Preached: April 30, 2011
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Dear friends in Christ:
"Lead us in the way everlasting" (based on Psalm 139:24). When I first saw the theme for this rally, it had a minor typo, an 'i' instead of a 'u.' "Lead IS in the way everlasting." And what I read was: Lead (as in the metal Pb) is in the way.
What a difference a 'u' instead of an 'i' makes! And that's a lesson for us to think about in mission work -- not the letters 'u' or 'i' but the words 'I' and 'you.'
How easily our mission efforts can focus on 'I.' Look at how much I've given to missions, how many doors I've knocked on, how many prayers I've said, how many rallies I've gone to, how many people I've told about Jesus. And when I don't want to sound so self-centered, I change the 'I' to 'we.' Look at what how much we gave as congregation to missions. Look at how many pastors and teachers we've given to the synod as sons and daughters of our congregation. Look at how much we've done as the LWMS. Look at how many missionaries we've sent out as the WELS. But even if saying 'we' doesn't sound quite so arrogant, the focus is still wrong.
For you see, when the focus is on me or us, there is a huge piece of lead in the way. And although we may still find results and statistics to boast about, we cannot move the lead. It is far too heavy, no matter how many people are together with us. For we've taken our eyes off of Jesus and focused on ourselves. Then what good is mission work if it unites people to us but leaves the way everlasting blocked, blocked by my pride. For only Jesus is the Way who leads to everlasting life. He alone is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
So we need a 'u' here. Lord, /you/ lead us in the way everlasting. For you are our Father, who gave us your Son through whom alone we may come to you. Lord Jesus, /you/ lead us in the way everlasting. For you alone have carried the burden of our sin, heavier than any chunk of lead. O Holy Spirit, /you/ lead us in the way everlasting. For by the Gospel you opened our eyes to see Jesus, our Shepherd who leads as we follow.
How this changes our attitude toward mission work! We still pray and give and speak, but not because we imagine that it depends on us. "You, Lord, lead not only us but also others into the way everlasting. Work through my humble testimony and offering to open the hearts of others to see Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It's not my word, but yours. You make the seed grow. You produce the results as you see fit, a harvest of souls. It all depends on you, Lord, not me."
Then love, not pride, drives our mission work. Love for our Lord who brought us to the way everlasting. Love for the lost so that they to may know the way everlasting. For salvation depends on the Lord alone.
And this love overcomes our fears. How often fear holds us back from pointing people to Jesus' death for us and his resurrection: "I might not say it quite right. They might think I'm too religious. It could cause friction with my family or friends." How often fears holds back our giving: "I can't be too generous. I might not have enough for myself and family."
Here again, remember the 'u.' "You, Lord, lead us in the way everlasting." That's not just talking about some day in heaven. Right now he leads you and protects you. He's done that since he knit you together in your mother's womb. He will watch over you as you share the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus. He will take care of you better than any retirement plan. The Lord leads you in the way everlasting. Psalm 134 selected verses:
Psalm 139:1-4, 8-10, 13-18a, 24b