Sermon for July 2, 2017
Open to Receive God's Grace
When Jesus looks out and sees crowds of hurting, suffering people, he has compassion on them. He feels deeply moved, and he acts to bring the good news of God’s kingdom to the poor, to heal the sick, to bring peace to into the lives of people who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus' compassion and active love shows us God's own heart and intentions for us, shows us how God not only sees our plight and hears our prayer, but also how God’s mercy and compassion puts God’s love into action for us. In Jesus, God is at work to save us.
One of the ways that God answers the prayers of a hurting world is by gathering his disciples, instructing them and sending them out to announce the good news of the kingdom, to bring the peace of Christ to individuals and households and neighborhoods, towns and cities, to bring God’s healing to all who long for God’s relief.
What an awesome mission God has equipped and sent us to carry out in Jesus’ name! We have been welcomed into God’s family through Holy Baptism. We have received the peace and reconciliation that Jesus has won for us through his death and resurrection, We know the liberating power of Christ’s forgiveness, announced in that word we have just heard: "For the sake of Christ, all your sins are forgiven." We have tasted the goodness of God’s love for us in a holy communion where Christ’s own body and blood assure us that Jesus died and rose for us. We have heard the good news and learned the ways of peace and love from Jesus, our Lord. Jesus has given us a commission and a mission to act as messengers of God’s kingdom; to act as agents of his love; to live as signs of God’s peace and sent us into the many and various places of our different and unique lives.
But Jesus also prepares us through his word and through the example of his own life to expect persecution and to prepare to suffer for the sake of the good news.
Yet, how are we to prepare for ourselves for the struggles that we will experience for the sake of the Gospel? How are we to respond to a world that is hostile to the truth of the message we have been entrust to preach?
This week there was more news of shootings … on the road, in a nightclub, in a hospital. This Independence Day weekend, police and security agencies are on the look out for those who seek to hurt, harm, kill and spread terror and fear. Think what this constant news of violence does to us, especially when the attacks strike close to home. The closer the attack, the more we want to avenge, the more our anger turns to hatred, the more suspicious and cynical we become.
But we are disciples of Jesus, and so that natural human reaction to threats of violence and acts of hatred are simply not open to us, and utterly and completely contrary to our faith and trust in Christ. Our salvation relies on the simple fact that Jesus responded to our hatred with love; our violence with forgiveness; our murder with resurrection and new life. It is certainly true that devil roams and prowls seeking to devour us and our faith, and yet we are still sent out as sheep in the midst of the wolves. Never are we sent to become predators ourselves.
So, how do we live, then? We live by faith, trust, dependence and love for God alone. The answer to our own fear is trust in God’s providence, trust in God’s grace, trust in God’s action. And those are the words of good news and hope that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. God has promised to provide for us in this life, on our mission. That even though we are sent into a world of pain and suffering we will encounter some who will welcome us, sustain us and through whom God will revive soul and our spirits.
If Jesus has sent us to be an form of answer to the prayers of a suffering world. We can expect and rely on God’s grace, as well. God will prepare an answer to our prayers, as well, as some recognize the Christ in us; as some receive us as prophets; as some receive us as righteous; as some receive us as a disciple, a little one of Jesus.
What incredible comfort and reassurance this can give us! Through the kindness of people — strangers and friends; through the goodness of communities and assemblies like this — open, welcoming communities that have their eyes open to see Jesus in a neighbor; through all these means Christ re-assembles and re-creates all that we might have lost or given up to follow Jesus.
We often talk about how we can witness to the Gospel of God’s kingdom simply by the way we live our life. When we live out of God’s love; when we live as people of peace; when we live as people who are slow to anger and quick to love; we hope that people will see Jesus in us. Here Jesus tells us that when people recognize Jesus in us — they may hate us, but they may also respond to that witness in a way that revives and sustains us.
When we are open and welcoming — instead of suspicious, cynical or defensive — we can receive the gifts of God’s grace from the others God has prepared to help, comfort and revive us in our faith and in our commitment to love and serve Jesus. I wonder if you have stories of the surprising ways God has brought someone into your life to revive and refresh your spirit when you were about to lose faith and despair that world was entirely evil? Who recognized the righteousness of Christ at work in you? Who saw and responded to the light of the Gospel that shines through you? Who understood that you were a child of God and simply because you bore the name of Christ showed you the kindness that you needed … at just the right time.
In the various ministries of this congregation, that is what we aim to do. Your generosity of time, your gifts and talents, your sharing of money and food and so much more, seeks to respond the work of the Holy Spirit out there in the world. But that same thing we seek to give, God looks to provide for us, as well. For some of us, though, it is harder to receive than give. But we need that care for ourselves as well if we are to care for others as Jesus cared for others. Even our Lord, accepted the ministry of others … of the holy angels … when he was tired, drained and near the end of his endurance. He has promised that he will provide the same for us.
So, look for ways to give and share the good news, but also be open for those people who are there to offer you a refreshing cup of cold water, the people that God has given for your benefit, for your care, for your refreshment and renewal. In that giving and receiving, we start to see the kingdom of God become our reality among us … in Jesus name. Amen.
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