21th Sunday After Pentecost October 21, 2012
508, 770 (TLH alt. 507), 498, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Remember Lot’s wife.
In Christ Jesus—the One who has given us the Gospel of reconciliation and made us His ambassadors throughout the world—dear fellow-redeemed:
It doesn’t seem to fit. “Remember Lot’s wife” for Mission Festival? Missions are about taking the Gospel to far off places, not about a woman who turned into a pillar of salt. Missions are about building up, saving lives with the Gospel, not about a woman who lost her life in the midst of God’s destruction of two wicked cities. It’s just a three word verse, that doesn’t seem to talk about missions at all, how can that serve as a basis for a mission festival sermon?
This is not the shortest verse of the Bible, that distinction belongs to “Jesus wept” (John 11:35)—a two-word verse. But consider how much impact lies in that simple two word verse. With just two words we see the humanity of our Savior; with just two words we understand that we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses because He faced what we face; with just two words we learn that crying in the sorrows of life is not out of place even for a child of God; and there is even more packed into two little words.
So admittedly, this three word verse is not the typical Mission Festival text, but in these three words there is wealth of truth from God and a number of reminders that can be applied to our efforts in sharing the Gospel.
In our limitations as sinners we forget. Some of that becomes more so with age, but we forget in other ways too. While sitting with our Bibles at church or at home, we are ready to preach Christ, but then an opportunity arises and we become uncertain, hesitant, or don’t even see the opportunity—we “forget” the zeal and energy we once had. Or we understand the urgency of the work…but then later we “forget” and let it slide.
Today, we pray for the blessing of the Holy spirit as we consider a few MISSION REMINDERS—little figurative post-it-notes that we can put in our mind’s eye and on our hearts so as to be reminded and encouraged to “preach the life-giving Gospel to every creature.” These reminders are: I. Remember your self first, II. Remember the world’s danger, and III. Remember the Lord’s mercy
When Jesus said, “Keep on remembering Lot’s wife” the first thing to remember is that she was fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah before God’s destruction of those cities. She had been instructed not to look back at the cities, but she did so and was turned into a pillar of salt. As we remember the fate of Lot’s wife, we can also remember why she was in a position to need to flee from those cities in the first place.
You may recall that Lot was Abram’s nephew, the son of his brother, Haran, who had died. When God called Abram to go to Canaan, Lot went with him. As God prospered both of these men in Canaan, tension arose between their servants. The servants were struggling to find enough land and food for all of the flocks to stay in one place. Abram suggested that they separate and he gave Lot the first choice of where to go. “Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:10-12).
Lot looked only on the goodness of the land. He didn’t consider what lurked in the nearby cities or what that would mean for his spiritual well-being and that of his family. Instead, Lot kept pitching his tent further and further, even as far as Sodom itself.
In his second letter, Peter comments concerning Lot: “[The Lord] delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2:7-8). Peter tells us that Lot was oppressed by the wickedness of Sodom and tormented his own soul by staying there and witnessing it day after day.
Remember Lot’s wife and remember how she came to be in that position. Remember how Lot casually disregarded more important matters and chose the best land, moved every closer to Sodom, and by the time the angles came to destroy it, he was living right in Sodom itself. Neither Lot nor his wife took very good care of their own spiritual needs and so put their own souls in perilous danger.
Mission Reminder #1: Remember your self first. It sounds rather selfish to do so, but think of this parallel example: When you fly on a commercial plane, should the oxygen masks drop, you are instructed to put the mask on yourself first and then help others. You won’t be much good to others if you pass out from lack of air. So to, while it sounds selfish to remember your self first in matters of missions, nevertheless, if you don’t pay attention to your own soul’s needs you won’t be able to help others either. What good are we to those walking in darkness if our own souls are darkened, unprotected, and under-nourished?
