Sunday, May 6, 2012

April 29 - How To Be a Missionary

A church without a mission is no church.

Last week we listened for what Jesus would say to us in Mt 9.35-10.8. Jesus looked out at the anxious and oppressed crowds, and like God, his heart ached for us. He told his followers to ask God that they might join in Jesus’ work. (This is incredible--that we get to share with Jesus, that we get to work alongside Jesus.)

And when we ask, God sends us out to bring in the harvest. So Jesus sent out his followers--his sent ones, his apostles. He told them to do what he was doing. If people are sick, heal them. If people are dead, raise them. If people are outcast, welcome them back home. If people are demon-possessed, free them. In short, whatever the needs of the world are, however it has been broken, go and show how God sets it right. By word and deed, announce God’s kingdom.

But how do we go? “Heal the sick,” “raise the dead,” “cleanse the lepers,” “cast out demons,”--these are, for us, all somewhat hypothetical actions. They’re hard to imagine in the course of our day-to-day lives. We may need help picturing what joining in Jesus’ work means here and now.

That’s why this morning we’re reading on, to listen to the rest of Jesus’ instructions to the original twelve sent out to carry on his work.

Jesus’ directions fill up the rest of Matthew 10, verses 9 through 42. He has a lot to say to us, and we need to hear it. Jesus is training us to dream of mission the way he does. He’s training our expectations to hope for what he hopes for. He’s giving us courage, chasing away fear with the rewards that come from obedience, even in the midst of suffering. He’s asking us for a decision and evaporating all of our excuses. We need these words.

But if we’re to hear what he is saying, we must not get lost in grammar and terminology. So we’re going read together the heart of Jesus’ directions for the mission he’s invited us into. As you stand with me, find Mt 10.26-31 in a Bible, the one in the chair in front of you or one you brought with you. This is the heart of Jesus’ words--the pulse, the muscular text that pumps life into the rest his directions about our mission. We are going to read these words aloud together, so they will also be projected on the wall so we have one translation to read from. But keep your place marked in your Bible, because we’ll be returning to the rest of the chapter soon. Read with me,

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside my Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Amen?
I have a good friend who graduated college this spring with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. When we talked on the phone a few weeks back, he had an offer for a systems administrator position at a large company in his hometown. He had another interview at the end of the week with a tech start-up in Chicago. A degree in Electrical Engineering has a fairly clear career path. You get the degree, you get a job.

It’s different from, say, a BA in English. A four-year degree in English does not automatically lead to a job. You don’t immediately get a job in a cubicle at a literature corporation. Instead, it’s a bit more do-it-yourself. Maybe you look for work at a nonprofit. Maybe you write copy for advertisers. Maybe you publish poetry or young adult novels. Maybe--just maybe--you spend another six years in graduate school to get a job teaching English at a university. There are many, many possibilities, and there are very few if any instructions about where you’re going or how to get there.

Joining in Jesus’ mission is perhaps a bit more like studying English than graduating with a degree in engineering. Jesus does not gives us step-by-step instructions for how to “make disciples,” “baptize,” and “teach” the nations. He leave us no evangelism program or missions strategy. As much as we would like one, he doesn’t offer us a one-size-fits-all approach that we can simply replicate here and now just like he did two thousand years ago.

But he does leave us these words, these instructions in Mt 10 and Mk 6 and Lk 9 and 10. We also have words from Paul in 1 Cor 14 and from Peter in 1 Pet 3 and all the stories of Acts. None of these are a how-to manual. Instead we have examples and council, advice from our Master-Teacher on how we can follow in his way.

As I listen to how Jesus guides us in Mt 10, I’m struck first that following Jesus in his mission is costly, risky business. In v 16, Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on you guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.” And in v 21 he continues, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.”

When Cindy and I were missionaries in Eastern Europe, I rarely felt in danger. I was confused--maybe even uncomfortable--in a culture I didn’t understand. There were moments when I felt lost. But I was never flogged. I was never chased out of town.

But mine is not the experience of believers everywhere. As a congregation, we spent the whole month of November remembering that many of Jesus’ followers, right now, this very morning, wait alone in prison cells, isolated from fellowship or family. Many bear in their bodies the marks of Jesus. Many are beaten, starved, tortured, killed. All for joining with Jesus in his mission. This suffering is our Christian heritage, and it also happens in the world today.

