Mission Sunday September 24, 2023
2 Peter 2:1-9
500, 512, 498, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: O Lord God Almighty, mercifully grant that we, who know Thee now by faith, may with our whole heart believe in Him, our only Savior, serve Him, and steadfastly confess and glorify Him before all men, making known Thy saving health among the nations, that He may see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, to whom, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The focus of our meditation is the apostasy—the falling away—in the days of Noah. You will see that every mission encounter bears its share of disappointment, but your Savior’s mission alone strengthens you to overcome and continue yours. Again, the Prophet Moses records:
The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. (KJV)
Lord Jesus, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.
Before traveling to India last year, my children offered an ardent plea, “Make sure you bring something back!” Others advised the opposite, “Be careful you don’t bring something back!” My children meant gifts. Those who offered caution meant the subtle danger any foreign trip can carry with it, to come back sick. Many do.
For those who serve on a short term basis, like our part-time missionaries or those who go on our Mission Helper Trips, it’s not uncommon that their adrenaline rush keeps them going for weeks, until, on the way home, they crash, wiped out for quite some time back on American shores.
You can watch what foods you eat, the water you drink, but no matter how much care you take, it’s impossible not to come back with something. And I don’t mean just a physical ailment.
You also bring back with you mental pictures of heart-wrenching poverty you won’t see here. Pagan worship is right before your eyes, as misguided masses bowing down before images of half-man-half-beasts as gods. You see persecution and fear in the eyes of our faithful few abroad. How they hide, sneak about, and encourage you to do the same, giving you a subtle anxiety and tension, which sticks with you even back home.
And the more invested you are, the greater that emotional collateral. Our full-time missionary to India encountered all this day-in, day-out for years, until ultimately deported by that country’s increasingly anti-Christian government, he was sent home undoubtedly feeling defeated, rejected, banned from ever returning to a people he had came to love.
“Be careful not to come back with something,” they say. Well, in a fallen world, so hostile to God’s truth, there’s no way you can’t. Mission field casualties are inevitable. And it’s always been the case, ever since the first missionaries.
You might think of the first missionaries as Jesus’ twelve disciples, or the Apostle Paul, but mission work first began in the days of Adam and Eve.
You see, Adam and Eve had raised their family as the first Christian household, the first Christian congregation, but once Cain killed his brother Abel, there was a divide, Cain departing with his family to the land of Nod, and with that divide, a mission field.
There were now two nations. The sons of God, the descendants of Adam who trusted in the Savior yet to come, and the sons of men, the descendants of Cain who had rejected this Gospel promise, turning to, crafting and developing, the ways of this world.
The Lord’s command to “teach all nations,” was no brand new commission just before Christ’s Ascension. It has been God’s desire and work within the heart of His faithful ever since the Gospel was first announced. But in those earliest of days, teach all nations was a little more specific, “Go, teach the other nation, that one over there, the children of Cain.”
What a peculiar dynamic—mission trips to visit their literal cousins, fellow children, grandchildren, and greats of Adam and Eve! Some were more formally called and sent to preach the Gospel. Some wandered among Cain’s children with the simpler emotional plea to come back. Others were more interested in what their cousins were up to. But regardless the reasons behind their journeys and encounters, it was God’s desire that through His faithful, those of Cain’s nation would come to hear the good news their father had rejected.
But just like today, those faithful children of Adam came back with something: the memories of the shocking, godless ways their cousins lived; an earful of an ignorant, new religion with corrupted accounts of the creation and fall; how Abel’s death had actually been his fault. It would have been emotionally draining to be sure, but it also included physical bruises too as Scripture details how Cain’s descendants proved to become ever more violent men.
Mission field casualties are inevitable. Those first missionaries came back with mental images they couldn’t shake, a lingering fatigue once back home, and a piercing doubt as to who had the correct version of truth after all, all of which spiraled into a most tragic end. For relentlessly worn down by these mission encounters, Scripture details that the young men of the sons of God began coming back with something else: wives. “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.”
You’re bound to come back with something. And with these unbelieving wives came their false religion and constant criticisms of God’s truth, which caused compromise in the home, a growing spiritual complacency, and by the time of Noah, the loss of the faith as a whole.
Now, as far as I know, none of our CLC missionaries have come back with an unbelieving wife. But in your personal mission field opportunities, you’ve had your own share of burdens, and perhaps felt a casualty yourself: those times we don’t try when we know we should. Like the neighbor who has made themselves too difficult to spend time with, or the fun friend, with whom you’d never think of spoiling your good time together with the topic of religion.
And of those you’ve tried, and you have, but you face such argumentativeness, it seems so hopeless, you give up.
