Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
I guess I have to confess that I have failed miserably when it comes to that command to love my neighbour.
And I mean in the sense of taking the word “neighbour” literally.
I know the names of the couple in the house east of us and the name of their child and the name of their dog. Their dog, Annie and our dog Sadie do not like each other very much. But I don’t know the names of any of my other neighbours. Not one.
I have not been in any of my neighbour’s homes. And beyond the two names of the one family next door I actually know next to nothing about them and just about absolutely nothing about my other neighbours in the whole neighbourhood. I think a lady committed suicide a few years ago just two houses from us, but I didn’t know her name and I only heard it as a rumour. There have been families along the street that the police have visited a few times. The police know my neighbours better than I.
The truth is that most of the people I hang with, or the relationships I have in Edmonton aside from my family are mostly in this or other churches.
And while the church is a family that loves and supports one another it seems to me that when it comes to going into the whole world and sharing the gospel… I’m a bit of a loser at times.
I don’t even know my neighbours.
Most of my sharing the gospel is done with the people who already know that God loves them… that Jesus died for them….
I don’t know about you. Do you know your neighbours?
There is a book by two American pastors, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, called the “Art of Neighbouring” in which they ask us if we know the names of the neighbours in the 8 houses around us. And if we know the names do we know anything more, like where they came from or what they do for a living.
Then they ask. Do you know anything more deeply, about them… like their hopes and dreams, or what they believe. They say that only one in a hundred people will know neighbours enough to know anything intimate about them.
And yet Jesus today sends out his disciples and asks them to proclaim the good news, help the sick, fight evil, bring people and families back to life and bring healing to those who are outcasts from society like lepers.
We are disciples of Christ. By extension doesn’t it mean we should be out there proclaiming good news, helping the sick, fighting evil, bringing people back to life who thought they were dead, healing those excluded and rejected and cast out.
We should be out there. OUT there.
Where am I? in here. IN here.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Sometimes I just preach at myself and you listen in while God tries to get through this thick skull of mine, while God tries to change someone who sometimes doesn’t want to change…
While God tries to get Harry to do what God want to do and not what Harry wants to do…
You see I like my church. I love to come to worship on Sunday morning. I love to sing in the choir. I love to write sermons and liturgy and preach and pray in church.
I love to go to choir practice and hang out with some great people.
I love to sing the hymns on Sunday and choir anthems with the choir.
I love to worship in this space, in this 100 year old plus sanctuary with its raised pulpit, its big Casavant organ, its wonderful acoustics, its stained glass windows…
I love to listen to Marnie and Joachim play. We have just about the best organists in the universe here.
We are blessed. I think worship is awesome here.
I love it in here.
It’s out there some days that is scary. How do we take the good news we hear here and live here to OUT there.
How do we get the people OUT there to connect with people IN here?
But before we get to that question we have to confess that we most of the time we don’t even think about that question because we have failed to see that God created us for Mission and that the church’s job is Mission.
It is to go into all the world taking the good news of Jesus, baptizing people with love and inclusion, teaching them that there is a way to be in this world that is loving and non-violent….
….teaching them the commands of Jesus to love God, love one another and to love neighbours.
Heck I don’t even know my neighbours.
And I think there are a couple of reasons that Mission has been on the back burner of the church for a long, long time.
One is simply the culture in which we live. We live in a individualistic, materialistic, consumer culture.
What you want you can get now with your credit card.
And so it is easy to see church (even though we don’t say it that way) as another consumable.
People go church shopping and try out all the different churches to find the ones that meets their needs best and the best price.
That one is out because the Sunday school is bad. That one is out because the minister is boring. That one is out because the building is old and dirty, and that one is out because of the music…the music is either too loud or too soft. Its hard to find music that is just right.
And so church and faith is about what we like and what we need….
And not about the needs of others and the people who are lost, confused, broken, conflicted, rejected and lonely.
It’s about me, myself, I and the ones that I hang with.
And maybe another reason that mission has lost its pre-eminence is because that great old doctrine of the church “Justification by Faith” has been misunderstood, misconstrued, watered down, and splashed around like cheap perfume…
…til we think the whole goal of faith is to believe there is a Jesus and go to heaven.
Since I believe there is Jesus and I am going to heaven I can just sit back in the pew and enjoy the Sunday show.
God is in heaven and everything is ok with the world.
I have in my library a book entitled: “Paul among the Postliberals” written by Douglas Harink who is a professor here in Edmonton at The King’s University, a colleague of Joachim’s (one of our organists) who has worshipped here at First once or twice.
I will hardly do justice to what he writes because he is a little above me, but what I go out of it is that Harink challenges the idea that the big thing that Paul was talking about was personal salvation through faith in Christ and going to heaven.
We make it sound like it is mostly our efforts at faith that saves us into a personal relationship with Jesus.
Instead this faith that we are talking about is not so much our faith, but the faith of Jesus Christ…
And that Christian existence is not about believing there is a Jesus or believing a fact about Jesus…
It is participation in this faith of Jesus Christ. It is being “In Christ” and therefore our being takes on Christ’s being and everything that means.
And what does that mean? It means doing what Jesus does.
And that means taking on the Powers of this world that dehumanize and rob people of freedom and equality and economic equity, not by force, but by love and non-violence, and by truth, especially the truth of the cross.
The truth of the cross is that there is a way to be in this world that is loving and builds community and is a witness to the way of Jesus.
And if you note, the way of Jesus had little to do with spending all his time in a particular church building with his friends.
