Choice has god-like status in America. You should bank here because you have a choice. Fox news reports and you choose what is right. Towns all over America welcome people with a sign saying, "Worship this Sunday at the church of your choice." One of the worst things you can do to an American is not give him/her a choice. This sermon is not about your choice but about what God chooses.
We learn from our lessons this morning that God chooses ordinary, sinful men to preach the kingdom. He took Amos from tending sheep and sycamore trees and made him a prophet. Amos did not choose to be a prophet; God chose him. In the Gospel, we find Jesus choosing 12 men to be apostles. They came from a variety of backgrounds none of them particularly conducive to developing apostles. There were at least 4 professional fishermen, one tax-collector, and one political zealot. The Lord still chooses men to preach His kingdom today. I am one of them; that's why not only should you listen to me, you had better. For in hearing me preach the kingdom, you don't hear me but the One who chose me.
God chooses men to preach the kingdom, not to build it. Search the Scriptures; of the 163 times the word "build" is used, it never says we are to build the kingdom. What did John the Baptist and Jesus preach, "The kingdom of God is here." Our text says the 12 "went out and preached that people should repent." If you check Matthew's account, Jesus tells them to go out and preach that the kingdom of God is here. Luke's account says that Jesus "sent them out to preach the kingdom of God."
The kingdom of God is not something that needs to be built. The kingdom of God came complete, finished, a done deal in the person and work of Jesus. Men must build the kingdoms of men. They build them with their blood, sweat, tears, and quite often that of others. The kingdom of God is built by the blood, sweat, and tears of Jesus. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. The kingdom of God is called the kingdom of heaven by Matthew. The kingdom of God therefore is the abode of God. It has always existed. Not even Jesus built it. What Jesus did was open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. What Jesus did through His blood, sweat, and tears is enable sinners to enter the kingdom of God. More about that later.
God chooses ordinary, sinful men to preach the kingdom. The kingdom is preached when repentance and faith in Jesus are preached. Yes, the word must go out that you cannot enter the kingdom as you are. You must not think that you can enter the kingdom by being nicer, more loving, or more holy than you are. You must not only repent of this or that thing you do, think, or say wrong, but of all that you are and can do. You must conclude that you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
Repentance is one message the men God chooses are to preach. Faith is the other. Faith is not positive thinking. Faith is an empty hand that receives what Jesus did as its own. Faith considers the holy life that Jesus led as its own and so is holy before God. Faith considers the suffering Jesus did for its sins as its own and so is righteous before God. Faith says, "I'm in the kingdom because I'm in Jesus." Jesus clothes me in Baptism, declares me forgiven in Absolution, and puts me in the kingdom and the kingdom in me by His Body and Blood in Communion.
It's good news that God chooses ordinary sinful men to preach the kingdom because otherwise how would we know where it is or how to get into it. But the really good news for you folks is that God chooses sinful, demonized, sick, people to be in His kingdom. When companies sell their products they picture healthy, happy, glowing people using them. You don't find ugly, troubled, dirty, depressed people selling Budweiser, Fords, toothpaste, or clothes. The modern church copies this making brochures with beautiful, happy people on them. God, however, doesn't choose the beautiful, the healthy, or even the happy. He chooses the blind, the handicapped, the troubled, the zeros of the world. God chooses those laden with a load of care; those so sinful that they can't bear to raise their eyes to heaven. God's "advertisement" is a bloody corpse hanging on a cross.
We read this in our Epistle lesson. "God chose us in Jesus to be holy and blameless in His sight." Now a false teacher will tell you that this means you are to be holy and blameless if you're going to be in Jesus and in the kingdom. People believe that and so despair, or worse, they believe it and think they really are holy and blameless enough to be in the kingdom. Neither is correct. What this verse says is that God chooses people in Jesus to see as holy and blameless in His sight.
