For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Called into Mission!

We were unable to film our service of June 14, for which we apologize, but, in addition to the service booklet in the Services & Events announcement for this service, here’s the sermon:

1st after Trinity ‘20                               Romans 5:1-8 & Matthew 9:35-10:8

Groningen                                                                  

Called to serve God’s Mission

Of all the subjects Jesus taught on, M and M typically created the most tension.

The first is Money.  Problematic because it has such a powerful hold on us and our interests in this material world.  We are material girls and boys, living in a material world.  Jesus did not deny this.  After all, he accepted to become flesh to save us.  Jesus just does not want us to be materialists, to worship money.  In the North of England where I trained, they used to say that the hardest thing to convert wasn’t a person’s heart or mind, but their wallet.  And Jesus did warn: ‘Where your treasure is treasure is, there will your heart be also.’  God knows we have material needs, otherwise Jesus would not have taught us to pray for our daily bread and give thanks for it.  But all things material are merely means, hopefully to be used for the good of all.  Friday we remembered Barnabas, one of the most generous of the first believers, who sold his property and donated the money he made for the charitable and mission work of the Church (Acts 5:32-37).

That brings me to the second challenging M: Mission.  Jesus challenges materialism and Mammon worship, without at all neglecting the physical needs of those he meets.  He taught about the Kingdom of God, but showed it wasn’t just a hypothesis.  He also went about ‘healing every disease and illness.  36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  [A recurring plight of the people of Israel, as Ezekiel and Zechariah and so many other prophets observed, and  the Lord himself had to step in.]

37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’  This harvest image is another frequently used in the OT to refer to the Lord intervening in the world.  God does not just sit back when people are in need.  But he also calls us to help.

So Jesus invites his followers to be colleagues in His Mission.  How do we respond?

We love to support Mission work, wonderful philanthropic efforts to help people in faraway lands, like what Berdine is involved in with the Church Mission Society, and nearer to home, like what Hendrik does for the students of Groningen.

We’re delighted such gifted and dedicated people serve in these ways.  But Mission gets a bit more intimidating when we begin to realize that Jesus’ call is to us all, each and every one of us, to serve him by serving others, wherever we are and whoever we are.  The harvest is plentiful, and it is all around us.  God’s compassion is to be lived everywhere by everyone.  This is our Kingdom calling, and it is supposed to hit close to home, literally and figuratively.

Yikes!  We might think: Me?  A missionary?  I’m not up to that.  Leave it to skilled professionals; I’ll play a supporting role.  Yes, that’s definitely needed, praying for, donating to, and supporting mission work.

But it is also personal:  Jesus invites everyone to take mission personally, to recognize why God’s love needs sharing, that we need to open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to serve those in need, however they are in need, in our daily lives.

The Mission-Shaped Church resources of the Church of England suggest that ‘the mission of God as creator, through Christ, in the Spirit, is to bring into being, sustain and perfect the whole creation.  And the mission of God as redeemer, through Christ, in the Spirit, is to restore and reconcile the fallen creation.  The Church is both the fruit of God’s mission –those he has redeemed – and its agent – through which God acts for the world’s redemption.’  Yes!

The great South African missiologist, David Bosch, insisted: ‘There is a Church because there is mission, and not vice versa.’  ‘It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.’

So participating in God’s Mission is what we are all about.

Mathew 10, the ‘Mission Discourse’, and the verses that lead into it, point to the purposes for mission, the people for mission and the planning of mission.

Jesus saw the great need of the people he met and had deep compassion.  He had no ulterior motive but love.  He desperately wanted to help people.  Heal them, restore them.

Jesus saw the dire need, and responded to it.  And he also realized he must call out to people, explain the need, and teach and inspire them to help him help others.  He first called 12, a symbolic number in the Bible, all the tribes, different as they were.  In that 12, Jesus called fishermen (Simon and Andrew, James and John), a tax collector (Matthew), a doubter (Thomas), one rather unreflective guy (Bartholomew/Nathaniel), an extremist in favor of armed rebellion against the Romans (Simon the Zealot), and even someone who would betray him (Judas), as well as others we know less about from the Gospel stories.

