Saturday, October 6, 2012

What do you see... Whom do you see?

Sermon preached for Pentecost 18, Proper 21B, on Sunday, September 30, 2012.

    How easy it is to interject competition into the nature of things!  Like children who compete endlessly over things trivial, we often take that which is great and make it into a competition.  It is as if we forget how lavish God’s generosity is and so we fear that our prayers are competing with the prayers of others for God’s notice and His answer.  It is as if we fear that God’s grace were in short supply and therefore if He is gracious to another, we will have suffer. Sometimes, we even turn the work of the kingdom into such competition as if were all fighting against one another for the same market share.  In such competitive thought, we all want to be the Wal-Mart’s of Christianity and forget all that Christ has told us of His kingdom.
    Once Joshua came to Moses fearing that Eldad and Medad were in competition with Moses’ authority and the seventy elders whom God raised up to assist Moses with the heavy mantle of leadership.  But the surprise is that Moses is not jealous nor does he fear the work of others.  In the same way Jesus’ disciples come rushing to the Lord telling him of one who casts out demons in His name but was not one of the disciples.  Make him stop they pleaded but Jesus is not concerned.  The kingdom of God is not a competition for power jealously guarded.  He who is not against Me is for Me.  Jesus is not looking to His side but toward the goal.  That is the struggle in the Church.  When we look at either side to see what others are doing, it is nearly always the path of spiritual ruin.  Spiritual success remains keeping our vision focused upon Christ, the message of the cross, and the grace of God.  Focus on anything else and spiritual ruin is sure to follow.  Focus on these and heavenly glory is our sure reward.
    This theme has continued over the last few weeks.  The authority of the Word is not diminished by many faithful voices speaking forth the Gospel.  Just the opposite.  To be sure, we cannot ignore when error is proclaimed as truth or the cross is displaced by other gospels.  We hold others to the doctrine of the Word and we are also held accountable to that same Word.  But we cannot do the Lord’s bidding in church, house, home, and neighborhood when we look sideways instead of at Christ.  We cannot do God’s bidding faithfully if we are more concerned about others competing with us than our own constant struggle to be captive and faithful to the Word of God and the cause of the Gospel.
    It is not the brand name we must jealously preserve but the faithful proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.  My greatest concern for the health and life of this congregation and of the church to which we belong is not that we are not as competitive as others.  My greatest fear for us is that we are more concerned with what others are doing instead of our own call to be faithful to Christ and His Word right here and right now.  We will be held accountable as a church and as individual Christians not for the successful statistics so impressive in the world but for our faithfulness to Christ and His Word.  Our focus is not on those on either side of us but upon the Christ who suffered and died and rose again, and who called us to lift high this cross in His name to the ends of the earth.  The Church will not be judged faithful because of how well we stack up against our competitors.  We will be judged on our faithfulness to Christ and His Word.  In the same way, we as individual Christians will not be judged by God on earthly measures of success but by faithfulness to Christ and His Word.
    Our Lord has promised heavenly reward to those who act faithfully in His name.  That is where we are focused.  Competition is a needless distraction to the work that God has called us to do.  We are not in the business of building bigger earthly kingdoms but in building the Kingdom of Christ through the faithful administration of the means of grace.  Period.  How much good work is undone when we look more at what others are doing than keeping our vision focused upon the Lord and His Word?
    The righteousness we raise up before the world is not the righteousness of our own accomplishment but the holy life of Christ lived for us and the holy sacrifice of Christ on the cross for us.  This is what gains heavenly reward.  The ways we serve are always important to us but it is the service to the Gospel that is important to God.  Let me give an example.  The Pharisees were jealous of their rights, power, and privileges.  When John the Baptist came on scene they saw him as competition and worked carefully to undermine him instead of heeding his message that the Messiah was to come.  When Jesus came to fulfill John’s promise, He was likewise judged by the wrong criteria.  So fearful were they of competitors, they did in the realm of faith what Herod tried to do against a child he feared would take his crown away.
    That faithfulness to which we are called is demonstrated by Jesus over and over again.  In His day, the children, the disabled, and the women did not count.  But Jesus counts them.  He touches the untouchables with their illness and death.  He eats and drinks with sinners and in their own homes like we heard of Matthew a few weeks ago.  He holds up a child as the model of faith and says whoever serves this child does the good work of the kingdom.  Where the Pharisees were concern about where Jesus came from, Jesus showed forth the Kingdom of God in His faithful words and works.
    Our focus is not on those around us as if they were competitors with us.  Our focus is always on the competition within us to be faithful to Christ and His Word, to faithfully speak and live the good news of the Gospel, and to faithfully demonstrate the words of our lips with the actions of our lives.  It is great temptation to think that others have it easier than we do or that others are being more successful than we are.  Whether as a church or as individual Christians, the cause that needs to be our great concern is simply Christ and His Word – believing it faithfully, confessing it faithfully, and living it out faithfully.
    Our vision of Christian faith and life are clouded when our view is sideways and our vision is clear when we see Christ only.  That is what Moses had to remind a fearful Joshua and what Jesus had to teach distracted disciples and what we come for each week – to turn away from the distractions and to see Jesus, to repent our unfaithfulness and be forgiven and restored, and to go forth with this clear vision of Christ and His Word ever before us for one more week.  Amen.

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