Sunday, July 07, 2013

Be Careful What You Pray For

[This is another one of the sermons I prepared for worship this morning at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. It and the second one I prepared sort of got blended in the delivery.]

Luke 10:1-20
There’s an old saying: “Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.”

This past Tuesday, during my morning prayer time, I stopped talking to God for a time and asked instead for God to speak to me in the silence.

“Is there something that You want me to pray about, Lord?” Often, when I pray like that, all I get is silence and that’s OK because just being able to know and speak with God by way of Jesus Christ is wonderful enough for any believer in Christ.

But, this last Tuesday, sitting in silence, a thought crossed my mind, a thought I believe came from God: It had been a while since I had directly and personally shared the Gospel--the good news that God’s passion for all people is so great that He sent His own Son Jesus, so that all who turn from sin and follow Him, who believe in Him, won’t remain in the state of separation from God in which all human beings are born, but will be made right with God and have life with God forever--[It had been a while since I’d shared that good news] with a spiritually disconnected person.

I’d shared the gospel with the people of Saint Matthew, of course.

I’d shared it indirectly with all sorts of people on my blog and my Facebook and Twitter pages.

And I love doing both of those things.

But, I believe that it was God Who reminded me and convicted me in the silence, that it had been awhile since I had lovingly and compassionately looked into the eyes of a person not in relationship with Jesus and shared the Gospel with them.

So, I prayed, “Lord, help me to share the good news with some spiritually disconnected person soon.”

God loves all people. He wants all people to know how much He loves them. He wants all people to have the relationship with Him that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. He wants all people to know about Jesus’ death and resurrection so that believing in Him, they can have life with God, now and forever. And ordinary people like you and me--and like the seventy Jesus sent out on a mission in today's Gospel lesson--are the "jars of clay" He uses to carry the message of His love to a broken and needy world.

Well, Tuesday passed. Wednesday passed. There were conversations with a number of folks as I connected by phone or in person. But all of those happened basically, within the Christian ghetto. The Fourth of July was spent with mostly family members. I had almost forgotten my prayer when I went for physical therapy for this bicep tendonitis the doctor’s been treating lately.

I arrived at the treatment center with a bottle of water in one hand and a book in the other. I always take a book with me, just in case there’s some delay or a lull during the sessions.

My name was called and I went back for my treatments. The discussion with the therapists started predictably. “How have you been lately?” we asked each other. One of them told me about tackling and conquering a major tidying project, clearing the way for some redecorating.

Then, about twenty minutes into the treatment, one of the therapists, noticing my book, asked, “What are you reading?” “Oh, an Agatha Christie novel,” I said, Murder on the Orient Express. “I thought it was a mystery,” she said. “That’s a little surprising. Usually, I’ve noticed you’ve brought religious books with you.” She was right. But this was what I’d taken that day.

Now, I hadn’t picked up that Agatha Christie paperback with the idea that, “This book will allow me to share the Gospel with someone at the physical therapy center today.” But bizarrely, the fact that, at the last second, that was the book I picked up, led to a conversation about stories, how Jesus told stories, and how this past week at the IMPACT youth gathering, we heard true stories of young people who, after being rejected by their peers and even their own parents, even after violating the will of God, they found the grace, forgiveness, and love God offers to us through Jesus Christ. They learned that we are saved not by what we know, not by obeying religious rules, and not by being good enough, but solely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, this conversation unfolded over a period of about a half-hour and it wasn’t as one-sided as that summary makes it sound. But this very natural conversation gave me the chance to share the Gospel with a spiritually-disconnected person.

It was only after I got back to my office at home and was praying that I realized, “God just answered that prayer I prayed last Tuesday!

Somehow, we in the Church have managed to make the simple act of sharing the most important truth anyone can know--the truth that God loves us, sent Jesus to save us from ourselves, and that we can receive that salvation simply by turning from our sinful, self-driven ways and receiving the gift of faith in Jesus Christ--[we’ve turned all that] into something complicated, forbidding, the area of “experts.” But, truly, every Christian has the ability to tell others about the Savior Who has come to save us from hell and to give us heaven with God! Every Christian!

In today’s Gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus calls seventy of His followers to travel two-by-two to cities He intends to visit.

