• Eric Cooter

SERMON 7-8-12 Pentecost 6B


2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13 When I was very young, my Dad served as a volunteer firefighter in our small town, and he served several terms as Fire Chief. Back then, dispatchers would contact all the volunteers by sending a signal to each firefighter’s beeper. My Dad would spring into action when his beeper rang. He knew he was being sent out on a mission, sometimes a fire, a car accident, or some other tragic event and he responded to the call.

Back then, I had the opportunity a couple of times, to tag along with him and witness this great drama unfold. I remember what it was like to arrive at the fire station and see all the people scattered about putting on gear, starting up trucks. At first, this all appeared to be a chaotic mess, but soon the group became a well-orchestrated team. At the scene of the house fire, every firefighter sprang into action. Each one had a job and each one did it well. There were folks who pulled hoses off the truck, a team who operated the nozzle and put water on the fire, another who monitored the pump, and yet another who worked with the families and coordinated their safety. It was an amazing sight to see. The mission of this little group of dedicated volunteer firefighters was to protect from fire the lives and property of our little town. The firefighters all knew what they were gathered together to do, and each one of them had a part in making sure that mission was accomplished. When the alarms sounded, every person at “Station One” was sent out, and each one had a role to play, otherwise the mission failed.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus sends out the twelve apostles on a mission. There are several things he said in his mission briefing that are foundational for the church today: 1) the disciples were sent out two-by-two and not as lone rangers, (2) they took nothing with them, (3) they were given authority (power and jurisdiction) to accomplish the mission, and (4) they were told what to do, if they were not accepted.

Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs. It seems that teamwork in the Kingdom of God is paramount. Having someone with you to help carry the load, to share the burden, and to celebrate the grace is critical. Also, the disciples took nothing with them, which made them dependent on God’s providence for the accomplishment of the mission. In other words, without their own resources on which to depend, they had to rely on the hospitality of others and the movement of the Spirit to make the mission happen.

Jesus gave the disciples authority over the unclean spirits. In other words, Jesus sent them out with the God-given ability to accomplish the mission of turning upside down the spirit found in broken lives; lives fraught with injustice, unrest, and a lack of love. The disciples were also given instructions on what to do if they arrived at a particular place and the Good News was not accepted. They were told to move on. The mission must be accomplished whether the missioners were accepted or not. Jesus was refocusing the disciples, by reminding them that the mission and not their own sense of success, was what was at stake. If a group will not accept you, move on and keep focused on the goal; keep spreading the Good News. Jesus’ mission briefing was not only for the first disciples it is for us today because the church is being sent out every day by Our Lord, just as he sent out the disciples so long ago.

Today, there are a lot of faith communities claiming, “We are a missional church.” Years ago, that might have meant that a parish supported foreign missionaries. Maybe money was collected on a particular Sunday, and those funds would go to spread the Gospel “out there,” “over there,” and “not here.” Being a “Missional Church” today is about recognizing that our mission field is right here in our own back yard and not somewhere else.

Everything we do as Christian communities relates in some way to God’s calling and sending of the church to participate in God’s mission. If we once thought of the church as the sending agency – and missionaries were the people who the church sent – we now are thinking very differently. The reality today is that the church is missional and our mission is right here where we are planted. Our mission field is no longer over there, but in our own backyard and our purpose is to partner with God’s mission in the world.

The Book of Common Prayer (p. 855) states “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” That sounds very general, vague and a bit ambiguous doesn’t it? When I read this, it is almost like a five alarm fire is going off and it is clear that not one individual station can handle the mission themselves. True, but each community has a part in that mission nonetheless. In the BCP, we find that the church pursues this mission “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.” We pray and worship yes, but the work does not end on Sunday morning. We are sent out to proclaim the Gospel every day of the week, bullhorns and gospel tracts excluded. We accomplish this part of the mission through the witness of our lives in the world. How we live and how we love, witnesses to God’s grace in us. We also pursue the mission as advocates and activists promoting justice, peace, and love. The church should actively work on social justice issues, in order to overturn unjust systems in our society.

In the BCP it states that the Church carries out its mission “through the ministry of all its members.” Notice something here; the word “ALL.” No one is excluded from participation in the mission. Like that little firehouse in East Tennessee, every member of the church has a role to play in seeing that the mission of God continues. We are not called to be mere spectators or admirers of the mission.

I was at a store in the mall a couple of years ago and I saw this guy wearing a colorful, tie-dyed T-shirt and on it were the words,” I love Jesus.” I had to go up and talk to this guy and my hope was that I would hear something of his faith story. I walked up, introduced myself and said, “I like your shirt, where do you go to church?” He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I liked the colors and just picked it up at a local shop.”