But honestly, maybe it’s easier on us to tell these stories about heroes and saints suffering, whether far away in history or far away in China or the Mid-East, than it is for us to embrace what Jesus is saying about each and all of us right here, right now.

Last week I said, “Unless we are a missionary church, we are no church at all.” I worried when I said that. I worried that the word “missionary” would make us think that everything Jesus says here is for “those people” who go over there. Those people who commit their lives to God, who give it all up, who leave everything behind. We might say, “These words are for ‘missionaries,’ not for us.” Maybe you thought that a missionary church was a church with a healthy budget commitment to supporting Christian workers overseas.

But Jesus calls each of us to be missionaries. And, much to our disappointment, the promise of suffering is also for each and all of us. Jesus does not say, “Well, I might be sending you out like sheep among wolves. Maybe things won’t go so well. Perhaps you’ll be persecuted.” No, Jesus says these things will happen--are happening.

You see, suffering is part of Jesus’ mission, part of what Jesus came to do. Read v 24, “Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master. It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master.” Do we want to be like Jesus? Following Jesus in his mission means doing what he did. And we believe that he came to suffer--that the only way the world could be made right, the only way we could be brought back home to God, was for Jesus to submit to suffering.

Last week I said that Jesus’ mission was to reconcile the broken world to God. God’s way is not to sweep away the pieces of this world shattered by sin and death. God didn’t leave this world behind and create something new. Nor did God force this world back into the mold of what God hoped for. Jesus didn’t ride a horse, wave a sword, and reconquer the world like a holy Caesar founding a Christian Rome. Instead Jesus became vulnerable; he took our sin, sickness, loneliness, and death upon himself. And by doing so, he planted the seed of God’s kingdom in the soil of our broken world. On Easter morning, he brought forth its first fruits.

Jesus calls us to become like our Master-Teacher. Like Paul, we have to take our part of Jesus’ suffering on the cross-shaped way. Like Paul, we have to demonstrate that God’s grace is made whole in our weakness and suffering. We have to accept the scrapes and bruises--even the suffering and death--that come from working with the pieces of the broken world.

What batters and breaks us for mission? What sacrifice or suffering do we shy away from? Jesus’ mission claims our time and attention and money and bodies: the Spirit may send us to spend a Friday night sitting with our recently divorced neighbor instead of watching the movie we’d planned. Sharing in Jesus’ mission may mean inviting someone lonely into our cherished family time. It may mean cutting the roast a little thinner to welcome guests to lunch after church. It may mean heading out at 11:00 p.m. to calm down an agitated daughter while her single mom combs lice out of her hair. It may mean canceling our cable in order to give toward adoption, getting up on Saturday morning to volunteer with a local kids’ club. It may mean facing embarrassment, or loneliness, or fear, at times, making a scary change in our jobs, picking up a drunk woman from the side of the road to give her a ride home, moving far from people we love to follow Jesus wherever he leads. We may not be beaten or locked in prison or rejected by society--or maybe we will be. Jesus calls us to take risks--small risks and big risks--in order to bring life into dead places.

When we ask Jesus how to be a missionary, first he tells us to accept that we are sent “like sheep among wolves.” When we ask how to be a missionary, he says we must accept this risk, this suffering. In v 39 he says, “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

If I keep listening to Jesus in Mt 10, I realize next that Jesus presses me for a decision: will I follow him, join with him, or will I disown him? He leaves me no middle way, no neutral ground. Verses 32 and 33 make this clear: “Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

This too is part of Jesus’ mission in coming. In vv 34 through 36 he says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--your enemies will be the members of your own household.’” Like Micah, the ancient prophet he quotes in vv 35-36, Jesus saw that when God comes near the world again, God’s light reveals the brokenness of the world, brokenness that until this point hid in the shadows. And people used to living in the dark feel exposed and angry in this new light. Jesus says this over and over in John’s Gospel.

And if this is true of the blazing light of God, it is also true of the flickering candles of our city set on a hill.

Between light and darkness there is no middle ground. Either we accept Jesus’ call to be the light, or we run and hide from the light he brings. Later in Matthew’s story, in chapter 12, Jesus confronts religious leaders who say his mission is not divine but demonic. Jesus points to the life he brings--healing and freedom and welcome--and warns them, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (12.30). The early believers taught that “There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference” (Didache 1). There is no middle ground between alive and dead.

