Monday, July 05, 2010

Pentecost 6C

“Go on your way,” Jesus tells his followers,  “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....”

Those 70 followers of Jesus may have listened to his instructions but very few have ever since. And those who do follow Jesus the way he instructs are either labelled “insane” or declared a “saint.”

It’s as if we either feel in our membrane that these instructions are impossible, or we don’t really believe that these instructions are for us today.

They are left in the first century when being a disciple of Jesus was new and exciting. But that excitement has long since settled into the dust of the centuries that have risen and fallen.

In fact, it was during those 20 centuries that Christians actively abandoned these instructions from Jesus. Ignored what Jesus told them to do because it wasn’t what THEY wanted to do. Christians forgot that we were - somehow - different.

Instead of being sent - going out TO people, Christians put down roots and called people to THEM. Instead of travelling light, depending on the power and grace of God to heal the sick and raise the dead, Christians grabbed political power and confusing it with God’s power, establishing personal and institutional empires. Instead of building a people, Christians built buildings - cathedrals - while people around them starved both for food and for God.

Creating empires of the self is a hard habit to break. And we have become unwitting heirs to their legacy.

We read this passage and interpret it as if it only applied to those 70 whom Jesus sent that day.

Or maybe we think that this was just a test for Jesus’ early followers to see who was willing to trust God and who wasn’t.

Or perhaps we say that it was Jesus’ way of proving to his scared and skeptical disciples that God does indeed get involved in peoples’ lives.

I don’t know. There’s not enough evidence to draw a convincing conclusion. But then again, just because scripture meant one thing to one people, doesn’t mean it can’t speak to us differently today.

I think this text challenges us as a western church, and as a congregation. It’s one of those sandpaper passages that  rub up against our comfortable way of being Christian. It pushes up against a middle-class church.

It challenges our assumptions of what ministry looks like. It reverses some of our priorities. People verses building. Mission verses mortar.

I’m not saying that the two are mutually exclusive. But this text, with these instructions, read here as the Word of God and Word of Life, means that God is saying something to us through this passage from scripture. And not just to Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, but to the church as a whole. God asking us to re-consider what it means to live faithfully as Christians.

I was still an Anglican when the residential schools abuse allegations were being dealt with. And within my church in Waterloo Ontario there was a lot of sweat and worry that the Anglican Church of Canada would go bankrupt after paying all the legal costs and restitution to the victims. People were worried that there would be no more Anglican Church of Canada because church funds would be emptied, buildings sold, and seminaries closed.

But a bishop in BC wrote a letter to the Anglican Journal that reminded a frightened faithful that, even if they lost everything, money, buildings, schools. Even if they ended up losing everything, all they needed was a bible, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine, and they were back in business.

This wasn’t good news for those who were interested in maintaining an institutional church.

But for many of us, it was a powerful reminder that we serve a God whose power is made perfect in weakness.

A God whose doesn’t need the cultural trappings of influence.

A God of the cross.

A God who created the universe with just a word, a God who heals the sick and raises the dead with a simple touch.

Sometimes, as Christians, we focus more on what we build rather than of what God is doing, as if we don’t trust God to follow through on God’s promises.

And I’m sure the 70 had reservations about what they were asked to do. That’s why they returned astonished at what God had done despite their fears. “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” They were astounded at what God could accomplish through them.

Pastor Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Dayton, Ohio took the congregation from 100 to 5000 worshippers. They were growing so fast that they bought 130 acres to build what they facetiously called the “Disney World” campus. One architect who worked on the Orlando theme park was hired to create a long-range plan for their acreage.

Pastor Mike, said, “As I enthusiastically challenged our people forward, I experienced a discomfort in my spirit and began to question my former measures of success. We had achieved getting behinds in seats, but I realized that all we had really done was accumulate crowds of spectators who were not moving to deeper faith and service.”

So they abandoned their building plans and funnelled their funds to mission. Since 2005, Ginghamsburg Church partnering with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has built more than 150 schools, trained more than 200 teachers, and created a sustainable agriculture program that is feeding close to 80 000 people and building water yards that will serve more than 200 000 people and their livestock in Darfur. (from Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus)

I’m not saying that this is what we’re called to as a congregation. But I’m wondering what God wants for US as a church?

Do we fall into the trap of using the culture’s measures of success when it comes to mission and ministry?

Is God calling us to step out of our comfort bubble and into a life of service in Jesus’ name?

Where is God giving US some holy discomfort?

These are questions that I want you to ponder over the next little while. These are questions that we need need to answer together through prayer, bible study, discussion, and fellowship.

And when we hear God word and act on it, we’ll be just as astonished as those 70 who returned to Jesus proclaiming “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger Catherine said...

Hi Kevin,

Having health issues and being unable to attend church as much as I would like, I have been reading your blog to follow your sermons and remain connected in some form with the Church. :-) Blessings,


7:08 AM  
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11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:23 PM  
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6:51 AM  
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