This is what God did with Abraham and Noah. They were just as bad as the people around them. Abraham was an idolater with the rest of his family. Noah was as corrupt as the people he lived among. Then God chose a man to declare to them, "Abraham, Noah, you are holy and blameless before Me." So God choose me to tell you: Sinner you are holy and blameless in God's sight for Jesus' sake. Those sins that trouble your conscience are invisible to God in Jesus. Though the devil, others, and your own conscience say you are to be blamed for your sinfulness, you are to listen to me: For Jesus sake, God doesn't blame you.
This is just too much good news for some of you. It's flat too good to be true. You can't be that forgiven, that holy, that blameless before God for Jesus' sake. You don't do enough good works; you don't believe hard enough. You don't try hard enough. Go back to the Epistle. There Paul says, "God chose us in Jesus to be holy and blameless in His sight." Skip a few lines; then you out find this action of God's "is to the praise of his glorious grace." Dear friend, it would not be to the praise of God's grace if you were to be holy and blameless in His sight by what you do. God's grace is only praised when the unsaveable are saved, the unforgivable are forgiven, the unholy are seen as holy and the blameful as blameless.
Where does God's gracious choosing of men to preach the kingdom and of sinners to be in it lead? You see this in the Collect. We prayed that "we may cheerfully accomplish whatever things You want done." God's choosing of me to preach the kingdom and His choosing you sinners to be in it leads to us cheerfully accomplishing whatever things God chooses.
Whenever and wherever I have preached the kingdom, I choose that everyone repent and believe. I'm sure you choose the same. Still many, if not most, don't. Am I then to hang my head as if I failed? Am I to conclude that the meager results I see are not enough? Am I to think that if my message is rejected as Amos' was that there must be something wrong with the message? When the apostles were not welcomed or listened to was the dust they shook off their feet a testimony against them? No, Jesus plainly says it was testimony against those who rejected them. It was not an indictment of their message or the way they delivered it.
We must not think that what God wants accomplished is not. We must not look at our meager results and think the Word of God has failed. God's Law is always powerful enough to break the most callous, hardened heart there is. When people don't repent, don't turn from their sins, don't admit they are dammed sinners; it is not because God's Law failed. And God's Gospel is powerful enough to bring to faith the most wretched, lost sinner. When people don't come to faith, don't rest in the forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake, don't confess they are saved sinners, it's not because God's Gospel failed. How could it? It's the very dynamite of God for salvation.
Literally everywhere the men God chooses to preach the kingdom go, they are met with rejection, persecution, unbelief. Noah preached to an entire world; only 8 were saved. Lot preached to an entire city; only 3 were saved. Jesus Himself preached to thousands; only a handful believed. Did Noah, Lot, and Jesus accomplish what God chose them to do? Yes! Did they cheerfully accomplish it? Noah and Lot probably bellyached like I do. Only of Jesus does it say that for the joy set before Him He despised the shame rather than wallow in it.
Well, what does God choose for you cheerfully to accomplish? We see this in both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel lesson. The Lord sent the prophet Amos to the idolatrous Bethel to turn them from their false beliefs and to cling to the true God. The people ran him out of there saying, "Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there." God chose a Gospel preacher for them. He chose them to believe it and to provide for that Gospel preacher. They not only didn't cheerfully accomplish that. They rejected the idea altogether.
When God chooses a man to go in His name and to preach the kingdom of Christ, He sends Him out without means of subsistence: no purse for money, no bag for provisions. Because of this text, Lutherans have frowned on the idea of worker priests: i.e. a pastor who supports himself by working another job. The houses that welcome him and listen to him are to provide for him.
Now this is just plain lunacy to the world. I've known several laymen over the years that were audited because the IRS flagged their tax return on the basis of how much they gave to the church. To a world that doesn't need forgiveness and grace, to a world that believes only in kingdoms it can see, it is lunacy to support a man from God who only proclaims repentance and forgiveness in Jesus' name and speaks of a kingdom no one can see.
But you are not of the world; you belong to the kingdom of God. You confess this by supporting the man God has chosen to bring you the kingdom. When you put that offering in the plate you are accomplishing a holy, noble work that God chooses to be done and chooses you to do it. Though it may be small in your eyes, God chooses to see it as huge in His. Go with God's choices. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VIII (20060730); All 3 lessons