Sunday, July 3, 2016

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (C) 2016

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 10:2
Theme: “The Harvest Is Plentiful”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christ remains among us. This truth is the lifeblood of the church and it drives her mission. The Christian church has a staggering burden and an awesome privilege. It is encapsulated in these words of Jesus, “He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”1 The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. The gospel transforms things not by changing external structures; policies or institutions, but by renovating the heart. With repentance and faith come new life, new motives, a new perspective.

The conscience can come to the point of regret without reaching the point of repentance. That’s exactly what happened to Judas. He regretted betraying Jesus but he did not seek forgiveness for his transgression, He hardened his heart against the Holy Spirit. He gave in to despair. Pride is a formidable barrier to the reception of divine gifts. Secure sinners only look for help on their terms. Naaman was enraged that he was treated like a Jewish peasant and not the important military commander which he was. Why should he wash in the Jordan? It was a small backwater stream compared to the regal rivers of Damascus. But the prophet was the possessor of the divine promise. The Spirit uses the means the Father chooses. The inevitable influence of interaction with God’s grace is that the arrogant are humbled and those who are lowly are exalted.

St. Paul was radically humbled. Then, as a former Pharisee, was a powerful preacher to the legalistic Jews. He understood their way of thinking and their motivations. People are more likely to be receptive to those who can relate to their experiences. That doesn’t mean we need to share personal or vocational similarities with others in order to share God’s truth. The word of God transcends all human classifications. The Holy Spirit is no respecter of persons, accomplishments, or failures. The octogenarian can share the faith with a primary school child. The recovering drug addict can reveal the beauty of the gospel to a successful CEO. But the Holy Spirit does use the affinity of mutual affiliation for cultivating fertile soil in which the seed of the gospel grows. Still, God determines the opportunities we will have and they don’t always meet our wishes.

Consider the case of Oscar Pistorius. He said last week that his girlfriend would not have wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison. She would have wanted him to devote his life to charity instead. The problem is, no one can ask her because he murdered her. It’s easy to put words in the mouths of people who cannot speak for themselves. But, guess what folks? There’s good news! He can do both. The opportunity for charity work in prison is virtually unlimited. There’s seriousness mixed with sarcasm here. No one, except God alone, can judge the integrity of remorse found in the heart. Still genuine contrition does not make the punishment obsolete.

The just penalty for transgressing the civil and moral law does not conflict with the true repentance of the heart. To believe that it does is to confuse how God works in the temporal kingdom verses the spiritual kingdom. God rules the civil sphere through the law. He uses human agency to dole out punishment and offer reward according to obedience or disobedience of that law. The law (especially as we think of the moral law) is an expression of God’s love. Through its enforcement the well-being of individuals and societies is promoted.

God rules the spiritual sphere through grace. The gospel coerces no one in the manner of the law. Instead, it proclaims unconditional pardon and forgiveness. The gospel is completely counter-intuitive to human reason. There is no investment-return, or effort-reward dynamic. The gospel announces the undeserved favour of God in Christ. It tells us that because of Christ God levies no punishment on us in eternity. Our debts have been cancelled. Our sentences have been served. Our obligations have been met. We can now bloom where we are planted.

The convicted criminal can be converted and lead a transformed baptismal life while still in prison. God uses regrettable circumstances to serve the wellbeing of others. Every day we are ambassadors of hope in a world vexed by skepticism. Every day we are stewards of aid in a world clamoring for relief. Every day we are emissaries of conviction in a culture racked with doubt. Every day we envoys of truth in a world churning in falsehood. We bring radiance into a society covered in dark shadow. We are ‘gifters’ in a culture of takers. We are custodians in an age of negligence. Not that we do any of these things in and of ourselves. Like Paul we say, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”2 The sufficiency is all in Christ. Christ works mightily; He works discretely; He works winsomely; He works attentively in and through our words, our decisions, and our actions. We need not travel to distant lands to participate fully in the mission of His kingdom.

Sowing and harvesting are generally undertaken with a sense of urgency. The window of opportunity can close quickly. The same is true for the mission of the church. We are called to be diligent and devout opportunists. But urgency does not mean panic. In season and out of season the word of God must go forth. In the face of growing unbelief the task can seem daunting; even overwhelming. But the opportunities are all the more plentiful. The gospel seed will bear fruit according to His decree.

God has designated the simply realities of water, bread, and wine to be His instruments for the administration of His mercy. Jesus has established the office of the ministry so that through the pastor He might always be publicly represented to the priesthood of all believers. We are His cherished Bride, His church. We gather regularly to receive His gifts. We are washed with a greater power than that which cleansed Naaman. Baptismal water has washed over our souls. So leave your burdens at the altar. Unload your sins. Pile them up. The floor of the altar will not cave in. There is no weight that He cannot bear. There is no secret sin you have that can shock him. He has heard them all. He knows them all. You have no skeletons in your closet that will scare Him. He has already stood face to face with the greatest evil and has conquered through His death and resurrection. He has no cause to fear.

The words of Jesus to these exuberant missionaries today are striking. They were witnesses to His miraculous power over evil. They witnessed Satan being disarmed. Yet Jesus says, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”3 Here is the primary and unparalleled source of joy. All the treasures, accomplishments, and accolades the world can muster are dim sparks compared to the brightness of this truth. St. Paul says it this way, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us and eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”4 When we see HIM face to face all of our concerns will instantly vanish and the final harvest will be enjoyed. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
3 July, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 10:16
2 Galatians 6:14
3 Luke 10:20
4 2 Corinthians 4:17