Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Sees; Jesus Calls; Jesus Sends

“Ordaining of the Apostles” by James Tissot

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“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘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’” (Matthew 9:35–38).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Seeing. Calling. Sending. That is the movement in the Gospel reading for today. It is also the movement of Jesus’ response to those who are harassed and helpless, of God’s interaction with His fractured and fallen creation, and of the sanctified Christian life as it lives by the Spirit of Jesus.

Jesus sees. Jesus calls. Jesus sends.

As He goes throughout the cities and villages, Jesus sees. This is not a minor detail. Many people go through life wondering if anyone sees, anyone notices. If you listen closely, that is at the heart of many of our current social conflicts. A significant number of people are wondering: Does anyone see? Does anyone notice? Does anyone care? Will anyone do anything to help?

The crowds Jesus sees are “helpless and harassed.” The first word literally means “thrown down and helpless,” like exhausted spent, sheep. It is often used with reference to corpses lying scattered on the ground. The second word means “having been flayed,” or somewhat milder, “having skin torn,” as this happens to sheep wandering among brambles or sharp rocks. Both words are made vivid by the comparison: “like sheep without a shepherd.” Having neither protector nor provider, they soon look miserable, torn, and exhausted, a sight to break the heart of any shepherd with even an ounce of compassion.

Jesus does not name the source of the peoples’ harassment, but it is not hard to imagine. Simply look around today. Some are tossed about by injustice, grief, or the abuse of authority. Others are flayed by disease, economic strain, or isolation. Everyone is harassed by a sinful inclination to respond with unrighteous anger, fear, and self-righteousness.

Jesus seems to be thinking particularly of the spiritual condition of the people and the neglect of their supposed spiritual leaders. With the coming of Jesus and the initial course of His ministry, the people’s need for a shepherd has become even more apparent. Israel’s leaders should be nurturing the people and guiding them to follow Jesus, but instead those leaders are blaspheming Jesus, declaring Him to be in league with Satan (Matthew 9:3, 34). At the hands of such false shepherds, the people are helpless and in great need. The souls entrusted to their care receive no wholesome spiritual food and care, for, as far as that is concerned, they are left to fend for themselves.

Material and physical destitution moves our humanitarian age deeply. We organize food banks and disaster relief agencies to help in times of physical distress. But who cares for or even sees spiritual distress? The problem, in part, is many people do not see. Perhaps they cannot, having never put themselves in the position to see. Maybe they don’t know how, having never been taught to see. Perhaps they will not, refusing to look outside their own lives and their own bubbles. Maybe they are just too tired of all the conflict and it’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist rather than putting forth the physical and emotional energy it takes for actually dealing with it.

Contrast them (us) with Jesus. Jesus sees. He sees the crowds in the text. He sees their helplessness. He sees those who are harassing them, and He does not look away. This is not surprising, for He is the Son of the One who sees all things—good, bad, and ugly.

Truly seeing others and their plight is a necessary beginning. But if being seen is not accompanied by being helped, it doesn’t do much good. Having seen the crowds, Jesus has compassion. The verb splagcnizomai means to have the viscera moved, lungs, heart, and liver, which were considered to be the seat of emotions, such as love, pity, etc. We might say, “His heart was stirred.” Of the three words translated “being compassionate,” this is the strongest, for it indicates not only a pained feeling at the sight of suffering, but in addition a strong desire to relieve and remove the suffering.

Jesus has compassion on these people, that is, He suffers with them. In this sense, the suffering of Jesus is not limited to the events of Holy Week. It encompasses His entire ministry (even His entire incarnation). Jesus comes among us to suffer with us before He suffers on Golgotha for us.   

Jesus has compassion. Jesus suffers with us. We, on the other hand, are not good at suffering with others. Luther’s explanations to the fifth and eighth commandments come to mind. We are to fear and love God by helping and supporting our neighbors in every bodily need. We are to defend them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything they do. We often fall short, which must not be excused even though it is true. But Jesus does not. He protects and provides for His people as the Good Shepherd they have been missing.

We see how the compassion of Jesus at once manifests itself in action. Jesus speaks to the larger group of His disciples and bids them to pray to the Father. Jesus uses the metaphor of a great harvest that is approaching. In the fields where the crop is growing ready for harvest, there is urgent need for workers to help gather the harvest. With this figurative language, Jesus communicates to His disciples the urgency of the times, an urgency that continues for the Church to this day. The harvest is ripe! Pray for God to send laborers!