How do we become missionaries? How do we become Jesus’ church? We must bring God’s life to the needs of the world, we must embrace risk, we must choose to “take up our cross and follow Jesus.” These are principles we must live out, but our imaginations still ask for something a bit more concrete to work with. And Jesus supplies answers our request.

Read vv 9-15: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts--no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for workers are worth their keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at that person’s house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

This is as particular as Jesus gets in telling us how to follow in his work. Pack no suitcase, rely on hospitality, bless each person you meet, wait for God to make things right. These are the guidelines Jesus sets for how we are to join him in announcing God’s kingdom. These are wide boundaries, and they leave a lot for us to figure out in our unique contexts. As Jesus shows us in vv 19-20, we must wait for the Spirit to speak in each situation.

But some things are out of bounds. We can’t say that we witness to God reconciling the world best by living in luxury. We can’t sing along with the Health & Wealth churches that God’s love shines best in our affluence. Nor can we testify to God’s justification of the world by condemning it. Jesus sends us out to bless indiscriminately--to greet each house that will listen to us with the peace of God. Jesus knew the world was evil, but he did not send us out to promise fire and brimstone to those shattered by sin. Instead he told us to trust God with judgment.

Our only security, our only vindication is to wait for God. When we are rejected, when we suffer, even when we are flogged and imprisoned and crucified, Jesus tells us to commit ourselves to the God who will give justice on the last day.

Trusting our Father in heaven is the heartbeat of mission. We read together at the beginning that “not one [sparrow] will fall to ground outside your Father’s care . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” We choose to follow Jesus into mission full of confidence that, yes, God is making the world new. Jesus’ suffering and death has atoned for the world--it has made us one with God again. And though the seeds of resurrection lay in the ground for three days, the harvest is indeed coming!

How do we become missionaries? We show the world that God is trustworthy. We show the world that, yes, we can live forsaking our concern with comfort because God makes good on the promise to bring the kingdom. We choose to rely on God rather than on our savings accounts. We trust that if God is working reconciliation in every relationship, we will never be without a home or a meal. We trust God gives the final word, not rejection from friends, coworkers, politicians, or even family.

But how, you ask, does this look for Dry Creek Bible Church? This is the most important conversation we can have--far more important than who the next pastor will be, far more important than music styles or buildings or budgets.

What kind of gathering of believers might we be? We could be a congregation for this community between Belgrade and Manhattan. Our once a summer cookouts could become monthly neighbor parties. The could become weekly potluck and game nights. Small groups or Sunday School classes could adopt neighborhoods to pray for, to help with gardens and car repairs and fencing. We could have a network of homes willing to take in teens who get pregnant and to watch the kids of young moms who need a day off. We could educate ourselves about the foster care system. Or area drug rehab programs. Our small talk on Sunday mornings could be about where we’ve seen God’s kingdom arriving this week in our small towns. We could pray for those who need prayer during worship each Sunday morning. We could become the church of the sick and dying, the oppressed and anxious, all those in need. Our chairs would get threadbare, the carpet would get dirty, we would be tired, and the life of God would bearing fruit here and now.

But these are only my imaginations. This is a conversation we must have together, a path we must choose together. I’ll leave us with a few questions to start this conversation:

First, where do we already see God’s bringing life to the broken places of this Valley?

Next, where do we feel at risk? Where do we feel that our resources are not enough for what God’s doing? These are the frontiers of mission; God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

And last, what makes our heart ache? What fill us with compassion and a desire for God to set things right?

Friends, talk about these questions in the fellowship hall and the foyer and the parking lot. Talk about them throughout the week. Spend mornings and nights in prayer over them. Tell the church’s leaders what you hear. Tell one another what you hear the Spirit saying. Jesus is sending us out. Let us go.


  1. Love reading the sermons. Did it start many conversations at your church?

  2. I got a lot of good feedback on the series, but I have yet to hear reports of actual conversations. I'm hoping and praying that people will talk about concrete ways we can demonstrate the kingdom. It is easy, though, for us to hear "demonstrate the kingdom" as "invite friends to Sunday morning worship" rather than as "go and do what Jesus did."

    I'll keep you updated.


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