The apostle Paul wrote Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
The people of Sodom needed the truth of God’s Word, and Lot, a child of God, undoubtedly stood out and in that way was a testimony to God. There is no reason to believe that Lot or his wife fell into the sins of Sodom, but yet the truth remains: Lot tormented his soul and was weakened in faith as is evidenced by his willingness to offer his daughters to the men of Sodom (cf. Genesis 19:8). Lot didn’t take heed to his soul’s needs nor those of his wife and daughters.
Our mission is to “good news” people—share the Gospel—but that sharing and use of the Gospel starts with our own souls. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
Mission work starts in one place and grows from there. Serve yourself first with the Gospel, then put on the “oxygen” mask of grace and salvation for your family, friends, community, and beyond!
This has important application to the work we do together in the Church of the Lutheran Confession. When we read mission reports we can be amazed at how many countries and locations we are able to assist and serve. How can a church body of relatively little size and resource do so much? Certainly, by God’s grace and blessing, but part of that blessing is that the best help we can give isn’t financial, but rather instruction in the truth. Oh, we assist financially to a degree when it is appropriate and we are able; but so many aren’t looking for financial help, they are like the Macedonian man in the apostle Paul’s vision who simply said, “Come and help us” (cf. Acts 16:9).
If the greatest aid we can give to fellow sinners in faraway lands is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, then the best thing we can do for them is to prayerfully abide in the word of Christ so that we have that truth to share. If we neglect our spiritual needs here, we will not be able to aid in mission work there.
This also underscores the need for Christian education beginning at home, then in Christian Day Schools, and also at Immanuel Lutheran High School, College, and Seminary in Eau Claire. Our mission offerings help support the Christian education at ILC and how important that is, for there is where the future men and women of our congregations and the future pastors and teachers receive the foundation to lead and instruct and preach.
In the mid-1950s, several American missionaries went to the Waodani tribe in South America. The Waodani had no good contact with civilization, and were known for their violence and wickedness to themselves. The first five missionaries were killed by the tribe, but later many in the tribe were converted to Christianity. In the early 2000s, members of the tribe told their story in a documentary. The reason? They heard reports of what was happening in American cities and on our streets and their conclusion was, “You are acting like we used to act. We wanted to share the news with you.” Remember Lot’s wife, remember to serve your soul first.
God dispatched two angels to Sodom and Gomorrah in order to destroy it. The two angels sent Lot and his family out of their home and warned them not to look back, but Lot’s wife did turn back. Perhaps she was too attached to what she was leaving behind, perhaps it was idle curiosity to see what would take place. In either case, Lot’s wife listened to the allurement of the things she was leaving and their destruction. She listened to the world instead of listening to God.
God warns us through John, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16). The world is full of temptations to love it and all of its “nice things,” and all of its gadgets and what-nots—allurements to love it more than we love Christ. The rich young ruler left Jesus in deep sorrow because he loved the world so much and his riches more than Christ (cf. Matthew 19:22).
Our sinful natures with which we are born love to follow the world and all of its self-indulgence and wickedness. The Devil and the sinful world around us look to capitalize on our nature and pull us into all kinds of empty philosophies and meaningless ways (cf. Colossians 2:8).
Mission Reminder #2: Remember the world’s danger. When you witness the deep dark depravity of the world and all of its wickedness, remember Lot’s wife and consider how utterly vulnerable souls are to the attractions of the flesh. Remember Lot’s wife and consider the grave danger in which so many find themselves because all the worldliness, selfishness, and other sin will only reap destruction on the Last Day.
Jesus’ words telling us to remember Lot’s wife come in the context of a longer discussion of the Last Day and its judgment. Jesus tells us that on the day of His return people will be going to work, doing this and that—their daily routines—just like any other day, but then the end will come. See the danger lurking in the world and understand the need and urgency of that need to share the Gospel with those who do not know their Lord and believe in Him.
If you ever need motivation for sharing the Gospel or a sense of importance to do so, we need only remember Lot’s wife and then look around you. Instead of seeing just so many people living and acting in foolish wickedness, see them as souls created by God and redeemed by Jesus in need of salvation. When you see people ignoring God’s Word and flaunting their own arrogant lusts, remember Lot’s wife, have compassion on those in need, and be spurred to action with the life-giving Gospel.
