Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Call to a Reckless Life (AUDIO)


You'll notice that I diverged onto what I hope was a set of relevant tangents in the delivery of the prepared message. People tell me, "I love it when you go on tangents."

Hopefuly, they're Holy Spirit-inspired ones.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

The Call to Recklessness

[This was shared during the worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, today.]

Mark 4:26-34
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells two parables or stories about “the kingdom of God.” We’re going to focus today just on the first of these two parables of the kingdom.

The kingdom of God exists wherever the Holy Spirit empowers a person to believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to life with God and so, repents of sin and surrenders their whole life to Christ.

But we live in a fallen, sinful world. Sin exists within us and around us, which is why it’s so important for Christians to confess our sins, ask God’s help to resist the temptation to sin, and put our lives in the hands of Jesus every day. People tell me, “I don’t know if I’m good enough to go to heaven.” “That’s not the issue,” I tell them. “Jesus is good enough to get you and me and everyone who believes in Him into heaven.” 

And He’s good enough, perfect enough, sinless enough, to get us into His kingdom not just when we die, but right now as we trust in Him. 

Yet, given that sin has our world and often we ourselves by the throat, we may sometimes question whether the kingdom of God is present or if the world hasn't been completely overrun by evil.

In both parables today, Jesus encourages us not to give in to despair

The citizen of God’s kingdom has an eternity of hope. Evil is rampant in our world. Disrespect for God’s Name, thievery and murder of all kinds, injustice to the poor, sexual intimacy outside of marriage, reputation-damaging gossip, materialism, and all sorts of other sins fill our world, even the Church. Yet, the kingdom of God is still among us, still growing, and still able to usher into eternity with God anyone who dares to break with the world, repent of sin, and surrender to Jesus Christ.

Look please at Mark 4:26-29. Jesus says: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” 

Here, Jesus introduces us to a reckless farmer. He scatters seed. He doesn’t bother with things like watering, hoeing to remove weeds, or laying on manure. He scatters the seed and goes through his daily life. This man’s only job, apparently, is to scatter the seed and wait and presumably, pray.

Folks, that’s our job as Christians, too

The seed of God’s kingdom in this particular parable is our word--our witness--about the gospel. The gospel is God’s good news, which Jesus talks about in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s the Gospel! 

Every person born to life on this planet is ticketed for separation from God and for hell. But because God loves us so much and wants us so much, He gave Jesus up to death on the cross. Everyone who believes in Him--everyone who trustingly gives their sins over to Jesus and entrusts their lives to Him--has what every human being was made for, eternal life with God. This happens through Jesus and only through Jesus. That is the good news of God’s kingdom. That’s the Gospel!

Today, Jesus scatters this good news through you and me, the people of His Church. We Christians are the farmers whose job it is to scatter the seed, telling others the good news about Jesus

Yet it seems that as we Christians interact with our spiritually-disconnected friends or fellow believers, we find it easier to scatter anything and everything but the gospel

That has tragic consequences. As we Christians fail to tell others the good news about Jesus, the world is walking away from God

And as we ourselves root our lives in money, status, and the pursuit of pleasure, much of the Church is walking away from God.

In Acts 1:8, the crucified and risen Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven, told His Church, you and me: “ will be my witnesses... 

If you’re a baptized believer in Jesus Christ, you are one of His witnesses, called to scatter the seed of the Gospel

But what if we fail to ever tell others about the Gospel? 

Imagine for a second that you’re a spectator at a murder trial, anxious to hear testimony and form your own opinion of the case based on the testimony of witnesses. What would happen if all the witnesses who could be enlightening or helpful, instead talked about the weather, their vacations, how desperately the Reds need pitching, or what they saw on Fox or MSNBC the night before, but never said a word about the case at hand. This is what would happen: You would be unable to make an informed decision. 

If we Christians, who have been called to be witnesses for Christ, fail to tell others about Christ, they are unable to make a judgment about whether to receive the new life in God’s kingdom that Jesus offers.

The stakes are high! Heaven or hell for all the people we may interact with in our lives depends on whether we Christians will be faithful witnesses for Christ or not

Look at what Jesus says in Mark 4:29, at the end of the first parable: “As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 

The “He” here is not the farmer who scatters the seed in the first few verses of the parable. Look, please, at Joel 3:13. The words from this Old Testament prophet’s book lay behind Jesus’ words to us today. It says: “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow—so great is their wickedness!” 

Both this passage from Joel and the words of Jesus in Mark 4:29, are about the ultimate judgment that will come to this world. The world will hurtle along from one evil day to the next. Those who refuse to repent and believe in Jesus will keep on sinning unrepentantly and never blink an eye. According to Jesus, there will even be unrepentant sinners in the Church, people who tell themselves and those who love them and challenge them, “I’m a good person. I do my best each day.” 

Listen: Our best won’t save us from ourselves and our sins. Only Jesus can do that. Suddenly, Jesus says, the days of the world moving from one evil day to the next will end. Then God will wield His sickle. Only the seeds that have borne grain--only those who believe in Jesus Christ--will rise again. This is why you and I, if we have compassion for other human beings, must get over our fears and ask the Holy Spirit to daily present us with opportunities to scatter the seed of the gospel.

But how do we find ways to scatter the seed of the gospel so that others can come to eternal life with God? Here are a few steps you can take toward being a faithful witness for Christ.

First: Maintain intimacy with Christ. Use what we Lutherans call "the means of grace," the routes God takes to fill us with faith, to give you a closer walk with Jesus Christ. These include worship, Holy Communion, and God's Word, in which we need to immerse ourselves. They also include quiet time spent in prayer, conversation with the Lord rooted in His Word. A Living Water disciple told me recently, “Quiet time has become a wonderful part of my life.” Through each of these means, Christ draws us closer to Himself and fills us with Himself! We can’t share what we don’t have. We can’t share a relationship with Christ unless we ourselves have it to give. As we cultivate intimacy with Christ, we will have good news to share with others!

Second: Live in daily repentance and renewal. Repentance is changing our minds about our sins and turning to God for the forgiveness He offers through Christ. When others see the evidence that we are imperfect people who seek each day to orient our lives to the will of God, it will enhance the credibility of our witness for Christ. People will want the Savior we follow.

Third: Be intentional about forming friendships with spiritually-disconnected people. Jesus was always reaching out to unbelieving people. Be sure as you form such friendships, you maintain strong friendships with God and with fellow believers with whom you study Scripture, pray, and maintain accountability. Without this anchor of faith and love, you could be lured away from Christ yourself.

Fourth: Remember your own story. It’s the true story of how Christ daily impacts your life that will give you the “street cred” to scatter the seeds of the gospel among the people you know and meet.

Fifth: Be kind. Romans 2:4 says that the kindness of God is given in order to lead us (and others) to repentance. Start with kindness. God has been kind to us! Although we deserve death and condemnation, He has patiently given us time to become acquainted with His Son, repent for our sins, and believe in Jesus. I’ve never understood how people who know that they have been saved by God through faith in Christ, and not by their own goodness, could dare to be unkind to others. Being kind means being kind to people we don’t know and patient with our disbelieving friends. We need to give them the time and space to experience God's love so that God can give growth and maturity to the seeds we scatter, so that they can believe in Jesus and grow as His children too.

When the kingdom of God that Jesus came into the world to bring takes hold in a person’s life, it brings comfort, hope, and peace in the midst of even the most difficult moments in this life and unfettered peace in eternity after we, like our Lord Jesus, have risen from the dead and are in the presence of our Father. May God use us to share His kingdom--to recklessly scatter the seeds of the Gospel--with everyone we know. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]