Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 3, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Slow Solution)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 20:21
A preschool teacher was helping one of her students put on his snow boots to go outside to play. He was pulling and she was pushing and still the stubborn little boots did not want to go on his feet. By the time she got the second boot on, she had worked up a sweat. She stood him up on his feet and he took a couple of steps and said, "Teacher, they're on the wrong feet." She checked and sure enough, they were. So, she sat him back down and pulled them off and they were just as difficult to get off as they were to put on, swapped them around, got them on the right feet this time and as soon as she got them on, he said to her, "Teacher, these aren't my boots."
Now, a lesser human being might have shouted in his face, "Why didn't you say something earlier?" But she remained calm and she helped him pull those boots off his feet again. Once she pulled them off, he says to her, "Teacher, those are my brother's boots, and my mom had me wear them today." The poor teacher didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. She mustered up the grace again though to put the boots back on his feet, stood him up, put his winter coat on and led him out to the door. She asks him, "Now, where are your gloves?" He smiles and says to her, "They were in my boots."
Raising people is not a fast process. It's a slow process. It requires patience. So much in our lives today happens at the speed of modern technology, and this makes us less patient with things that don't happen on demand. This poses a challenge for the Gospel. The good news, of the free gift of eternal life with God through faith in Jesus Christ because the Gospel is not a fast solution. Let me give you an example of a fast solution: a fast solution is one that offers a comfortable fix to an obvious problem. For example, in the field of medicine, the introduction of anesthesia was a fast solution. The first public demonstration of anesthesia was in Boston in 1846. Prior to this and the days before, patients were anesthetized in surgery. Even a minor surgery was an excruciating event. Surgeons learned to work with slashing speed while attendants and nurses held writhing patients down, thrashing around in agony and so, this news about a miracle gas that would put a patient under safely, and they'd wake up afterwards with no recollection of what happened. When news about this spread, it went viral. Within seven months of that first public demonstration, anesthesia had been administered in every region of the world. Within seven years, every major hospital in the United States and Great Britain had adopted the practice. Anesthesia is an example of a fast solution because it offers a comfortable fix to an obvious problem. In contrast, the Gospel is a slow solution. That's because it offers an uncomfortable solution to a hidden problem. The problem that the Gospel addresses is hidden from our eyes. Separation from God that will eventually lead to death and eternal condemnation, it's not exactly an in your face kind of problem. These days it's hard to see how trusting in Jesus helps with the problems that are in your face.
There doesn't seem to be an immediate reward for following Jesus. People who don't trust in him seem to do okay, plus the solution is uncomfortable. That's not to say that there's not comfort in the Gospel but let's be honest, the solution is a little uncomfortable. Trusting in Jesus means releasing control of my life and finding security in him, alone. Trusting in Jesus means sacrificing my way to His way. Trusting in Jesus, receiving the Gospel always involves dealing with church people. There is no reception of the Gospel without dealing with Jesus' people, and you may well know dealing with church people, learning to love church people, will test your patience like putting snow boots on a preschooler. I am blessed to be a small part of a Christian organization Lutheran Hour Ministries. We exist for the sole purpose of spreading the Good News of Jesus to every human being in the world.
You might be part of a congregation. You might be part of a larger church body or another organization that shares this passion and this purpose. So, if we are going to stick with this mission, if we are going to stay at it, we need to be honest about what kind of solution we are offering. The Gospel is not a fast solution. It is a slow solution, because it offers an uncomfortable solution to a hidden problem. Now, how do you spread a slow solution? God's way, as we've been listening in this biography of Jesus called the Gospel of John, God's way was to come in the flesh, in Person and talk to people, face to face. God's way was to send forth His Word, to be born as a baby and to grow slowly, as human beings grow and to begin the hard work of building trust through personal relationships. When this hard work seemed to fail and God's people, good people, people just like you and me. If we were there, we wouldn't have done any different. When God's people rejected and abandoned and crucified this slow solution from God, God remained steadfast, God remained resolute. He was undeterred. He carried the solution on His shoulders, literally on the cross, Jesus carrying the sins of the world and God raised Jesus from the dead so that He could go on spreading this slow solution. He appointed followers to be His personal representatives, to build trust through personal relationships.
I want you to listen to the end of the Gospel of John. We've been following John, and we left off in chapter two. We'll come back next week. But I want you to hear the end, so you don't miss this point. John 20:19 says--this is after the resurrection of Jesus.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together, the disciples of Jesus. With the doors locked for fear of the Jews, of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came. He stood among them and says to them, "Peace be with you." And He showed them His hands and His side, the marks of the crucifixion on His hands and His side and the disciples were overjoyed to see the Lord. Again, He said to them, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you." And with that, He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld."
This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Oh Christ.