The world also poses a danger to us, certainly in its ongoing efforts to diminish our faith and pull us away from Jesus, but also in its dangerous ability to sap us of energy and zeal for mission work. The world can shift our priorities with just a little temptation to love the things of the world. There are so many people, places, and things that want our time and our resources that there is a danger of paying attention to those and neglecting the stewardship of our resources for the saving of souls.
Jesus told the parable of a sower and the seed. Some of that seed fell into the ground and grew up well, but later the weeds, thorns, and thistles choked out the grain. Jesus tells us that the weeds are the cares and concerns of the world. Remember Lot’s wife and remember the world’s danger to your own soul and also to your efforts of serving Christ and sharing the Gospel. “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Remember Lot’s wife—remember what came to be her undoing, remember her with sadness and consider all of the souls who are dying around you. See the opportunity, the urgent need, and thus, be motivated to go and share the Gospel!
As we remember Lot’s wife, it’s easy to look past the greatest part of all. The most significant thing in all of this is that Lot’s wife was fleeing at all.
After the Lord dispatched the two angels to Sodom, He remained with Abram and spoke with him. God revealed to Abram what He would do to the wicked cities. Abram prayed, asking God if he would destroy the cities if He found 50 believers there. God said He would not. Then Abram prayed again asking the same question if God found 45…then 40…then 30…then 20, and finally, 10. God agreed that if He found 10 believers in Sodom, the whole city would be spared.
God did not find 10 believers in the cities and destroyed them; but God answered Abram’s prayer for Lot and his family another way. In His grace and mercy, God provided deliverance. Remember Lot’s wife—God showed mercy and provided deliverance, though she rejected God’s merciful salvation and loved the world more. Remembering Lot’s fleeing wife is to remember the mercy of God who provided a way out.
God has also done so on a much larger scale…not just deliverance from earthly destruction, but deliverance from our sin and eternal destruction in Hell. The question is often asked, “If God is such a loving god, why are there still souls that are going to be in Hell eternally?” The wonder is not that some go to Hell—that’s what we all deserve in just punishment for our sins. The wonder is that any of us are saved! Mission Reminder #3: Remember the Lord’s mercy.
God has provided salvation for us through Christ Jesus. God has provided the faith to believe in this salvation through the working of the Holy Spirit. God has done it all purely out of His mercy and love. “[God] has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
This is the message of which we are ambassadors. Sinners and the holy God have been reconciled. Our sins are taken away and we are God’s beloved sons and daughters and heirs of eternal life! Surely it is God who saves me! (cf. Isaiah 12, Old Testament reading). Spread it far and wide! This is a message of power, the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). This is a message to make lost sinners wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season, always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you! (2 Timothy 4:2, 1 Peter 3:15). You have the “oxygen mask” for eternal life. You have the medicine to cure death itself! Yes, we will still die on the earth, but Jesus Your living Savior says, “I AM the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he may die, yet shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die!” (John 11:25). It is an amazing wonder of God’s grace and mercy that we have such a salvation and that we have been given such a Word to preach and share!
As we look for ways to share this powerful and life-giving message with others, we will not all travel to far off lands, but we have plenty to do in our own back yard. Regardless of the ways and opportunities God provides to us for mission work, we can all contribute mightily to the spread of God’s kingdom through our prayers. Abraham prayed and God saved Lot and his family. Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for three years (cf. 1 Kings 17, James 5:17). The apostle Paul encouraged his readers, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ…” (Colossians 4:2-3). “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
Remember Lot’s wife. Put the little “post-it-notes” of the mission reminders around in your mind and heart. Remember yourself first and abide in the Word. Remember the world’s danger for motivation and the importance of your mission, and watch and pray. Remember the Lord’s mercy which is new every day and has given you a powerful message of salvation.
Remember Lot’s wife. Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel. Pray to see those opportunities when they come. Equip yourself with the Word of God and pray for strength and courage to use it when the opportunity presents itself. Remember Lot’s wife and then respond: “Here I am Lord, send me!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.