Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Mission (sermon for 6 July 2014)

1 Chronicles 16:23-31
Romans 10:11-15
Matthew 9:27-38

The Book of Discipline astutely observes, "Whenever United Methodism has had a clear sense of mission, [The Lord] has used [His] Church to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness, thereby changing the world."  United Methodist Book of Discipline, ¶121, pg 92

It should probably be emphasized: "Whenever there has been a clear sense of mission ..."

This is the trick for us, is it not?  Having a clear sense of mission?  Especially in watching the ebb and flow and highs and lows at so many churches for the last fifty to sixty years when things seemed to be clicking along just fine, the Church largely failed to realize or fully appreciate that nothing of human effort stays the same.  Ever.  Even though the face of the Church has been through so many cultural and demographic changes over the years, the nature of The Church, which is "mission", has never changed.  Ever.  Whether any church was or was not actively engaged in its missional nature, the Divine Appointment of the Church universal has not changed.

Our challenge is to change the way we think of attending worship and moving beyond the notion that "being here" is what support of the Church and discipleship are about.  Being present is only scratching the surface; there must be a willingness to drill deeper.  Maybe worship attendance would more appropriately be thought of as a "pre-mission briefing" before we go into the larger world and do our work in the name of The Lord.

Since the very beginning there has been a Divine mission.  Though it may seem Adam and Eve were simply placed in the Garden only to tend it and care for it, there was a mission to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it ... (Genesis 1:28)"; maybe even then to "fill the earth" with people who will know and worship and continue the work for The Lord.  The text goes on to reveal that The Lord had given them everything they would need to fulfill The Lord's mission.  Then seeing all The Lord had put forth on the earth, He declared it all "very good".  Until, of course, The Lord's people took a bad turn inward when their very existence became more about themselves than about The Lord; and the mission - such as it was - was stifled.

We fast forward to the time of King David, a somewhat unified nation, and a renewed interest in and focus on the Ark of the Covenant.  We remember the Ark as fully representative of The Lord's presence among His people (this is why it was not to be touched by human hands!).  Once the Ark was back into its appropriate and central place in the life and the very heart of Israel, King David the "shepherd" led a procession of thanksgiving and praise: "Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples" (1 Chronicles 16:24).

"Declare ... His marvelous works among all the peoples."  It was understood from the time of Moses (or should have been understood as faithfully taught) that Israel "shall be for [The Lord] a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6); "priestly" as an intermediary between Heaven and earth, "chosen" as the people who would be charged with this awesome task and remarkable privilege of "declaring His glory among the nations"

Since the time of Moses, however, there were many distractions that challenged Israel's status and tested her faithfulness.  Though it might have seemed as though the very existence of Israel was in jeopardy during the time of the Exile, the faithfulness of The Lord to His everlasting covenant meant the only thing ever in jeopardy was Israel's "preferred status" not strictly as a favored people but as chosen; called to and equipped for the Mission: to tell other nations, "all the peoples" about The Lord, His marvelous works, and His liberating and redeeming actions not only to bless Israel but clearly to bless "all the peoples" of "other nations" through Israel, the "priestly kingdom". 

Holding on to that sense of mission - that thing which never changes in the life of The Covenant - even among the many changes we endure as we grow older, our children move out of the house, grandchildren come along, retirement plans start coming together, etc., is no less an edict from The Lord today than it was during the time of King David. 

Even when so many "members" declare themselves removed from such mandates for whatever reason, the Church must nevertheless remain focused on the ONE REASON - the ONLY REASON - the Church exists at all: "to declare His glory among the nations".  That's it.  It is not so you have a place to go on Sunday, and it is not so I have a place to preach on Sunday.  The Church is not "on" a mission of its own choosing; the Church IS the mission just as Christ IS the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us - and dwells among us today as the Church.

Our Lord declared to a less-than-faithful nation in exile, a nation which had failed miserably in its "priestly" honor and privilege: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11)".

So the Lord declared to His people, His chosen in exile, that He would get done what He intends to be done - period.  The only question was (and still is) whether His people whom He had liberated from bondage, His people whom He had declared a "priestly kingdom and holy nation", were on board with that. 

Should these "chosen" decline, The Lord declared also through Isaiah that the "foreigner" and the "eunuchs" (those who do not completely "fit in" with Israel) who keep the Sabbath and "choose the things that please Me and hold fast to My covenant ... I will give them a monument and a name ... these I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer" (Isaiah 56:3-7).

One way or another, our Lord declares, His thing will be done ... with us - or without us. 

So because the religious authorities had for too long neglected YHWH's "thing" for which He had purposed and chose instead to pursue their own "thing", "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness ... with compassion [because] they were harassed and helpless [neglected], like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:35-36).

So we look around and we lament the closings of so many churches, our childhood churches.  Now sometimes these churches have closed simply because folks moved.  It is a hard fact, but it is no less a demographic fact.  It still must be said, however, that whenever there is a serious falling away of members who decide for themselves what is or is not their "thing" and refuse to serve where serving needs to be done for the sake of The Mission, that church is on its way to oblivion - or at the very least, exile. 

It will not matter how much money is given for others to work with.  If all the "others" decide it is not their "thing", or they've been doing the "thing" for so long with little help that they just get tired and burnt out, the "thing" will not be done.  Soon The Lord will decide this church or that church has its own "thing" apart from His "thing" and will not long stand.  It is a hard truth but no less a theological truth.

It is a harsh reality the people of The Lord are compelled to examine carefully, fully, and honestly because St. Paul does not ask a rhetorical question when he asks: "How are they to call on One in whom they have not believed?  How are they to believe in One of whom they have never heard?  How are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him?  And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14-15a)

We are "sent", and this calling came to be in that moment of clarity which our friends of other traditions call "getting saved" and which we call "being justified".  It is the "thing" our Lord has purposed long before the foundation was laid for this church, and it is the "thing" The Lord will accomplish ... with us - or without us. 

Like the "trick" of the necessity of prayer I shared last, we will not be fully convinced of the importance of Mission until we are actually engaged in Mission in one capacity or another.  And when we witness for ourselves lives changed and relationships healed, we will surely come to understand the necessity of The Church, Christ in the world today - and our part in it! 

It is often said, everyone has a need to be needed.  The Scriptures make it very clear we are each needed, each with our own unique spiritual gifts as individual "members" of the Whole Body.  As our Bishop Mueller recently stated, now it is time for believers to "step up to the plate".  The Lord has already declared us worthy to serve; now it is time to serve.  Amen.                                                                                                                                                              

No comments: