Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15 - Our Mission

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 6.1-13, 30-32 & Ezek 2.1-5 - Our Mission

Jesus comes home to Nazareth. On the Sabbath, he goes to the synagogue and begins to teach the people that the time they’ve been waiting of is now here, that God’s about to set the world right, and that they must repent and begin to trust him if they are to be involved in the new world God is bringing. Jesus has preached this message all throughout the region of Galilee, and even briefly across the lake in the non-Jewish region of the Gerasenes. Now he’s brought it to the the town where he grew up, to Nazareth, where his mom and his brothers James, Joses, Judas and Simon live. He brings the message to the town where his sisters have married and are starting families of their own.

I don’t often get back to Montana, to Belgrade, the little town where I grew up. My parents still live in an old farmhouse a few miles north of town. I have a brother and a sister in college at Montana State and another little sister still in high school. When I go back to visit, however much I want things to be the same as they were when I was growing up, things are always a bit different. I’ve changed in my years away. I went to college in Ohio, got married, lived as a missionary in Eastern Europe, studied theology at a Catholic university here in Chicago, and now I’m part of a crazy little community that mets at five o’clock on Sunday nights. My family and high school friends are understanding; they realize that too much time away from the mountains will change a person. But when I start talking about my vision of what the church is called to be, of where God is calling us, of what it means to be a Jesus-follower, sometimes they squirm uncomfortably in their seat or they look bored or they nod and mutter something about “Josh, you have the strangest ideas, but we know you’ll grow out of them.”

That’s what Jesus experiences in Nazareth. “Where did you get these ideas?” they ask. “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters all here with us?” And what does the text go on to say? He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed because of their unbelief.

These people are evidence that some seed falls alongside the path and Satan swoops down and steals it away before it has any time to sprout. these people--Jesus’ in-laws and neighbors, his brothers and childhood friends--they don’t hear Jesus’ message. We might expect them to be the most receptive. After all, this is the religious synagogue Jesus attended as he grew up. But these people already think they know Jesus. So they scoff at his message in disbelief, unable to recognize the new thing that God is offering to them.

It’s in this context, right after this faithless and heartbreaking response from his hometown, that Jesus calls his twelve closest followers to himself and sends them out on a mission.

As I’ve prepared for tonight, I’ve wrestled with why Jesus chooses to send out his followers two-by-two just now. Wouldn’t it have been better to send them out when they were all pumped up, like last week after he raised the dead girl back to life or right after he calmed the storm on the lake? Why do it now? Then there’s a second, bigger question I’ve struggled to answer: What does this mean for our community that meets here on Sunday nights?

We are a community that Jesus has sent out on a mission. In fact, it’s more or less the same mission he sends the twelve on. Even though I pray that our time together on Sunday evenings is transforming our lives--even though I hope that when you get into a disagreement with a coworker, your first response is not to go gossip about them to someone else but to respond in the kindness and seemingly senseless love of God’s kingdom; even though I hope that when you get the bad news that a close family member is seriously ill, your response is not to bury yourself in the distraction of television or the Internet or to stare blankly in despairing fatalism but that instead, even through your tears, you pray to the God who save us, who is already healing the world and making all things new in the resurrection life of Jesus--personal transformation is not the only purpose or even the main purpose of our community. Why do we get together on Sunday nights?

Jesus give his followers authority over unclean spirits. The twelve go out and preach that people should repent, and they heal sick people. Jesus never comes out and says what precisely his followers are to do on this mission, but who else have we seen cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach repentance? Jesus. And like we read so many weeks ago, Jesus came into Galilee with his own mission: Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” Jesus’ mission was to proclaim the good news about God’s coming kingdom--a kingdom that takes lives back from the oppression of the devil, that takes lives back from the oppression of sickness and death, that takes lives back from the ways we each individually live against God’s good new world. And this is the mission that Jesus gives to the disciples. And this this the mission Jesus gives to us.

Our mission as a community, our only reason for being, for getting together each week, is to proclaim this good news message that through Jesus we can be part of the new world that God is bringing. Potluck is a good time, and singing some rock and roll worship songs is fun. But if we come here only for some good conversation over plates of spaghetti or to get emotionally charged up by raising our voices and tapping our feet to the rhythm, then we’ve failed Jesus. we are here to proclaim the good news.

