Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The mission is Gods. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 2, Proper 6A, preached on Sunday, June 14, 2020.

    One of the great dangers to the Church and to faithful pastors and faithful Christian people is the temptation to believe that the mission of God is ours.  It is our job to direct, to fund, to staff, and to make it successful.  We like it because it makes us managers with authority to decide where to go, what to do, and how to do it.  But the scary part of this is that God will hold us responsible when it does not work, that is when the churches do not grow and it does not seem people are brought to faith.

    But the mission is not ours.  It was and remains Christ’s mission.  We are not the managers of His mission but its servants.  We do not direct this mission but simply do what God has called us to do, where He has called us to do it, and the results and rewards remain His own domain.  It is enough for us to be faithful – faithful in attending the worship services of God’s house where His Word is proclaimed and Sacraments administered, faithful in the proclamation of the Gospel within our homes and to our families – especially to the children in our care, faithful in living out this faith before our neighbors near and far, and faithful in supporting the work of the Kingdom as the Lord has blessed us, and faithful in times of pandemic and panic.  This may seem over whelming but it this is the ordinary vocation of Christ’s people in response to His extraordinary grace and mercy.

    For too long we have allowed the illusion that we are in charge, that success is the result of our efforts and that failure means we need to work harder.  If that were the case, then it would give us great power, indeed.  The reality is that we are called to and held accountable for doing what God has called us to do but the rest is in His hands.

    Jesus had compassion on the aimless crowds wandering around in need of hope.  He is that hope.  You are not and I am not.  We are laborers, in different venues to be sure but laborers for Christ who have been called to make known the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  The world does not need saviors, only Christ the one and only Savior.  But the world does need us to rejoice in and to live out our faith.

    Now Christ has a warning for us.  We are warned that enemies of the Kingdom and therefore our enemies will persecute you, threaten you, ridicule you, and undermine your confidence in God doing what He has promised to do.  This is perhaps the most dangerous – to lack confidence that God will work where and how He has promised to work, to lack confidence in the means of grace.  Notice, Jesus does not say IF this will happen but WHEN it happens.  No one is saved from the callous rejection of the world – not even Jesus!  Yet we are not to dwell on this rejection.  It is not merely a matter of working harder or smarter or being more effective evangelists but trusting in the Word of God to do what God has promised.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

    If and when disappointment will come, we are not to fixate on it or shred our hopes upon the sharp edges of our defeats.  No, indeed.  Shake off the dust and head on to those who will hear the Word of the Lord from our lips.  Were you listening?  We worry about too many things.  Is our church friendly enough, are we nice enough, do we have enough programs, is our worship comfortable to the stranger, and will our people like the liturgy or the beat of our music?  We change too many things in pursuit of that magical mix of things that will appeal to people and cause them to come.  What is wrong with us?  We are not the magnets that attract people but the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace.

    People do not come because we are nice but because the Holy Spirit works in them through the preaching of the Word.  Churches are not successful because they have inventive, creative, and effective programs but because they are faithful to the Word and Sacraments – at least successful in God’s eyes.  People do not come because they are in love with or in awe of the pastors but because God has called them through His Gospel, gathered them under His name, enlightened them by His Spirit, and sanctified them by His Word.  The mission is not ours but Christ’s and we are but day laborers through whose voices He speaks and by whose hands He serves.  The key is the Word of God.

    The sending of the twelve with authority over unclean spirits, diseases, and afflictions is like our time but still unique.  The Gospel had not yet been written into words nor had Christ yet fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets with His obedient life, life-giving death, and mighty resurrection.  Pastors are successors to the apostles but not replacements for them.  Pastors serve under the Good Shepherd so that God’s people may fulfill their God-given vocations as Christian people, Christian husbands and wives, Christian parents and children, Christian employers and workers, and Christian neighbors. 

    Rather than dwell on what is not ours to do, it is good that we consider what God HAS called us to do.  At the end of the Gospel reading it is made plain.  Do not be anxious about what to say or how to speak, for the Lord will give you His Word.  This is not some promise of spontaneous and immediate revelation but a reference to the Word written in the Gospels.  That is why we are to know Scripture well.  For this is the Word that speaks and people are brought to faith and repentance, to baptism and into the Kingdom of God.  We are the mouths but His is the voice.  And we should not be so concerned about statistics for God is the scorekeeper.  Only God sees the heart; we see only the lens of the a brief moment in time.  God sees and knows it all.  To those who believe and are baptized, He gives freely the salvation for which Christ paid with His life on the cross.  And to those who do not, “It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah” than for those who reject His gift. Be careful about what is ours to know and do and what is not.

    Is it possible that we have become overwhelmed with the grand scheme of things so that we forget what is our role and purpose?  I think that is exactly the case.  We worry about the news, about the direction of the culture, about being rejected by the world, about being liked, about our track record.  What we ought to be worrying about is how to be a good husband to our wife and a good wife to our husband, how to be a good parent to our child and a good child to our parents, how to be a good neighbor to those around us, and how to be good citizens in this land.  What we ought to be worrying about is not whether we will be successful but whether we will be faithful.  What we ought to be worrying about is whether we have believed, worshiped, and served the Lord where we are at and before those around us.  If this sounds like the Table of Duties in the Catechism, it should.

    However, the Lord has keyed in one particular aspect of this.  The recruitment of church workers, in particular pastors.  We need to be praying for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest but we dare not stop there.  We should be encouraging the young men in our congregation to consider the pastoral ministry, to prayerfully discern the Lord’s call to be a pastor, and to support them as they hear and heed that call.  The truth is that our church is woefully short of pastors.  Too few are entering seminary and too few are graduating.  Too many congregations are without pastors and that is and should be our concern.  When Pastor Ulrich graduated there were about 50 in his class; now there are in the 30s.  When I graduated there were 150 in my class and a few generations before me there were 300 graduating from Seminary.  We need to pray and encourage men to consider the pastoral office and we ought to put our money where our mouths are.

    As true as this is for pastors, it is also true of the other offices of the church – from parochial school teachers to Directors of Christian Education and parish musicians. This also includes short term and long term missionaries on the mission field.  We  need to pray the Lord to raise up men and women to serve in these capacities, pray for those raised up, and support them in the work of the Kingdom which they do in our name, nearby and across the world.  Where and when this happens, then we can sing the praise of God with a clear conscience and know that we have done what God has called us to do.  Until then, this cause ought to be as urgent to the Church as paying the bills and getting people to serve on church council.

    With this comes the admonition from St. Paul – how then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  This is how the Pentecost miracle continues to unfold among us today – the faithful fulfilling their baptismal vocation and the Church equipped with ministers to preach and teach Christ’s Word.  Amen.

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