[This sermon is based on Luke 10:1-11. The audio can be found here.]
Well we are in Week 3 this morning of our Advent series in which we are asking the question, “what gift can you bring?” We’ve talked about how we bring our whole selves before God, and how we bring our sacrifice of worship. And today we’re going to talking about offering the gift of passion for God’s mission and participation in that mission.
And when we think of the word “mission,” it’s one of those words that can mean many things to many different people, both good and bad. Companies have missions, the military has a mission, non-profits have a mission, churches have missions, and you may have even at one time or another crafted your own life-mission, which may be a good idea! Whitney and I have asked before, what is our family mission?
I was curious about mission statements and looked up this article on LinkedIn entitled the 25 most inspiring company mission statements. Some of these are kind of interesting:
“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’’
“Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.’’
“Toyota will lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people.’’
Starbuck’s mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
So all these companies have clear missions that say something about what they do and why they do it, so as to inspire their employees unto the work of completing that mission, yes. But also, it gives direction for major decisions, and priorities, and values of every day operations and goals, and sacrifices and risks that are being taken, and for what purpose. So it’s pretty important! Without a mission, and without vision, “the people perish!” (Prov. 29:18).
In reference to Christianity and the history of the church, the word mission might call to mind the work of missionaries who have gone overseas and devoted their lives to the proclamation of the gospel.
Sometimes those efforts have been very fruitful and are a powerful and effective witness to the world for Christ. Other times, though well-intended, certain missionary efforts have not been very good — to the extent that they’ve been caught up in political colonial expansion projects, for instance. One of my professors in grad school, who’s Jewish, once said, “missionaries scare the hell out of Jews.”
And I think at the root of these tragic examples of Christians misappropriating God’s mission, where we as Christians and as a church get off track, is whenever we begin to think about the mission, first and foremost being our own. We make the mission into our own image, so to speak. When it’s really more correct to say, that the mission is God’s. And Christ and the Holy Spirit are the ones who fulfill and execute it.
One of the most influential Christian missiologists in recent decades — yes, missiologist is a thing — was a man by the name of David Bosch — a South African. And he said this in his celebrated book, Transforming Mission:
“Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God…Mission is understood as being derived from the very nature of God….Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world, [and so] the church is not the one sending, but being sent.” – David. J. Bosch, Transforming Mission
So already to talk about the mission that we’re involved in as Christians is to assume that we are responding to a mission that God has shaped, and that God has initiated — not us. Going all the way back to the beginning of the Bible.
And in fact, it was on our behalf that God carries out this mission. We aren’t the ones accomplishing it. God is. God has already taken action not only by Creating, but also in history and through the Hebrew people, and ultimately with the coming of Christ that we acknowledge, celebrate and anticipate during this Advent season.
In fact, right from the beginning the passage in Luke 10, we see a reference back to this same action and grand history of God’s movement as narrated in Scripture.
v. 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
The number 70 or 72 (we see both in our early manuscripts), most likely refers to Genesis 10, where we see the number 72 symbolically standing for all the nations of the known world that Noah’s sons and the descendents of Canaan went on to inhabit. So it’s conveying to us that God’s mission through the people of Israel was always a universal one, not merely a nationalistic one.
And so the message of this number 72 is the Jesus, now, is inaugurated a new age in the history of this same mission of God — a mission for which, we, as his followers, like these other 72 ordinary individuals, are agents on this mission. Yes, we are agents on this mission.
Now it’s kind of funny, I have to admit, that when I think of the words agent and mission together, James Bond movies, Mission Impossible, all that kind of stuff tends to come to mind. As guy, I would get really into those characters and stories when I was younger. And if you’re of a certain age, then these were also some of your favorite video games.
And this makes sense, because everybody likes, especially guys, cool gadgets and weapons. Gear that does just some pretty awesome stuff. That’s one of the main reasons you watch a James Bond or Mission Impossible movie, is to see what the next car or gun or watch that he has is going to be able to do.
And so we tend to have that notion of mission in our minds. But there are some important differences between the way those kind of missions go down, and the kind of mission that Jesus is sending us on, right? We know that. And the next several verses bring some clarity:
3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road . . . 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.”
Now, the second part of verse 4 indicates that there is a singularity of purpose to this mission. It requires focus and devotion, and it’s easy to get distracted, so we must take care not to. But other than that, it doesn’t really sound much like a very prepared mission. It actually sounds like the opposite kind of mission: lambs among wolves, don’t take anything with you, eat and drink what you’re given, etc.
And that’s probably a little disappointing to some of us. Can we just be honest about that? Because when we go on a mission, we want to have all the gear we need. We don’t want to be dependent on others — especially not on those who we’re trying to serve. We don’t want to take that risk. No, we want independence. We want self-sufficiency. We want a backup supply of everything. The right weapons, resources, money in the bank — all the defenses for the threats of life.
