SERMON 7/7/19 Pentecost 4C Proper 9 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
Good Will Hunting
My favorite movie of all time is “Good Will Hunting,” a late 1990’s drama, about discovering one’s purpose. The movie stars Matt Damon, who plays Will, a young man that grew up in a tough neighborhood in South Boston, who was abused by his step-father, and surprisingly is a stealthy mathematical genius, working as a janitor at MIT. Will is jailed for fighting on the streets (not his first time), and after his release on bond, he returns to work at the school. While mopping floors one night, he is caught solving a mystifying math problem, left on the bulletin board for the students of one of the brilliant math professors. The professor sees Will solving the problem, and decides to help the boy avoid prison, by convincing the judge to let Will study mathematics under his tutelage, and submit to therapy for his anger issues.
The professor calls on Dr. Sean McGuire (Robin Williams), a former MIT classmates and a brilliant psychologist to help him. Sean although a genius himself, settled for teaching at a community college, after the tragic death of his wife. Will resists Sean’s help initially, but over time the walls come down, and both Will and Sean soon begin to help each other exercise their own demons, and together, they rediscover new lives never imagined; they discover their purpose.
The movie is an incredible story about when lives intersect, when we face life’s challenges together, work together, serve together, and minister together, we are enabled to discover our purpose. In community, we unearth each other’s gifts for mission, we can rekindle new possibilities, and we propel one another on a path forward, to achieve the unimaginable mission set before us and in so doing, we discover our purpose as a community of Jesus’ disciples.
Mission: Purpose, Structure, and Preparation
In today’s gospel reading Jesus commissioned seventy disciples, and sent them out on a specific mission with a specific purpose. They went commissioned for a mission, not for their own benefit (although they benefited from the work), but for the purpose of sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom to others. The purpose of these mission teams was to prepare for the coming Kingdom of God enacted in Jesus Christ.
“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” Jesus’ mission organizational structure is a model for ministry in the 21stcentury church today. I used to wonder why he did not send out seventy lone rangers vs. sending out thirty-five teams of two. He could have covered more ground, been much more efficient, and helped so many more villages, but that was not what he did. Jesus knew that when we join God’s mission team, we need ministry partners in order to be effective, to help and encourage one another, and to mutually discover our purpose.
“Why,” you may ask. Because in community we are able to discern the Holy Spirit’s wisdom together, unlike when we try to do so merely as individuals, and the job is beyond our ability to do it alone. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
If we try and set out unaccompanied to do God’s work, the needs of the world will overwhelm us and we will become weary and fail. Additionally, setting out alone may let our egos drive the mission, and then our work becomes about us and not our purpose. We need ministry partners! Even the Apostle Paul, when he wrote these words to the church in Galatia, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” knew we need ministry partners to keep our egos in check.
So, if our purpose is to partner with Jesus Christ on his mission team of reconciliation, serving others, helping others, and being Christ to others, there is never room for our ministry to be about us as individuals. I think part of the reason Jesus sends us out as teams is so we might keep our focus on the mission and not ourselves.
Mission and Liturgy
Theologian Paul Hanson in an article for Theology Today wrote, “The Church’s purpose is not its own. The church is present in the world on behalf of the God by whose grace it has been called into existence.”(1) Hanson reminds us that our purpose is found when we the church is at work in God’s mission of love in the world. So, to do that work well, we need provisioning. A large part of our preparation occurs here at church each weekend through our liturgy.
For example, we gather to hear God’s word: Old Testament, Psalm, and New Testament. Next, we hear the Gospel read and explained through the sermon, and through that the Spirit who inspired the writers of the text, works in the reader and preacher, and in those who hear the word. The Word of God proclaimed for us today, prepares us to be sent out with a purpose today.
Next, we share communion and are fed by the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The sacrament given to us today, prepares us to be sent out with a purpose. Then, at the dismissal we are sent out with, “Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” Like those thirty five teams of two Jesus sent out, our liturgy recalls that event and sends us out each week likewise, to prepare the way of Christ, whose Kingdom is arriving every day.
Do you think that “our weekend preparation enough to fulfill our purpose?” I think not, because to be on the Jesus mission team, we need more direction, more training, more fellowship, and more study, to be able to fulfill our mission purpose.
Our weekend excursion into the life of community (plus a great coffee hour or festive potluck) is just not enough. Just like those 35 teams of two that Jesus sent out on mission, we need more provisioning. If our purpose is, as the post communion prayer states, to be “sent out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord,” we have a big mission ahead of us next week. So to do it well, we need to gather more often for study, for fellowship, for opportunities to help one another grow in Christ. We must live every day willing to be changed, transformed, and prepared, not just on the weekend, but every day of the week.
Discovering Our Purpose
In “Good Will Hunting,” Will and Sean each lived somewhat isolated lives, bound up in fear and discouragement, with little purpose. They refused to use fully engage their gifts, to cultivate their passion, or to discover their purpose. They refused, until their lives miraculously intersected in unforeseen circumstances. Will was a genius janitor who hung out with his buddies, missed his true calling as a mathematician, wrestled with the demons of his abused past, and faced imprisonment. Sean was a brilliant psychologist who settled for an unfulfilling teaching position, missed his true calling as a brilliant therapist, and wrestled with the demons of his grief, depression, and loneliness.
When these two people worked together to unpack the gifts they possessed, something unexpected happened. When Sean helped Will discover his purpose, Will helped Sean discover his own. Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission in pairs, to prepare others for the Kingdom of Heaven. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Jesus calls his community to join together for God’s mission of changing lives, restoring dignity, declaring justice, and sharing love, so that each one of us may find our purpose in God’s Kingdom.
The world needs our witness of Christ’s love in times like these and thus, Jesus sends us out on a mission today, not merely for our own benefit, but so, we can “love our neighbors as ourselves.” If we do that well, we will discover our purpose, “the reason for which our mission is done, why the church was created, and the reason for which she exists.” The Lord is calling us to labor on, so come join Jesus’ mission team, because “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
1 Hanson, Paul D., “The Identity and Purpose of the Church,” Theology Today, 1985.