In our epistle this morning Paul’s outlines a simple notion that is both merciful and startling at the same time—Christ died for the unworthy. Notice his choice of words: “while we were still weak” (vs. 6), “for the ungodly” (vs. 6), “while we were still sinners” (vs. 8). Paul says, a bit rhetorically, that someone might choose to die for good people, but never for the undeserving. I liken Christ’s sacrifice to what happened at the World Trade Center . Hundreds of rescue personnel and civilians died indiscriminately for the godly and the ungodly. They entered the buildings to save God’s people—no questions asked.
It is precisely in Christ’s dying for the undeserving that we see the truth of God’s love. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Furthermore, Paul’s gospel states time and again that all of us here on earth are undeserving. Romans chapter 3, verse 23 makes this point definitively: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift.” We may, all of us, be undeserving, but God’s mercy is infinite.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus dispatches his disciples to “proclaim the good news [that] the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew lists the missioners one by one and gives each a brief, bullet-style bio. The disciples are offered up to us like members of an outlaw posse in a John Wayne Western, or the cast of motley ruffians in a platoon flick—dirty men with an ennobling job to do. Three members of the Twelve carry unusual distinctions that force us to wonder what Jesus’ motive was. Matthew “the tax collector” is among the despised. He is a fleecer of people, and worse yet, a Roman collaborator. Then there is Simon the Cananaean, formerly a political zealot bent on the destruction of Rome . To find the former Roman hireling Matthew and the revolutionary Simon together among the disciples shows that the new community of Jesus has embraced and transcended the tensions in the old community of Israel.
And finally there is Judas Iscariot, the Betrayer.
Jesus’ rousing pep talk depicts a mission fraught with rejection and opposition, hardly a walk in the park. So why he would select a band of men with such ompromising credentials? Judas alone has the potential to undermine the entire operation. But Jesus is not going to select from the “Who’s Who” of Galilee or from the prominent membership of the Country Club of Jerusalem. That’s not our Savior’s style. Jesus’ mission team has to include a few good sinners! If he is going to die for the ungodly, why shouldn’t he work with them? The interesting thing is that during the disciples’ commissioning, Jesus points out that the mission is solely God’s. Their mission is not voluntary activity initiated by them; rather, they are chosen, authorized, and sent by God through Christ as an expression of divine compassion for needy people. Tough men given the tough task of saving the world.
Today is Father’s Day. I value the holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day on our calendar because I think they are worthy days in which we are called to express our love for our parents regardless of our relationship with them. Earlier in the week I had the task of buying my father a card. It’s never an easy thing to do. Most of the cards are gooey and go on and on about how amazing Dad is or that “You, Dad, are the absolute, best Dad in the world.” Well, you know what, my Dad wasn’t and isn’t. So for the last 15 years or more I’ve bought cards that say, “I love you Dad” and I leave it at that. This is because I do love him. I really do. He’s just never going to win any “Father of the Year” awards.
My Dad’s curse is alcoholism, a 38-year battle with addiction to be exact. A few days before Christmas of this past year my brothers had to place him in an assisted-care living facility because he could no longer manage on his own. Just to give you a small idea, my Dad’s “affliction” prevented him from attending my wedding. The frustrating thing about my relationship with my Dad is that while he was a jerk to my mother a good part of the time, he thought I hung the moon and loved my brothers and me with everything he had. I never once doubted that. It’s just that once I reached my twenties he stopped doing the things Dads portrayed in Father’s Day cards do. So for many years I have struggled to reconcile his disease and my disappointment with his lack of presence in my life. I see other Fathers fulfilling their role and it hurts me, like my own father-in-law.
When Jesus came that day and saw the unharvested flocks, he saw a hapless and harassed people, a mess of human striving and failing, and He loved what he saw. Likewise, when Jesus selected the Twelve he saw a band of sinners worthy of proclaiming the Gospel, worthy of carrying out his mission. The truth of God’s love for us is demonstrated in the death of Jesus Christ. The consequence of that love for us, for you and me and for my dad, is that we the unworthy, the undeserving, have a place in God’s kingdom. It is as simple, and it is as profound as that.
But what is the truth of our love? The question I ask you today is this: Can we love the unworthy and undeserving people in our lives just because Christ does? Paul said himself that we all fall short of the glory of God. But how far is too far to fall? Do we dare draw the line ourselves? I’ve often said about difficult people in my life, “I can love them, but I don’t have to like them.” Now I’m wondering if this is a copout. Paul tells us in Romans that God’s love is unconditional, indiscriminate and larger—magnificently larger—than human imagination. But is mine? Please.
In my case I think that perhaps I should be thankful that I at least have a father, a father that loves me. Isn’t that enough? I should also be thankful that I had a mother who did the fathering for years on end and for all men in my life who often took on that role and still do.
On many days I feel harvested and healed by Jesus Christ. And I value my role as a harvesting healer. Changed, we can bring change to the lives of others by including the excluded, forgiving the sinful, healing broken relationships, proclaiming the good news. This mission can begin within our own families. All we need do is give to others what has been freely given to us — the good news that God is changing a broken world and making it anew. Changed by God, strengthened by the Spirit, empowered by Christ, we have all the tools we need to be laborers in the world.
After church I’m going to call my Dad and wish him a happy father’s day. I hope you will too.