Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
July 8, 2007
Text: Luke 10:1-20

We’re always very impressed with our work for the Kingdom of God. It’s human nature… or at least it’s fallen human nature, to be impressed with our own good works, especially when they’re done for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. Of course, our Lord has called every Christian to work for His Kingdom. There’s no question about that. And it is certain that we should rejoice in what the Lord does in us and through us. But there is a fine line, is there not, between rejoicing in what the Lord does in and through us, and rejoicing in our own accomplishments? Whenever we look at our own good works: all that we do for the Church, all the Christian organizations and activities we’re involved in, all the people we’ve helped, we lose focus on what our Lord does for us. And it is what our Lord does for us that really matters: fulfilling the Law in our place, dying on the cross for our forgiveness, being raised again for our justification, sustaining us through His Word and Sacrament, interceding on our behalf before the Father. Salvation is not by our works for God, but by God’s work for us in Christ. So “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” (Luke 10:17; ESV). They were impressed with their work for the Lord. Therefore Jesus had to refocus them. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20).

Even the evil spirits, demons, were obeying the seventy-two disciples whom Jesus had sent out to preach the Gospel. It didn’t take long for the disciples’ rejoicing in God to turn into spiritual pride, rejoicing in the self. “Do not rejoice that the spirits obey you,” says Jesus. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. You have only done what I have called you to do. You would not be able to do it if I had not called you to do it and given you the authority to do it. Don’t be impressed with yourselves. Give thanks to God that you yourselves have been saved from the devil’s grasp.”

Spiritual pride can wreak havoc on the Christian’s soul. We all have it. You have it. I have it. We’re proud of ourselves. And this is idolatry. We put ourselves in the place of God when we take pride in our own good works. We take our eyes off of Jesus and His cross and look at our own good works. We see what the Lord is graciously doing in us and through us, and then gladly take the credit for it ourselves. This, dear friends, can kill faith. It can rob us of our salvation. Because we are not saved by our works, but by Christ alone. Spiritual pride is a dangerous thing.

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (v. 2). Like the seventy-two, whom the Lord is addressing with these words, we hear about the plentiful harvest and the labor shortage and set off to serve the Lord. Of itself, this is a good thing. We should want to serve the Lord. We should want to labor in His harvest field. But let’s not be too hasty about setting off to serve with our own agenda. We often hear these words and eagerly step up to the plate, singing, “here am I, send me, send me,” but we want to go on our own conditions. We want to serve where we want to serve, and not necessarily where God has called us. So we end up with everyone thinking they’re a minister and nobody listening to those who are called by God to preach the Word. We end up with pastors who put guilt trips on their sheep because of all the lost who haven’t come to believe the Gospel. We end up with Christians who blame their pastors because the congregation isn’t growing. We end up with pastors who blame themselves because the congregation isn’t growing, and so they forsake their fidelity to biblical doctrine and consider no gimmick beneath them and our Lord’s Church if it boosts those attendance numbers and the bottom line of the Sunday offering. This, again, is spiritual pride. It is idolatry. Repent.
You are not called to be a minister. You are called to be a hearer. And you are called to many other vocations in which you confess Christ to your neighbor. You are called to be fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and members of Epiphany and citizens of the United States, or in at least one case, Canada. You are called to work at a grocery store or drive bulldozers or raise crops or be a homemaker or teach high school orchestra. This is where you serve in the Lord’s Kingdom. This is where He has called you. This is what He has given you to do. Nor has He called you to grow the Church. Incidentally, He hasn’t called me to grow it either. That’s His job. He calls us to be faithful. He calls you to your vocations, and He calls me to mine. It is my vocation to be your pastor. It is my vocation to preach the Word. It is your vocation to hear. It is our vocation together to receive the salvation of the Lord. And it is our vocation together to confess Christ to the world. But we leave the results to Him.

If the Lord blesses us with a congregation bursting at the seams for all the new members, and if He blesses us with unlimited cash flow to work for His Kingdom, all thanks and praise be to Him. He gets the credit because He produces the growth. We are only unworthy servants who have done our duty. Do not rejoice in this, that your work for the Lord produced measurable results, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Sometimes the Church does not grow. Sometimes the demons do not submit. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (v. 2). We often stop there, as if that were the whole story. But Jesus continues, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (v. 3). In other words, some of you won’t come back. So don’t be impressed when the demons submit. And don’t be surprised when they don’t submit. Don’t be impressed with yourselves when the Church grows. And don’t be surprised when it declines. Here’s the thing: You aren’t called to produce results. You’re called to be faithful, even if that means your death. You are lambs among wolves. Some of you will be devoured. You will have to suffer. There’s no such thing as clown ministry. There is only the ministry of the cross. The faithful Christian will always be under the cross. The preaching of Christ will be rejected, along with the people who proclaim it. Cities like Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon, and Capernaum, will be unrepentant. But keep confessing Christ. Pastors should keep preaching. Christians should keep confessing. Be faithful unto death. And do not rejoice that the demons submit to you, but that your names are written in heaven. Do not rejoice in your works, but rejoice in the work of Jesus.

For He is ever faithful. He is the Lord of the harvest, Who gave His very life and suffered all hell for His people. He calls workers to His harvest field. He calls some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11), and He calls you to your place in life. These are the workers in His harvest field, each called to a specific office and task, whatever that happens to be. And this is all very sacramental, because He is working through means, through you in your vocation, to serve your neighbor, and even call your neighbor to faith. The Lord is the One Who does it. He is answering the prayer of His Church to send out laborers into the harvest as He calls me to be your pastor and you to serve in your vocations. We may never see the results of our labors. Sometimes we will, but most of the time we will not. In fact, much of the time it will appear that our labor is in vain. But it doesn’t matter. We let God worry about the results. We rejoice that our names are written in heaven. They are written in the blood-red ink that flows from our Lord’s wounds. And we know that the labor is not in vain, even when it appears to be, because God, Who is faithful, has promised His Word will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish that which He desires (Is. 55:11).

This is a very freeing thing. The Lord will always accomplish what He desires. You don’t have to worry about it. Just be faithful in that to which He has called you. And when you are unfaithful, repent and believe the Good News: You are forgiven on account of Christ. He has taken your sin and unfaithfulness to the cross with Him. He sustains you in your vocation. He speaks His Word to you and through you. He feeds you with His body and blood. He washes away your transgressions. He heals you and restores you. This is your reason to rejoice. We don’t rejoice in our works, but in Jesus’ work. “(F)ar be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Rejoice in the cross. Rejoice, for your names have been written in heaven, and God’s Name has been written upon you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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