Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A waste of a good miracle...

Sermon for Pentecost 21, Proper 23C, preached on Sunday, October 13, 2013 (LWML Sunday).

    We live in a results oriented world.  We like statistics and we want to see the track record of our success.  In the midst of this we encounter Jesus healing ten with but one to return to give thanks and to receive faith.  That translates to a 10% success rate.  Would we be satisfied with such a rate of return or would we take the healing from the ungrateful?  Would we have healed the ten knowing that only one would come to faith and return to worship God with a grateful heart?
    Jesus is all about grace.  That hits hard in a world wired for results.  But the Kingdom of God is not of the world.  It is in the world.  The success of the Gospel cannot be measured in demonstrable results but in faithfulness.  The nature of God's Kingdom is that it is measured not by outcomes we see but by faith that trusts the Lord to do what He has promised.
    While this ought to come as great comfort when we find ourselves without the success stories the world uses to decide things, it cannot be allowed to lull us into complacency as if this means we can afford to do nothing at all.  The world around us judges everything on the basis of a high rate of return.  The Lord judges on the basis of faithfulness.  What He looks for in us are hearts that trust in His Word and Spirit for ourselves and who will faithfully speak that Word so the Spirit may work in the lives of others.
    We mighty well have dismissed the story of the ten lepers as the waste of a good miracle.  Why would anyone heal ten to bring one person to faith?  We find the same question in the work of the Church today.  It is worth helping nine families who may not be deserving in order to make sure that the one deserving family receives help?
    Sadly we are literally killing the Church by focusing on understanding the process or predicting the outcomes – none of which are our business – instead of focusing on the witnessing, service, and works of mercy that our the business of the Church and all of God’s baptized people.  We market the Gospel as if it were a product and put our confidence in marketing schemes instead of speaking and showing that Word and trusting the Lord to do what He promises.  The Kingdom of God is not about charts or business strategies or success ratios.  It is about grace and mercy, faithfully believed and faithfully spoken and shown to the world.
    The Lord is so generous that He is wasteful as the world counts things – but this is not a problem.  This is our glory and our hope.  The Lord forgives the sins of sinners.  Not the nice sinners who inadvertently screw up but deliberate and calculating sinners.  The sins He forgives are not the little ones we all understand but the heavy hitters of a people so caught in sin that they cannot free themselves.
    The Lord bestows life to the dying and does not reward the worthy but reaches into death to save those the world calls lost causes.  We are literally a church of lost causes whom the world has consigned to failure but upon whom God shows extravagant mercy and grace.  The Lord has taken our death upon His shoulders and placed upon us the life that is so far beyond our merit it is a shock and scandal of great proportion.  It is not justice; Jesus calls it grace.
    The Lord bestows His mercy upon those in need without regard to their merit.  It is an extravagant mercy that goes beyond all reason or justice.  God is not merciful to the nice or the deserving but to the wretched sinners who have nothing to offer Him but faith in Christ.  God does not act based upon successful results – God acts and the consequences are forgiveness, life and salvation for all the lost causes and unworthy.  That would be you and me. 
    I am not preaching theory here but the most profound practical reality.  It is scandalous grace and wasteful mercy that is ours in Christ but this is the magnet that draws us here on Sunday morning and this is the message we bring to the world in words and in deeds.
    What a wasted effort.  Parents who bring a child to be baptized in water where God has hidden His Word.  Women who bring mites born of pocket change the world counts as worthless to count for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus who heals ten lepers with but one who realizes he got more than health in the bargain.  We are all the lost causes for whom the world has given up and sin has consigned to death but Christ died for us.  The Church is in the business of lost causes to whom the Lord has given His promise and blessed with forgiveness and life.  For such lost causes LWML ladies do their work, parents bring their children to baptism and teach them the faith, churches work to care for those in need, Christians gather in Bible study, God’s people work in witness, and the word of the Gospel is spoken so the Spirit can work as He has promised.
    We face the great temptation to analyze and make judgments about what works and what does not work.  While we are examining the process, we should be doing the work of witness and service.  God promises results and we dare not judge anything He does as a waste of effort nor can we judge the faithful witness and service to Christ a waste – no matter how few the results we see. God’s work is building mountains from mites, bringing His kingdom through His Word, rescuing the lost one sinner at a time, and restoring the fallen one soul at a time.  Faith does not make us any less a lost cause nor does it diminish at all the full power of God’s grace to rescue, heal, and save the sinner.  Faith is what enables us to know and rejoice in what God has already done to us and for us.
    Now since God works through our witness, this does not leave us off the hook.  What it does it move us even more to the noble task of our high calling.  Since God works through your witness, even your frail words and works are vehicles of His promise to do His bidding.  If we spent less time measuring the Kingdom and more time speaking the Word through which God builds it, the work of the Lord will be done.  In the end it all seems but a waste in a world that sells products by finely tuned marketing strategies.  But to the one leper who was healed and who came to faith, nothing was wasted at all.  Let us leave the success up to the Lord and focus our time and energy on what He has given us to do.  That is enough.  Amen.

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