Sunday, July 04, 2010

"How-To" Manual for Doing Mission

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 9) – Year C (RCL)
Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-8; Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16; Luke 10:1-11,16-20
Sunday, July 4, 2010 –
Trinity, Redlands

It’s amazing how the assigned Sunday lectionary readings just happen to speak to what is going on in our lives.

Over the past year, we have been engaged in a process to develop a long-range strategic plan for Trinity parish. The process we have been using has a clear bias toward focusing on missional work – work outside the walls of the parish that meets some of the hopes and hurts of the community of which we are a part. When we first started the process, there was a reluctance to look at our deficiencies when it comes to missional work. That’s not to say that we don’t do outreach – we do. But a place like ours, with so many talented people and so many other resources, could certainly do more. But as we progressed through the process, there was a significant shift in thinking, moving away from an inward-looking perspective to one that is more outward-looking, and an increased willingness to acknowledge that yes, we really could do more outreach.

One of the key objectives of our Strategic Plan is to establish a mission committee that will “examine parish passions for mission and unmet community needs and develop recommended missional objectives and programs” for Trinity parish. Earlier this week, we had a preliminary organizational meeting of this newly forming mission committee. I don’t think it’s coincidence that here, just a few days later, we are hearing a Gospel reading that is essentially a “how-to” manual for doing mission in the world. In our reading from Luke, we virtually have a step-by-step guide of how to do outreach – the nature of the work, and how to approach it. Let’s take a look and see what we might learn about how to do missional work.

As to the nature of the work, Jesus tells us a couple of things. First, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”. There’s a lot of work to be done and not enough people to do it. In expanding those doing outreach by appointing the 70, Jesus was expanding the scope of who does the work. It’s not just the leadership – Jesus and the Twelve who were responsible for missional work. These additional 70 disciples, along with the Twelve, represent the totality of the community, clergy and laity alike. And that is a central part of who we are as the Body of Christ to this day. The Catechism in the BCP asks the question “What is the ministry of the laity?” And the answer is “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and . . . to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world . . .” (BCP, 855). Our own doctrine commends each and every one of us to go out into the world to do ministry. And our Lord, through today’s Gospel, sends us out with the same authority that he himself has received from God the Father. We do this in his name.

Now, Jesus does tell us “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” In other words, things will not always be easy out in the field. Going outside the comfort of our community to minister in the world can potentially be dangerous, or at least difficult. In our own context, we are not generally in danger because of our faith, unlike some areas of the world. But proclaiming the Gospel outside these walls may be difficult at times. Despite professing to be a Christian nation, there is a lot of resistance to the Gospel. There is a lot of mistrust about what we are really trying to do, suspicion about what secret agenda we might have. But that’s where the rest of the Gospel reading comes in – the “how-to” part.

The first thing that Jesus tells the 70, and us, about doing mission in the world is to travel light. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” But I think there is a much deeper meaning to his instructions to travel light. What Jesus is really saying is that when we go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, to do mission, we are to only take ourselves. Nothing more and nothing less. We go only with the blessing and authority of Christ to do the ministry he has called us to. In essence, we are take with us only the essentials – that which makes us who we are as God’s children.

Taking nothing and focusing only on the essentials means there is nothing to distract us from our ministry. We are freed to focus on who we are called to be and what we are called to do. That is why we are sent in the first place. Nothing should distract us from that mission.

Taking nothing and focusing only on the essentials means we go forth with the talents and skills God has given us. And while God has given us talents to use, we also know that in going forth, we do not trust solely in our own abilities, but trust in the power of God to lead us, inspire us, and help get us through.

Taking nothing and focusing only on the essentials means that we have nothing to hide behind. We present ourselves as we are. We present the true picture of what it means to be Christians, to live the Gospel. Each and every one of you are the face of Christianity. You are the example of what it means to live the Gospel in your day-to-day lives. And that’s what people see when you go out into the world.

Taking nothing and focusing only on the essentials means that the mission we are called to do is not about personal gain – certainly not materially, but neither it is for personal glory. What we do is for the glory of God and God alone.

The second major thing that Jesus tells the 70, and us, about doing mission in the world is that it’s all about hospitality. When Jesus talks about entering a house and eating whatever they provide, and all that, he’s not just talking about the hospitality we are shown by those we are called to minister to. That’s a part, but a more crucial part is the hospitality we show those to whom we minister. When the 70 are sent forth, their sole purpose is to prepare others to encounter Jesus. So too, for us, our primary purpose is, through our ministry to others, to introduce them to and facilitate an encounter with Jesus Christ. This is done in a spirit of peace and goodwill, through gracious presence, in gratitude for the opportunity to serve, through our words and our actions. We do this by building relationship with others based on mutual respect. In this way, we invite others more deeply into our lives, and likewise, we are, in time, invited more deeply into their lives. It is through this process that the Gospel may be shared, once there is respect and trust and an openness to engage in relationship. For the ultimate goal is not to do ministry to others, but to engage in ministry with others. And that is when the encounter with the Risen Christ, in all its fullness, can really happen – for all involved.

And there is hospitality on the part of those we set out to serve. Hospitality comes in the form of openness to receive the gift of service, to receive the offer of friendship, to hear the gospel message, and eventually, maybe even to respond to the gospel message.

If we enter into our mission work bringing only the essentials of ourselves as representatives of Christ, bringing the gifts we have to offer as gifts from God given out of genuine love and respect for the other, then we can, in time, expect hospitable response. For as Jesus has told us, the harvest is plentiful. There are a lot of people out there hungering for what we have to offer. What is lacking are laborers willing to step outside of the comfort of their church families, to step into the world and help with the work that desperately needs to be done.

Jesus shows us that the formula for this hospitality is simple. We go forth, greeting those we are called to minister to in peace. We gather in fellowship, sharing the Gospel message as we have experienced it, as it has been written in our own lives. And in the sharing, we prepare those others to encounter Jesus, to receive Christ. It is no accident that this is the same formula for what happens in our parish community every week. We gather on a weekly basis greeting each other in peace. We hear the Gospel message proclaimed. We share how the Gospel has touched our lives. We gather in fellowship around a meal at the Lord’s Table. And when we are nourished, we are sent out with the words “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” These are not just some nice sounding words, but rather our commissioning to do what we have prepared to do in our worship, to do what God has commanded us to do. The whole structure of our weekly worship is designed to prepare us for our mission in the world. The church is not a refuge from the world. The church is a place of preparation, the place where we are fed, the home base from which we are sent out to engage the world, to do the work of Christ in the world.

Over the next few months, our Strategic Plan Mission Committee will be examining the talents and passions of the members of this parish and the unmet hurts and hopes in the community around us. They will prayerfully discern possibilities for new forms of ministry outside of these walls. It is our hope and prayer that through this process, guided by the lessons from today’s Gospel, Trinity parish may continue to move forward into the fullness of what God is calling us to be and engage in the ministry God is calling us to do. As Jesus tells us in Luke, the kingdom of God has come near. Our job is to go forth and share that kingdom with others in word and deed.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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