The First Sunday in Advent, December 2nd, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
God’s Mission, Your Role, Matthew 21:1-9
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. As we celebrate our final Mission Sunday for 2012, instead of talking about the mission we are supporting, we’re going to talk about us, about our congregations, about us as individual Christians, about what Jesus has directed us to do, right here and now, in Sidney and Fairview. But, maybe you don’t want to talk about your role in God’s Mission. Maybe in the past you’ve been made to feel guilty for not dedicating more of your energy to telling people about Jesus. Maybe you’ve been led to believe that if you’re not somehow actively working as a missionary, you should doubt your own salvation. Maybe you’ve heard that you must race around like a jackrabbit to save the world, because if we don’t get busy, God’s Mission is going to fail.
Well, if these or other man-centered and guilt driven ideas make you not want to talk about missions, I have good news: all of these ideas are wrong. Unbiblical. Opposed to the heart of the Gospel. God desires free acts of love, done by people who trust and rejoice in His free act of love to us in Christ, which is the only thing our salvation depends upon. Any work done merely from fear or guilt is not pleasing to the Father. And of course, despite how important we like to think we are, God is not going to let His Mission fail, even if you and I turn our backs on Him. So, you can forget about guilt, when it comes to being involved in Christ’s Mission. Just like with financial giving or giving of your time, so also with involvement in missions: God loves the cheerful giver. Being a part of God’s Mission is fruit of the Gospel, a task which is natural and pleasing to the new man or woman God is creating you to be.
This is not to say that we never have any failures to repent of, including when it comes to missions. In every aspect of our Christian lives, we live as sinner-saints, in need of daily repentance. Whenever we fail to fulfill the tasks God gives us, we need to be brought to repentance, so we can confess our sins, and turn to God’s grace in Christ, because He will make us new again, and ready for another try. But we need consider only the tasks that God has actually given us, not a bunch of things some “Missions Expert” has dreamed up. When it comes to missions, we, like the disciples in our Gospel this morning, are to go and do as Jesus has directed us.
This is also not to say that mission work is easy. Being involved in God’s Mission is often hard, because of what God must accomplish to save a sinner. Mission work is death and life work. Sinners must be made to repent of their sin, so they are ready to hear the Good News of forgiveness in Christ. It is a great joy to see someone come to faith, but the journey there is at times frightful. It is the reality of sin, and the negative reaction most unbelievers have to hearing God’s Law, that makes mission work difficult, for sinners do not willingly submit to death, and repentance is dying to sin. Thankfully, at all the points where the Mission of God is particularly difficult, God is firmly in control of all the action, and He tells us what we are supposed to do.
We see this as Jesus enters Jerusalem the Sunday before His Good Friday crucifixion, a king, gentle, humble, mounted on a donkey, fulfilling prophecy, attracting the praises of the crowds, and attracting the murderous opposition of the Jewish religious and political leaders. God’s Mission reaches its climactic peak on Good Friday. The week between the original Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday is the heart and center of salvation. And notice, Jesus is doing all the hard work, because He must. Only He can do this righteous work, for only He is righteous, the righteous branch.
When Jesus has tasks He intends to accomplish through His disciples, He very specifically tells them what to do. "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. … and the disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.
There it is, mission work, doing what Jesus tells you to do. “Go get a couple of donkeys.” “I’ve already arranged for it, but here, you two, I want you to do this.” “Go into that village, get two donkeys, and say this to the owner, if he asks you what’s going on.” “Got it?” The disciples complete their task, not very exciting perhaps, but in truth, what an honor, what a blessed task to be assigned, making the arrangements for Jesus’ triumphal entry. Simple, but necessary, blessed, divine work, to play this small part to help Jesus fulfill His Mission. And just such things are still what we are to do in Mission, today. We followers of Christ are to do the things that Jesus has directed us to do, as He accomplishes His Mission.
To know what Jesus has called each of us to do, we need to listen to Him, speaking to us today through His Word. God has a role in His mission for every Christian to play, some roles public, some private, all powered by the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel. In this we find God doing two things at once. Saving faith comes to you through hearing the Word of Christ, the Word of forgiveness, delivered in Preaching, Absolution, Baptism and the Supper. By creating a new heart in you through the Gospel, the Spirit also creates a desire in you to see others receive these same blessings. The motivation for true mission work is the good news of Christ for you.
Come to think of it, the Spirit actual does three things as we hear His Word: He creates and sustains faith, He gives us a desire for others to also have Christ, and He tells us how God does Mission, how His church functions, what she is to be about, what offices God has established in order to fulfill different tasks, and of course, what tasks belong to each and every Christian. God doesn’t need a bunch of rabbits, racing off without knowledge, accomplishing nothing of worth. Nor does He need slowpoke turtles, only moving as fast as they think necessary. No, for His Mission God desires hearers, people who make a habit of hearing and discussing and studying His Word, for God powers His Mission with His Word, as fast or as slow as He sees fit. In the Word we find both the Good News of free salvation in Christ for all people, and also what we are to be doing within God’s Mission.
