Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pentecost 6-C: Chosen to participate

Let’s begin by reading from the diary of John Wesley, Anglican priest and founder of Methodism. This is taken from the time of his short-lived mission work in Georgia in the 18th century:

•Sunday, A.M., May 5: Preached in St. Anne's. Was asked not to come
back anymore.
•Sunday, P.M., May 5: Preached in St. John's. Deacons said "Get out
and stay out."
•Sunday, A.M., May 12: Preached in St. Jude's. Can't go back there
•Sunday, A.M., May 19: Preached in St. Somebody Else's. Deacons called
a special meeting and said I couldn't return.
•Sunday, P.M., May 19: Preached on street. Kicked off street.
•Sunday, A.M., May 26: Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as
bull was turned loose during service.
•Sunday, A.M., June 2: Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off
the highway.
•Sunday, P.M., June 2: Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand
people came out to hear me.

It seems Wesley took to heart the advice we heard St Paul give to the church in Galatia: …let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.

In the Gospel from Luke Jesus is giving instructions to seventy people he has appointed to be missioners. The number 70 here is not a literal number, but was commonly understood in Jewish culture to mean ‘all the nations of the world.’ Breaking down traditional barriers (something he did often) Jesus chooses missioners ‘from all the nations.’ In other words, they probably included non-Jews and women.

And the first thing Jesus tells them to do is pray: Ask the Lord of the harvest (God) to send out laborers into his harvest. This is where mission always begins – in prayer; as a response to God’s call to serve.

I’m sending you like lambs into the midst of wolves, Jesus says. In other words, trust God completely, no matter what the risk seems to be, even if it seems like you are being sent defenseless into the hands of your enemies (rather like Jesus was).

Then Jesus tells the missioners to go – immediately, and with singleness of purpose. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. There is a sense of urgency here. Don’t even stop to get money or supplies. Get going and trust God to provide what you need.

And keep your focus. Don’t go and visit relatives who might live nearby. Don’t leave one house to go to another for better accommodations or food. Go where God leads you and commit your time and energy to whomever welcomes you, staying only as long as your work requires. That’s a hard thing about mission, which we’ll talk about later.

Declare shalom in whatever homes welcome you, and eat whatever food you are served. This would have been a scandalous instruction for pious Jews whose dietary laws were very strict. But Jesus is bringing down yet another barrier, telling his missioners to look beyond the Law and their tradition towards the relationships God is seeking to build through them now.

Once they have been welcomed and fed, they are to get about their work. Cure the sick who are there, Jesus says. Imagine how these missioners must have felt being told to go work miracles for God when some of them were probably not even allowed to pray to God in the synagogues before this. How affirming and empowering Jesus’ commissioning must have been for them! The excluded were now being told go and do those things that manifest the power and graciousness of God!

And finally, Jesus says, proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God has come near. Knowing from his own experience, however, that some will refuse to believe even in the presence of miracles, Jesus says, if they won’t listen to you - then leave. Shake the dust from your feet and say one more time: the kingdom of God has come near - and go.

Being rejected is part of mission work. Don’t take it personally.

When the seventy missioners return, they are rejoicing, excited to give their report. And Jesus responds by affirming their success. Then he cautions them to remember that what they should really be rejoicing about is being counted as one of God’s own ...rejoice [Jesus says] that your names are written in heaven. In other words, God will do amazing things to bring about the plan of salvation. Isn’t it wonderful that you have been chosen to participate?

Our Prayer Book tells us that the Church pursues its mission by prayer and worship, by proclaiming the Gospel, and by promoting justice, peace, and love. The hard part, as you remember from our purple sheets experience, is getting started. There are too many problems out there, too many choices, and we have so many excuses… most of them having to do with money or time, or the lack of those.

But mission isn’t something we do once we can afford it. And it isn’t something we do once we have the time for it. Mission is something we do in response to God’s calls us. And God will provide all that we need to be successful – including the money, time, and energy we need. Anyone who has witnessed the birth and growth of our Shepherd’s Table mission knows that we are living the truth of this. We are a new creation and, as St. Paul said, that is everything!

Once in the mission field, however, we must be willing to get our hands dirty, to touch the unclean and the sick, that they might know the power of God’s healing love. I remember the day Princess Diana visited a person with HIV/AIDS in the hospital and held his hand. Her simple, loving action helped calm a storm of fear and fiction about the transmission of that disease. The impact of her loving touch that day was felt around the world.

As missioners, we must also be willing to proclaim the good news of the salvation of the whole world in Jesus Christ, so that all to whom we are sent – especially those society shuns and excludes - might know and see by our example, that they are beloved of God, included in God’s plan of salvation, and welcome to feast at the table of the Lord.

A couple of weeks ago, as I walked into our parish hall to bless our meal at the Shepherd’s Table, I saw a person who regularly eats with us there and we greeted one another with a hug. Another guest whom I have also come to know well came up to me a little bit later and told me she was amazed to see me hug that person. Surprised, I said, “Really? We’re old friends by now. We always hug.” She smiled, and said, “We don’t get many hugs from people like you.” “People like me?” I asked, knowing full well what she meant. “You mean... Christians?” I reminded her of St. Paul’s advice to Christians to “greet one another with a holy kiss” something only family members did in that culture. “We’re family, aren’t we?” I asked. “I guess we are” she said still smiling.

Mission doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a choice. As Jesus said, The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few... We have been called to be counted among those few and our Shepherd’s Table mission has been truly blessed with laborers from among our members, from Westside Praise and Worship, and from the community.

But if you ask any of those laborers who gets the most benefit from their service, most will tell you that they do. Serving God and serving God’s people in mission is exciting, enlivening! It fills us with joy and convinces us of the truth of the Good News which then overflows in us – just like Jesus said it would – the wellspring of life-giving water from God flowing like a river in us and nourishing all in its path.

Now back to that hard thing about mission: we stay only as long as our work requires. God is calling us right now to feed through The Shepherd’s Table. But just because this is what we are called to do now, doesn’t mean we will always do it. We will do this for as long as God desires it from us. If, sometime in the future, God calls us to do something else, we will respond, trusting in God and going wherever God sends us.

So this is our mission: to be the hands of love that manifest the power and graciousness of God in our community and in our world. Therefore, ...let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.

And so we will continue to go wherever God leads us – with joyful expectation, knowing that God will do amazing things to bring about the plan of salvation. Isn’t it wonderful that we have been chosen to participate?

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