Thursday, October 9, 2014

Broken Missionaries

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 4th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Zion and St. John Lutheran Churches, Gwinner and Oakes, ND
Broken Missionaries - Matthew 21:33-46

Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God our Father, and Our Lord Jesus Christ.   
     It is a distinct pleasure for my wife Shelee and I to be with you here this morning, receiving God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament, and also telling you a little about our journey to Spain, where I have been called to serve as a Church Planter.  The day to day content of this first part of my missionary call is raising prayer and financial support, by going around, preaching and presenting to Lutherans in America, in order to find the people God will raise up to partner with the Lutherans in Spain.  So, as I stand before you this morning, I have to ask a question of your pastor. 
     Rev. Dr. Richard, “What kind of Mission texts are these?”  The LORD’s lovely vineyard yields wild grapes, so God is going to remove the protective hedge and allow the vineyard to be destroyed?  God seeks justice, but behold, bloodshed; God looks for righteousness, but behold, an outcry?  I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish?  And finally, from the mouth of our Lord, “the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”?  Where’s the happiness, the Word of the Lord growing, rejoicing in the Lord always, the sweetness and light passages?  Where’s the bold commission text, the fearless servants bravely venturing to the end of the earth?  Come on, Pastor Matt, this is what you give me to work with?  

     I’m kidding.  The readings are not your pastor’s fault.  Indeed, they are not anyone’s fault.  Taking what the lectionary, the reading system of the Church year, gives us to read is good for us.  For pastors to pick their own readings is a dangerous thing, because we all have the parts of the Bible we like, and the parts we like to avoid.  But we need to hear the full council of God, not just our favorite passages, or our pastor’s favorites.  Using the assigned lectionary readings is a good thing. 

     And, despite the harshness they contain, today’s readings are excellent texts for understanding God’s Mission, and our role within His Mission.  Because there is a necessary harshness, a brokenness even, to being involved in the Mission of God.  

     What comes to mind when you hear the word Mission?  Maybe you think first of helping people?  Certainly Jesus helped people.  We are in the middle of a series of readings all set during Holy Week, the days leading up to His Cross.   Jesus does a number of things which heighten the anger of the religious elite, including riding into Jerusalem like a king, accepting the praises of children, and telling very pointed parables against the scribes and priests, as He does today.  But back at the beginning of chapter 21, you’ll also notice Jesus was healing the lame and blind.  Helping people in need has always gone hand in hand with God’s Mission. 

     In fact my new boss, Rev. Ted Krey, Area Director for Latin American and Spanish Missions, and also a missionary pastor in the Dominican Republic, wants every Church within his mission area to also have a Mercy House.  In the Dominican the Mercy House is a home for developmentally disabled youth.  In other places it might be a school for the poor, or an orphanage.  In Spain we are going to be looking for the opportunity to pursue life ministries, as my wife Shelee has years of experience serving women in crisis pregnancies.  This is how it should be.  Christ in his earthly ministry was always caring for the sick and hurting, so Christians share His concern for helping people in their earthly needs. 

     But helping people with their earthly hurts and needs is not the heart of mission.  Jesus healed many sick and lame and blind, but these healings did not save their souls.  So also, while Christian mission is  rightly accompanied by human, earthly care, and while serving our neighbors is an important way we earn opportunities to tell them about Jesus, God’s Mission finally requires something different.  In fact, true Christian Mission requires harshness.  Scandal even.  An offense.  God’s Mission is centered on a rock that either breaks you, or pulverizes you, a stone of stumbling and offense, of scandal.  Certainly harsh.    

     In fact, as strange as it seems, Jesus is doing mission work as he verbally attacks the elders and scribes and priests.  This is the harsh part of mission work, the preaching of the law, in this case the declaration of the truth that these religious leaders were in truth working against God’s mission.  Despite their outwardly religious  appearance, the Pharisees, Elders and Chief Priests of the Jews all rejected God’s way of salvation.  They were fine with a certain amount of helping the neighbor, and very happy to go about appearing pious and law-abiding, making a show of setting a good example.  And they thought they were very much a part of God’s mission in doing these things. 
But no, says Jesus, they are wicked tenants, who have abused God’s vineyard, abused their positions of authority in His Church, and rejected the central point of God’s Mission of Salvation – the offense of the Cross.  When prophets speaking God’s truth came to Israel, calling them away from their sin, again and again, the people of Israel, leaders and people, rejected the message and abused the messengers.  Being a prophet to God’s people was never an easy calling.  And as in all things, Jesus is the greatest prophet, God’s final Word to His people, and the world.  So the Jewish religious leaders reject Him most of all.     

     Jesus is the rejected stone of Psalm 118 which becomes the chief cornerstone.  Jesus is the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense, of scandal.  In Jesus God fully reveals the central mystery of His plan of salvation.  And this mystery is one we sinners quite naturally reject.  Yes, it’s not just the chief priests and elders.  We all like to sidestep, ignore or outright reject the scandal that is Jesus, because it is unpopular with the world, or maybe because of what it says about us.  The fact that saving sinners like you and me required the unjust execution of the sinless Son of God is crushing news to our spiritual egos.  But it is the truth, a truth without which we cannot be ready for the Gospel.    

