Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 15, 2019
“Walking in Rescue Missions”
Exodus 32: 7-14
1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1-10
Archbishop Ricardo Alcaraz
God is full of mercy and compassion. He deals with us according to His compassion. Our Epistle reading tells us that Paul identified himself as a former blasphemer, a persecutor and violent aggressor. He fell to the ground when he had an encounter with Jesus Christ who asked him why he was persecuting Him. When he got up, he couldn’t see and he experienced this for three days where he did not eat or drink, and the Lord instructed Ananias to restore Paul.
Before he was converted, Paul separated families and he confiscated personal possessions; but God was not done with Him. Paul was an enemy, but he was a chosen vessel of God. God used him to bring good news to the Gentiles. God gave him another chance because He was a loving God.
When we make a mistake, God doesn’t say, “I am done with you.” I believe that the same plan that God had for Paul is the same with us. Scripture tell us that God saw us even when we were yet unformed. The days He fashioned for us carefully, even before we saw one of these days, He already wrote down a book day by day how His plan is going to unfold in our lives. It is our choice when we connect with Jesus, but those plans will be begin to unfold in and through our lives.
Remember that once upon a time, we were on the outside looking in; but according to Scriptures, we have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and we have been translated into the kingdom of His Son. We are now on the inside, and when we find people on the outside looking in, we don’t laugh at them. We have to have the same compassion for them.
The principle that I am to share with you is this: as the Lord has brought so much joy in our lives, so let us also bring joy to all of heaven through our lives. How many of us are grateful for what the Lord has done for us? This lifetime would not be enough in giving thanks to God. All of eternity will not be enough to give God thanks. It is not just enough to say, “God, thank you, until the next time.” Rather, we give thanks by serving Him and living for Him during this particular time.
God has brought great joy to our lives. He has delivered us; He has healed us; He has answered our prayers; He has taught us the power of favor and grace. As we walk in the blessings of God Almighty, it is God’s desire that once we are recipients of the grace and blessings of God, that we also become agents of His blessing, and that we are ambassadors of His salvation. Once upon a time on the outside, now, we are on the inside. Now, we are partaking of the banqueting table, and God now wants us to partner with Him in bringing others also to the banqueting table. There is more than enough for everyone.
Our theme is “Walking in a Rescue Mission”. Once we need rescuing, and God rescued us. Now that we are with Him, we are learning that He saved us that we might bring salvation to others. He healed us that we might bring healing to others. He delivered us that we might also bring deliverance to others also.
If there is anything that our recent Territorial Convocation spoke aloud to us is that we are not just to wait inside the Church, but to go and bring the power, the love, the presence, the glory of God to others also.
In the gospel, the tax collectors and the sinners were coming to Jesus Christ to hear Him. The Pharisees and the scribes complained saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of their day and teachers of the Law. There is nothing wrong with the law of God. There is nothing wrong with the commandments of God. There is nothing wrong concerning the Word of God. It is always a good thing if we would obey His commandments. But in studying the Word of God and its principles, we should never ever forget the love of God.
For us who have received the grace of God, if we see someone struggling like we did, if we see someone messed up like we once were, we don’t stand and gloat, but rather, we use the grace of God in order to reach out to them. We never forget how God has been gracious to us. If we have a revelation of grace, then, not only will we be grateful to God, but we will also pass on the grace that we have received to others.
Our gospel have basically two stories of the same theme. One talks about the shepherd who got a flock of one hundred sheep and lost one. He left the ninety-nine in the wilderness and he went out and looked for the lost one. Some stories I have read said, “Isn’t that kind of reckless or irresponsible to leave the ninety-nine in danger just to get the one lost?” What I am trying to see from the story of Jesus are the following; one, He is not a businessman who says, “One hundred, but there is only one lost, that loss is okay.” Two, Jesus is not a military commander who would say, “This is war. In order to win, we need to understand that we have to have casualties. These are acceptable casualties.” Jesus is not Someone who is willing to sacrifice anyone just to get the victory.
The point of the parable is that all life to God is sacred. One life is important to Him. Even if one was lost, did that sheep not know how to follow the flock? Did he think that he was in the right way and the others were going the wrong way? Was he rebellious? Apparently, the sheep was lost. As far as God is concerned, He is not saying, “I’ve got ninety-nine people who are with Me so forget the other one.” No, the one was valuable to Him.