But the instruction to not bring any of that stuff conveys that Jesus intends for his followers to go out into the world in vulnerability, much as he himself did when he came to us. And by telling the disciples to eat whatever is offered, there’s an implicit message of cross-cultural sensitivity and accommodation, rather than imposing one’s own way on those with whom the good news is being shared.
But if we have to be among wolves, we’d much rather be like wolves among wolves, though — not lambs, not sheep. Yet that’s what Jesus says: I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. It’s supposed to be disarming, I guess, but it more so feels disempowering.
There’s a movie coming out on Dec. 23 that I’m excited to see called Silence, which is based on Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s famous 1966 novel Silence, and it’s about a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who went to China in the 17th Century. It’s a story of great faith and suffering, and mission.
I plan to see the movie, but I know it’s going to be difficult to watch. It’s not really a happy story. And Sebastião Rodrigues, the Portuguese Jesuit and protagonist in the story, travels to his likely death in order to investigate and be with those Christians and missionaries in Japan who were undergoing and intense and ruthless persecution: some pretty cruel and brutal.
And I won’t tell you everything that happens, if you don’t know, but it’s as powerful of an example as you’ll find of someone being sent out on God’s mission like lambs among wolves. Basically Rodrigues ends up having to decide whether to renounce his own faith in order to save other Christian converts from torture and death.
He had this expectation that such a mission, even if it amounted to martyrdom, would be glorious, a kind of romanticized understanding of it, but it didn’t turn out that way. And so he had passion for God’s mission, but it was met with overwhelming discouragement. The reality he encountered was a much harsher and more sobering one than he anticipated.
There’s another character in Endo’s novel who travels with Rodrigues, and his name is Kichijiro. Kichijiro pretends to not be a Christian but he secretly renounced his faith and is living in shame. And at one point in the story, Kichijiro says this: “If only I had died before the persecution began, I would have gone to heaven as a good Christian!”
And look, Jesus knows it’s not always going to be successful. It’s not going to go well sometimes. There will be rejection. He speaks to this: vs. Wipe the dust from your feet as a warning.
But still… why would anyone want to go on God’s mission, and be passionate about it, where things like this could happen? It makes it sounds pretty undesirable.
The Romans passage that was read a moment ago says this:
7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
So we get to share the joy that we have as a result of Christ’s acceptance of us, the joy of God’s mercy, by extending that same acceptance, that same mercy, to others.
And then the mission finally becomes clear. Look at next few verses, 5-8:
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you . . . 9 “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
So what is the mission? To proclaim peace, heal the sick, and announce the nearness of God’s kingdom. God’s mission in the world is for the advancement of a kingdom of peace and healing through Christ and by the power of the Spirit.
Not to rush on to Christmas, but what does the story say that we celebrate: Peace on earth! Good will toward all people. And what are Jesus’s first words when he meets his followers after the resurrection? “Peace be with you!”
And what about healing? Jesus tells the disciples to heal people. How am I supposed to “heal” people? I don’t have those kind of powers. Well, maybe you do, actually. Because healing doesn’t just mean performing miracles. Though I think we can do that today too — sometimes through medicine, sometimes not. But at the very least, living as agents of healing on God’s mission means, entering into people’s pain and carrying it with them, if possible, until it’s taken away.
And how is this possible? How can we heal, enter people’s pain, take it away? Put simply, Christ did that for, and we are in Christ. You have more power than you realize, friends. Power for this mission. We have the power Christ’s peace and healing in us. That is what we are waiting for during Advent and proclaiming at Christmas! And all we’re saying today is, consider how you might bring the gift of passion for and participation in that mission. Lesslie Newbigin says this about mission:
Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving. – Lesslie Newbigin
Newbigin is just noting how, this news that mission is announcing — the gospel peace, the promise of healing — it cannot be kept quiet. It won’t! It’s too joyful, and it’s too good. So it’s not out of obligation or duty. It’s a free response to our own experience of that same peace and healing. But the reality then, and now, is still is — as it says in v. 2:
2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
So, this is what we’re going to do, friends. You should have had wristband on your seat when you came in. I’m going to judge the effectiveness of my sermon on the basis of how many wristbands are left behind after worship today. So if there’s extras around you, grab those too! More to give away.
The times of our worship services are listed there. And obviously, inviting people to Christmas Eve service is hardly the full expression or embodiment of living out God’s mission as a church, but it’s a start! And if we can’t invite people to church, we’re probably going to have some trouble with all the other things God’s inviting us to do.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. – BCP, Morning Prayer II, 101
Also published on Medium.