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October 9, 2022

God Uses Means

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Placed for a Purpose - Fall 2022 Stewardship Series Category: Biblical Scripture: Luke 17:11–19

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

October 9, 2022

Luke 17:11-19

 Fall Stewardship Series – Week 1

“Placed for a Purpose: God Uses Means”

When it comes to the real estate market, the old phrase generally holds true: “Location, location, location.” If you want to find that special house that’s in a prime area, with an amazing view overlooking a river or lake, you’re going to pay a lot more for that location because it is so special. Over against this, today we lift up the truth of “Vocation, vocation, vocation” – that is, the sacredness of our calling by God in daily life. Whether you are single, married, or widowed, whether you are a parent or child, whether you are a student or worker, a custodian, federal employee, educator, active duty military, retiree – God has placed you where you are for a purpose, a holy purpose. Today we begin a 4-week stewardship series entitled, “Placed for a Purpose.” Over the next four weeks, we will lift up Luther’s understanding of the three estates, or places, where God calls us to serve in life: the church, the state, and the home. As we enter into this series, today we begin with the theme, “God Uses Means.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Sometimes the word “vocation” is misunderstood and thought to apply only to church workers: pastors, teachers, DCEs, deacons and deaconesses. But the truth is that vocation applies to every baptized believer, not just church workers. By virtue of our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have all been placed by God where we are for a purpose: to glorify the Lord and to serve our neighbor. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning “to call.” The call to serve where God has placed us comes from outside us; the call comes from the Lord himself. Compare this to a different word that we hear a lot about: career. We think of ourselves as being on a career track; climbing the ladder to success. But the word “career” also comes from the Latin, carrus, meaning chariot. And although chariots were certainly used in many ways, we often picture them as going round and round the racetrack. Sometimes that’s how it can feel on the career track. The truth is that God has placed us where we are for a purpose, and because God uses means to accomplish his gracious purposes, one of those means that he would use to further his kingdom and to bless our life together is through ordinary, everyday people like you and me.

As we explore how God uses means, we’ll look at Ruth in today’s Old Testament lesson (Ruth 1:1-19a) and Jesus’ cleansing of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 17:11-19). First, let’s look at Ruth. In just four short chapters, we see how a woman who was not from Israel, but from the land of Moab, became an instrument of blessing to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and would herself become the great-grandmother of King David, as well as an ancestor of the Lord Jesus himself (see Luke 3:32). Ruth had married a son of Namoi while the family lived in Moab, in what today would be modern Jordan. But then Naomi’s husband died, her two sons died, and there was no means of support. Naomi decided she needed to return to Bethlehem where she was originally from. As we heard, Naomi practically ordered her daughter-in-law, Ruth, to stay in Moab with her own people. Nobody would have expected Ruth to go with her mother-in-law back to the land of Judah, to Bethlehem, but she did. Time and again, Ruth demonstrated that she understood God had placed her where she was for a purpose: to care for and provide for Naomi, even though nobody expected her to do this; even though doing so meant that she would leave her own people and home behind her. That is sacrifice, plain and simple. If we were to read on, we would see that Ruth meets and eventually marries a distant relative of Naomi’s family, a man named Boaz. He becomes that kinsman redeemer (גֹּאֵל) who lays claim to and accepts full responsibility for the well-being of both Naomi and Ruth, and he does so willingly. God uses means – ordinary, everyday people like Ruth, Naomi and Boaz to bless the world with the One who is their descendant and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who has bought us back from sin and death that we might be his own.

In the Gospel lesson, we see again how God works through means as Jesus heals the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19).  In the ancient world, leprosy (modern day Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) | CDC) reduced people to a miserable existence. Diagnosed with this dread disease, they were required to leave home and family, cluster together with fellow sufferers in leper colonies, and somehow get by through the kindness of others who would leave food and supplies for them. The disease damaged both skin, eyes, nasal passages, and the entire nervous system, often leaving people disfigured as bodily extremities lost feeling and necrosis set in. Into this bleak world, Jesus steps in, fulfilling what was written by the prophet Isaiah: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Jesus spoke a healing word to all ten of those lepers, and as they were cleansed, only one returned to give thanks, and he was not even from Israel, but Samaria. Was it merely by accident that Jesus happened to be walking by those ten lepers on that particular day? Or is there something more at work here? If it is true that we have been placed where we are for a purpose, and if it is true that God uses means, then this was no accident. This was a divine appointment. In our own lives, we may not be afflicted with leprosy, but we do cry out in our own need: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). The good news is that God has indeed had mercy on us, giving the life of his only Son, so that through his death we might have life – the full and abundant life that Jesus would give to us all (John 10:10).

In our own lives today, we may question why God has placed us where we are. We may struggle with our own vocation in life. We hurry to get from point A to point B in life, and often don’t see the forest for the trees. We may not always understand how God is using us as instruments of blessing in the lives of others. We may not see the big picture of how everything comes together, but God does. God uses means to bless our lives through his Word and Sacraments today. We call these the Means of Grace. Through these means of Word, water, bread and wine, God works to call and equip us to be instruments of his grace in daily life. This becomes noticeable to others: the words and actions we use; the choices and decisions we make; the values and priorities we stand for. Through these Means of Grace, we understand more and more that our selves, our time, and our possessions all become means through which the Lord will work to bless the lives of other people. All of this is intended by God for generous living, freely sharing what God has placed into our hands wherever he has placed us in life.

God uses means, and we are all placed for a purpose – God’s good and gracious purpose. Join us next Sunday as we focus on “Placed for a Purpose: Living as God’s Child in the Church.” Amen.