Because the World
Rev. Julie Jensen
Preached July 26, 2015, First Presbyterian Church, Cartersville, GA
You may have noticed a theme for worship today, with the missions of the church set up around the sanctuary for you to learn about, the photos behind me of how we see and do mission in the church and beyond, and the signs on the wall where we have asked you to sign your name where you serve in the community beyond the auspices of FPC. As I preach this morning, you will see the photos submitted during our “Mission Photo Challenge” for July. Yesterday a group of us served Bartow Give a Kid a Chance at the College and Career Academy. We made and handed out lunches, helped children of all ages find the perfect color backpack and t-shirt, facilitated the program (Dennis – I’m looking at you) and had a fun day helping the children in our community. One of the things I love about this congregation is our heart to serve others in the name of Jesus.
The idea for a month to focus on mission came from a conversation the mission committee had this winter. We were discussing plans for the coming year and wondering why sometimes we have a hard time finding volunteers for projects or trips. As the conversation progressed, we identified one possibility. Cartersville and Bartow County have an overabundance of non-profit agencies and opportunities to serve. The question was asked – if service doesn’t happen through the church, is it still serving Jesus. We agreed on the answer – yes. In brainstorming, we developed a list organizations and ways we know our congregation serves the community in mission – even if it isn’t mission facilitated by the church. Those places are the places listed on the signs around the room today, and I hope if you have not written your name where you serve that you will before you go. Being “missional” means that we serve others where we are there they are. So, instead of mourning a perceived lack of participation, we celebrate the ways our congregation serves God.
The reading from Matthew tells a story Jesus sending the disciples out for service. It is part of Jesus’ mission discourse. As New Testament Professor Stanley Saunders writes, “Jesus’ mission discourse is a “get-out-the-volunteers” campaign like no other. On the one hand, the disciples are granted remarkable powers to heal, exorcise demons, cleanse lepers, even to raise the dead. But he also denies them money, pay, extra clothes, a staff for protection, even sandals. They are to undertake their mission in complete vulnerability and dependence on God (10:8-11), even knowing that they go as “sheep in the midst of wolves,” face arrests and beatings, opposition even from family members, and hatred and persecution (10:16-23).”
Jesus grants them power to do the work he has placed before them, and then sends them out in utter dependence on God. No extra clothes, no hazard pay, no snacks, and no money. Just what they carry and God go with them to serve in the world. They are sent out to proclaim the gospel – in the broad daylight of the world, and to proclaim the good news Jesus whispers to them from the rooftops. The disciples are sent out into a broken world to offer the hope of Christ, just as we are through our acts of service.
The second reading, which is a continuation of the first, portrays a scary world that the disciples enter into. Jesus talks about all the things that might happen to them along the way, and when they return. He describes sending them out like sheep among wolves, and being handed over to councils and flogging in the synagogues, being drug before governors and kings all because of the Gospel – the good news – that they share. Jesus describes a life that launches the disciples out of their comfort zones and into something hard.
What faces us when we go out into the mission field? What do we encounter in our service to Christ that we may wish we did not encounter? How are we thrown out of our comfort zones?
When we step out to serve, we step into the lives of people and places that may be broken. And it is when we are there that we have to acknowledge that we too are broken. Maybe not in the same ways, but that we have more in common with the poor person we serve a meal to on Tuesday or the family that we are welcoming into our congregation that we might want to admit. Sometimes we are called to serve in places where we will be physically uncomfortable – in the heat or sleeping on air-mattresses, or far from home or learning an new skill. Sometimes stepping out of our comfort zones means letting our guard down – wearing work clothes and not worrying about who sees us without makeup, dispelling the idea that we have it all together or are perfect. Sometimes we are scared that “these people” will no longer be “these people”, no longer be strangers, but instead will be people with names and faces and stories, and we have to admit that we are all connected. When we enter the mission field, we enter into places that may scare us.
Yet, like the disciples, we do not go alone. We may not take a bag or money or snacks, but we carry the compassion, mercy, and love of God into a broken world, where they are so needed. And as we share the good news of that compassion and mercy, even as we receive them ourselves.
The words of our charge today send us out. Jesus sends us out with what we need. When we serve in the mission field, we don’t have to be the brightest, the best, we go with what God has given us. We are sent to be the hands and feet of Christ. Not for ourselves, not to make ourselves feel better, but to offer bread to a hungry world, truth to a world full of lives, courage to a world living in fear. We are sent to offer hope to those in despair, joy to those who sorrow, justice for the unjust, and mercy for those who are judged. We take peace into a world of violence.
Sent to do something. Not just write a check, but be involved in the world. Challenge you to do something today – take 30 minutes after worship. Walk around. Look at how the church serves our community. Ask yourself how you might be called to stretch out of your comfort zone and serve Jesus in a new way. Ask yourself what scares you and perhaps find a way to step into service that way. Find something that brings you joy and a chance to share that joy with others, and serve there. The disciples didn’t sit in their houses waiting for what would happen next, they stepped out of what they knew, what felt safe and took risks as they shared the good news of Christ by serving others. To what service is Jesus calling you, and how as his disciple are you participating in Christ’s mission? Because the world is broken, because the world needs hope, because the world needs love, and peace and justice, Jesus’ disciples – then and now – are sent out to bring them to those most in need. Because we are in the world, we too need the love, peace, justice, hope, mercy, joy and love of Christ too. When we offer Jesus to others through our hands and feet, we find him in ourselves.