What seemed to be an outward symbol of someone’s commitment to Jesus, was merely his casual fashion statement; a simple clothing choice that was no different from wearing a popular brand like American Eagle Outfitters, Old Navy, or Hollister. My mall acquaintance wore the T-shirt proclaiming Jesus, but he was not even a supporter. He was not even a sideline disciple, let alone a follower who joined in with the mission. See, as disciples we are part of the mission of God and each of us are ministers of the Gospel and as such, we have work to do in the world not just wear the T-shirt.

Mission without ministry is merely a hope, a dream, an unattainable vision . In order for a mission to be accomplished, there must be folks willing to do the work that leads to its end. Back on page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer, we read, “the ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.”[1] Did you notice the first order of ministry is LAY PERSONS?

We all have a job to do in the mission of God and the most important, is that of lay folk. Like the little fire station, everyone in the little firehouse had a job to do. The Book of Common prayer tells us that “the ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”

Those are fairly high expectations for Jesus followers! This is not as difficult as we may think though. A part of our ministry is to represent Christ and bear witness to him, and this may be as easy as living kindly, loving generously, and giving boldly in all things. None of us are perfect and we all have bad days, but remembering that we are emissaries of Jesus each day, may help us to faithfully bear witness to his love when we encounter those who may not be easy to love.

Another part of our ministry is to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world, and honestly, this is a huge task. Paul Tillich, my favorite theologian once wrote, “Love is the reality of reconciliation. It is the dissolution of estranged objectivity, of strangeness and enmity against others and oneself. It is, in all cases, the kind of love that elevates both the loving and the loved, the knowing and the known, beyond themselves. It is the agape type of love.” [2] Estrangement, enmity, and strangeness is ripe in our culture. There are divisions within humanity because of social class, economics, religion, politics, opinions, and you name it, we like to take opposing sides. This is where the work of reconciliation begins.

We obviously are invited to be agents of reconciliation in our own personal relationships, but we are agents sent out to break the walls that divide us as a parish, and then to break down walls in our broader community, next our a state, and yes, our nation. The church is sent out as advocates and activists to break down the systems that perpetuate poverty, abuse, injustice, and human estrangement. We do some of that now. We have so many ministries that are at work reconciling the world. Our Quilters/ Knitters, our food pantry, our AA groups, our Back Pack program, our Thrift Shop, or any one of several other ministries we are joining in the mission of God.

Where is your place in the mission of God, in the reconciliation of the world? The BCP again states, “the duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the Kingdom of God.” It is our duty and it is our calling to be sent out into the world as ministers on a mission. It is a high calling and it is not an easy calling. To be serious about following Christ, means that we must suffer for Christ. Look at those who have gone before us: Our Lord Jesus Christ and his many followers have had to endure the suffering of ministry.

Daniel Harrell wrote, “ The more serious we become about being salt and light in the world, the more devoted we will become to mission and justice, the more concerned for the least and the lost, the more stubborn about forgiving those who don’t want our forgiveness, the more determined about exposing the works of darkness—and the more we will suffer.” [3] Jesus sends us out, Jesus gives us the authority and the power to do the work, and Jesus tells us “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfect in weakness.” In a little town in Tennessee stands a church on a corner street. Their little building is dwarfed by huge church edifices, which have grown up over the years. Faithful to her mission though, the little parish does not get distracted from her mission by comparing herself to those other churches with their large buildings, enormous programs, and overwhelming budgets. Their ministry in this little town is to bring a particular Christ-like love into being in that place and yet, the tiny little parish’s ministry is just as critical, just as effective, and just as important in the kingdom of God.

Western culture tends to measure the success of its institutions by their size and by their “bling.” Maybe in the Kingdom of God, God’s mission in the world, and the ministry of the church is not about strength, buildings, and bling. Maybe, just maybe, the measure of the effectiveness of the mission is found in weakness, so that the power of Christ might shine through it.

Like the little fire station and the little parish, we are on a mission; the mission of God. St. David’s ministry includes multiple teams that support God’s mission in this community. Each of us has gifts, and each of us has a ministry that can support the mission. Our task, our duty, our call is to discover how God is sending us out, to put our gifts for work in the Kingdom.

Inevitably, we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The truth is, until we take our last breath, our ministry of sharing the Good News is expected to carry on. Now is the time for us to respond to the “five alarm” fire of injustice, unrest, and lack of love in God’s world. Now is NOT the time for us to consider the challenge to engage in our ministry, then sit back and say, “been there, done that, I even bought the T-shirt.” We are not mere spectators or admirers, we are agents of God’s mission in the world.

 

[1]Book of Common Prayer


[2]Tillich, Paul “Meaning of Health: Essays in Existentialism, Psychoanalysis, and Religion,”


[3] Harrell, Daniel M. “Power Source.” Christian Century 123.13 (2006): 17-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 2 July 2012.

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