12 Feb A Fresh Mission
A Fresh Mission
Matthew 20:18-20 and 1 John 3:11, 16-18
February 9, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
How many of you are old enough—and you’re willing to admit—that you remember a heavy metal band from New Jersey called Twisted Sister? For the record, I never thought I’d use Twisted Sister in a sermon, but here goes! One of the band’s most famous songs was called “I wanna rock!” The video for it has this bug-eyed, crazy looking teacher who, on the first day of school after summer vacation asks a student, “What do you want to do with your life?” To which the student replies, “I wanna rock!”
That song came out in 1984 and perhaps to a person of a certain age and mindset, spending one’s life rockin’ sounded pretty good at the time. Eventually, of course, reality sets in, and you discover that, unless you’re part of Twisted Sister, the rockin’ lifestyle doesn’t pay the bills. But the question is still a good one: what do you want to do with your life?
Today is the sixth week in our Fresh series. We began by acknowledging that getting a fresh start in our lives first and foremost involves a commitment to follow Jesus. And once we choose to follow Jesus, then fresh starts in other areas of our lives will follow—fresh worship, fresh peace, a fresh look at God’s Word, fresh courage. Today we’re looking at another fresh topic and it involves the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” And the answer is NOT “I wanna rock!”
When we choose to follow Jesus, whether we are just starting out or we’re choosing to deepen our commitment and relationship with Christ, things change. Our values change. Our priorities change. And our purpose changes. Jesus gives us a new mission, his mission, and it’s important to ask what that means for our lives.
Let’s start by reminding ourselves of what our most foundational mission is as followers of Christ: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
These words are our marching orders from Jesus. They are our mission. They give us purpose. They tell us that, as disciples of Jesus, we are a “sent” people because Jesus’ word to us is “go.”
Often we attach the word “missionary” to someone who has responded to the Great Commission by leaving everything behind to go make disciples of a nation and people not their own. Growing up, it was a pretty regular occurrence for missionaries who served overseas to speak at my church when they were home on furlough. They shared stories, pictures and slide shows of life in what sounded to my 10-year old self like exotic and faraway places. I was intrigued by their commitment and the work they were doing, and I already had a faint sense that God was calling me to also work in the church. But, my prayer at the time never got beyond, “O please God, don’t send me anywhere where there are snakes.”
When I was in college, a missionary couple was at Baylor during my junior year. Sam was a doctor and Ginny assisted him in the clinic in rural Ethiopia where they worked and pastored. I spent that year in regular Bible study, prayer and conversation with Sam and Ginny Cannata. They had a profound impact on my life, and it was a time of rich and deep spiritual growth. Then one day Ginny happened to tell the story of leading a Bible study for a group of women. Everyone had their heads bowed in prayer when Ginny felt something on her foot. She opened one eye to see a snake slithering across her shoe. That image was so traumatizing, it took my sense of call years to recover.
I admire missionaries and their commitment to the call and task God gives them. I admire their willingness to “go” even though it requires them to uproot their lives, move thousands of miles from their families and friends, learn a new language and adopt a different culture. But not all missionaries are called to go as far as Sam and Ginny. Jesus calls missionaries to go and serve our community, as well, and those missionaries are you.
The word “go” in the Great Commission would be better translated, “as you go.” Most of the time, Jesus doesn’t send us to faraway places. Jesus sends us to our own homes and neighborhoods, the places where we work and go to school, the grocery store and the local coffee shop. The critical thing is not how far away we go, but that we all see ourselves as missionaries, that we all understand ourselves as being sent. The Great Commission is given to every single one of us, not just to someone else. So, from now on, I challenge you to think of yourself as a missionary.
This work, this job, this mission that Jesus has given us to do contains three parts to it, and all of them are hard to do. The first hard thing Jesus tells us to do is to go and make disciples of all nations. That blows apart any notion that the church is meant to construct a Christian “bubble” where we can hide out from the world. We are not a sanctified silo, a holy huddle or a religious country club. We do not exist for our own comfort or so that Jesus will pat us on the head and bless our ideas and agendas. We are called to look beyond our own concerns to the needs and concerns of others. Our mission field is “out there.” Jesus intends for us to positively influence our communities.
