As the Diocesan Missioner, the ministry in which I, and several others in the diocese are engaged, focuses on helping the church adapt to an emerging culture. We partner with our Bishop to form new communities of faith. Our work includes exploring, planning, and working with diocesan partners, to set the conditions and plans that lead to such communities. The work is absolutely critical today, because the landscape of culture is changing, and we the church must adapt, so that the gospel can be proclaimed, and the mission of God continue. This work is not new and this work is not exclusive to a few engaging in a new form of mission. The work of sharing the good news is the work of the church, which finds its heritage in the sending out of seventy followers so many years ago.
In today’s gospel, “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.” The mission on which, they were appointed and sent out, was a mission to partner with God to bring about God’s restoration of creation; to bring about the Kingdom of God. Jesus empowered, assigned, and sent his emissaries, ambassadors, and witnesses out before him and then Jesus arrived on the scene. Jesus discipleship training program both then and now, is based on the solid principle that Jesus shares his mission with his followers, and expects us to go out and do it.
If you look for mission in The Book of Common Prayer you will find this statement on page 855, “The Mission of the church is to bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ.” What we may misunderstand when we read this statement, is that the mission of reconciliation, restoration, grace, and salvation is not ours alone, and it is not totally dependent on what we (the Church) do. Theologian Paul Hanson in an article for Theology Today he 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 we are doing God’s work, and that understanding should be the basis and focus, of all the ministry we do.
Hanson explains God’s presence in the world as, “creative and redemptive in nature. Where there is chaos, whether in the natural or social realm, God is present to create harmony. Where there is bondage God is active to redeem the enslaved. Where there are walls dividing humans into privileged and deprived classes, God seeks to remove oppressive divisions through judgment and release. Where there is brokenness, loneliness, and sickness, God is present to heal.”1 The Church’s mission is to partner with God to bring harmony in the midst of chaos, redemption to those in bondage, remove divisions and oppression, and bring healing where there is brokenness, loneliness, and sickness. We all, every one of the baptized, have a part in this mission.
Jesus sent out the seventy to go ahead of him to prepare the way. we must not forget that Jesus has been sending out all his disciples for the last 2000 years. Now imagine being in that crowd of folks when Jesus gave the instructions for the journey. “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Some may have said, “that sounds a bit out of my comfort zone, that may be beyond my capability. Can’t you just send someone else?” I think sometimes we look at the difficulty of the mission and think isn’t this a job for a professional. We are sometimes reluctant to go out and proclaim Good News, when see that our culture often openly rejects people who speak harmony into chaos, redemption into bondage, unity into division, and healing into sickness. We are discouraged and sometims say, “that’s just not something I can do.” However, If we Can accept that The success of God’s mission is not totally up to us, that the mission of God does not take place merely by our own means, then it is not an insurmountable mission.
Jesus sends disciples out ahead of him to prepare the way. The Church is not tasked alone to bring about salvation, but to prepare the way for the one who saves. We are seed planters, soil preparers, and we are examples; we show the way. Jesus comes in through us and ultimately the mission is his. We are partners, we are ambassadors, we are representatives and if we remember that we are partners with God, then we can persevere in bearing Good News to a world that desperately needs good news. In the 21st century, there are new dangers and challenges for God’s mission in the world. When we consider that the number of religiously unaffiliated folks in the United States grew from 8% in 1989 to nearly 20% in 2012, the mission field of the church is becoming more and more in her own back yard and thus, we are challenged and yet still called, to go and be bearers of Good News.
So, I would like to offer you all a few principles for mission today, and I believe for you, the people of God at All Saint’s, will find Good News in our Lord’s marching orders for his disciples 2000 years ago, and for his disciples gathered here today.
(1) Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful.” The world needs the church’s mission more than ever so, go and be bearers of Good News.
(2) Jesus said, “The workers are few.” There is more work to do than laborers so, go and be bearers of Good News.
(3) Jesus said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers.” Prayer is absolutely essential for the Church’s mission so, pray and go, and be bearers of Good News.
(4) Jesus said, “Go on your way.” Every baptized member of the church has a part in God’s mission, not just the professionals so, go and be bearers of Good News.
(5) Jesus said, “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” There are going to be dangers when we engage in God’s mission. So go, and be bearers of Good News.
(6) Jesus said, “Greet no one on the road.” Singularity of purpose, being resolute, and clear is key when engaging in God’s mission. So go, and be bearers of Good News.
(7) Jesus said, “Eat what is set before you.” We are on a mission set in the midst of the ever-changing culture in which we live and thus, the host and not the guest sets the context of mission. So go, and be bearers of Good News.
(8) Jesus said, “When they do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet.” Expect rejection on this mission but don’t give up, don’t let it deter you, but move on and continue to bring peace. Go and be bearers of Good News.
As you are dismissed today to “go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit”, let your life speak harmony into chaos, redemption into bondage, unity into division, and healing into sickness. Because my dear sisters and brothers, when we rely on the power of God’s Spirit, we can, we must, and we will go out as God’s ambassadors, out into a world that truly needs at all times and in all places, God’s abundant grace, mercy, reconciliation, and love.
1 Hanson, Paul D., “The Identity and Purpose of the Church,” Theology Today, 1985.