Tuesday, May 31, 2011
What greater works can we do?
Of all the mystifying things Jesus could say, today we heard Him say, "Whoever believes in Me will do the works that I do and greater works than these, he will do... in My name." What we do would surely pale in comparison to all that God has done! From the grand miracle of creation to the ordinary miracles dotted throughout Scripture to the incomparable miracle of God in flesh in the manger, the works of God boggle our minds and imaginations. So what then does Jesus mean when He says, "Great works than these, you shall do?" What things? Should we expect to be changing water into wine, feeding thousands from a little boy's lunch, healing the sick, raising the dead?
The first thing we need to say is this. We do not do anything on our own. Whatever works we do are not ours but Christ's own work, working in us and through us. Like St. Paul says, it is not me that do them but Christ in me. We can't do anything to please God except what Christ does in us and through us. He has sent us the Spirit to equip and enable this. So Jesus is not talking about who we are or what we do outside of Him but who we are and what we do as His own people by baptism and faith.
Second whatever works we do are not done with our own power or might but with the power of Christ and the might of the Spirit. Therein lies the surprise of grace. God could do whatever He wanted without us. He has the power to do whatever He wills without us. But the surprise of grace is that God has chosen to work in us and through us. He calls us partners in the Gospel but certainly not equal partners. It is the nature of His gracious love to work through us and to honor what we do as if it were done on our own, when in reality, the works we do are Christ working in us and through us.
Third, these are not the works of our own choosing but the works of His choice. We do not set the agenda for the work of the kingdom. This is one of the biggest problems in Christendom today. We act like we get to pick and choose what we will for the Lord. It is the very nature of faith to defer to Christ and His choice and His priorities. The perspective of faith is always "not my will by Thy will be done." Love does not speak in any other way.
Okay, if Christ is at work in us and through us, if it is by His power and grace that we accomplish anything for His kingdom, and if we are called to do only the works of His choosing, we are still left with the Lutheran questions: What does this mean "greater works than these you will do...?" What makes them great? Is it that what we do is huge in comparison to what Christ has done or is it that what we do expands, amplifies, and extends Christ's own work to more and more people?
What works we do are not substitutes for Christ's own work of forgiveness, life and salvation but extensions of what He has done. We receive what He has won and what He has given to us and we multiply it by giving to others in His name. We speak the Word of the cross and the elect hear and respond. This is the first and foremost work of the kingdom. What God has done for us in Christ, we speak to those who have not heard and God works in this speaking to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify His Church.
Second, we show the love of Christ to those who have not yet felt the warm embrace of their Savior. Christ's love is not theoretical love but practical. He reaches out and touches us with this love in the wet splash of water that cleanses, in the voice that calls us by name with absolution to relieve the burden of our sin, and in the bread and wine that He gives to us, His body and blood to forgive, strengthen, renew and restore us to Him. Even more, His love surrounds us with compassion and kindness new each day.
Ours is a God who supplies daily and richly all things we need for this body and this life just as He supplies us with the grace of eternal life. Showing the love of Christ to those who have not yet felt its warm embrace means that we are not merely concerned with the spiritual lives of people but with the wounds, needs, and troubles of this mortal life. The healing balm of the Gospel addresses not only the need for life after death but the nature of the life we live here and now. This is mercy's work and service that flow from and extend Christ's love and mercy and service to the whole world.
Finally, the works we do are the works which share the gifts of Christ with those who have not yet received them. You can call it stewardship but the reality is that everything we do with what Christ has given us is a faith decision and a faith choice – not just time or talents or treasure. The gifts that God gives us are not meant to become personal possessions that we hoard but the currency through which the Kingdom of God is revealed, witnessed, and extended here on earth.
This is why we pray forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. This is not a threat against us being unforgiving, but the powerful reminder that what God has given us is a gift we give away to others in His name. Forgiveness is multiplied when the forgiven forgive others. Love is multiplied when those who are loved, love others. These are not little things we do for Jesus but the greatest works of Christ who works them in us and through us.
Funny how what we think are the BIG things are small before God and what we think are small things are BIG before God. The great cause of our live is to receive Jesus Christ with faith, respond to His gracious mercy with thankfulness and praise, and extend Christ to others by faithful worship, witness, prayer, acts of mercy and sacrificial service. We tend to think of mortgage payments, lawns mowed, laundry done, and all the other things of life to be great and urgent and the things of God to be less so. We tend to think of the great things of God to be those places where nature is suspended by God’s mighty actions. In truth the things of His kingdom are the greatest and the things of His kingdom are the domain of Word and Sacraments (not thunder, lightening, etc.).
And what happens – as many as He has elected, hear and believe and confess Him Lord – all through the faithful actions of His disciples, like you and me. So do not minimize these works as inconsequential, do not take credit for them as if you were doing them on your own, and do not let the Word and work of Christ stop with you... for by accepting the works of Christ as great and mighty even when He does them in you and through you... and by giving the glory always to Jesus Christ, and by extending to others what He has given you, you are doing the greater works that Jesus has promised and called us to do. Amen...