The eleven disciples who initially heard this command were struck by the same concerns we are. The scope of the task was almost unfathomable, especially given their modes of communication and transportation. What Jesus was asking seemed overwhelming, even impossible. There was also the huge problem of distrust of foreigners, especially for men who were not well-traveled or learned, in the traditional sense. Furthermore, the disciples had no power base to start from. They belonged to an oppressed subgroup—the Jews—within the Roman Empire.
But apparently, none of that made for an acceptable excuse. To these most unlikely of candidates, Jesus says, “Go turn the world upside down.” It must have sounded like a monumental, likely impossible, undertaking, just like it does for us today.
The second hard thing Jesus told the disciples to do was that once they got moving on that first work, they were to baptize the people of those nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism, of course, was not the first step in making new disciples; that came after a person had been persuaded by the Gospel message of who Jesus was and what he came to do. So, this second hard step means that the disciples were called to share the gospel with strangers, and to publicly identify themselves as followers of someone who had been officially declared an outlaw and executed. In other words, they were to give personal witness to their faith. It was hard for them, just as it is still hard for us.
Please don’t equate “witnessing” with standing on a street corner thumping a Bible and yelling at people who pass by. Remember that sharing our faith is much more like planting small seeds, adding a tiny bit of salt to something, or being a pinch of yeast in a relationship or situation. We bear witness to our faith, to the person and work of Christ, when we listen to people in pain with compassion without trying to fix them; when we hold hope with and for people who are in despair; when we extend mercy and forgiveness without any agenda, with our only motivation being that we have received mercy and forgiveness from God. We share the Gospel with strangers when we look the homeless person in the eye rather than walking past them like they’re invisible; when we pray with a friend or share a scripture with someone that we find meaningful. We bear witness when we speak up for the rights and needs of people who are marginalized. There are literally countless ways everyday to tell the Gospel with your life as you go about your normal routine among the people you see and talk to every day.
The third hard thing Jesus told the disciples to do was to teach the newly baptized followers everything Jesus had commanded them to obey. Think of how improbable this sounded to the eleven. Even assuming a few of them had the gift of teaching, where was the curriculum? The gospels hadn’t been written yet. The apostle Paul, whose letters would eventually become much of the New Testament, wasn’t even yet converted. The church hadn’t been formed, doctrines hadn’t begun to be formulated, and the creeds were still a couple hundred years or more in the future. Their “teaching materials” included the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament—and the disciples’ memories of what Jesus had said and done while he was with them. No wonder some of them had doubts!
Their doubts notwithstanding, these three hard things were their mission and somehow, they pulled it off, or at least got it started. And then they passed it on to the next generation of Jesus’ followers who took up the task then passed it on to the next generation, who took up the task and passed it on….until it arrives at us. Each generation of Christians has the same fresh mission that sends us as goers, movers, shakers, tellers, proclaimers, explainers, teachers, baptizers, and witnesses and more. Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say, “go and do.”
It shouldn’t surprise us that this mission is so hard, because that fits right in with a lot of the other things Jesus said:
- Love your enemy. That’s hard to do.
- Turn the other cheek. Hard to do.
- Be pure in heart. Hard to do.
- Rejoice and be glad when people revile you. Hard to do.
- Don’t lust. Hard to do.
- Go the second mile. Hard to do.
- Forgive other who hurt and wound you. Hard to do.
- Don’t worry about tomorrow. Hard to do.
- Do unto others as you would want them to do to you. Hard to do.
- Be doers of his words and not just hearers. Hard to do.
Jesus did talk about one kind of ease. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Compared to a life of being enslaved to our egos or trying to be good enough by following all the rules or earning something from God, Jesus’ way is easy.
Still, some people, even in the church, want us to soft-peddle what Jesus said and that’s understandable. Telling people about cross-carrying doesn’t seem like the best way to “win friends or influence people” or even the best way to invite people to embrace the gospel.
C.S. Lewis got it right when he wrote, “Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
Yes, you can choose to make rockin’ your purpose in life. But if you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, something of significance and impact that can literally change the world, that requires a fresh mission. It requires taking Jesus seriously and doing the hard things he gave us to do, seeing ourselves as missionaries sent into the world as we go about our lives—not in our own power and strength, but in his. Fortunately, that’s exactly what he promises and provides us for the task.
Thanks be to God. Amen.