Use it or lose it

Luke 13_10-17 Use it or they lose it.

I have a certificate here which certifies that I am a qualified motor mechanic; its my ‘ticket’.  How did I come to be qualified?  I didn’t get this certificate out of a Wheat-Bix box.  My boss chose to spend his own money, his own time and effort training me.  He risked his reputation and quality of service by allowing me to learn my trade on his customer’s vehicles.  Of cause it wasn’t all worry and fear, he’d also have some fun at my expense; sending me to  other work shops to ask for a ‘long weight’, or a left handed screwdriver, or a box spare volts of the battery charger!  And even then, it was his way of teaching me and growing me into a professional motor vehicle technician.

How would he have felt, having signed my certificate, if I were to then display the certificate on the wall, but refuse to work on cars.  How would he feel if I only used my ‘qualifications’ to boast about how much I know about fixing cars, but never fixed any!  Say I saw people with cars that have broken down engines, flat tyres, headlights not working, brakes that fail, and say ‘you shouldn’t drive or own a car in that condition, its dangerous, you’ll kill yourself or someone else, you must fix it, I’ll tell you how.’  What point was it, my boss would think, in investing so much time and money, if I only use the training to gain advantage for myself and not for others?

In a very similar way, the Pharisees were as well trained and certified in the scriptures, as I was in motor cars.  God had entrusted his word to them, he taught them and inspired them to grow in knowledge and righteousness; to be servants of his grace, giving out justice to the poor, healing the spiritually blind and bringing hope to the captives of sin.  They knew every dot and iota of the Law.  They were passionate about keeping every religious command and were even more passionate about teaching others about God, the scriptures, and in particular the holiness laws.  St Paul, who was once a Pharisee, testifies to his qualifications that he once held in high regard ‘I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.’

Yet how do you think God felt when the Pharisees chose to simply use their qualifications to boast of their achievements.  Instead of using their religious training to help others, they hindered them?  How do you think God reacted when they stood in the market places, telling others how they should be living; commanding they keep the law, abstain from certain food, stop living this way or that, yet never comforted or helped , never used their qualifications to inspire people to achieve what they demanded?  Did he think it was a waste of time when he heard the Pharisee’s prayer ‘‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.

Yes he did. Did he get angry, yes!  Was he frustrated, yes!  Did God grieve that his grace and justice was bound up in human pride and tradition, yes!  The Prophet Ezekiel foretold ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?… You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally…’Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:… I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.

Like a Master Technician taking on the work of his employees, God’s love for us was so great, and his compassion to save all people so unrelenting, that he sent his own Son to demonstrate and directly give his grace and mercy.  Jesus’ read out in the synagogue, his mission and mercy statement from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Then, after being rejected by those he taught, Jesus lived and acted outside the official religious traditions, outside the human traditions; where other religious people feared to tread.  Luke records one special event: “On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.”

The essence of God’s love is expressed in finding the sick, the lost, and the sinners, calling them to him and healing them.  The physical healing Jesus performed, even on the Sabbath, when religious tradition forbid any work, demonstrated that God’s mercy transcends every religious institution, law and expectation.  It is the people God wants to reach, not religious perfection, as Jesus said “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”   

The gate keepers of the human institutional religion complained “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”  But “the regular folks were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.”  Jesus’ ministry of mercy to the broken and regular folks is the very expression of God’s love incarnate; love which has no bounds; the same mercy we call on in worship when we say “Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.”   

Jesus came to get his hands dirty for us.  No he didn’t, he came to get his hands bloody to heal us.  No he didn’t, he came to have his hands pierced by nails to redeem us.  Mission and mercy are always on God’s heart.  Luther explains in his Small Catechism ‘At great cost he has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person.’

We are the benefactors of Jesus’ hands on ministry.  We are the redeemed people of God; the very people Jesus came to call, to heal from sin, death and the devil to be his very own.  In our baptism God made us his child and heirs of his kingdom.  Paul writes in Titus 3 “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” 

God has qualified us as Christians for Christ’s sake through the water’s of our baptism and he continues to come to us and heal our lives of sin and bring us his Spirit through the absolution and the sacrament of Holy Communion.  God has invested more than his time and effort to make us qualified for heaven, he invested his own son on us and for his sake we are here joining the healed woman praising God and to be delighted with all the wonderful things he has done and is doing in our lives.

It is in this delight in Christ that we have the courage and qualification to boldly live the redeemed life of mission and mercy and not hide behind our religious traditions; knowing everything but helping no one.  Christ can build a future for us as a church, as long as we hold to his word and remain delighted and joyful about what he has done for us.  We can dare to believe that God will work wonders through us, as we move outside the traditional church in mission and mercy, like the school, like the shed happens.  As with Jesus’ mission, which often took him outside of the institutional religion of his day, our mission does not have to conform to or look like church.  Mercy is not about religious perfection, it about people.

God is pleased for us to use our qualifications as his child, to help and serve others, just as a master technician is pleased when he sees his now certified mechanic using his qualifications to help others.  God is glad to reward those who have courage to try anything that may reach the lost, even if we don’t do things exactly how he would want us.  Did you know that Jesus said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  And he also said, when the disciples were afraid, ‘take courage, it is I.” Be full of courage and joy.  Today, Jesus has heard your prayer ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.’   You are healed, forgiven and touched by the hands that have been pierced for your redemption; he has qualified you for heaven, go in peace and serve the Lord.

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