Immediately, the prayer that the disciples are to offer to the Father is answered by Jesus Himself. From the unnamed larger circle of His “disciples,” Jesus now chooses a small number of “apostles,” literally, “sent ones,” whom Jesus will send out to extend His gracious kingdom. They are named individually and given His authority, demonstrating Jesus’ personal care for each of them.

These twelve are hardly men who could normally be expected to change the world. For the most part, they are uneducated, unsophisticated, weak in faith, and slow to learn. They can accomplish their mission only through the authority and power of their Lord. It is the Gospel message, which the Holy Spirit will use to produce saving faith in the hearts of people who hear it.

Jesus sends the apostles to do what He came to do. Through them, Jesus sees, Jesus calls, Jesus sends. Seeing, calling, sending. That is the continuing movement. Jesus continues to send His people to see others (especially the widow, the orphan, and all who suffer injustice) as human beings and fellow creatures of a loving God. Jesus sends His people to have compassion on those who are helpless and harassed; to suffer with them and help them bear their burdens. He continues to send His people to speak words of life and forgiveness that not only create saving faith in the hearts of individuals, but also gather them together for life as His Body. And He continues to send His people to others until all have heard and believed and come together in His name (See Romans 10:14-17).

Jesus asks His disciples, and He also asks us, to share in His compassion, and He tells us the first thing He wants us to do to show such compassion. “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” It is the Lord’s harvest field, and He will see to it that the necessary workers bring the harvest in. He assures us that none of His elect will perish. All His sheep will be gathered into His fold.

Jesus will accomplish this either with us or without us. He doesn’t need us, but He wants to use us. He graciously wants to give us the privilege of being involved in this all-important work, work with blessed results that will last into eternity. And the first thing He asks us to do is exceedingly simple and will cost us nothing but a little of our time. He tells us to pray for laborers for His harvest field. In response to our prayers, He will provide them.

As we sincerely offer such prayers to our heavenly Father, we surely are willing to let Him make us the answers to our own prayers as well. Our Lord will use us in some way or other in this most blessed work, for this work is the privilege of all believers in Christ. Satan wants us to regard it as a grievous burden that we ought to avoid. But it is not a burden, rather a blessing. It is a privilege to pray for this work, to support this work, and to do this work personally.

When we pray for the heathen, for the suffering, for the afflicted, and for our enemies, we want the Lord to use us to alleviate suffering, to spread the Good News of the kingdom of God, and to win over our enemies through kindness. When we pray for missions, we are not only asking the Lord to open the hearts and the hands of others Christians to support mission work; we are also expressing our own willingness to bring our generous offerings for the work of Christ’s Church. Otherwise our prayers are hypocritical and better left unspoken.

Last week, the Gospel reading came from Matthew 28. We call it the Great Commission or Sending. In a sense, this week’s reading gives us the background, the motivation, method, and means for that Sending.

Jesus sees. Jesus calls. Jesus sends.

Even before creation, the Lord looked with compassion and saw our need for His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Christ died for the sins of the world—every single sin of thought, word, and deed. Every sin of commission and omission. Risen and ascended, Christ rules heaven and earth for the good of His Body, the Church. In love and mercy, He continues to call men to serve in the Office of  Holy Ministry. In answer to prayers, the Lord of the Harvest sends laborers into the harvest of souls. In His Church, through the means of grace, Christ continues His work of salvation and brings forgiveness and life.

Through the waters of Holy Baptism, God has called you by name and made you one of His dear children. In His Holy Supper, He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through His powerful Word, He delivers forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Fully forgiven and equipped for service, He sends you out with the message of God’s love and compassion for a world of lost sinners, Shepherdless sheep.

Go in the peace of the Lord. Serve your neighbor with joy. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Who Was the Neighbor?

“The Good Samaritan” by Eugene Burnand

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jesus told this story: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

Jesus asked the young man who wanted to define “neighbor”: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).

A remarkable act of kindness!—especially from such an unexpected source!  