During the Last Supper, Jesus dipped the bread and gave it to Judas. Jesus is Someone who cares for all life. He goes out; He retraces His steps. He looks under the bush, and looks over there. It doesn’t matter if it is night or it is raining or not. He tries to look for the sheep. When He finds the sheep, He rejoices. To Jesus Christ, it is like a sinner who comes back to God. Jesus says, “There is more joy in heaven over one who repents.” How can we add more joy in heaven? Isn’t heaven already perfect? How can we add to something that is perfect? If that is going to bring joy to heaven, then, as God brought joy to our lives, then, let us use our lives to bring more joy to heaven. We do this when we help in this Kingdom’s mission of bringing others to the Lord. It is like when somebody brought us to the Lord.
The second story in the gospel is basically the same thing where a coin was lost. In the first story, one of a hundred was lost – like a one percent loss. In the second story, one out of ten was lost – that is, about ten percent loss. The third story, which is not part of the gospel today, is about the Prodigal Son, where one was lost, which is a fifty percent loss. Can we come back from a one hundred percent lost? Once upon a time, there was a man named Adam who represented all of us, and he disobeyed God. When he did, he was lost and this is one hundred percent. However, such is the love and the mercy of God that He did not forsake us. He made a way, even if it meant sacrificing His own son that we today may be able to find our path back to God. God is persistent. God does not quit on us.
Moses was praying for the nation of Israel. God said to him, “Moses, I have saved these guys so many times. They have seen My miracles. Now, they make a golden calf as their god. Moses, let Me alone. This is stiff-necked people. I will destroy them and I will raise a new people from you.” If someone says that we are a stiff-necked people, he might be 50% right. He might be 75% right. He might be 90% right, but no man can be 100% right because he doesn’t know everything. If someone says that we are a stiff-necked people without hope, he could be mistaken for there must be something that he doesn’t know.
If God says, “This is a stiff-necked people,” do we think He is mistaken? Do we think He is going through a temporary season of insanity? He is God, so what He says is a judgment! He says, “These guys did this, so they deserved to die.” He told Moses, “Moses, let Me alone.” Moses was speaking to God. Moses became a friend to Him because he stood fine in the presence of God. When his brothers and sisters were criticizing him, God said to them, “To other prophets, I talk to them in dreams and visions. Not Moses! I talk to him face to face. Aren’t you afraid of saying something against him?”
Because of Moses’ humility and faithfulness, God gave him the ability to discuss things with Him so He was able to tell Moses, “Let Me alone. Stop praying for them.” This is Old Testament and if prayers were worth much back then, so it is today. We are in a better covenant with better promises. Moses appealed, “Lord, what will they say? That You cannot bring them to the Promised Land so You had to destroy them?” He also said, “You made a covenant and a promise to Abraham that You would multiply them, not kill them.” Moses said, “Lord, relent from Your anger,” and according to translations, it says that the Lord changed His mind or He repented of these things. There is something to prayer when we appeal to the mercy of God that takes hold of His goodness, grace and mercy and makes it available especially to people who truly need these.
I would like to make a testimony about the relentless pursuing love of God, and how that the prayers of many people help bring me into His kingdom. I grew up in high school at a time where Woodstock was making its debut - the generation of the hippies, the psychedelic and flower people, and marijuana. It was a kind of rebellion of the system at that time. I fell into the spirit of age, and because of this, there was a gap that developed between me and my parents. It came to a point that they labeled me as the black sheep of my family – not of my color, but of a darker attitude.
I came home one day, very early in the morning, and I opened my cabinet and found a letter from my Mom. She said, “I am writing you this letter because it seems that we cannot talk anymore. We cannot communicate anymore. Every time I try to patch up things with you, we end up fighting.” It was not really my parents’ fault; it was my fault. I was just being hardheaded. My Mom then asked certain friends to pray for me.
Events took place from late 1970 to early 1982. I went to college and I was going out with someone. One day, I was waiting for her and a student came to me who wanted to talk to me about life. I talked to him and it fed into my rebellion. He brought out the Four Spiritual Laws, which is basically a gospel message. I was hearing the gospel in school, not in the Church. He was nice to me, so I was nice to him too. He asked me to follow a prayer, which I followed, but it was all more out of curiosity and just to go through the situation. It didn’t change my life for anything because I was still thinking what I wanted to do about that time.
