Sunday, June 7, 2009

God of Mercy, God of Might!

God of Mercy, God of Might!
1 Peter 4:7-14
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt
LCMS World Relief and Human Care

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (English Standard Version)

7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.
10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in the faith, and fellow redeemed by the blood of Jesus;

Teach us the lessons Thou hast taught: To feel for those Thy blood hath bought, that every word and deed and thought may work a work for Thee!

In sickness, sorrow, want, or care, may we each other’s burdens share; may we, where help is needed, there give help as unto Thee.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10

George Barna, in his 1991 visionary book entitled ‘User Friendly Churches,’ wrote this about successful churches. “Successful churches took a different tack, involving people in real ministry. They tended to believe that the most desirable form of ministry was outreach, not inreach. …they taught their people that the best way to solve their own needs and problems was by focusing on serving others.” (User, page 46-47)

Barna’s vision of the church wasn’t all that visionary. Christ’s vision for his Church has always one of serving. Only in serving others do we serve the Gospel. The righteous ones of God feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, love the lonely, clothe the naked, help the sick, and visit the imprisoned. The righteous ones bring mercy, mercy forever to a helpless and hurting world.

Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than the selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and unfortunate to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel.
• Christ’s mandate and example of love for the whole person remains our supreme example for life in this world, and for care of the needy, body and soul.
• Christ’s Palestinian ministry combined proclamation of forgiveness and acts of mercy, care and healing (Luke 5:17-26).

“Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and cared for the needy because that’s who He is as mercy incarnate. Mercy responds to human need and suffering, whether spiritual or physical. Proclaiming Jesus and loving the neighbor has to do with who and what the church is as the body of Christ.”

• Love, care and concern for those in need (diakonic mercy/love) are actions motivated by the gospel, when faith (the faith by which we believe) apprehends the righteousness of Christ and his merits, unto eternal life.
• The gospel thus laid hold of, produces love.
• Love seeks and serves the neighbor.
• Love for the neighbor, while an action mandated by the law of God, is a reflection of the very being of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (1 John 4:7).
• This love finds its source and motivation in the deep gospel matrix and totality of the true faith (the faith which is believed).

But, how do we serve and how can we serve in the best possible way?

Jeff McMullen, one of the original people hired to play Ronald McDonald, had the light of life but his job got in the way. Maybe some of you here today can identify with Jeff, maybe your job or school or something else has darkened the light of Christ in your life.

As Ronald, Jeff would visit orphanages and children’s hospitals to brighten up otherwise dreary days for the kids but he always left empty, unfulfilled because he wasn’t allowed to hold any of the children (liability concerns). Often his heart went out to the kids as they reached for him. He learned that the secret was never to look them in the eye. It was easier that way. Never look a needy person in the eye!

One day, after a long day, as he headed down a quiet hallway he heard a little voice, “Ronald, Ronald.” Slowing he entered a room to find a tiny boy curled up in his father’s arms. The boy’s breathing was labored, his body was withered, and his voice was quivering. “Ronald, Ronald, will you hold me?” he asked.

He knew he couldn’t but then it happened, Jeff’s eyes met Billy’s and Jeff knew what he had to do. Job or no job, he sat down and cuddled little Billy until he fell asleep. Moments later, the tiny boy died but not before Ronald McDonald had touched him.

A touch of mercy takes only a moment but lasts an eternity!

All are redeemed, both far and wide, since Thou, O Lord, for all hast died. Grant us the will, and grace provide to love them all in Thee!

But, there are so many needs, so many opportunities out there that a single Christian or a single church like Faith can’t cover every base.

God has placed before The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod unique opportunities for service in our world and community. Together, we have a share, a place, a part, in Christ’s vision for his Church.

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)

Christ’s vision for his church is always one of faith in action. James, the leader of the early church in Jerusalem writes, “What good is it my brothers, if a mean claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is death.” (James 2:14-17)

Jesus was a man of action and by his actions he fulfilled God’s vision for the salvation of the world. At the same time, he healed the sick, fed the hungry, and freed those who were held captive by their own sin. He took up our infirmities, he carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The Son of Man gave his life as a ransom for many and encourages us to do the same: “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command…This is my command: Love each other.” (John 14:13-14, 17)

Christ’s vision for His Church is one of selfless service for others rather than selfish service for ourselves. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16 18)

The darkness of despair is another shade of darkness that closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned. It’s a darkness sets in when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster darkens your doorway. I’ve seen that darkness too many times as a police officer, as a missionary, as a parish pastor, and as a father. When our 21 year son died suddenly of an asthma attack three years ago I experienced shades of darkness I’d never known before and I never want to know again.

When the darkness of despair sets in it’s so easy to feel like nobody cares, like there’s no hope of rescue. Disaster, crisis, and personal tragedy, are cold, dark places with fear lurking at every turn. Today, the helpless and hurting are scattered across our nation and around our world hoping and praying for rescue but who will help them? The Bible tells us—

But, how do we serve to the best of our ability when we have limited resources—time, talent, and treasure?

