Scripture connections: (from the Common Lectionary for Year C)
- Joshua 5:9-12
- Psalm 32 (UMH )
- 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
- Luke 15:1-3,11b-32
Years ago, a movie about a mission’s failure came out—Apollo 13—that provided a breath-taking account of how a mission doomed to failure was salvaged by two teams working together yet separate. The spacecraft circling the moon was doomed to failure if a solution was not found. NASA’s Mission Control frantically working to find a solution on earth with the Apollo 13 crew working within the confines of their own craft circling the moon kept in communication while searching for redemption.
The mission came so close to utter failure with the loss of an American astronaut crew looming. There was no giving up. There had to be a solution. At that time, there was no shuttle between earth and space; only oral communication linked the two physical settings. NASA may have been the creator of the mission, but it took all the teams in the control center and in the spacecraft to assure the mission succeeded.
During the past few Sundays, the mission God established for his chosen people arose out of the need to shut down the evil that existed. His creation was an entire world, but only one people successfully practiced faithfulness—the ancient Israelites. God needed a solution so he turned to Abraham and his descendants to serve as God’s messengers to spread the good news and transform the world.
The centuries recorded in the Old Testament includes the good versus evil conflicts that demonstrate God’s efforts to keep evil from spreading. The mission remained constant, but the efforts were inconsistent. Even the warnings from the prophets did not provide the lasting change God was seeking. The Old Testament concludes and God’s mission is in crisis.
In the Apollo 13 mission, failure was not an option nor is God’s mission. For thousands of years, by human standards, the mission was failing, repeatedly. God could no longer wait for humans to complete the mission. Time had arrived to fulfill the prophets’ warnings—a savior was needed.
The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are four different records of God’s personal solution to prevent his mission’s failure. God intervened by joining his chosen people on the earth he created. He was born as Jesus of Nazareth.
Why? Why would God decide he personally had to intervene and to teach his people what the mission was and how to accomplish it? Why?
In the Christopher Wright’s study, the problem is the world was evil, as evil as Sodom and Gomorrah; and the temptation to sin continued to grow. Scripture readings this week focus on God’s forgiveness, and the commentary develops the arguments for Jesus to intervene:
- Joshua 5:9-12 emphasizes that God keeps His promises: the Israelites leave Egypt, are fed manna until they can produce their own food crops in the new, promised land.
- Psalms 32 tells us that nothing is better than forgiveness.
- 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 explains that forgiveness transforms one’s life and that by accepting forgiveness there is an inherent responsibility to share that experience with others—another words to accept God’s mission to share the good news.
- Luke 15:1-3, 111b-32 is the recognizable story of the Prodigal Son; a parable that illustrates the importance of reconciliation with God; even the most broken relationship with God can be forgiven.[*]
Today’s world continues to be evil filled. The faithful seem forlorn with how to carry the mission further. American society no longer seems to reflect the faith-based principles upon which it was founded; instead society has shifted to a more-secular, legalistic base that complicates the simplicity of God’s one commandment—love one another. The free will of man places self-centered life before a God-centered life. This shift makes it so much easier for Satan (evil) to take control. Humans are again living in a Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like world.
How does one resume a God-centered world? Begin with confession. One must acknowledge that God is not the center of his or her life. When life seems comfortable and no major problems are interrupting daily life, losing sight of God and his law is easy. When life around us gets busy and Sunday morning arrives, going to worship loses out to a few more hours of rest and relaxation. When finances become tight and the only solution seems to be work more, the practices of one’s faith lose priority.
In the lectionary’s commentary, sin is defined
“in biblical terms, [as] a condition from which none of us is free (Rom. 3:23); it is also a self-chosen act, like knowing the good and not doing it (James 4:17).[†]
Sin breaks the relationship with God, and identifying our sin must happen before God forgives you. Wright separates sin from forgiveness:
. . . “the ache deep in our hearts that comes from recognizing the hurts inflicted on ourselves or others that litter the landscape of our lives.[‡]
An ache—in other words we find ourselves hurting because of sin. Additionally, what we did has hurt our own self and/or others in the process. The action may have been only once, but maybe it is ongoing. Once we identify the cause of the ache, confession begins the return to a God-centered life.
Confessing one’s sin is not a quick, one-time fix. Once we confess our sin, then God expects us to return to the faithful practices that John Wesley referred to as the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Confessing is simply step one in re-establishing a relationship with God, one that returns us to his mission to reclaim his creation from evil.
Is returning from sin possible? Absolutely. With God, it is possible. God forgives us as long as “[we deliberately release] the claim we have on another [focus]. “[§] God and his mission must be the focus. We must deliberately return to God by following the very teachings provided by Jesus as preserved in the four books of the gospel.
God did not give up on his mission. During the thousands of years that passed since he identified Abraham and his descendants to take control of God’s mission, God did not reach its ultimate goal. God’s concern that the mission would fail led him to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament by the birth of Jesus.
The four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus’ birth, ministry, and resurrection. God’s mission is retold and the team is identified to spread the gospel of the good news forward—in time and in new locations.
The movie Apollo 13, illustrates how teamwork between Mission Control and the crew can successfully solve a problem. God needed an earthly team to fight evil, so he selected Abraham and his descendants. In the end, he stepped onto the earth to work with the earthly team as Jesus.
Today, we are Abraham’s descendants because we accept Jesus, also a descendant, as our redeemer. He lived on this earth, teaching and modeling how to be God’s co-worker on this earth.
To be part of the earthly team, we can find success as long as we deliberately confess our sins, return to the teachings of Jesus, know the story that we are to share, and then do all we can to see that God’s mission continues.
[Let us now join in the Responsive Reading, UMH 766, Psalm 32, as our confession of sin as we share in the Service of the Word and Table, UMH p. 12.]
Dear God of All,
As we open our hearts to you,
help us to deliberately name our human errors.
As we listen to words of scripture,
help us to find the guidance we need to live God-centered lives.
As we work hand in hand as a team,
help us to share your story in words and ways others hear.
As we continue through the season of reflection,
help us recommit ourselves to your mission. –Amen.
[*] (Wilson 2012) p. 86.
[†] Ibid, p. 87.
[‡] Ibid, p. 89.