Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Difficulty and Joy of God's Mission

Third Sunday after Trinity, July 6th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
The Difficulty and the Joy of God’s Mission – Luke 15:1-32

     It’s hard to be involved in God’s Mission.    What?     You think I’m referring to myself?  No, I’m not talking about me.  Not at least, any more than I’m talking about you.  But before we get carried away arguing about who’s in mission, first let’s just consider some of the difficulties those involved face.  Let’s consider the Searcher that Jesus describes in the three part parable He tells the Pharisees, because they don’t like Him hanging out, and even eating, with sinners.    
     Jesus describes the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, and at first, the mission doesn’t seem too unpleasant.  If you have 10 silver coins and you lose one in your house, wouldn’t you have energy and enthusiasm for sweeping and cleaning and finding it?  I’ve even heard of messy people who rejoice a little when they have to stop and pick up in order to find something important, rejoicing because of all the other missing things they find along the way.  And maybe because it’s the only way they ever really clean up their study.  I’m not suggesting the woman in Jesus’ parable was messy, but if being involved in God’s Mission simply requires a little housecleaning, well, how hard is that?  Things do seem a little whacky in Jesus’ calculus of course.  What percentage of the value of that silver coin did the woman spend on the party she threw for her friends and neighbors?  But hey, it’s Jesus’ parable, let’s just marvel at the celebration over one found coin!

     The lost sheep seems a little more odious.  Who knows where a wandering critter might get itself, or how long the shepherd might have to look?  But still, animals are loveable, often easier to love than people.  They may frustrate us, by getting lost or by getting into trouble, but it’s hard to blame that on them.  If we understand, as the Bible teaches, that every bad thing in the world flows from the sin that our first parents committed, then we can also remember that it really isn’t, ultimately, the animal’s fault.   People are sinners; the fallenness of the world is our fault, not the animals’.  Between their lovability and our responsibility, it’s not hard to imagine going above and beyond to rescue a beloved animal.  In fact, many of you have probably done some pretty crazy things to help out one of your animals. 
     Cleaning up the house to find a lost coin doesn’t make being involved in God’s Mission seem too bad.  Seeking a lost sheep is a little more difficult, yes, but still, not unthinkable.  And, given the stakes, I think we’re up for it.  But what about Jesus’ third example?  What about an ungrateful child?  How happy are we to sacrifice for a person to whom we have already poured out our love, who then thanks us with betrayal and scorn?  Think of what the younger brother does.  What does it mean to demand to receive your inheritance?  Don’t we usually inherit when our parents die?  Isn’t the younger son’s request the same as wishing his father dead? 

     I think most of us have been involved in family squabbles, large and small.  Is there anything more hurtful that the injuries we incur from our blood relatives?  And yet, as Jesus describes God’s Mission, He describes a father who not only doesn’t take offense at his son’s insult, but who gives and gives, and says good bye, and then stands on the edge of the road whenever he has a minute, staring longingly into the distance, hoping to see the figure of his lost son, walking back home.  Are those involved in God’s Mission supposed to stand around, looking and longing and praying that those who betray the family of God would somehow be moved to come home, and then throw a party when they do? 
     Yes.  Like I said, it’s hard to be involved in God’s Mission, because there are real sins in this world, real hurts.  Being in Mission means we will be involved in overcoming sins and hurts, and part of us doesn’t want to have anything to do with that.  It is hard to be involved in God’s Mission, and I don’t refer to myself any more than I am speaking of you.  You don’t have to be boxing up your stuff to go to Spain to be involved in God’s Mission.  All of us are involved in God’s Mission.  The question is how well we understand the Mission, and our role in it. 