Jesus' way of spreading God's slow solution was to send out His followers to talk to people, to build up communities, centered on this risen Jesus, to get close to each other, close enough where they have to bury each other's burdens, sin and guilt, pains and sorrows, so close that they would learn to have to practice repentance and confession of sins and forgiveness. So close that they would have to learn to love each other as God and Jesus's first loved them. Spreading of a slow solution is a social process through the hard work of building trust through face-to-face long-term relationships. It's like raising children. Now, there are examples of spreading this slow solution in other fields that we can learn from. It's not just in the realm of faith and Jesus but in other fields. In the medical field, for example. So, anesthesia was an example of a fast solution in the medical field. But there are examples of slow solutions, solutions that don't quite take off like anesthesia. For example, the solution that addresses the problem of infant mortality. Six million children die shortly after birth every year.
There are life-saving solutions for this problem. They just haven't spread as quickly as we would have liked them to spread. It's because the problem is hidden, and the solutions are a little uncomfortable. Now, you ask how is the problem hidden? You can't get much more in your face than a child tragically dying after birth? Well, most of these infant deaths happen in countries where there isn't reliable electricity to power infant incubators. So, you have a child in North America, and you put the baby in an incubator to keep the child warm, and most of these deaths, many of these deaths, are caused by hypothermia. They're too cold. Now, you imagined, if you were like me, you would imagine an infant suffering from hypothermia, a baby shivering with blue lips, but that's not what it looks like.
The infant doesn't look any different than a warm infant. She's just a few degrees too cold and too sluggish to feed and then they take her home, and it's not till she goes home that her temperature continues to drop. She loses weight, she catches pneumonia, and she dies. The root problem was hidden from their eyes. Dr. Atul Gawande is a public health physician who has worked with the government of India, a country whose infant mortality rate is especially high, to address the problem. Dr. Gawande notes that there are many practices that help an infant survive in these circumstances, and many of them focus on simple measures to keep the baby warm. For example, urging birthing attendants to take the baby's temperature right after she's born and then to warm the baby to regulate her temperature through skin-to-skin contact with the mother.
The problem is this solution is a little uncomfortable. Think about it. A mother giving birth in a hospital without reliable heating and so, she's tired, she's cold, and so she doesn't object when someone takes the baby, swaddles the baby separately, and no one notices that her temperature is dropping. Warming an infant through skin-to-skin contact with the mother is an example of a slow solution. There doesn't seem to be any reward for doing it. Doesn't seem to be any immediate consequence for not doing it, and yet it's a real solution, and it works. This is a pattern for slow solutions: they address problems that aren't obvious, and the solutions are a little uncomfortable. They go against conventional wisdom; they test your patience. How do you spread a slow solution? Through long-term, face-to-face social interaction. That's how you do it.
In our digitally connected world, we have been led to believe that we can solve everything quickly, without the hard work of building trust through long-term, face-to-face relationships. But, a slow solution needs time to gestate.
I am blessed to be a voice of a Christian broadcast that goes out with lightning speed through radio waves and fiber optic cable. This message reaches a million people or more every week. About a month ago, I was blessed to be a part of Lutheran Hour Ministries' effort to put the only Christian float in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California. An army of volunteers comes from all over the country called the Pedal Pushers, and they created a float that shares a simple Christian message that was seen by millions. These broadcast efforts to share the Gospel are important, but we cannot forget that the Gospel is a slow solution. We cannot forget the everyday work of local congregations, local Christian fellowships, the wider work of Lutheran Hour Ministries around the globe, the wider work of other Christian outreach organizations because the Gospel is a slow solution.
Now, when I say slow solution, I don't want you to think that I'm saying that there's a provisional status for us to become part of God's family. That's not what I mean by a slow solution. The Gospel's not that kind of slow solution. It's not that there's a probationary status that you have to prove yourself before you're really in. You trust in Jesus now and you are all in. You are fully loved, fully forgiven, fully accepted right now. What's slow about the Gospel is that full vision of the Gospel's solution that we are still awaiting. The words of the Lord to the Prophet Habakkuk, 2:3 are still applicable today. The Lord said to the prophet, "The vision awaits the appointed time. It hastens to the end. It will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it. It will surely come. It will not delay." The Gospel is a slow solution, and you spread a slow solution through long-term social interaction.
Spreading the Gospel is more than one voice speaking to a million. It is and must continue to be a million voices, each speaking to one, pointing them to our friend Jesus. Dr. Atul Gawande, the one I mentioned who is working with the Indian government, he was doing interviews with nurses to see how the solution was going. The Indian government learned that you can't spread a slow solution in any other way except through face-to-face contact. So, they assigned mentors and appointed them to hospitals to work with nurses one on one. Dr. Gawande was interviewing one nurse about how things were going. She admitted that at first she was a little annoyed about having a mentor. She didn't understand why she was having to do all these things. It didn't make sense; she didn't see the reason behind it. But, in time, she warmed up to the mentor, and she started doing those best practices. The doctor asked her, "Well, what caused the change?" She said, "She was nice."
"She was nice?"
"She smiled a lot. It wasn't like talking to somebody who was trying to find mistakes. It was like talking to a friend."
Let that be said of every one of us who speaks in the Name of Jesus.
If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me.
