Growing in Christian Service
On this Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, we install the men who will serve Trinity for the next two years. Being the season of Pentecost, the season of growth, we grow today in our understanding of Christian service.
The first thing we're confronted with is the impossibility of Christian service because of whom we really serve. These men who will stand before us aren't entering into our service but that of Christ. Likewise, you who usher, who teach Sunday School, clean Communion ware, count money, serve meals, water plants, sing in the choir, or do any other task around here, home or work in Christ's name are not in the service of Christians but Christ. And He's a troublemaker not a peacemaker.
Isn't that what He says? "Don't suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I didn't come to bring peace, but a sword." Picture Jesus striding toward earth. His hand tosses something out. Everyone thinks it's going to be an olive branch of peace floating gently to earth, but instead a heavy metal sword clanks to the ground.
Didn't you ever have a friend like Jesus? Someone who was always starting an argument, stirring things up, couldn't let wrong things go by but had to confront them? If you think it's tough being a friend of someone like that, trying serving someone like that. You men are being installed today to serve a Troublemaker. You are being installed to help me lead this Church according to the Word of a Troublemaker, Someone who stirs people up, makes them mad, a Jesus who doesn't invite everyone to His Communion table, a Jesus who doesn't believe all religions lead to the same God, a Jesus who doesn't go by the opinion of the majority.
How hard it is to serve Jesus; still there is a sense of nobility in thinking of me and Jesus against the world. However, there is no such sense in me and Jesus against my family, but that's what Jesus says. He quotes a prophesy from Malachi about the last days and Jesus says He is fulfilling it. "A man's enemies will be the members of his own household," Jesus quotes. Then He applies it, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." Those of you who aren't parents yet probably think putting Jesus before mom and dad is tough. Oh no, the really tough one is putting Him before your own children.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen faithful, godly, Christian parents choose to serve their child rather than Christ. Once their child fell into some grievous sin like believing a false teaching, not going to church, living with someone, abortion, or homosexuality, they accepted it. "Kids will be kids." "It really isn't as bad as you think." "What can I do about it?" Rather than the parents calling their child to repentance, the child called them to acceptance. Acceptance of what Jesus rejects is rejection of Jesus.
All in the service of Christ are called to stand with Him even against their own family if necessary. This is especially true of the men we install today. We call them out from their families to stand before Christ and to vow to serve Him first. His Word, His way, His truth come before their families, their opinions, their ways. It takes a miracle, a bonafide act of God, for anyone at all to be willing to go the way of Christ rather than their own way or that of their family because the way of Christ is the way of the cross.
The men being installed today, all of you who serve Christ, serve a Christ who is crucified in this world. Yes, Christ rose from the dead almost 2000 years ago, but in this world, in this life, in this sinful fallen existence He remains the Crucified One. To the cross, to the cross, to the cross is where the fallen world demands our God and those who follow Him go. And to the cross, the cross, the cross is where our God calls us. Christ doesn't say it's a one time deal but an ever present taking our cross and following Him, the Crucified One.
When Winston Churchill addressed those joining his government at the start of WW II he said, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." Can I say anything less to men being called to serve One who walked this earth bleeding, crying, sighing, and dying? Moreover, the same urgency that fired Churchill must fire us too. The night of wrath and judgment fast approaches; we must work while we still have daylight. We can't wait for better times, better conditions, or even better men. We are it. A mission society in England wrote back to missionaries in Africa who had asked for help saying, "Men will come when the rains stop and the roads are better." The missionaries replied, "We need men who will come though the rains never stop and there are no roads."
I can't promise those you of who serve Christ whether in elected office or not either fair weather or good roads; I can only promise trouble, hatred, and the cross. That's why, like dangerous, difficult missions in the military, we ask for volunteers. As Luther said in a sermon, "Whatever Christians do, it should be willing service, not compulsory...[T]hose not inclined to willing performance, we should leave to themselves." And we do. We don't browbeat, bribe, or badger people into Christian service. Therefore it's a miracle that any of you serve Christ at all in anyway whether here at church or in your day to day lives. It's just too hard, too impossible for anyone but God to raise up Christian servants.
And this He does. Against all odds, against all human understanding Christ raises up servants. Servants who sing as one of our hymns has it, "In Thy service, pain is pleasure; With Thy favor loss is gain." Or as another hymn has it, "If I find Him, if I follow,/ What His guerdon [reward] here?/ en and even children not just willing servants of a suffering Savior but servants who count the suffering of service pleasure not pain?
