A Witness in Desperation and Hope


Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 18, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” [Matthew 9:36]

Here’s a saying that has been proven to be true over the years: The more things change, the more they are discovered to remain the same. This is especially true when we look at human nature, particularly that part of human nature that directly involves God, faith, and the church.
In our Old testament reading (Exodus 19:2-8) God promises the people of Israel that if they commit to obeying His voice (His Word) and keep His covenant (the Law) He will always look to them as His treasured possession among all of the nations on earth. He promised them that they, the people of faith, would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And how did the people answer? They said “Yes, we promise.” And what did the people do time and time again? They broke their promise, their holy covenant with the Lord… they sinned.

These children of Abraham deserved to be punished for their sin; they deserved damnation, and yet time and time again, in great compassion, God forgave them. Their hope in times of weakness, disobedience, and suffering was always in their Creator God’s compassion. This morning, I declare to you that both the plight and the hope of the Old Testament saints is also the plight and hope of the New Testament church; it is our plight and hope.

God is our only hope.

Although we have been given many blessings in our lives we often forget them and grumble against God in times of testing. And when we grumble we betray our God of compassion and put His mercy and grace to the test. When we fear that God has rejected us because of our sinfulness or lack of faith, we put Him to the test. All of this simply proves that we have rejected God’s covenant of mercy and we are seeking to find salvation on our own. But while we were helpless Christ died for us.

Although we have been chosen as his children through faith in Christ, by the washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism, although we are continuously promised that each time we sin, we will find forgiveness by turning to Christ alone, we still grumble, disobey, and tend to live our lives as one who doubts these promises. It is in these times that God reminds us in His Word that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And because Christ died for our sins upon the cross, we are justified before God as holy and sinless, even though we have failed. By His death and resurrection we are saved!

But if we doubt God’s love for us as the godless do during times of suffering, sickness and disease, we will be tempted to see God as an enemy rather than a friend. If we will but become comfortable in God’s Kingdom as one who does not belong yet through Christ always belongs, we will receive God’s compassion in times of suffering and shame. If we will simply remember that while we were yet enemies of God, Christ died for us, well, then we will know true peace.

Through the work of God and through no contribution of your own, you are each here this morning because you have heard the proclamation of the Gospel. It is a Gospel that calls you to turn to Christ alone and be saved because the Kingdom of God is upon you! This is the very message that has transformed you and taken you out of the kingdom of fearful, disobedient grumblers and secures you in God’s Kingdom of grace.

You have been saved for a purpose. [Matthew 9:35–10:8]

You have not been put into God’s Kingdom to simply observe like a spectator at a sporting event, but rather you are in the field of battle to make a difference.

Since you are in God’s Kingdom it is wise that you understand just who you are facing in the kingdom you formally served. Your contenders in this kingdom of darkness are all those who will not turn to Christ alone. And along with them stand “every disease and infirmity” together with the “unclean spirits” who empower your opponents and seek to destroy your Christian faith.

Would it surprise you to know that the key to defeating those engaged in this battle against you is compassion? Yes, you are to see those who belittle you, disrespect you, and even hate you because of your Christian faith as lost and fearful sheep in need of a true Shepherd. Now this may seem strange to you, because in an earthly battle, showing compassion to an enemy dedicated to your utter destruction can mean death and defeat, but this is not an earthly battle. We battle against spiritual forces; powers and principalities. In this battle it is Christ’s compassion that upsets the opposition. That is the “good news” of the kingdom. Jesus’ authority, his clout to provide complete victory, is the curious upside-down power of a crucified Messiah and all the un-powerhouse terms that go with that, starting with “compassion.”

Matthew’s whole gospel can be read as the story of Jesus establishing authority over every enemy by putting himself under them all.

In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus called together His disciples and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles that is the godless, lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you (my disciples). Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (like me), and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” This dear friends is the mindset of a warrior within the Kingdom of God. It is the hinge text that defines our battle plan. These are Jesus’ own words about the authority model that He passes on to you his people. He continues to rule His Kingdom as we His disciples exercise the same upside-down authority in our everyday lives.

That brings us to the second item in the text that may come as a surprise.  It is every disciple (even you) who are given the marching order or commission to: “Go … and  proclaim as you go, saying ‘The kingdom of God is at hand,’ ” at hand, of course, here in Jesus.

If you recall, last week we heard the “Great Commission” given to all of the church. This week’s Gospel lesson occurred many months before that Great Commission was given. It was a commission given to the Apostles only. It was meant for them to experience and learn to trust the authority of Jesus, which is really the authority of God. The authority of God is needed for a warrior who fights in Christ’s kingdom. A short time after this sending out of the twelve, Jesus would also send out seventy two of his disciples with essentially the same commission. [Luke 10:1-23] When they came back they were amazed that even the demons were subjected to this authority. But Jesus warned them not to concentrate on the defeat of demons, but to be thankful that their names were written in the Book of life; they were to be amazed that God’s compassion found a way to transfer them into His eternal kingdom of grace and forgiveness.

And now in the Great Commission, God speaks to you the Laity. While you may not have been called to preach in a pulpit, you have been called to proclaim and witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God through the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus name, person, and work. So…

For those who tend to become bogged down in fear, worry, and even disobedient grumbling, Jesus demonstrates His compassion for you by inviting you to become proclaimers and witness of His compassion and Kingdom, by teaching you to find comfort and rest in His kingdom. But He does not invite you to be idle in your rest, He also invites you to allow Him to use you who have been saved by His Compassion by demonstrating that same compassion to others who also need to hear of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Your assignment then is to “go and proclaim as (you) go.” That means that wherever you go, Jesus has engaged you in the battle of proclaiming and witnessing God’s forgiving love. What should you tell them? Why not tell them of your own struggles with grumbling, disobedience, fear, and worry. Why not tell them that in spite of all of your failings and sins, you have discovered a saving God in Jesus Christ who always forgives. Why not tell them that you have discovered a Saving God who loved you just the way you were, yet He loved you too much to leave you in that condition. Why not tell them of a Savior who has given your life meaning by bringing you into His church, where your life has been given both a purpose and the strength to follow that purpose?

Dear saints, Who is in charge of your life? If you can say by faith, unconditionally that Christ is in charge, then He will do just that, He will take charge of your life when you go out from this place, and He will remind always to “confess him before people.” This then is how God works; He works through you and me, when we extend his compassionate kingdom to others by bringing his compassionate Word of repentance and forgiveness out into a world where there are other words demanding preeminence and in a place where other lords seem to be in charge. But when people trust that Word from Christ that you proclaim and offer them, behold the Kingdom has come. Just as on the cross Jesus “took charge” by the power of powerlessness, so in the weakness of our confessed words he does the same.

This is why Christ’s kingdom desires all of His disciples to be engaged and “proclaiming as we go.” And where do we go? We go into thousands of places where the pastor alone could not go or ever hope to get to. These places that you go to are the very places that God has authorized you His warriors to enter and break every chain and claim of destructive spirits, and take away the power of every disease and infirmity. In this way, God answers the second petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come.” He answers this request by sending forth workers into the harvest field; He sends you. May God continue to lead you as you go, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

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