore, to be merciful as our Father is merciful means to make clear to those who seek the love of the Father that they might be saved what his discipline demands, that we may learn from it the Way of Truth and of Life. In the discipline of the Church we express our love for the Savior by encouraging each other to take up our Cross and to heed the Lord’s call to repent. In this way of obedience that is an essential mark of the Church, the seeds we sow in the field of our worldly life are the seeds of Christ’s Holy Spirit. They are sown in the field of our soul as we die with Christ, crucifying the desires of our flesh to his Cross. We live in the hope that these seeds will spring up to yield a rich harvest in his holy resurrection. Even now, we are granted a foretaste of that paschal joy as we submit to the Lord’s discipline, knowing that by it he is transforming us into communicants of life eternal and partakers of his own divine nature. Amen. 

[1] Prov 3:11-12

[3] Prov 12:1

[4] Prov 5:7-23

[5] Ps 50:16-22

[8] Heb 12:12