After a couple of months, I got into trouble with my parents once again. I run to my grandparents’ home. As I was there, somebody knocked at the gate. I was being invited to a free video showing in one of the neighborhood’s home. I was interested in the movies at that time, so I confirmed my attendance.
When I went to this home, a movie was played about a magician doing some tricks. At the end of the movie, a guy said, “The magic that you witnessed are tricks and they are not true. They cannot help us in our lives.” He introduced me to the gospel of Jesus Christ adding that if I want to find the real power, it is through Jesus Christ whose love, ability and power is true. I was polite to him, and I was not in the mood to debate. He led a prayer and after this, I concluded that if this guy comes again for an invitation for a free movie, I will not answer him anymore.
One of the sports that I played was tennis. One time, I was playing and a lady came in and she said, “My tennis trainer seems not to be here. I wonder if you are willing to hit with me.” I agreed and played with her for an hour. After this, I rested and she came to me asking, “Are you doing anything tonight?” I was wondering if she wanted to play tennis at night. She said, “We have this event and I would like to invite you.” She volunteered to pick me up at seven in the evening.
Preparing for this invitation, I spent some time fixing myself. The lady picked me up and we went to a pelota court. Going inside, there was an altar and it was a Roman Catholic group. They had a Mass first and then a charismatic service. After the Mass, somebody sat me down and the gospel message was presented to me. I said to myself, “I am hearing the gospel message in school, I am hearing the gospel message in a neighbor’s house, and now, in the pelota court, I am hearing again the gospel message.” I came because I just wanted to be nice to the lady whom I met at the tennis court.
I began to be wary of these events like someone was stalking me. One Sunday morning, I was waiting for the moviehouse in Makati City to open, and I passed by a disco, and I heard music. The music was lively and jumpy, but not some disco music. Praise and worship was being played inside the disco. I was curious and tried to blend in. The Pastor said, “If you have any problem, whatever it is, as the service ends, there will be prayer lines and we will be glad to pray for you.” I made a beeline and when I got to the Pastor, he asked my name. When he found out my name, he asked if I was the son of “Nene Alcaraz”. I was surprised and I asked why he knew the name of my Mom. He said, “We have been praying for you for two years.”
My Mom, in her desperation, had been asking prayer requests not only from Catholics but also from non-Catholics. I pushed her to the brink of desperation that events in my life were taking place. God was not giving up on me. He was looking for me.
The last event happened in December 1982, I was in a seminar and there was this doctor giving tips on how to encourage people to take a check-up before we sell them insurance. At one point, he took his medical bag, took his stethoscope, and took a book. I thought it was a medical book, but it wasn’t. It was a Bible. He started talking about the new birth. I was hearing the gospel inside the business establishment, but at this time, I succumbed. All resistance was gone. God helped me to get bits of the gospel up until this time that when the doctor gave me the gospel. He asked me to pray with him, and I prayed sincerely. I said to God, “God, You want me, You got me.” Things have never been the same since this time.
This is God’s relentless and reckless love. While someone was praying for me, God was stalking on me. He was the good kind of stalker. He is not going to make our lives miserable. He is going to be make our lives different, much more in line with the plan that He has for us. God keeps on looking for the lost. He loves us all, but He loves us individually. He is not willing that anyone would be lost.
If God did this for me, He will do it for you. If you happen to be praying for someone who is proving to be a little too difficult, do not give up! Moses said to God, “Don’t give up on Your people,” but God said to him, “Let Me alone, Moses, I will raise a new people from you.” Moses never gave up!
This is Old Testament and we are in the New Testament. There are better promises, better covenant. “Come boldly before the Throne of grace that you might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” When you come to the Throne of grace, you are not visiting. You are home! You belong!
At this time where there are people who need rescue, once upon a time, we were rescued. Now, let us help in the rescuing effort. Let us fill heaven with people who have been lost, but now because of the grace of God, they are there. Scriptures says that every time we do this, the angels rejoice. Every time we do this, there is more joy in heaven. Let us do our part in making sure that joy to all of heaven goes higher and higher.
We can do it! God has shown us that it can be done many, many times. I heard the gospel not inside the Church. I heard it in school, in a business establishment, in a pelota court, and I heard it outside the Church. Someone looked for me. Someone who obeyed the Lord looked for me, and I got in. If they are willing to do this for us, how much more should we be willing so that others might come into the kingdom of God!