God assigns different roles to different people. Remember, of the hundreds of followers Jesus attracted, He only called 12 men to be Apostles. And Jesus didn’t send all 12 to get the donkeys, just two. As the Church grew, only the Apostle Paul was specifically set aside as God’s special missionary to the Gentiles. Maybe at some point in your life you’ve been made to feel guilty that you don’t desire to do full time Church work. Whether you desire it or not is not the issue, but rather whether God has called you. To assume tasks that God has not directed is to risk working against His plan. Today far too many teachers and talkers tell us that everyone must be doing all kinds of things, everyone’s a minister, everyone’s a missionary, but they don’t have any clear Word of the Lord directing these things. We need to study the Scriptures, first of all to know what God has done for our salvation, and then secondly to know who God calls to do what, within His Mission.
As we study the Scriptures, we see first the Biggest picture, that God is the mover and shaker behind His Mission, choosing to work through His people as He sees fit. Only Jesus is God born of a woman, only Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, only Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. After the Resurrection, we see that there are tasks given to the whole Church: Gather together – that’s what Church means. Preach the Gospel. Baptize. Teach. Celebrate the Supper. Forgive sinners. Care for the needy, especially those of the household of faith. When it comes to specific roles, we see that God gives specifics. In the history of the Church, only 13 men were called to be Apostles. Others are called to be missionaries, preachers sent out specifically to preach the word and plant churches where there are none. Other men are called to be local pastors, either appointed by an Apostle or an overseer, or selected by the congregations. Still others, women and men, are called to serve in various ways, helping the poor, taking care of the business of the Church, making music to beautify and teach.
Everyone is called to hear the Word, to be baptized, to worship, to eat and drink, and to pray. And, very importantly for our individual roles in God’s Mission, all are called to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. All are called to love their neighbors, and confess Christ in our daily lives. That is, every Christian is called to be a Christian as they live out their vocations, their callings in life, the various jobs and God-given responsibilities we have, such as parent, child, worker, employer, or government official. In every calling the Christian may have, we are to be faithful, as we go about the tasks of that calling.
Some callings are more closely tied to God’s Mission than others. If you are a parent, you have many specific Words of God that call you to teach your children the Word, to have them baptized, to bring them with you to the services of God’s house. Within the context of the family, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters do indeed have a specific call to proclaim Christ to one another. On the other hand, if you are a mechanic, within your calling you are to turn wrenches during the time your employer has hired you to work. If you instead climb up on your toolbox and start preaching to the shop floor, distracting the other mechanics from their work, you are not doing mission work, you are robbing your employer. However, when in the break room someone asks you about what you believe because they see you pray before you eat lunch, well that’s God setting before you an opportunity to confess Christ, that is, an opportunity to give the reason for the hope that you have, an opportunity to tell about Jesus, without harming your employer.
So, we are to do the things that Jesus has called us to do. Not always an easy task, but at least one with some parameters, some guidelines. Hear the Word, gather for worship, receive God’s gifts, sing His praises. In your daily callings, be a Christian by serving your neighbor well, for this is good and right, and be ready to give the reason for the hope that is in you.
So, the disciples were ready when Jesus directed them to go get two donkeys. How can you be ready for Jesus’ directions? Well, let’s think back to last week and the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The Wise Virgins kept their lamps burning by filling up on the oil of the Word. The first order of business for every Christian is to let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you. Sundays, and all through the week, we are blessed to have easy access to the Word of Jesus, which will make us ready to be used by God in our daily lives. These are the topics which Vicar and I want to talk to you about in our upcoming visitation program, which we have named: “God at Home and God at Work.” The “God at Home” part is to share with all of you simple ways for you to get more Word in your life, which will be good for you, and good for the Mission of our congregations, for the more we dwell in the Word, the more ready we will be to give the reason for our hope. First “God at Home,” then “God at Work,” a straightforward discussion of how God works through His people in their everyday lives, an understanding that will both remove false pressures we sometimes put on ourselves, and also help us see how we can do simple things, joyful things, that God will use in His Mission.
God is bringing many people to our area. The time is now for us to dig into the Word and be more prepared to give the reason for our hope, more equipped to love our neighbor as we have been loved. It is a bit frightening, for we are still sinners, and when we hear His Word, God will confront us in our sins, again and again. But fear not, your salvation has been eternally secured, by the One who took on flesh, and slept in a manger, the One who rode humbly on a donkey, and suffered quietly on a cross, the One who rose and ascended and rules over all things, for the good of His people. He is with you, as you listen, and as you work, correcting you, forgiving you, giving you new life, and working through you, even unto the end of the age, Amen.