Their message is simple: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” That makes sense; Jesus is the King of kings Who came to bring the kingdom of God into our world. All who believe in Him are part of that eternal kingdom.

Now, it’s important to remember that earlier in Jesus’ ministry, He sent out the twelve, the apostles, on a similar mission. That’s easy for us to understand. They had become the experts, trained in the world’s most exclusive seminary, three years on the road with Jesus.

But here, in today’s lesson, Jesus sends out non-experts, laypeople, into the world to do the same thing He had earlier sent the apostles to do. They were to share the Good News of the kingdom to which all people can belong by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Our lesson goes on to tell us that the seventy pursued that mission, even casting out demons in Jesus’ Name!

Now, there are three things I want to point out as being  important in this lesson.

First: God wants people to be saved from sin and death. That's why Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. It’s why He sent the seventy in our lesson and it’s why He sends you and me into the world with a great commission.

So, pray that God will send witnesses  for the crucified and risen Jesus into the world. In verse 2, Jesus says, "The harvest truly is great [the numbers of people in need of the Gospel are enormous], but the laborers [the numbers of people willing to share the Gospel with others] are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Out of gratitude for the grace of God given to them in Jesus and out of love for others who need Jesus as much as they do, every Christian should make it her or his business to pray that workers--everyday Christians like you and me--will be prompted and empowered to share the Gospel with their spiritually disconnected friends.

But a word of warning: Be careful what you pray for. It’s often been my experience that if we are passionate enough about something to pray about it, God will often answer our prayers by saying, “OK. YOU be the answer to that prayer.”

As you pray for workers to go into the harvest, be prepared to be one of those workers who carries the Good News into the world, into Logan, into your family, into the place where you work or go to school!

Second: Expect opposition when you share the Gospel. Among those who cried for Jesus’ crucifixion, I’m convinced, were people who knew or at least strongly suspected that He was God in the flesh. They hoped that by killing Jesus, they could overthrow the power of God and believe the lie that Satan has been trying to feed the human race since the beginning, the lie that we can (or should be) like God.

Jesus warns us that the opposition that killed Him will also seek to keep us quiet as we strive to share His Good News. In verse 3 of our lesson, Jesus says, “I send you out as lambs among wolves.”

Jesus never promises that if we follow Him, everyone will love us, we’ll have lots of money, and we will never suffer. Elsewhere, Jesus says: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Like Stephen, the first Christian to be killed for following and sharing Jesus with others, when we face opposition to the Gospel that we share with others, we can join Jesus in the prayer He offered from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”

When, by faith, you know you will rise with Jesus, you can take risks to share God’s love, justice, and hope into the world that you would otherwise be terrified to share. You can face life and death knowing that none of God’s promises will ever let go of those who entrust their lives and their eternities to Jesus Christ alone!

Finally: Share your faith in Christ out of simple gratitude for His grace. Grace, you know, is God’s charity for sinners. Christians know that we deserve condemnation and death for our sin. But because of God’s grace and our trust in Christ, the One Who brings God’s grace to us, we’re set free from death.

Romans 8:1 says: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

And Ephesians 2:8 reminds us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God...”

Life with God is a gift you and I could never earn nor deserve. There is no greater gift than life with God! 

And it has been bought for us by Christ through the shedding of His blood, His suffering, and His death on a cross!

Of course, Christ’s death and resurrection hadn’t yet happened when Jesus sent the seventy out on their mission. So, maybe they can be excused for the triumphalism they display, getting more excited about being able to exorcise demons from people in Jesus’ Name than they were about the gift of everlasting life with God that Christ gives to all who believe in Him.

But all too often, Christians give Jesus a bad name by looking down their noses on others, acting as though they’re superior because they’re Christians. We must never fall into this trap!

No Christian can ever claim to be superior to any other human being, even if those other human beings are Osama bin-Laden or Adolf Hitler.

We followers of Jesus know that we are undeserving sinners saved only by the wonderful grace God gives through Jesus. That’s why someone has said, “Evangelism--sharing the Good News of Jesus--is nothing more than one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread.”

Jesus is the bread of life Who gave Himself so that all who turn to Him will live.

May it always be our prayer that there will  be workers for Christ willing to share His Good News with the spiritually disconnected in our world and in our community.

But watch out when you pray that way: Jesus may appoint you to be the answer to that prayer! Amen

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