A Savior does. We serve the One who saves us from sin, from death both temporal and eternal, and from the power of the devil. Our Jesus has done the impossible. He has brought life to us who were stone cold dead in our sins. We think it's a big miracle for Jesus to raise the physically dead. It's a far bigger miracle for Him to raise the spiritually dead. Though we were like everyone else longing for peace at any cost, even if it cost the truth; though we had chosen a united family even if it divided us from Christ; though we had shunned the cross as ugly and painful, Christ Jesus went to the cross on our behalf. Christ made peace with God for us by keeping God's Law in our place and by doing the bleeding, sighing, sweating and dying that was necessary to pay for our sins. Christ left His heavenly family and was rejected by His earthly one, so God the Father could have mercy on us who had chosen family over God.
Such love, such grace, such forgiveness changes people. To be forgiven for what you could never forgive yourself; to be loved though you're unlovable, to be welcomed into God's house though you're ungodly changes people. We see a picture of this when a snapping, snarling, worthless stray dog shows up at our house. Though it snaps and snarls, we feed it. Though it treats us like an enemy, we treat it like a friend. Though it wants to bite the hand that feeds it, we feed it any way. Soon our love transforms that mean, stray dog into a family pet that regards our home as his home.
We were stray, snapping, snarling dogs, alone and abandoned in the world, but for Christ's sake God the Father took us into His home. Here the illustration breaks down; it doesn't show what authority, what dignity, what honor we now have in the Father's house. Jesus says, "He who receives you receives Me, and He who receives Me receives the One who sent Me." We aren't dogs in the house of a king; we are servants of the king. Think of a postal worker. Though they appear rather lowly, behind them stands all the authority and power of the United States government. If you assault them or even interfere with them, it's a federal crime. They represent the federal government; whoever messes with them answers to it.
Do you get it? As you go about your service of Christ, no matter how lowly it is, no matter how unappreciated and unnoticed it might be, no less than the Almighty God stands behind you. Anyone who messes with you must answer to Him. You're engaged in divine, holy work when you go about your everyday Christian service just like an angel of God is. A painting from the Middle Ages shows this well. Two Roman Catholic officials in all their fine, majestic clothing are seen peering into a kitchen. They have shocked looks on their faces. All the lowly servants in the kitchen have big, beautiful angel wings sprouting from their backs. The wings of angels sprout from your back as you do anything in the name of Christ whether it be work in your garden, clean your house, serve at church or serve your family.
You are angels of God Almighty though it certainly doesn't look that way as you go about your service carrying your cross. However, Christ proemises to reward generously anyone who helps, receives, or assists you. Whether they receive you as a prophet, a righteous man, or even just as a little one of Christ, they receive a reward far beyond what they do for you. Think of Jacob and Laban, Joseph and Potiphar, Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, or Elisha and the Shunammite woman. For the sake of His servants, the Lord rewarded even unbelieving people who helped them.
Do you think it's any different today? Do you think the Lord is not watching over you as you go about your Christian service no matter how menial it might be? Do you think that He is not blessing those who bless you? Do you think He forgets to help those who help you? By no means. Stop thinking that your Lord Jesus is far away from you unaware of what you are doing or uncaring about what you are suffering in His service. He is very much aware and very much cares. He notices who receives you, who takes you in, even who gives you so much as a cup of water.
But what about my reward? Jesus doesn't say anything about that here, does He? Here all He says you servants of His will get is trouble, division, and the cross. This can be discouraging, but there is comfort elsewhere. The liturgy for placing servants of the Church closes with I Corinthian 15:58 which says: "Be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for your labor in the Lord is not in vain." Your labor isn't useless, pointless, or unforgotten, but don't expect to see that here and now.
You are like the missionary coming home after 25 years oversees. On the boat coming home was a famous actor. Throngs of people were at the dock to greet the actor and shout his praises. The missionary was hurt and said to his wife, "I've dedicated myself to God's service for 25 years. Where are the crowds to welcome me home?" His wife answered, "You're not home yet; heaven's your home." And neither are you who serve Christ. But one day your ship will come into heaven's harbor. Then you'll see not one little thing you've done in Christ's name has been forgotten by Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VI (6-30-02), Matthew 10:34-42