     All of us are involved in the Mission of God, and the first thing to know and remember is this:  God’s Mission belongs to God.  Indeed, we can quibble, as some do, about who should receive the title “Missionary”, but everyone of you is involved in God’s Mission, because first and foremost, every baptized believer is on the receiving end of God’s Mission.  For it is His mission, not ours.  Yes, He works through His Church, through forgiven sinners like Paul, and you, and me, but it is always Him.  As Paul wrote, no one can say, “Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.”  Luther, being German, explains the same truth with more words:  I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him;  but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
     And so yes, being in God’s Mission does require searching, and taking big risks, and even humbling oneself, and these are the works Jesus did.  Jesus did far more than sweep up the house looking for a coin.  Your Savior took on a lot more trouble than heading out into the pastures to look for a lost sheep.  Your Redeemer’s humbling was far more humiliating than that of a father, looking the fool, standing on the edge of the road, waiting for a lousy son to come home.  Jesus is the Searcher, the real Missionary, who left His rightful place in glory, entering into this fallen world, entering into our flesh, in order to pay for our sins.  God’s Mission, to have a people of His own from the likes of us, requires first and foremost forgiveness, and so that is exactly what Jesus has done.  He has come and won forgiveness, by becoming the sinner, judged and punished by His Father, in our place. 

     This blood bought forgiveness is the background of the story of the loving father and the lousy sons.  In fact, this parable makes little sense apart from the work of Christ on the Cross, where He atoned for the sins of the whole world.  An earthly father with such sons, one who resents him and the other who takes half his property and runs away, such an earthly father would, it seems, hardly have a fattened calf left to sacrifice.  In normal human society there would be a backlash to the father’s excessive generosity, a lawsuit by the older brother, or perhaps a competency hearing pursued by the wife since the old man is clearly losing his mind. 

     If the younger son’s plan had unfolded, if he had finished his well rehearsed speech, and offered to become a hired man, ready to work for a place in the household, that would have made some sense.  Yes, make him a hired hand, put him to work.  And maybe, maybe someday we’ll consider him one of the family again, after he has proven himself and paid his debt.  But the father doesn’t allow that.  Before the younger son can get to his offer, as soon as the father hears him confess his sin and his sorrow, immediately all is forgiven, all is forgotten.  The time to rejoice and celebrate has come, as if someone had risen from the dead. 

     Someone has risen from the dead.  What else could possibly be the basis for such forgiveness, such generosity, and joy?  Only the eternal and infinite love of God, poured out in Jesus Christ, creating the way for sinners to be saved.  This has been God’s Mission Plan from the beginning, for only the work of Jesus on the Cross, only the Resurrection which revealed the once for all sacrifice is complete, only that one, horrible, beautiful, eternity changing event could justify such wanton forgiveness. 

   The lavish forgiveness the father had for his two lousy sons is also God’s forgiving love for you.  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Our merciful God is beyond comprehension.  As Micah the prophet asked:  Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity, and passing over transgression, for the remnant of his inheritance?   He will again have compassion on us;  He will tread our iniquities under foot.  O Lord, You have cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

     Jesus really does bring good news, doesn’t He?  Jesus brings good news, and yet, we are so prone to forget, so prone to see our pastor in the grocery store and feel guilty because we haven’t been in Church.  We are so prone to see a sinner coming home to God and think, like the older brother, “who does he think he is, seeking forgiveness?” We are so prone to see the sins we have fallen into and allow our shame to keep us away from God and His Church. 

     It is hard, being involved in God’s Mission, because each one of us is a sinner, and because the people to whom God sends us are sinners too, and the devil and the world are busy trying to make us believe anything but the truth about God and His great Missionary Love. 

     But do not worry, do not despair.  The mission of finding and forgiving sinners is God’s Mission, His great desire, the Holy One seeking unholy sinners, doing whatever it takes to find you and me and bring us back home. 

     You and I are involved in God’s Mission, both as recipients, and also as agents, members of the Body of Christ sent into our daily lives, to be used by Him to tell of His love.  You and I are involved in God’s Mission, and as we go, there are two things in particular for us to remember.  First, the Mission of God is all about forgiveness.  Not power, not popularity, not an appearance of holiness, but forgiveness.  Now, it takes truth to get to forgiveness, it takes Law to get to Gospel, but always remember that God desires to deliver mercy.    Remember God’s Mission is about forgiveness, and second, remember it is God’s Mission; we’re just blessed to be caught up in it.  God has delivered His Mission to us, so we can go with freedom and confidence, sticking closely to His plan, which is to simply tell, and invite, and pray, and then rejoice with the angels in heaven over sinners repenting,

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.    

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