Once again, Brana writes, “The stark reality is that every church has limited resources, and has been called to accomplish a specific mission. Despite the urge to be all things to all people, the successful churches resisted that impulse to be the answer to everyone’s every problem by focusing on their vision for ministry, by reaffirming their commitment to quality, and by recognizing their limitations.” (User Friendly Churches, page 51)

Later Brana writes, “These churches recognized the numerous opportunities for addressing needs in the community and the world, but they restricted their outreach to those ministries to which they felt called by God, and for which they had sufficient resources to do an excellent job.” (User, page 56)

If the people of this community were asked to identify one or two unique qualities of Faith Lutheran Church and School, what would they be? What are the ministry strengths of your church and school? And, more importantly, what were the ministry strengths of the early Church? Again, Christ summarizes them in Matthew 25—you fed me, you gave me to drink, you invited me in, you clothed me, you looked after me, you came to visit me.

All of these things add up to one thing—Christ’s people active in faith. Together, we as The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod are the Church fulfilling Christ’s vision for the future.

A man was walking on the beach and found a magic lamp. When he rubbed it, a genie appeared and told him that he would be granted one wish. Immediately the man asked for a copy of the newspaper with the stock market report that would be published one year from that day. Suddenly the paper was in his hands and the genie disappeared. With greedy eyes the man scanned the columns and saw stocks in which he could invest and make millions. Pleased with himself and his plans, he turned the page and noticed the obituary column. His name was on top of the list!
All too soon your name and our church will be at the top of the list standing before the Son of Man in his glory, all the angels with him, and he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory to separate the sheep from the goats and you will hear: "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:37-40)
Why? Because when they saw those in need they responded with acts of charity. Without their knowledge, when they helped “the least of these, my brothers,” they were helping the king himself. The works emphasized here must be seen as works flowing from faith that do not gain heaven for anyone, but which clearly reveal the genuineness of faith.
Those on the left are cursed to “eternal fire” for their failure to respond to the needs of the poor and wanting. Therefore, they fail to respond to the needs of the king. They, too, were ignorant of the king’s connection to the poor. Their lack of action displays an unauthentic faith. Note that if anyone presents heaven as eternal and hell as temporary, this parable (vss. 41, 46) presents hell’s punishment as eternal.

The acts of mercy in the text are done without consideration of reward. Though rewards appear to be given in heaven to those who have it as a matter of grace, rewards are God’s business, not the business of Christians living by faith active in love.

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10).

I challenged you to serve, to fulfill your destiny as Christians, to put your faith into action in clear, concise, and convincing ways, and to step into the future, Spirit-filled and excited about the challenges to change.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Sin brings darkness into our lives! Our eyes may see the light of day but on the inside it’s dark, ever so dark. Perhaps you’ve been there; maybe you’re there this morning! Sin plunges us into the darkness that chills us to the bone, leaving us lost and alone, fearful of God and separated from our family and friends. It’s a mind shaft filled with cold and dark and there’s no way out unless someone rescues us. We’re up to our chins in sin and we’ve all been there!

“For, there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (St. Paul, Romans 3:23)

Sin is a shade of darkness like no other darkness known to man! I’ve known it and I never want to know it again. Unrepentant sin leads to such a great darkness. Jesus puts it this way—
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-24)
Sin fill us with a great darkness but there’s yet another shade of darkness in our world!

Is something preventing you from delivering that touch of mercy, from living in the light of Christ, from sharing the gospel? I remember a song we used to sing about that—this little gospel light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

In and through the gospel of hope and forgiveness, Christ gives us the privilege of being mercy in this sin darkness world.

I know that you remember the story of the Good Samaritan; how the religious person and the spiritual person walked on by the man who had been robbed and beaten without even a hint of mercy. But Jesus tells us, “a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity (had compassion) on him.”
I’m sure you’ve heard that the Greek word for pity/compassion is εσπλαγχνισθη from splagchnizomai which means ‘to have a yearning in ones bowels’. I guess we would say it means, ‘to hurt deep inside for someone.’ The Good Samaritan ‘hurt deep inside’ for this man he didn’t even know and he touch him with mercy.
A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. The motivator for mercy is mercy! Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. Our nature as Christians is to be merciful, sharing the gospel in word and deed, not with ulterior motives, but purely because of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. If you’ve received mercy, it’s the most natural thing in the world to share mercy!

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Mother Teresa, known for her great compassion, was asked after winning the Nobel prize, “What is the gospel?” She replied, “The gospel is written on your fingers?” With that she held up her hand and demonstrated, “You-Did-It-For-Me.” Mother Teresa added, “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these. You-Did-It-For-Me!”

What a great philosophy of life, what a great example of faith, but more importantly what a great testimony of Christ’s words in our text!

You did it for me! Through Christ and because of his gospel we can turn chaos into compassion, darkness into light when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster strikes.

LCMS World Relief and Human Care is committed to being the Church by upholding Christ and by doing what needs to be done around the world; the feeding of the hungry, quenching of the thirsty, sheltering of the strangers, clothing of the naked, treating of the sick, and visiting of the prisoners all on your behalf.

The first Christians were totally devoted to Christ and to one another. This too was in keeping with Jesus’ teaching, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Any church not characterized by these things can not have the character of Christ and can not share in his vision for the future of his Church.

Let us pray—

O God, whose infinite love restores to the right way those who err, gathers the scattered, and preserves those whom you have gathered, of your tender mercy pour out on your Christian people here at Faith Lutheran Church and School the unity of the Spirit that, all schisms being healed, your flock, gathered to the true Shepherd of your Church, Jesus Christ, may serve you in all faithfulness and holiness; this we asked through our Lord and Savior. Amen

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