S. Pentecost 3.19 “The .7 Percent Solution” 1 Kings 19:9-21; Luke 9:51-62

    Our Gospel lesson really speaks to me today. Loudly. As a messenger of Christ myself, I can relate to James and John. Like them, I’m sent ahead to prepare people for Jesus’ Arrival. But Jesus was quite clear in Matthew 10, when He commissioned the 12 Apostles (a year or two before the events in our Gospel from Luke this morning), that He was sending them as angels, messengers, ambassadors not to the Gentiles, barbarians, or Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel that is to the church, the synagogues. And in the Book of Acts, that’s the only place the Apostles intentionally go for…

    So today, it’s a little weird how Jesus sends His apostles ahead of Him to a Samaritan village(!) to prepare for His Arrival. This is the exception that proves the rule, I would say, and by this, Jesus kind of lets them see why chasing Samaritans is a waste of time (Peter and John will go to a Samaritan village in the Book of Acts, but only after that village embraced the Gospel they heard from Christian refugees and had begged the Apostles to come visit).

    Oh, I so relate to James and John! When they enter the Samaritan village and the Samaritans rudely refuse to received them or Jesus, they go back to Jesus, ticked and say “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Elijah did this in 2 Kings 1, and I wish that had been our OT reading this morning. I encourage you to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest that fine chapter on your own). I’ve been sent to places like that Samaritan village. And like James and John, I know and treasure that story of Elijah, sitting on his mountaintop, and the King of Israel sending a squad of 50 soldiers to kill him; but, when they tell Elijah: “Come down, man of God, so we can kill you…” He says “If I a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and kill y’all.” Which happens, instantly. Twice! Love it. Love that story. And believe me, there have been times (pastor’s conferences!) where I really would like to try out the Elijah trick…

    But Jesus rebukes James and John for what seems to me a great idea. If they hate Jesus and His angles, why not a little fire? Well, Jesus says why not… Our mission is to be agents of salvation not agents of destruction. James and John go, (a little sad) “Oh. Yeah. We forgot that for second.” And I go, “Oh, yeah. I forgot that for a second. Salvation, not destruction. That’s the plan. OK. I’m on board. Mostly.” I do have to say the warm, and lovely welcome I’ve received from the people of Our Savior Raleigh that only gets warmer with the passage of years (and contrasts sharply with other calls I’ve had) does make me see how much more fun it is when the Gospel and her angels are happily received than the other way around.

    But our OT and Gospel lessons today are telling us what we do when we encounter lands and people without and/or hostile to God’s Word. But they don’t tell us directly what to do as much as show us what not to do in such situations, and thus hint indirectly at what our chief concern should be. In short, I call it: “The .7 Percent Solution”. And you’ll see why in a second.

    The Formula of Concord, Article XI:56-70 (on predestination, which we’ve just finished studying the last 4 Wednesday evenings—recordings of which are available for listen online at our website) asks and answers the question “what do we do with lands and people without God’s Word?” succinctly. Two things, our confessions say, we do—when we see lands and people without God’s Word: Thing 1) see it as God’s well deserved judgment on them for despising His Word; and Thing 2) see that we do the same damnable thing, so that we (more deeply!) praise and appreciate God’s pure undeserved grace and mercy shown to us

    Our readings today suggest all of life is precisely this kind of test: do I see my miserable state and worry only how Jesus saves me, or do we think we’re so solid we should spend our lives fixing other people’s problems? That’s the crux…

    Elijah had been following Jesus, at His call (not Elijah’s own idea) for a long time. Now, Elijah got a little tired, bit worn out. He’d just defeated 450 prophets of Baal in a contest on Mt. Carmel to see whose God would send fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice. Yahweh did, Baal did not. So Elijah killed them with his sword because he was less concerned about saving others than for how the losers might harsh his mellow…

    But then Queen Jezebel promised to kill Elijah, and (somewhat oddly for a guy who could call down fire from heaven, command the weather and the wild animals to do his bidding!) Elijah runs. When God asks why he runs, Elijah says: “I have been very zealous for You, Yahweh, Lord of Hosts, but the children of Israel have forsaken Your testament, torn down You altars, put up video screens and praise bands in place of the ’41 hymnal, and killed your prophets. I alone am left and they seek my life.”

    God put on a wind, earthquake, and fire show to demonstrate the real power is the delicate, whispering voice of the Gospel. And it’s only when we hear and follow that, that Elijah is back on the Way, not alone, though there’s not a lot of traffic on this Road—only 7,000 other fellow travelers when Israel’s population was a million, minimum!!!

    Only the .7% solve this problem, see: Elijah’s efforts hadn’t converted a single soul. He didn’t know any of the 7,000. God’s grace alone reserved them. The point is that Faith in God is always rare. Many are called. Few are chosen. The Way is narrow, difficult; most reject IT. But for us Few, who hear the call, whose hearts burn a little bit with grief, the mission is clear. Stay on the Way yourself! No one can save his brother (Ps. 49:7).

    James’ and John’s embassy to the Samaritans was not for the Samaritans as much as for James and John to get closer to Christ Jesus themselves. Seeing how much, how often, they’d been just like the Samaritans made James and John believe the totally gratuitous nature of their place in Christ’s Kingdom—burned in their hearts like heavenly fire…

    That guy in the Gospel volunteering to follow Jesus?—he isn’t after Jesus, but the gold at the end of the rainbow. He’s left behind. Another guy Jesus commands to follow Him is more concerned for his parents. He also doesn’t make it; or the other dude, also worried about family more than Jesus. The point is simple: there is only one soul we should worry over: our own!

    C.S. Lewis said Christianity is quite “selfish, though not self-centered”. It seems altruistic and noble to worry about saving others, but it’s actually throwing salvation back in Jesus’ Face—as if He alone has not done it always, already; it’s Elijah who needs help, not Jesus—because the Truth is: there is absolutely nothing… we… can… do! The .7% see Jesus alone on the cross did IT all!, for everyone, always! The Few remember 2 things: 1) It’s their own damn fault people are without God’s Word; 2) we have the same damn fault; which is why we don’t look back, don’t look sideways, or inwards. We… look… to… Jesus!

    When Jesus is thus the heavenly fire burning up our grinchy, little hearts, we are on the Way; and the Peace surpassing all understanding guards your heart, your mind in Christ Jesus, Our Savior. Amen.