     And so we see Jesus is the rock.  He will either break you, or He will pulverize you.  Jesus said, “the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him."  This is His warning to the chief priests, scribes, elders, to anyone who is proudly confident that by their own contributions and efforts and goodness they are earning their place in the kingdom of God.  If you persist in your self-righteous, stubborn resistance to the cornerstone, you will be crushed. 

     The alternative to being crushed doesn’t sound much better.  The alternative is to be broken, but then restored.  That is, everyone of us must be broken on the rock that is Christ, in order to be restored and brought into the kingdom.  For we are all sinners, naturally opposed to God and His Way.  To complete His Mission of Salvation, God must break us from our love of sin.  Consider Peter, broken by his threefold denial, as the rooster crowed, broken by his inability to follow Jesus to the Cross as he had sworn.  Or consider Paul, an enemy and persecutor of the Church, broken by the light, the blinding appearance of Christ to him on the road to Damascus, asking him Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  Consider Martin Luther, torturing himself in a monk’s cell, trying to earn the favor of God, until the Word of God broke through, revealing that God gives righteousness as a free gift, received by faith, for Jesus’ sake.  

     As for all these famous Christians, so also for you, and for me.  We must be broken out of our complacency, or out of our pride and self-assurance.  We must be broken from our habit of loving earthly pleasures more than God and His Word.  We must be broken of our love of sin.  We all must be broken by the Law, both at conversion, and also throughout our earthly lives, broken so that with His Good News, with His Gospel of forgiveness and mercy, Jesus can restore you to wholeness, and present you to His Father, whole and blameless and beloved. 

     Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church, which is a building made of living stones, sinners who have been broken, but are now restored, made new, and joined to Jesus.  And as in all things, Jesus leads the way.  For He has already given Himself into brokenness, in our place.  Jesus is One man who had nothing to be broken for, the One with no sin for which to suffer.  But out of love for His Father, and love for us sinners, Jesus chose to be broken, even crushed, by all our sin, the sin which requires our death and punishment.  Jesus, the sinless one, the Son of the Master of the Vineyard, Jesus, Almighty God become a man, was crushed, becoming the sinner in your place, body broken and blood shed on His Cross, in order to restore you, with free and full forgiveness.  You are forgiven, all your sins are washed away, by the blood of Jesus.   

     This is the Mission of God, restoring broken humanity through the once broken but now resurrected body of the Son, Jesus Christ.  The Cornerstone is now set.  Jesus Christ, the head of His body the Church, now rules over heaven and earth. By His Spirit He now empowers His mission, which takes the Lord’s marvelous doing out into the world, proclaiming peace between God and sinners.  And, when God has brought us through the harsh things, then there is great joy.  Being caught up and involved in God’s Mission is wonderful, amazing, the best thing in the world.  It is also the one thing in this world that lasts forever, the gift of righteousness and eternal salvation delivered to a sinner, today, by the power of God’s Word. 

     This is the message that God has called Pastor Richard here to preach to you.  This is also the message that I have been called to preach in Spain, a land that very desperately needs to hear this truth.  For in Spain, the way of the Chief Priests and Scribes and Elders, the way of human pride and human accomplishment, the way of human works required to complete salvation, this false way is, sadly, the way the Christian faith has been presented for centuries. 

     Spaniards through their history have been taught a very works righteous misunderstanding of Christianity.  They are very much in need of the pure Gospel, and, since 2000, the Lutheran Church of Argentina, with LCMS support, has begun proclaiming it.  The Lutheran Mission in Spain is small, and spread out.  But Lutheran Mission is there, and the people are hungry for more Good News.  My particular task in Spain will be to come alongside the first Spanish Lutheran pastor, Juan Carlos Garcia, who serves a small congregation in Seville.  I am very much looking forward to working with him to reach out with the Gospel in Seville, and then see God grow His Church. 

     But first, my work is finding partners, Lutherans in America who want to partner with the Lutherans in Spain, and see the Gospel spread there.  God will raise up the partners He has in mind, prayer partners, and financial partners.   My wife and I are very thankful for the commitment you have already made to this work as a congregation.  As we rejoice in our shared restoration, I ask you to ask God how much more He might want you involved. 

     Are you feeling a desire to be more involved in God’s Mission?  Being involved is pretty straightforward. 
     Step 1, be fed, be filled.  As you are doing today, hear the Word, receive God’s Absolution, take, eat, and drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Be filled with the Gospel, for this is how God prepares His people to be of service in His Gospel Mission.  When you are filled to overflowing with the Good News of God’s love in Christ, His Spirit then moves you to be a part of giving the gift to others.  Step 1, be filled, and keep on doing step 1.  The more you are filled with the Gospel, the more you will be ready to be involved in God’s Mission.   
     Step 2, attend to your own congregation’s mission first.  Zion/St. John Lutheran Church is God’s mission in this place, for God is always working through congregations, pastors and people together.  Step 2, attend to home first. 
     Step 3, look beyond.  Ask God how you can best be connected to efforts to proclaim His Law and Gospel to a world so much in need of God’s Truth and Love, revealed in Christ.  By your invitation for Shelee and I to join you today, and by the prayers and commitments you have already offered, you are already doing step 3.  I will go to Spain as your missionary, and that is an honor.  What more might God want to do through you for Spain? 

     As we move forward together in service within God’s Mission, first, last and always, rejoice in the righteousness of Christ that God has given you, rejoice that Christ has made you His own.  Marvel at the Stone the builders rejected, who has become your Cornerstone.  And the Peace of God, that passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.