Baptism and Mercy: Homily for the 17th Sunday After Pentecost in the Orthodox Church


2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1
St. Luke 6:31-36
            We have witnessed today the mystery of our salvation as Lisa, Zach, and Isaac have put on Christ in baptism; they and Ed have been filled with the Holy Spirit in chrismation and are now fully integrated into the life of Christ’s Body, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  They have renounced Satan and all the corruptions of evil in response to St. Paul’s admonition:  “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord…I will be a Father to you and you shall be my sons and daughters.”  And they will be the first today to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist as they partake of the Heavenly Banquet for the very first time.
            Of course, the Lord’s calling to them is the same as it is to the rest of us:  to turn away from everything that holds us back from participating fully in the life of Christ, from shining brightly with the divine glory for which we were created.  The hard truth, however, is that our journey to the Kingdom is not as easy as making it through the ceremonies of baptism and chrismation.  Instead, we actually have to live as those who have died to sin and risen to a new life in baptism.  We have to embody the fruits of the Holy Spirit and become instruments for His work in the world.  Our body and blood—our entire life—must become a living icon of the Savior’s obedient offering of every dimension of His life to the Father.
            That’s a tall order and none of us fills it perfectly, but we are reminded in today’s gospel lesson where we need to start; namely, with mercy.  None of us deserves the mercy of God; by definition, mercy is given, not earned.  Baptism, chrismation, and communion are not rewards for good behavior, but totally undeserved blessings for those who know that they are unworthy of them even as they do their best to live in accordance with God’s will for their lives.  If we are so bold as to accept the divine love and forgiveness for our sins and failings, we have an obligation to extend the same love and forgiveness to others.  If we judge and condemn people while claiming to trust in the mercy of the Lord, our faith is a sham, a fraud, a lie.  And instead of worshiping our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ—who said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”—we really worship ourselves, which is a pathetic form of idolatry by which we will exclude ourselves from the joy of the Kingdom. 
            Well, we obviously don’t want to do that.  So let’s get to work.  Let’s ask who are those in our lives who do not love us, whom we count as our enemies, whom we would like to see fail or least whom we wish would just go away and stop bothering us?  Surely, we all have them.  Instead of fantasizing about their doom, we should help them as best we can, pray for them, and show them the same patient consideration and forgiveness that that the Lord has shown us.  Maybe we are right and they are wrong, as best we can tell.  Maybe our line of work makes it our responsibility to correct or discipline them in some way.  Maybe we really do have to protect others, such as our children or someone else for whom we are responsible, from their bad influence.  Nonetheless, we can refuse to hate them; we can act decently toward them; and we do the best we can under the circumstances to help them, even if they will likely never return the favor.  We can still treat them as we would like others to treat us.
            Whether we were baptized today or decades ago, the calling is to the same:  to be a living icon of the mercy that Jesus Christ has brought to sinners like you and me. In order to do that, we must struggle daily to separate ourselves from evil in all its forms.   There is no better place to start than in how we treat the people with whom we have a problem.  But God is gracious and if we will do our best to show them the same mercy that we ask of Him, then we will be His sons and daughters.   As Christ said, “He is kind to the unthankful and the evil.  Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  That is the most basic challenge today to us all.  If we have put on Christ in baptism at any point in our lives, let’s start acting like it in how we respond to the people we love to hate.      

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