What do you say to correct someone's statement notably or noticeably? This phrase can be said in a snotty, sarcastic, or serious manner: Au contraire. Our text stops us and makes us rethink several things so that the thought on the contrary' comes to mind.
The Church is dying. She is in retreat everywhere. All that is left to us according to the mavens of church growth or growing churches is biological growth or morphing to fit people's felt needs. Au contraire, "The harvest is plentiful." That's what the Lord of the harvest says, and He ought to know. He is God in flesh and blood and the harvest belongs to Him. Do you know when the corn harvest is to come in? How about wheat, beans, sorghum, or spelt?
I don't even know what the latter two look like. So, do you know what a soul ripe for harvest looks like? Maybe I would have spotted Zacchaeus up in his tree as being ripe for harvest, but I don't think I would have spotted murderous Saul on the Road to Damascus, or idol worshiping Abraham in Ur, or Noah with his great wickedness and the imagination of his heart only evil continually as being ripe for harvest.
We must repent of sinfully wailing, "The Church is dying, failing, disappearing" in the face of Head of the Church saying in plain words, "The harvest is plentiful." We must repent of sitting up late and eating the bread of sorrow wringing our hands over what we can do to grow the harvest when the Lord of Harvest not only says it's plentiful but even grows it while we enjoy the sweet sleep He gives. See Mark 4.
Here's where everyone of you are stuck. You breeze by, "The harvest is plentiful" as if it's an adult speaking in a Charlie Brown special, "Mwa, mwa, mwa," and we latch on to the "workers are few" as if that's the only thing Jesus said. And we proceed to get more workers out into the harvest any way we can as if the Lord of the Harvest is praying to us for a solution!
These quick ways always involve much less education. Would you want a doctor or lawyer with two-thirds less education? Do you think you would be doing a little town or minority community a favor by sending them one so weakly trained?
Pay attention to the text. What does the Lord of the Harvest command us to do? "You must be moved to beg the Lord of the Harvest to cast out workers into the harvest of Him." And get this. In fulfillment of the Isaiah promise to answer prayer before we pray it, Jesus answers the prayer He just told them to pray before they utter a word. The next words are, "He called the 12 disciples" and the text continues "These 12 Jesus sent out"
The 12 brings me to the next au contraire. You're familiar with the 12th man, aren't you? Although the Seattle Seahawks have popularized it nationwide, it began at Texas A&M in 1921 when the fans became the 12th man on the 11-man football squad. In the 1980s, the coach let a walk-on play in the game but only on kick-offs. So, the 12th man in athletic parlance may not even be a man but the fans, and if he is a man, he doesn't play full time. Au contraire. The 12th Man on Jesus team is a full-time player. Notice how the 12 are mentioned twice, and notice who the 12th Man is: Judas who betrayed Him. In all lists of the 12, Judas is always the 12th.
Peter in Acts 1:17, speaking by inspiration of the Old Testament says that Judas "was one of our number and was allotted a share in this ministry." Jesus speaking as omniscient God in flesh and blood says in John 6 that Judas is a devil, and in His High Priestly Prayer in John 17, Jesus notes that the only one who perished was the son of perdition in accordance with what Scripture foretold. Yet this fulltime devil and son of destruction healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. He wasn't like Ron Weasley in Harry Potter who when he tries to cast spells turns things into monstrosities. The sick that Judas healed didn't get sicker. The demons he cast out didn't come out and beat him up as they did the seven sons of Sceva. The dead that Judas raised didn't come back as Zombies. And wherever Judas heralded the Kingdom of heaven, forgiveness, life, and salvation went forth from his lips.
In this personality driven culture we live in, we think pious people, charismatic people, entertaining people, erudite people most certainly bring the kingdom. Au contraire, God's Word does. The Word is a living, sharp, two-edged sword able to separate you from your sins, sending away your sins into perdition and saving you for everlasting life. The Word in the mouth of a Judas or a jackass is powerful. It does not return to God empty but always accomplishes what the Lord of the Harvest desires.
Pay close attention. This does not give you or anyone else permission to accept a devil in the pastoral office. Once a devil is exposed by a false life or in false doctrine, sheep are to flee that wolf in sheep's clothing. What this text does teach is that contrary to popular opinion the man is not important; the office that preaches the kingdom is. And it teaches you don't have to like the man, know the depths of his piety, or be entertained by his preaching and teaching to benefit from his ministry.
