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Living Truth: Love

Sharing God's Word, Living His Love
Living Truth

Matthew 18:1-20

September 10, 2023

As people in Hawaii and Florida go through the recovery process from the devastation caused by wildfires and a hurricane, respectively, I’m sure we will continue to hear stories about people who survived these dangers, who were involved in the recovery efforts, and who maybe even lost loved ones. I’m sure we will also hear from government officials and relief agencies telling us how in the midst of disaster they witnessed generous people all over the country coming together and providing supplies to care for one another in some amazing, selfless ways.

But this is nothing new. We’ve seen this take place in our country in the past during other disasters. Even the Bible tells us in the book of Acts how about 2000 years ago in the city of Antioch, located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, a group of Christians took up a collection of money to be sent to the people of Jerusalem in order to provide care and relief from a famine that was about to take place. Obviously the people in those days did not have the weather forecasting technology to see if a famine was coming. Instead, a prophet named Agabus prophesied that a famine was going to strike the entire Roman world. And followers of Jesus believed him, so they basically set up a “famine relief fund.”

This unusual event received some mixed reviews in the local area at the time. Some of the leaders in Antioch did not believe that money should be sent outside of the community. They said there were people in the community who needed help. These leaders did not understand why people would show such concern for others they did not even know, in a city located 300 miles away. But the Christians in the area understood that they were all brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though they may not know each other, their faith connected them to each other and made them responsible for one another as a family.

In our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew, we read about a God who is on a never-ending search for lost people. Since the beginning of time, God has always been working to save people. When Adam and Eve sinned, they didn’t go searching for God to apologize. Instead, they tried hiding from God. But God came searching for them, He found them, and saved them, even though they disobeyed Him and destroyed the perfect relationship they had with Him. In the New Testament, when Jesus went to the home of a man named Zacchaeus, who had been ripping people off as a tax collector, He said that He had come to “seek and to save the lost.” That was His mission; that was His purpose.

So as you see the pictures and read the stories of people who are trying to recover from the recent disasters, think about the reasons we are concerned about the people in those devasted areas. Some of us may have lived there. Some of us may have family or friends there. Some of us may have experienced such disasters. But the main reason why we are a part of the events that have happened in those areas is that the people there who are suffering are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of our spiritual family.

Our fellow Christians around the world, and more specifically, the people sitting around you today are your brothers and sisters in Christ, and I know whenever people in our church are hurting, especially when disasters strike, we are usually pretty good at caring for those around us during those difficult moments. We check on each other, we make financial donations, we volunteer to get our hands dirty to help others, and many denominations have their own Human Care or Relief organizations designed to provide immediate assistance to those in need.

But what about days like today? It is nice outside and I don’t think the next hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean is going to hit us. So as you go through your day, will you be just as concerned about people you know sitting with you here in worship today as you would if a storm came through the area and you did not see these people? What about those who are not here today?

Those you have not seen in worship for a while, those you know who say they are Christians but do not attend a church, and those who have no interest in the church, are you concerned about them? We should be, because as members of a spiritual family we are accountable to each other at all times, not just when disasters strike.

Jesus describes the Church in the book of Ephesians as “the body of Christ, where we work together to build up the body, each doing our part as we speak the truth in love to each other.” We are not joined together under just a name. We are joined together in a common faith. We confess that we are sinners from birth, who have been saved by Jesus’ death on the cross – who comes to us in His Word and Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. The entire Christian life is to be one of repentance in which we are saved by God’s grace. This is the inner conviction that is to unite us and bind us in a common fight against Satan and our sinful flesh.

In other words, visualize it as a war, that we fight together in which no one is to be left behind. But sometimes people do things that are sinful, which leads them to stray away from the family of believers. Other times we may say or do things that can be hurtful, which may cause people to want to separate themselves from the family.

When people join a church, should they expect to find a place or a community where everyone gets along perfectly? No. We’re not an organization that’s here for perfect people. Just as family members often have differences, church families have differences. So the purpose of the church is to welcome sinners, and God sends us out of our homes every day to look for sinners, for the lost, and to welcome them.

This is not easy and it can be very discouraging. Sinners can be rude, they may not have time for you, they may love money over everything else, or they may promise to see you on Sunday and then never show up. But that’s who we are here for, to look for them and to welcome them. We must never give up on people, because God never gives up on us. In fact, we heard today in our Gospel lesson that there is more joy over one lost sinner coming to Jesus than over 99 people being right where they are supposed to be in their relationship with God.

This doesn’t mean, though, that we should accept all behavior. Condemning sin is appropriate, but we need to follow that with love and compassion for the sinner. Searching for the spiritually lost is a tremendous challenge, just as searching for people who are physically lost in a storm or fire is a tremendous challenge. But as I have watched the recovery efforts from different disasters or even seen what happens in a simple traffic accident, I’ve noticed that there are 3 groups of people who are involved in these situations.

The first group consists of the bystanders and onlookers. They’re curious and they watch to see what happens, but have little active involvement. The second group is made up of the investigating officials. Their job is to investigate the cause of the accident or catastrophe and to assign blame. The third group is the rescue workers. They are the people who are usually most welcomed by those involved in the accident or disaster. They are not concerned about whose fault the accident is; their job is to help those who are hurt. They bandage wounds, free people who are trapped, they give comfort, and offer words of encouragement. Three groups: one is uninvolved, one is assigning blame, and one is helping those who are hurting.

When it comes to reaching the spiritually lost and caring for people, we have a tendency to be in one of those 3 groups. We can be uninvolved and let others do the work. Or we can condemn people for their behavior, saying things like: “It’s your fault that you’re in this mess.” Or we can show compassion and help those who are lost and hurting.

Just think, if people are willing to drop everything to search for those who are lost in a catastrophe, hoping to save their physical lives, shouldn’t we have the same passion to search and care for those who are spiritually lost? After all, if God loves spiritually lost people so much that He was willing to give up His only Son on a cross to save them and to celebrate when just one is found, shouldn’t we love them just as much?

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