Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Terrible Waste or Extravagant Grace?

When [Jesus] saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.  (Luke 17:14-16)

Jesus is all about grace.  That hits hard in a world wired for results.  But the Kingdom of God is not of the world.  It is in the world.  The success of the Gospel cannot be measured in demonstrable results but in faithfulness.  The nature of God's Kingdom is that it is measured not by outcomes we see but by faith that trusts the Lord to do what He has promised.

While this ought to come as great comfort when we find ourselves without the success stories the world uses to decide things, it cannot be allowed to lull us into complacency as if this means we can afford to do nothing at all.  The world around us judges everything on the basis of a high rate of return.  The Lord judges on the basis of faithfulness.  What He looks for in us are hearts that trust in His Word and Spirit for ourselves and who will faithfully speak that Word so the Spirit may work in the lives of others.

We might well have dismissed the story of the ten lepers as the waste of a good miracle.  Why would anyone heal ten to bring one person to faith?  We find the same question in the work of the Church today.  Is it worth helping nine families who may not be deserving in order to make sure that the one deserving family receives help?

Sadly we are literally killing the Church by focusing on understanding the process or predicting the outcomes—none of which are our business—instead of focusing on the witnessing, service, and works of mercy that our the business of the Church and all of God’s baptized people.  We market the Gospel as if it were a product and put our confidence in marketing schemes instead of speaking and showing that Word and trusting the Lord to do what He promises.  The Kingdom of God is not about charts or business strategies or success ratios.  It is about grace and mercy, faithfully believed and faithfully spoken and shown to the world.

The Lord is so generous that He is wasteful as the world counts things—but this is not a problem.  This is our glory and our hope.  The Lord forgives the sins of sinners.  Not the nice sinners who inadvertently screw up but deliberate and calculating sinners.  The sins He forgives are not the little ones we all understand but the heavy hitters of a people so caught in sin that they cannot free themselves.

The Lord bestows life to the dying and does not reward the worthy but reaches into death to save those the world calls lost causes.  We are literally a church of lost causes whom the world has consigned to failure but upon whom God shows extravagant mercy and grace.  The Lord has taken our death upon His shoulders and placed upon us the life that is so far beyond our merit it is a shock and scandal of great proportion.  It is not justice; Jesus calls it grace.  The Lord bestows His mercy upon those in need without regard to their merit.  It is an extravagant mercy that goes beyond all reason or justice.  God is not merciful to the nice or the deserving but to the wretched sinners who have nothing to offer Him but faith in Christ.

God does not act based upon successful results—God acts and the consequences are forgiveness, life, and salvation for all the lost causes and unworthy.  That would be you and me.

Larry Peters, extract from sermon for October 13, 2013

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