Jesus spends some time specifying how his followers are to go about this mission: He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in their belts--and to put on sandals but not to wear two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the area. If a place will not welcome you or listen to you, as you go out form there, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

Some of these instructions sound very strange to us. But rather than examine each element tonight, I want us to focus on how Jesus is calling us to live our lives as part this mission. I’m going to list a few themes that stand out in Jesus’ instruction, and then you’ll have a chance to offer your ideas about how we can be obeying Jesus as a community.

1) The first theme is that the disciples are going on a journey. Jesus isn’t calling them to stay clustered safely in his presence. He calls them to himself so that he can send them out. He tells them what to take on the road. What does this mean for us? I am confident that Jesus isn’t asking us to all pile into VW vans and be traveling hippie evangelists for Jesus--some in earlier generations took that approach, but I don’t think thats where God’s calling all of us. Instead, in our life as a community, how is Jesus calling us to take this message on the road or outside the building?

[Time for people to respond.]

2) Second, Jesus tells his followers to take nothing with them but their shoes and a walking stick. No money, no extra food, no sleeping bag. Instead, they’re to depend on God to meet their needs through the hospitality of strangers. Jesus, in a lot of ways, is asking them to let go of control, to give up their security, their comfort. He tells them to take whatever God provides--to say with the first family that opens their home to them, even if a ritzier home opens up later. There are a lot of ways our community can depend on God. Financially, it takes money to hold the service, to pay for staff and materials and potluck food. It takes a lot of time in preparation. It takes a sizable chunk of your time, a few hours in church every Sunday night. How can we be rooting our dependence squarely on God, forcing ourselves to trust God to meet our needs in our life as a community?

[Time for people to respond.]

3) Finally, the gospel message must always be what’s most important. Jesus says, “If a place will not listen to you”--listen to what? To the message about God’s kingdom. Then the disciples are to leave and to “shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” This is a pretty serious act. The Jesus-followers are to leave the dust that collects on their sandals in the town as a reminder to God that this town has rejected the good news about God’s kingdom and therefore deserves whatever judgment God want to pour out on it. The message is to be the deciding factor in all we do, in every decision we make. If our singing doesn’t proclaim the message, or if our prayer time at the end of the service fails to show the good news, or if my sermon doesn’t tell people about the gospel that Jesus preached, we need to cut it out. How can we make sure that we proclaim Jesus’ gospel message in our life together as a community? Are there things we need to change? to stop? to start?

[Time for people to respond.]

Let’s go back to Nazareth. In fact, let’s go back to the story about John that we saw acted out at the beginning of the service tonight. John’s story is the very next thing Mark’s book. The disciples are sent out, and suddenly Mark starts telling us what happened to the prophet John the baptizer. In Nazareth and with John, the message was faithfully proclaimed. Jesus teaches it in the synagogue; John challenges Herod to repentance with the message whenever the wicked king will listen to him. And in both cases, the audience responds negatively. John gets his head served up on a dinner plate. Jesus’ hometown crowd get offended and won’t listen to him anymore. And we know where things are eventually going to end up for Jesus. Even the disciples Jesus sent out, while they meet some success on this outing, we only need to turn a few books further in the New Testament to read how they crowds abuse them, hand them over to the authorities, run them out of town, beat them up, and even execute them in Acts.
Jesus, John, the disciples--these are all people who are living out their proclamation of the gospel message in ways that honor God. And yet they don’t find success. The reason why Jesus sends the disciples out immediately after he’s met with failure in Nazareth, the reason why Mark immediately tells the story of John’s execution, the reason is that God does not judge us on how people respond to the message. God judges us on whether we are faithful to proclaim the message, his good news.

That’s why we read the passage form the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. I want to finish this part of the service by reading from that passage again, Ezekiel chapter 2 verses 1 all the way through to verse 8:

[The glory of Yahweh] said to me, “Human one, stand on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, a wind came into me and stood me on my feet, and I heard the one speaking to me.
He said to me, “Human one, I am sending you to the house of Israel, to rebellious nations who have rebelled against me; both they and their fathers have revolted against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and hard-hearted, and you must say to them, ‘This is what sovereign Yahweh says.’ And as for them, whether they listen or not--for they are a rebellious house--they will know that a prophet has been among them. But you, human one, do not fear them, and do not fear their words--even though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions--do not fear their words and do not be terrified at the looks they give you, for they are a rebellious house! You must speak my words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious. As for you, human one, listen to what I am saying to you: Do not rebel like that rebellious house! Open your mouth and eat [the message] I am giving to you.”

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