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young couple was at the hospital for the birth of their first baby when tragedy struck. The doctor had terrible news. The baby’s umbilical cord had twisted around her neck, depriving her of oxygen, and leaving her alive but with severe brain damage. “What can we do?” the parents pleaded. “I hate to even suggest this,” the doctor began, “but you could choose to do nothing.” “What do you mean?” they asked. “The damage is irreversible,” he went on. “Your daughter will be profoundly handicapped as long as she lives. If we do nothing now, she’ll die. You have to decide, of course, but that might be better for everyone.”

Not sure what to do, but wisely realizing it was a decision they did not want to make on their own, the young couple called their pastor and asked him to offer them some scriptural guidance in seeking God’s will.

Several hours later, a social worker stopped in. After gently expressing her sympathies, she came to the point. “I admire your decision to save your daughter’s life. Let’s talk now about what comes next. You realize, I’m sure, that she’ll have to be institutionalized. There’s nothing you’ll be able to do with her at home. It will just be too overwhelming.”

The little girl’s parents knew that it might become necessary to find help. But first, they thought, they would try to care for her themselves. “Dear Lord,” they prayed, “be with our Angela. Give her a life that glorifies you and give us the patience and strength to love her and give her whatever she needs.” They knew Angela already belonged to Jesus, for she had been baptized in the hospital the moment the crisis had been discovered. God had adopted Angela as one of His own dear children. Now, her mother and father counted on our Savior to continue to provide for His tiny sister.

It was more difficult than they could’ve imagined. More than once they wished they had taken the social worker’s advice. Special equipment, training, and countless trips to therapists were expensive and exhausting. And Angela was always different from other children. But they got help—their family was behind them, their pastor and congregation supplied spiritual support, and an endless stream of volunteers and fund-raisers.

In answer to their prayers, Angela did live to glorify God. Each day of her life was a precious witness to God’s grace. Oh, she would never be on her own, get a job, or raise a family. But she exuded joy and zest for life. She smiled, sang, chatted endlessly about Jesus… and those close to her knew that someday she’d also enjoy endless health and wholeness in heaven.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young boy was going to school in the United States for the first time. He had been a good student in Mexico, but now his father had come to work in the States, and the boy knew almost no English, leaving him anxious and feeling very much alone. Ruben wondered how he’d know where to go, what to do. Even more, he wondered if anyone would talk to him or invite him to play with them.

The morning was all right. He sat in his desk with all sorts of things happening in front of him. He didn’t really understand most of what was going on, but then no one actually expected him to. Not yet. He’d catch on eventually, his father said before he left the house that morning.

Then came recess. Now everyone was running, playing, laughing, having fun—with their friends. Not Ruben. He wished someone would be playing soccer. He could do that without talking, probably better than most of these kids. These boys played American football, and they didn’t invite him to join them. He realized he didn’t know how to play, but it still would have been nice to be asked.

Lunch was worse. Ruben’s class went through the line together, but as soon as they got to their assigned table, Ruben felt alone again. Nobody seemed to notice as he looked for an empty seat. Someone must have said something funny, because everybody laughed, and one boy’s milk came out his nose—but Ruben couldn’t get the joke. So he sat at the very end of the table and just ate his lunch, wishing he could have had one of his mother’s home-cooked meals instead.

The afternoon dragged on. He spent most of the time daydreaming he was back with his friends in Mexico. Finally, it was three o’clock. A teacher led all the children to the front curb. Students piled into waiting buses and cars. What? There was no bus diez, the one Ruben had ridden to school in the morning! “Diez! Diez!” he shouted. The teacher didn’t understand. In a panic, Ruben wondered how he would ever get home.

“Ruben,” came a voice behind him. “I know where you want to go. You were on my bus this morning.” Ruben didn’t understand, but he went along as Joshua took him by the hand. “Bus 10 doesn’t go in the afternoon for some reason,” he tried to explain. “We take bus 32.” Ruben shrugged, but grinned, and took the seat by Joshua.