But then, of course, there’re those you can’t give up on, and won’t: children, grandchildren, siblings, literal cousins, who were raised in this faith but have departed. Those first mission trips were to Adam’s children who made those ardent pleas to their cousins to come back, that’s still our most trying mission field today.
The more invested you are, the greater that emotional collateral, which is why it hurts so much to look around the church and see who isn’t here, to hear loved ones speak this world’s version of evolution, the meaningless of sin, the secular purpose of life. And when you speak God’s truth, the sickening glare and roll of the eyes, “There she goes again…” “Who does he think he is?”
It’s a look you can’t forget, mental images that stick with you, tempting you to never bring up the topic again, and the subtle gnawing doubt that maybe the Bible’s not as true or as important as you’ve been led to believe.
“Be careful you don’t bring something back!” Too late. We know all too well the feelings those first missionaries to Cain’s children brought back with them, how their apostasy began, and Scripture leaves no doubt where it all ended, the flood.
If your mission encounters have left you bruised, dejected, feeling the casualty, look to Jesus, and behold the good news that God sent His Son to encounter and overcome the same.
Jesus began His mission trip, neither by airplane nor boat, but with a nine-month journey in the womb of a Virgin. After which, He faced His share of scorn. It might seem that He hid under Herod’s violent threat, but His retreat was not the intimidation and dejection you and I feel, but about patience, for in God’s right and perfect time, He came boldly forth: “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:15)
Jesus faced the same looks and glares you have: the roll of the eyes from family when you get all religious and from Nazareth childhood friends, some of them literal cousins, saying, “Who does He think He is?”
It’s the kind of intimidation that makes you want to run away, but when He didn’t, they chased Him out of town. He resolutely went on to the next.
We beat ourselves up over not saying the right thing, bumbling our words, saying nothing when you should have. But Jesus, He spoke nothing but perfect words. No clearer teaching ever came across human lips. No more vivid proclamation of God’s saving truth than His three years of parables, miracles, teachings private and public. Yet He was rejected by the very people to whom He was sent, detested, beaten, and scourged, forced to carry a cross, and thereupon die.
Look there, to Christ’s suffering and death, that He became the true casualty in our place, and behold the power of God to save. For though there be no more abysmal failure to human eye than God’s Son nailed to a tree, through this mental image, this Gospel message, comes the Spirit of God to reveal eternal truth and life.
That you might come to embrace God’s strength revealed in weakness, like the centurion, who with eyes and ears took in every tragic moment and couldn’t help but marvel aloud, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54) Jesus was. And still is.
Nothing Jesus does fails. Everything He undertakes succeeds. His Word, it simply cannot return unto Him void. But to accept that fact as truth despite the disappointments we face, that takes faith. A faith founded on the great victory and triumph that that Son of God, beaten, bruised, and buried, on the third day: He stood back up to gather unto Himself a church filled with those who had once departed… stood back up to continue His mission yet today… through you; sending you out with a promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)
Dear Christians, God knows your heartbreak, your struggle, your prayers for all those who have wandered from His truth. He looked down at Noah’s world and expressed the same sorrow you feel, “It repenteth me that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7)
But yet, in the mire of heartbreak, His love shone forth, as “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8)
What a failure Noah must have felt like! No one seemed to take his word of warning and the promise of salvation seriously but him. Yet he trusted in the Lord, steadfastly carried on with the work given him by God, and then finally, at the time appointed, entered the ark. Only once he entered that ark he found he was not so alone after all. No, he was joined by his three sons… and their wives.
Huddled together, hiding in an ark, eight believers, comforting one another, until the day the Lord’s promise was fulfilled.
When you feel bruised and beaten, your faith rejected, loved ones straying, disappointed in your conduct, you’ll want to hide, and that’s ok, as long as you hide here, retreat like Noah, to your place of repair, gathering with other believers around this Gospel, awaiting the final day when all things will be revealed.
For it’s only the good news that the greatest mission field casualty resulted in your eternal life that gives you the strength to head back out. That for every disappointment in yourself you’d find forgiveness in Him full and complete. For every feeling of defeat, His resurrection the power to stand back up yourself. For every time you did not speak, the confidence that God’s perfect time is yet to come. And every time you get that look, “Who do you think you are?” answer them. Confess yourself the sinner first and that your sins are the real reason you know they so need Him too.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) He is with you. You will have good encounters where you’ll see His Word at work. There are those who will return to Him. Each are glimpses to build confidence that the Gospel is always more than worth the effort.
But when you go out and come back with something you didn’t want, bring it to Jesus, that through His forgiveness, the eyes of faith might trust He is at work, He is, nonetheless. For if Jesus’ mission appeared such a failure to the human eye, have no doubt, dear Christians, the power of your God to use your weaknesses too.
Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.