Jesus was constantly on the move, healing, caring, being compassionate, including, casting out evil…teaching people to love…
Standing up to the powers in this world that say our value is in what we earn or what we have or how we look or who we control.
Standing up to the powers that take from people and use people and steam roll over people, and keep most of the wealth to themselves.
Standing up to the lies perpetrated on us by our culture of affluence that pull us towards an unholy worship of self… and attending to our own needs…
…and little sense of service to others.
Pierre Burton was commissioned by the Anglican Church almost 50 years ago to do a report on the state of the church. Well-known broadcast and journalist, Pierre Burton did the report and it was published in book form as “The Comfortable Pew.” Which went on to be a best seller.
In the book Pierre Burton basically gave a scathing critique of the church which he viewed as irrelevant to mainstream society, and locked in a tired vision from the past. He said the church had failed as an instrument of social justice and no longer served as a conscience for the nation holding people accountable to a high ethical standard. In Berton’s view the church had surrendered to the status quo and was refusing to shake people up challenging them to live truly Christian lives. The church as Pierre Berton saw it in 1965 was nothing more than a “comfortable pew.”
And I have to confess that I like the comfortable pew. Church does give me comfort. God gives me comfort. Christ gives me comfort.
When I feel unloved. Christ enfolds me in his arms.
When I get depressed or sad, the Holy Spirit encourages me.
When I screw up and fail I know there is forgiveness and acceptance here in church. There’s a declaration of pardon every week.
When I need community and friends I have community here in the church.
When I need guidance and direction I find that Jesus leads me into green pastures and there are ministers I know who are good listeners.
When I am in conflict I can turn to Jesus the Prince of Peace and each week we pass the peace.
So I need church to be comfortable in some with, to provide my soul comfort and to provide my soul stability.
I can’t go out there and do anything without first being in here and communing with God.
But I know how difficult it is some days to take the gospel out there.
And there are no magic answers about how we take the gospel out there. No surefire programs, techniques or methods to take it out there,
Because as soon as you use a program or a technique or a method is seems phony, or it seems that you are interested in getting people in here for your own agenda.
The most important thing I know about the taking the gospel out there is authenticity. That you really love, that you really care, that you really speak your truth, and that you put the other first.
And instead of telling people about Christ, sometimes it is better that we are just “IN Christ”
That his love is our love, that his battle against evil and injustice is our battle….
That his healing ministry is our healing ministry.
That his forgiving ministry is our forgiving ministry.
That his acceptance and love is the way we accept and love.
Because the way Christ gets out there is if we really be his body and be his hands to comfort and heal, his words to bless people and encourage them…. his truth that all are equal and loved…
his feet to stand up for justice…
his eyes radiating out compassion….
People often don’t need a sermon, they need to be ministered to with love.
And the second thing that is important is that we make an effort and try.
I read a lot of books about prayer and spirituality and then realized one day that it what really matters is that I just do it and pray.
With mission and evangelism, sometimes we have to just stop talking about what we are going to go and get out and do.
And it is not easy. Sometimes people will not listen to our message of universal love, of non-violence.
Some will even be hostile to Christ’s way. Some will be indifferent: “Go away you are bothering me.”
Sam Wells, minister at St. Martins in the Fields, in London England said in one of his sermons..
If you are going to do mission you have to shake off a lot of dust.
But he goes on to say that it isn’t failure. It is rejection. So shake it off and don’t let that dust go with you.
Don’t let it embitter you, or sour friendships, or sap energy or leak hope.
Shake it off and leave it to God…
Because you know what you aren’t the one who makes the love grow anyway.
You can sow love, share love and nurture it but in the final analysis it is God’s Spirit that does that real work of changing people’s lives.
Sam Wells was in one of his first churches. He had been appointed vicar at a church with an average attendance of 15 on a Sunday morning.
Christmas rolled around and he planned a Christmas Eve Service for 11:30 PM.
He loved Christmas Eve service. At 11 o’clock nobody was there. At 11:15 nobody was there . At 11:25 nobody was there.
It was the same at 11:30 and he said a tear rolled down his face.
As he sat in that church late that Christmas Eve, his face in my hands he heard a rustling noise. He looked at my watch.
It was 11:32. The door opened. Into the church walked a man and a woman, maybe late 40s. Sam had never seen them before.
“Is it just us?” they asked.
“I’m afraid it is,” Sam replied, totally humiliated.
“Oh, good,” the woman said. “We waited to see if anyone else would come, and when we thought we’d be the only ones, we walked in.”
“How do you mean?” he said, gesturing them to sit down.
“Well,” she said, “I guess you should know that Dave and I used to be married to other people until recently. There’s a lot of folk unhappy about us being together. We moved out here because we didn’t feel we could go to any of the downtown churches. In fact, we haven’t been to church at all for over a year. We were frightened to come tonight, but when we saw we’d be the only ones, we got the courage to walk through the door. Our lives are a mixture of love and shame. We feel we’re in the dust. We want to begin again.”
Sam stared at them in silence for a long time. Any thought of failure and rejection evaporated. All he could see before him was God was making a new creation before his very eyes, and making it from the dust of the earth, just like the first time.
Sam said to them, “Remember you are dust. This is where God’s work of creation and redemption begins. Right here. Right now.”
Sometimes I feel that I haven’t done enough to take the love I feel in here in the church, and in my heart out there, but I am glad that ultimately God is good. And thank God, it isn’t totally up to me or you, but that God is working by his Spirit, creating love and life, even when I am sitting in the comfortable pew. Amen.