The weakest, unappealing, faltering pastor baptizes your babies into the Triune God and they are reborn. Though that pastor stammers when he says, "I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servantin the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins," all your sins are really sent away that very moment. The forgiveness Jesus won for sinners by His perfect life and paid for by His guilty death is applied by those stuttering words. Though a pastor stumbles and fumbles through the liturgy, the Words of Institution he proclaims do what Jesus promises: They bring His Body and His Blood back to you on this altar for you to eat and drink and live forever in His kingdom.
This brings us to the third au contraire. The insert translates Jesus saying, "The kingdom of heaven is near." Others have the kingdom "has come near"; "at hand"; "drawn near". Au contraire what Jesus says is the kingdom has forever arrived. Only the Jubilee Bible 2000 and The Message have it right. The first has the kingdom "has come" and the second less precise but still right says "the kingdom is here."
Yes, that's the point. This isn't Maxwell Smart theology which always misses something by just a little. The kingdom is not near; it's here. Wherever you have the King of heaven there is the Kingdom of heaven. The message since John the Baptist first proclaimed it is: "Repent for the kingdom has arrived and it's not going anywhere."
If you've been trained by "Onward Christian Soldiers" to look for the church as a mighty army on the march, if you been schooled to think precisely what Jesus says is not true: that the kingdom comes so as to be visible and knowable to mortal man, you are missing the kingdom and you are sure it's dying in an antichristian world. It's true. Baptism does look like plain water; Absolution does sound like just words; and Communion does taste like nothing more than bread and wine. It's true; Paul says that the apostles, how much more so ordinary parish pastors, are spectacles to the world, to angels and to men; They are the scum of the world, the dregs of all things. It's true; the ministry is foolishness and it's the very stench of death. But, and this is a big one, but only to the perishing.
There is another dimension to all this. There is a dimension and Rod Serling eat your heart out because not even he imagined this there is a dimension where even the feet of the messenger proclaiming the Gospel are beautiful (Is. 52 & Rom 10). There is a dimension where the preaching that is foolishness to all the world is the wisdom, justification, and sanctification of God (1 Cor. 1). There is dimension where what is an odor of death to the world is the Easter lily scent of life (2 Cor. 2). There is a dimension where those who lose their life gain it and those who gain it lose it. There is a dimension where the first are last and the last are first. There is a dimension where death is life, blindness is sight, weakness is strength, and the road goes on forever and the party never ends. There is dimension the kingdom of heaven present now in the Words of Jesus, in the Baptism, Absolution, and Communion of Jesus which is au contraire to everything men in their fallen reason can know, think, or believe.
You can step in and out of this dimension. Read Psalm 73 where the Psalmist's feet have all but slipped into perdition until he was bought back into the sanctuary of God. Read how men and women are tempted to despair by the prosperity of the wicked, the apparent powerlessness of a God who doesn't pull His right hand out of His bosom and consume the wicked. Read how the Old Testament Church suffers in Egypt for years crying to heaven and are not answered. Read how righteous Lot's soul was vexed by what was going on in the real Sodom. Read how the Psalmist can get to the point you have been where his soul "refused to be comforted."
You think the Mighty Fortress of our God is tottering; you think the Name of the Lord is no longer a strong tower which you can run into and be safe. You think your Baptism has dried up; the Absolution is no longer valid before God in heaven; and Communion is an empty symbol. Au contraire, the kingdom ours remaineth because the King remains with us. And in His kingdom, in His dimension unclean spirits are driven out by just a Word, every disease and sickness is healed, and the dead are raised.
The word "contrarian" is not in my 1983 Webster's unabridged dictionary. The word "contrariant" is but it's listed "rare." From what I can tell contrarian' is a 21st century word. Merriam-Webster online says it's in the bottom 40% of words. Au contraire not for Confessional Lutherans. We were contrary before contrarian' was cool. We asserted in Jesus' name that neither Sin, Death, nor Devil reigns. We asserted that the harvest is plentiful; that even the 12th man in the ministry has all the power of God in God's Word and Sacraments, and that the kingdom of heaven is right here, right now. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
4th Sunday after Pentecost (20170702); Matthew 9:35-10:8