Mercy God's Business
Monday after the Last Sunday in the Church Year
21 November 2016
The tragic school shootings that have marred our country over the last few years bring to the forefront the power of the law to coerce. All schools are controlling who has access to the hallowed halls of learning. Every school needs to do all it reasonably can to prevent these tragedies and the police need to use every power available to them to stop perpetrators who are determined to kill others so that they can leave this world in a pool of innocent blood. The language of mercy, forgiveness, and righteousness before God has no place in this discussion. Even if it is easier said than done, the hammer of the law needs to be put down on the people who have this bloody desire and lust for slaughter. There can be no mitigation of the penalties for such actions, no pious overlooking of such behavior. The law is the government's tool to work vengeance in the world in God's name (Rm 13).
The plaintive cry, "why can't we all just get along?" is seen to be what it is when that question is asked over the pool of blood spilled by those whose lust for slaughter overlaps the boundaries of behavior that should be set in a civil society. The unrealistic desire for civil harmony apart from the law is shown to be utter nonsense. The law is good and holy. It is to be applied to evildoers and they are to be shown no mercy for the sake of public order and safety (1Ti 1:8-10). God will take care of the mercy business. Government has no tools of mercy, indeed no right to them. In this sense government is bound to enforce morality and not the church. The church is bound to proclaim mercy, righteousness from God, and forgiveness. If everyone would just do their own job the world would be a much better place. The government should stop evildoers. The church should forgive them when they are brought to repentance.
We get into trouble where the government becomes the caregiver and the church becomes the imposer of the law. How easily the two kingdoms can be muddled! This muddling is a disaster to the church. She becomes the law-bringer instead of a gospel preacher; a creature of the law instead of the bride of Christ; a bully instead of a friend; and an accuser instead of a forgiver. The nanny state misunderstands its own office and labor in the world and in so far as it is both a law bringer and a caregiver it becomes a totalitarian state. When government controls every aspect of public life it ruins other institutions, like the church, by superseding and overwhelming them by taking up their tasks with the enormous power to coerce. Unfortunately, when government is superseding the caregiving institutions it affects its own ability to limit the world's wickedness by enforcing the law. Government has power over the flesh, which it constrains and oppresses. Government's capacity for law enforcement is diminished when it expends resources on what is not its business. Lord, save us from this totalitarianism. Let us pray that the church and state each do its own business and not each other's.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Apart from the matter of justification, we, like Paul, should think reverently of the law. We should endow it with the highest praises and call it holy, righteous, good, spiritual, divine, etc. Apart from our conscience we should make a god of it; but in our conscience it is truly a devil, for in the slightest trial it cannot encourage or comfort the conscience but does the very opposite, frightening and saddening it and depriving it of confidence in righteousness, of life, and of everything good. This is why Paul calls the law 'weak and worthless elementary principles' later on (Gal 4:9). Therefore, let us not permit it to dominate our conscience in any way, especially since it cost Christ so much to remove the tyranny of the law from the conscience. For this was why 'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us' (Gal 3:13). Therefore, let the godly person learn that the law and Christ are mutually contradictory and altogether incompatible. When Christ is present, the law must not rule in any way but must retreat from the conscience and yield the bed to Christ alone, since this is too narrow to hold them both (Is 28:20). Let Him rule alone in righteousness, safety, happiness, and life, so that the conscience may happily fall asleep in Christ, without any awareness of law, sin, or death.
"Paul uses this figure of speech, 'weak and worthless elementary principles,' purposely; as I have said, he greatly diminishes the authority and glory of the law by this means, in order to arouse us. For when an attentive reader of Paul hears the apostle call the law 'the ministry of death' and 'the letter that kills,' he immediately thinks: 'Why does he attribute such odious and, in the judgment of reason, even blasphemous names to the law, which is a divine teaching revealed from heaven?' To such a person, who is concerned and puzzled about the reason for these names, Paul responds that the law is both holy, righteous, good, etc., and the ministry of sin and death, but that it looks different to different people. Before Christ it is holy, after Christ it is death. When Christ comes, therefore, we must know nothing whatever about the law, except to the extent that it has dominion over the flesh, which it constrains and oppresses. Until we die, the law and the flesh, for which the dominion of the law is hard to bear, will be in conflict."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.3
Psalm 119:57-64

The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep your words. I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law. At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules. I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts. The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes! (ESV)
O Lord, the law is good and holy when used to stem the tide of wickedness in the world. By Your Holy Spirit grant that it never rule in my conscience that I might stand before you justified for Your sake, O Christ my Lord. Amen.
For Bill Heine, that the Lord Jesus would surround his bed with His holy angels

For all those who live in the fear of violent death, that they might be rescued by the order of community and good government

For Donald Fondow, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and healing
For President-elect Trump, that he would be wise in his preparation to take office so that he would limit government to its rightful tasks
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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