To say the least, it was a creative mix.  Some of them no doubt wondered: ‘Why me, Lord?’  And spectators probably also questioned, ‘Why them, Lord?’

God knows, and Jesus knew what he was doing.

The call is often not obvious and never easy.  But it is still our calling, our vocation, which the Lord mentors us through.  Like the Samuel in the Bible, it took me at least 3 times to figure out which direction the Lord was calling me, and I’m still finding my way like the rest of you.  But the Lord provides guidance if we seek it.

And individually and collectively, we are blessed with gifts and skills, to make different and distinctive contributions.  But we all need to respond to Jesus’ particular call to us, listen to his words of wisdom, and learn how to serve where we are.

To the first 12, Jesus announced a striking plan:

‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.  Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.’

Here in Matthew’s version, Jesus initially insists that his disciples first reach out to the people they knew.  There is a practical logic in this: they spoke the language, understood the culture.  But that certainly doesn’t always make it any easier.

After all, prophets are seldom welcome in their home towns.  It may seem more appealing to go off to an exotic place where people may be more open.  But Jesus’ mission in Matthew hits close to home.  Challenging in its own way, certainly, but by no means exclusive.  For elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus clearly appeals for outreach beyond our cultural comfort zones, too.

In chapter 8, Jesus heals the servant of a Roman centurion, whose faith amazes Him!  Jesus declares: ‘8:10 Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.  11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.’

So, in Ch 10, maybe Jesus is insisting we not avoid sharing his Good News with those we already know, either.  All included!

At Pentecost, all the believers realized the Spirit was calling them to reach out to those of other religions and of none, far and near.

Some may feel they have lost faith in churches, and given some experiences of church for some people, that is understandable.

But, like Paul, we must all humbly admit that none of us is perfect, and neither are our churches.  Each and every one of us is in need of our God’s gracious forgiveness, which we did not deserve, but were given, selflessly, by Christ, who offered himself on a cross for us, even when we were blind to this great blessing.

Paul reminds us we cannot and should not try to justify ourselves and our failures of the past.  Christ alone justifies us with God.

Paul’s legal language should not surprise anyone familiar with the historic faith of Israel, grounded in the Law of Moses and filled with metaphors of trials and tribunals.

But Jesus offers himself, bears our guilt and shame, so that we are justified, in a new way: freed from all condemnation and punishment, even if we do not deserve it.  Jesus is turning the whole trial and court metaphor upside down, the innocent dying for the guilty so that the guilty get off and are freed.  Is this really just, what happened?  In human terms, maybe not.  But God’s justice is far more forgiving and humane than ours.

‘7 Very rarely,’ Paul notes, ‘will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

And so, in Christ, we actually are now fully at peace with our Creator, who loves us even when we did not or do not love him.

Paul fervently hopes that we will come to love God for what He has done, and hopes that we too will also hope for and look forward to the wondrous glory that God wants us all to share in.

In this world, we face challenges, we need endurance and perseverance.  But God’s unending love sees us through.  It has been poured into our hearts through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

It is God’s mission through Christ that we are called to, with the help of the Spirit.  Jesus wants us to help others experience the salvation his sacrifice makes possible.

Colleagues are needed, and we have to be ready face the hard parts of this mission of being, living and spreading this Good News.  But the Spirit will change things and us, for the better.

‘ As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.’

God is with us.  What else do we need?  Our own limitations are not His.  So, in God’s mission, do expect the unexpectedly miraculous.

So here’s the invitation:  Learn all you can from Jesus’ teaching and example, pray all you can, and give yourself all you can, as Jesus gave himself.  And as St Francis said, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and sometimes use words.’  May God bless each of us in our calling.  Amen.

 

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