They went a few blocks and the bus pulled over to the side of the road. “That’s my stop,” Joshua said as the bus pulled out again. “I’ll stay on with you this time and get off on the way back. He makes a loop.” The bus ride went fast, even though neither one of the boys could catch much the other said. Then Ruben recognized his street. “Gracias!” he said as he got off. “See you tomorrow!” said Joshua. Ruben didn’t understand those words, either, but he understood the smile. Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

Trudy planned to celebrate her 83rd birthday on Tuesday, but she had nowhere to go. Age had robbed her of her strength and was slowly stripping away her mental capacity too, leaving her helpless in a nursing home. As she sat in her wheelchair, an attendant read a card aloud: “To my Mother: A son can never choose his Mom and perhaps that’s just as well. ‘Cause if each son could choose, I know you’d be one busy gal! Have a great day, Mom! You’re the best! Love, Dean.” “That’s so sweet,” the attendant said as she put down the card. “Be nice if he stopped by once in a while,” she thought to herself. “My Dean travels,” Trudy said. “Travels all around.”

The telephone rang. The attendant picked it up. A voice on the other end said: “Hi, this is Dian Wilson, Trudy’s daughter. Could you wish my Mom a happy birthday for me? We told her we were going to come by tomorrow, but it turns out we can’t. She probably won’t remember anyway, but if you could tell her. Thanks. We’ll send flowers or something. Thanks so much. Bye.”

“Diane just called to wish you a happy birthday, Trudy,” the attendant said. “Diane’s coming over tomorrow. Tomorrow’s my birthday, you know. I’m going to be 83,” Trudy said. Perhaps by the next day Trudy didn’t remember. Maybe she wasn’t disappointed that no one came. But when the noon meal was over and the other residents had all been wheeled back down the hall, she asked to stay in the dining room. The room was empty, quiet. For a long time Trudy sat alone.

Then, bouncing into the room came a pretty girl, about 13 years old, with enough energy for both of them. “Hi!” she said. “I’m Tara. I just started today as a volunteer. Are you Trudy?” Trudy nodded. “I hear it’s your birthday!” Trudy brightened up. “I’m 83.” But suddenly Trudy was 13 again, telling stories about that birthday. And as she spoke, you could almost see candles glowing in her eyes.

“Heh, just a second!” Tara said as she jumped up from the table. In a minute she was back, carrying a little dish of banana pudding topped with one flickering candle. “I think we need to have a party! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Trudy, happy birthday to you…” Tara didn’t ask what Trudy had wished for when she blew out the candle.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

I was going downhill fast and didn’t even know it. Even before I was born, I’d fallen into the clutches of sin. My enemies—the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh—beat me down mercilessly, leaving me spiritually dead. I was just lying there, helpless. Nothing I could do could save me. Neither could anybody else, because everyone who passed by me had been beaten by the same enemies. Each one was wrapped in the same selfishness, the same sin, as I was. Unless someone had done something fast, I’d have perished forever in hell. But then along came my Good Samaritan, who took pity on me, picked me up in His arms, and delivered me to safety. He even paid for my care Himself and promised to come back for me. Now, I’m bandaged, healed, and loving life.

Who was the neighbor? The One who showed mercy. Jesus!

The story of the Good Samaritan is actually every person’s story. But the story is not, first of all, about anything we are to do. That’s secondary. It’s really about what Jesus has done to save us in our need.

All of us by nature were dead in our sin and thus helpless to save ourselves. Seeing our great need, Jesus had mercy on us, and came down to us to bind our wounds and touch us with His healing power. Throughout His life, Jesus carried our burden of sin. In His passion, He was spit upon, mocked, stripped, whipped, and beaten mercilessly. Half dead, He was forced to carry His own cross to Calvary. On the cross, He paid the penalty for all of the sin of all the people of the world. Jesus purchased us and redeemed us, not with silver or gold, but with His own holy and precious blood.

In Baptism, Jesus picked us up in His arms and delivered us from death and the devil into eternal life. Then Jesus left us in the care of His Church, promising that one day He would return for all of His own. Until that day, Jesus left us to care for one another, to comfort one another with the oil of joy and wine of gladness. To show mercy to those in need. To love our neighbor as ourselves.

As members of His body, the Church, we look after one another in love. We continue to pick up fellow travelers who have robbed and beaten by sin. And Jesus continues to “come back” in His Word and Sacraments. Through His means of grace, our Good Samaritan lavishes us with forgiveness and daily care until, finally, He will return to take us to heaven.

Who is the Neighbor? Jesus. The One who showed mercy. In Him you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for His sake, you are forgiven for all your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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