Sunday, July 04, 2010

missionaries--a sermon for Ordinary 14 C

Rev. Teri Peterson
Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
4 July 2010, Ordinary 14C

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’
The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

There’s a lot going on in church life these days—and it’s pretty exciting! Yesterday I came home from a conference of 40 young clergy women of all different denominations and even from around the world—a conference during which we learned, we shared, we ate, we laughed, we cried, we sang, we made random art, and we encouraged each other on our journeys. Last night, around 11:30pm, the PCUSA General Assembly began its bi-annual meeting by electing a new moderator named Cindy Bolbach, from National Capital Presbytery. The 6 candidates for moderator gave speeches, answered questions, and then waited while the assembly worked through a bunch of technical issues and 5 rounds of voting before finally getting a majority for the only candidate who is an elder, not a pastor, and who talked insightfully and succinctly about issues like how we empower youth and young adults as church leaders. Next Sunday, seven of our high school youth, along with two adults, will head down to the Gulf Coast to work on houses, making them habitable for people forced out five years ago by Hurricane Katrina. A month from now, we’ll be feeding people right here in our church parking lot again. And, as you heard earlier, in just three weeks we’ll be meeting a candidate who might be the one God is calling to be our next head of staff. It’s a busy and exciting time to be the Church, the Body of Christ.

In the midst of all these goings-on, we have this story—a story of people going out into the world to do what Jesus calls them to do. A story of people learning what it means to live the gospel. A story of being the church, even outside the walls and at 2:33 on Thursday afternoon.

In this story, you might have noticed something startling. The 70 are traveling even lighter than the people who get to use the black-diamond-expert-traveler lane at the airport. No bag, no sandals, no extra clothes, no food, no money. Instead they have only the peace of Christ and some encouragement to practice what they preach. They talk about reliance on God, about the importance of community, about the good news of healing and wholeness for all, about the value of hospitality…and now they get to practice. So out they go, into the world, to receive the hospitality they would normally be giving, to experience life without a quid-pro-quo foundation, to wander with no agenda in mind other than to meet people where they are and prepare them to encounter the living God.

This is a little bit different from the ways we normally conceive of Being Church. We have this tendency, at least in this country, to equate being the church with going to church. Our culture, our tradition, and our history has taught us that church is a place where certain things happen or is a vendor of services—a place where we get what we want. So we go to a church that has great children’s programming, wonderful music, or fabulous education or fellowship opportunities. We equate going to church with Sunday morning worship and maybe Wednesday evening choir practice, but that’s about it. Church is about electing a moderator to do business, about the pastor in the pulpit, or maybe about short term mission trips.

But Jesus shows us here that this is not what church is. Those are things that The Church does, yes—but the church is not a building or a pastor or a program, the church is US, the people, the Body of Christ! So wherever we go, there the Body of Christ is. And Jesus commissions people to be the Body of Christ out in every town—in homes, in village squares, in marketplaces, in schools, in offices, in any place where people spend their time.

Think about the places you spend time—at work, whether you’re a teacher, an office manager, an administrator, an IT worker, a full time parent, a student. You probably go to work, to the grocery store or mall, to friends’ houses, to the drugstore and restaurants and maybe even the farmer’s market or the pool or the parade or facebook. In every place you go, you are the Body of Christ. In every interaction you have, every relationship and connection you are a part of, you have a mission: to let people see the living God, whose very nature is love. Whether you do it through teaching or learning, through building things or engineering or making art or answering phones and emails or any other type of work; whether you spend your time online or in person with others or even mostly alone2—your mission is to participate in what God is doing in the world. There’s plenty of work for all the laborers in the field. Mission isn’t just for missionaries in Africa or people who run food pantries or sit on mission committees—we’re all missionaries, every day! And we’re missionaries who travel light—we don’t need special equipment or special skills, we don’t need a masters degree or to speak several obscure languages. All we need, we have been given: The peace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Here at the table, we remind ourselves of these gifts—gifts that carry us out into the world to be the Body of Christ, gifts that nourish and empower us to do the work we have all been called to do, gifts that fill us up so that the love of God can overflow into the world.
Here at the table, we practice giving and receiving hospitality with no strings attached, we remember who is the true host of every meal, and we come together to share lives, stories, hopes, dreams, fears, and love.
Here at the table, we gather as a community to be re-made as the Body of Christ—in other words, we come to church so that we can BE the church.

May it be so. Amen.

after communion, instead of the traditional "prayer after communion" we had "Commissioning God's People"...

All of you have responded to God’s calling to ministry here at RCLPC and throughout this community. We have been fed together at this table, nourished by God’s word and by the feast of God’s heavenly banquet. Now we go out from this upper room to participate in God’s mission in every place we go—school and work, store and square, home and online. As we go to be the Body of Christ, we answer these questions:

In your life each day, will you walk the way of Christ and proclaim the gospel of God’s love for all people?

As Jesus reached out to heal and to love, will you reach out in compassion?

As Jesus took time for every person who came to him, will you make time to build relationships with the people who cross your path?

As Jesus prayed for God’s guidance and strength, will you turn to God for help?

As Jesus sent disciples out two by two, will you work with the people around you to help bring in the kingdom of God?

Will you support each other with your prayers, welcome people warmly when they come into this community, and help and encourage one another as we seek to encounter the living God together?

Let us pray together.
Faithful God, you have called us to serve you with our lives, promising to be with us always. You have filled us to overflowing with every good gift, even with your very life. Give us strength and wisdom, compassion and courage, so that in everything we do, we may be witnesses to your grace. Bind us to you with the faith, hope, and love of the gospel; lead us on Your way; and bring us together again. Amen.

Friends, we are now commissioned as missionaries in every place that we go, every thing that we do, and every relationship we are part of. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the spirit of Christ, always giving thanks to God. Amen!

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