Saturday, July 19, 2014

Freedom to Live!

This is the kind of life we can enjoy by God's grace given to all with faith in Jesus Christ!

A Different Kind of Recycling

From Facebook. Don't know how sustainable it is. But this is fun.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Encouragement for Seed-Scatterers

[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, during worship this morning.]

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives His family, the Church, encouragement.

We need encouragement. We live in a world that is often indifferent or even hostile to the good news which you and I have been sent by Jesus to share with the world through our actions and our words.

The news--the gospel--that God the Son, Jesus, has died and risen so that all who turn from sin and surrender to Him--trust in Him, believe in Him--have life with God in this world and will have an eternally perfect life with God beyond the grave is really good news, of course.

But this message, isn’t something the world always wants to hear. That can be discouraging for Christ’s Church.

But we of Christ’s Church can also become discouraged by our own self-righteousness. We know that we are saved from sin, death, and futility not by our works or our virtues, but solely by God’s grace operating through our faith in Christ. But we get confused. Self-righteousness creeps into our hearts. We start to think we are good, the rest of the world is bad, and that we’d better just stay separated from the world, the frozen chosen hermetically sealed from this bad old planet. Living in isolation from God's will that we reach out to the world behind us, thinking of the world as irredeemable, disdaining others only brings us isolation from God Himself and that brings discouragement. 

Wallowing in discouragement though, will never help us to pursue the mission Christ has given to you and me.

Jesus shares a parable in the first portion of this morning’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 13:1-9. Later, He explains it in verses 18-23.

Take a look at Matthew 13:1, please: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.” In Matthew’s gospel, the word house often stands symbolically for the Church. The Church is the group of people who have been called into relationship with God through the good news about Jesus.

The Church, of course, is called together to hear God’s Word, to enjoy Christian fellowship, to be baptized and welcome the newly baptized (as we did this morning), and to receive Christ’s body and blood.

But as was true for Jesus Himself, we as His people, after we’ve gathered to do these things, are called to leave the safe confines of our house, our home in Christ, and go into the world.

In fact, the entire purpose for Christians to gather in worship and Bible study and prayer is to be empowered to scatter, taking the word about Jesus into our homes, places of work, schools, the places we hang out each day, the world.

If the only place we live our our faith in Christ or talk about Christ is the church or with fellow Christians, we just aren’t fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says: “...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another...”

In other words, the Holy Spirit gathers us in Christ's Church in order to empower us to be scattered through the world with the Good News of Christ.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus left the cozy confines of the Church and went out into the world to teach a crowd that had been following Him. Because Jesus had been reaching out in love to the world around Him, He had earned an audience for His message. We do the same today as Christians when, in Jesus’ Name, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Beginning at Matthew 13:3, Jesus tells a parable, a story that conveys lessons about the kingdom of God Jesus has come to bring to all who believe in Him. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus’ parable is a picture of the Church moving out into the world. Like the farmer with his seeds in Jesus’ parable, you and I are meant to indiscriminately and lavishly spread the word about Jesus wherever we go, however we can.

Eleven days ago, our Conspiracy of Kindness class went to the corner of Main and Central, just a few yards from the church, and gave away 120 cans of Coke in about forty minutes. Attached to each can was a card that told recipients that this was a practical way of telling them that God loves them. As in other such outreaches, we shared with teens and twenties and little kids, with working class folks and professionals, with people who had white faces, black faces, yellow faces, old faces, young faces.

We didn’t target a particular group.

We didn’t consider how we could do our work more efficiently.

And we didn’t stop giving when some people refused the gift.

We just gave the Coke away to help people understand that the God we know in Jesus is a lavishly giving, gracious God!

As members of the Church, you and I are called to do crazy stuff like that, to keep scattering the seed, spreading the word about the gracious God we know through Jesus, who forgives our sins and opens eternity with God to all who believe. And we do that no matter what reactions we get from some people.

The apostle Paul told the young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach [that literally means proclaim or, we might say, scatter] the word; be prepared in season and out of season...” Not everyone, when we encounter them, will be receptive to receiving the word of the gospel. It may not be the right season of their lives for surrendering to Christ.

And many of God’s people will have to scatter the seed in some people’s lives for many years before the people with whom they share it begin to understand their need of the Savior and the depths of His love for them.