Lord God, Heavenly Father, You have promised that Your Gospel solution will not fail, it will not prove false. It will go forward, it will not delay. When it seems slow to us, increase our faith. Give us wisdom. Give us skill in spreading the solution around the world. Send us Your Spirit that we might have discernment whenever we're talking with someone, to discern their spiritual posture whether they are closed or open or seeking. And where there is unreceptiveness, help us to build us to build trust. Where people are open, help us to boldly and clearly proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, ruling and returning for forgiveness of sins and new life with You starting now. And where there are questions, help us to answer well and to show what it looks like to follow Jesus, because He lives and He reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
Reflections for February 3, 2019
Title: Slow Solution
Mike Zeigler: Thanks Mark. So I have a special guest with me today in the studio. Vicki Schrader. She is the associate director of the SENT Initiative, and Vicki has been with Lutheran Hour Ministries since 2015. This last August makes it three years. So today's sermon was based on John chapter 20, verse 21, and that happens to be the verse for the theme of this initiative. And it is to remember that Jesus has called us, that we are sent in His name to proclaim the Good News. So, tell us a little bit more about this initiative titled, SENT.
Vicki Schrader: SENT is a comprehensive initiative for Lutheran Hour Ministries. It's a five-year global initiative to proclaim the Gospel. This initiative is expansive, holistic, multi-layered, and it addresses the pressing challenges and realities of the 21st century. This SENT initiative brings greater vision, clarity, and definition to the work LHM is already doing. We see that God has shown us that He can do more through people like you and me than we could ever imagine. If we only allow ourselves to go where He is sending us. There are billions of people around the world without the hope of Christ, not only in foreign lands, but also locally in our communities.
LHM's mission of bringing Christ to the nations and the nations to the church is relevant more now than ever before. So in fact, the Scripture, John 20:21, "As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you," speaks directly to our call to be sent and this initiative gives us boldness to go where God is sending us.
Zeigler: I've only been with Lutheran Hour Ministries for a few months now, and I'm amazed at how much the ministry as a whole is doing. I only had a small view of it, and now it's much bigger. And you mentioned that the SENT initiative is a way of gathering all those efforts into one effort and you said comprehensive. So what are the different parts, to try to understand it better, what are the different parts of this initiative, or priorities?
Vicki Schrader.: In order to create a greater impact for our friends, families, churches, community, and even the world, we are focusing on four key areas, or four pillars. They include, the first one is around laity. Engage, equip and engage laity for outreach. The second pillar is around media. Grow God's kingdom through expanded media outreach. The third pillar is around the unreached population. Bring the Gospel to the unreached around the world. And our fourth and final pillar is focused on digital. Engage communities in the digital mission field.
Mike Zeigler: The first one, I hear it's helping every Christian know that it's not just professional people who are sent, but they are sent. And then that the broadcast piece is I think what most people identify with Lutheran Hour Ministries. That makes sense. And then the third one again, expanding into thinking about the global ministry as specifically unchurched people, and then that the fourth effort is, and that's interesting, seeing the digital arena as a mission field. That's interesting. So tell us a little bit more, whatever you'd like to share more about each of those.
Vicki S.: Well, the first one, laity. God is called you, me, all of us, to share His love to those around us. We believe Lutheran Hour Ministries equips believers to live out and share their faith in boldness in everyday life. And through the laity priority, we are focused on providing relevant tools and training to help congregations and individuals reach their community with the Gospel.
The second pillar is focused around our legacy or longevity with the Lutheran Hour, this program, which is an icon of broadcast history. LHM within this realm wants to reach out and expand into media as an outreach tool. With this in mind, we are launching a new venture called a podcast network. This new network will offer a variety of quality podcasts for a new generation of listeners.
The third priority around the unreached is one of our bigger initiatives, reaching to the far ends of the globe. Modern communication tools offer the potential for us to proclaim the Gospel to every unreached person on the planet. Our goal with this initiative is to expand radio and online ministry as well as strategic personal and holistic outreach. We will reach millions of people with the lifesaving message of Christ.
Our final pillar, the digital pillar is a very exciting one. We are expanding new ministry efforts into the digital realm, which the digital realm is not a new concept, but perhaps it's a new thought around how we might reach more people with the Gospel. We have been able to build a relationship with individuals through a secured content and ultimately take the relationship offline and into a Christian community where their faith can deepen. LHM conducted research to develop and test web and mobile platforms for reaching targeted audiences with the Gospel. Building on this research, we launched THRED, which is an online network that ignites conversations with non-church people on digital platforms to created connections that lead to community.
Zeigler: What about volunteers?
Vicki S.: The SENT initiative is effective because of all of the work around those involved that includes, obviously, staff, but also volunteers, we also have members of our board of directors and our foundation of trustees that are part of the SENT initiative. We have a dynamic group that leads the SENT initiative. They are called the national leadership council. Within the national leadership council, members chair regional teams. Each of their teams work as advocates for Lutheran Hour Ministries. We are being connected to people that wouldn't otherwise know who we are or how they can support Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Our volunteer base is over 110 individuals who work with us and have been working with us since 2015.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Son of God, Eternal Savior" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)