Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain [1 Corinthians 15:58]
Texts: Luke 10:1-9; Isaiah 55:8-13
On the way to Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp in Colorado, we drive through eastern Colorado. Before even seeing the mountains, we see desolate landscape and distant horizons. One time as I was driving that stretch of state highway, we came over a hill. In the far distance, I could see the road. Between those two high points, however, the way rolled over a series of lower hills. I could see the distant road. I could see several crests, where the road would rise to the top of a lower hill. I could not, however, see where the road would go beyond that crest.
For this day, I selected readings that are favorites of mine. More importantly, however, I believe these passages describe the essence of Christ’s Church. I specifically included the reading from the Gospel of Luke, which has been the foundation of our working together these past years in Partnership for Missional Church. As we have been Dwelling in this Word, I have continually heard new insights. I encourage you to continue dwelling in this passage.
Anticipating this day, my mind kept picturing that desolate stretch of highway in eastern Colorado. With that image, we trust the ultimate destination can be seen. That is the promise the Apostle Paul exclaims – that we know that in spite of the transitory nature of this world, when we are doing God’s work, we know our labors are not in vain. That also is contained in Jesus’ words as he sent out the seventy. They were to go to places he himself would be going.
With that image of a distant goal we can see, yet portions of the road unseen, we also may wonder about the person walking along side – sent two by two. We wonder what it means to encounter a person of peace. There are so many ways I have been guided and strengthened as each of you saints has walked along the way with me. We can trust all of this is part of God’s big picture.
We are about to go over another one of those lower hills, where we cannot see the road that is right before us. Yet to help us be confident in the future destination, I share with you three conversations, two with strangers, one with a long-time member of Saint Andrew’s. These were persons of peace. These became companions along the road.
The first I mention happened as we were renovating and expanding our building. I always enjoyed seeing the work that was going on. One day, I encountered one of the dry-wall finishers. After a couple of introductory words, he began an ongoing conversation with this assertion: It is all about grace. In our world, we hear so much that we have to do it. Even in the church, we beat up on people about the need to do it right, to make sure our beliefs are correct.
So, over the months, this person of peace, who has become a partner along the way, has asserted that grace is hard. It is hard because we keep taking back the controls. We keep saying something like, Ok, God, I understand now, so I’ll just take over again. It is all about grace – God’s creating grace, God’s forgiving grace, God’s grace that continually gives us life.
Which leads to the second person of peace, who became a partner along the way. I first met him, the conversation started, in the county jail. Here was a great kid, raised in the Lutheran way of confirmation instruction. Assessing how he got to where he was, he said, I knew I had faith. I had not learned how to be faithful.
As we emphasize grace, we are quickly tempted to ignore what God wants to do in our lives through grace. We easily think that grace makes us passive. Or, we misunderstand grace to be a blank check, so we can do whatever we want. But grace calls us to walk along the way as Jesus leads us, as Jesus pushes us, as Jesus walks beside us. For me, this person of peace made clear, that our role is to support one another along the way. This support may be the way God’s grace works in us. Sometimes we need to share questions, even challenge one another: What we are doing here, is this truly of God’s gracious way? We also get to encourage one another: Yes! What you have done is a God-moment for me, and, I hope, for you!
The third is a person of peace who was already part of Saint Andrew’s when I arrived. I do not recall the first time Perry Morgan emphasized John 17:3. From Jesus’ prayer on the night of his betrayal: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. We do not just get to know about God. We do not just try to imagine some future heaven after we die. We get to know God here and now. We get to experience eternal life, here and now through Jesus Christ. In this world where religion is used, misused, and abused, we are challenged to focus on Jesus Christ. Through him we see what God is like. With Jesus, we walk the way. With Jesus, we truly live here and now.
A song from some time back was entitled Closing time. The song has a rather melancholy tone. It suggests that the desired companionship, the reason one entered this place, has not happened. As the end comes, as closing time comes, will one have to leave alone, and lonely?
There is also a phrase in this song that points forward in a way I find hope-filled. Closing time, time to go out to the places you will be from. So we depart from here this morning. We see the next rise on the road in front of us. What lies beyond that next rise? God only knows. Yet because God does know, we continue on, walking with the next partner, awaiting the next person of peace.
God has shown us that far distant goal. So we walk forward faithfully, trusting it is all about grace, the grace of knowing Jesus Christ.