This is what Jesus demonstrates in the latter part of our Gospel lesson, when He explains the parable.

He says that the seed of His Word flung along the path gobbled up by birds represents those who hear about Jesus but don’t understand its importance. The evil one, the devil, removes the seed from such people.

Others, Jesus says, will initially welcome the word about Him but their faith will be shallow and they will soon forget the gospel sort of like a fashionista flushes last year’s hemlines.

Still others, Jesus tells us, will start to grow in their faith, but then get caught up in the cares of this world and lose touch with Christ.

Jesus says that some though, will receive His Word, believe in Him, grow in their faith, and have a life of faithfulness, becoming useful servants under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

There are four things I find encouraging in Jesus’ parable.

First, the power of the Church doesn’t reside in our programs. It doesn’t reside in our people. It doesn’t reside in buildings or liturgies, wonderful as those can be. The power of the Church resides in God’s Word, the Word about Jesus, alone. That takes all the pressure off of us in sharing the word about Christ with others. The seeds God gives us to scatter are the best seeds in the universe, God’s seeds of love! But as we scatter them, we’re not even required to have a good aim. We just scatter God’s love and leave the rest to God!

Second, as Christians all we have to do is spread the Word. We don’t have to be innovative. We don’t have to make up a new message. We don’t have to be marketing geniuses. God's Word about Jesus Christ doesn't mean additions or subtractions. It doesn't need to be made more palatable or politically correct. It doesn't need to be made cute. God is the only true innovator anyway: He makes new, eternal beings out of sinners otherwise destined for eternal death simply by calling them to trust in the crucified and risen Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Third, Jesus’ parable tells us that we shouldn’t be discouraged when the seeds we scatter don’t all grow.

The farmer in Jesus’ parable found that only 25% of his seeds survived, grew, and thrived. But that 25% grew like crazy and had an impact on the world in which they grew.

Whenever we invite people to events like Our Own Backyard, or serve others on our mission trips, or house the homeless, we may only plant the seed of faith in 25% of the people we touch. But what’s wrong with that?

If only 25% of the people we touched in that Kindness Outreach a week and a half ago are nudged closer to Christ, that's 31 people!

If just 25% of the men we served at Saint Vincent a few weeks ago grew closer to Christ because we served in Christ’s Name, that’s still 38 men!

And if a quarter of the 168 people served through yesterday’s kindness outreach have their wills cracked open a bit to Christ, that's 42 souls drawn closer to Christ’s orbit.

And just imagine how many people may be having the seed of faith in Christ planted in their lives through Upward, Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), our mission trips, and the work Dan Mershon does with our community’s young people--our "parking lot kids"--day-in and day-out!

Christ depends on us. If we Christians never scatter the seed of Christ’s gospel in the world, we are guaranteed to fail. Nobody will ever know about Christ if we in the Church don’t tell others about Him, His cross, and His empty tomb.

If we do scatter the seed, we’re guaranteed that often we will fail from the world's point of view. But we are also guaranteed that we will reach some people with the news about Jesus that can change their lives for eternity.

Jesus says in Luke 15:7: “...there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” I totally dig the idea that by sharing Christ with others, I can be part of getting a party started in heaven!

The fourth encouraging thing I take from Jesus’ parable is that when we scatter the Word of God, we are fulfilling the highest calling of our lives! You and I were formed in our mothers’ wombs to give glory to God in this way!

1 Peter 2:9 says: “ are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

As Christians, we’ve been born and reborn to be seed-scatterers!

Today, I think, Jesus wants us to learn one thing and to do one thing.

We’re to learn this: As His followers, you and I have been saved for all eternity by Jesus so that we can be indiscriminate seed-scatterers, sharing Him all the time.

And the one thing He wants us to do is to live that lifestyle, spreading the seed of God's Word about Christ everywhere.

Sign up for serving with Saint Vincent or IHN.

Show up for the next Kindness Outreach or do one yourself with some friends from the congregation.

Look for opportunities to develop relationships with spiritually disconnected people and ask God to help you share the Good News.

Share the Savior Jesus, Who loves you completely, with others He loves completely in all your words and all your actions.

That’s it.

That’s the message.

As Jesus says in our lesson, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”