Tag Archives: Sent Out

Sent Without Canoes

A Sermon for 8 April 2018 – Second Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 20:19-31.  Listen for God’s word to us.  And remember, this story takes place later on the first Easter.  Listen:

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 

If you’ve ever been west of the Mississippi – like to California, Oregon, Montana, or Nevada – then I’m guessing you are grateful for the adaptability of the men named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  It was 1804 and the newly formed nation just had acquired a huge expanse of land called the Louisiana Territory.  Wanting to know what they had gotten and determined to find a water route that connected the eastern United States to the Pacific Ocean; President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery under the command of Lewis and the one Lewis made his co-captain, Clark.

A book called Canoeing the Mountains, quotes historians who describe the defining moment of Meriwether Lewis’ life.  “He was approaching the farthest boundary of the Louisiana Territory.  The Continental Divide.  The Spine of the Rocky Mountains, beyond which the rivers flow west.  No American citizen ever had been there before.  This he believed was the Northwest Passage, the goal of explorers for more than three centuries.  The great prize that Thomas Jefferson had sent him to find and claim for the United States.  With each stride, Lewis was nearing what he expected to be the crowning moment of his expedition and his life.  From the vantage point just ahead, all of science and geography had prepared him to see the watershed of the Columbia; and beyond it, perhaps a great plain that led down to the Pacific.  Instead, there were just more mountains”  (Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Tod Bolsinger, pp. 87-88).  Captured in his expedition journal, Lewis writes:  “’Immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us, with their tops partially covered in snow’” (Ibid.).

Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains, writes:  “At that moment in the daunting vista spread out at the feet of Meriwether Lewis, the dream of an easy water route across the continent – a dream stretching back to Christopher Columbus – was shattered”  (Ibid.).  It’s been said that as Lewis and the Corps stood atop the Lemhi Pass in what would become the state of Idaho, the geography of hope gave way to the geography of reality.  Though wanting to cling to the known, as all of us do; Bolsinger writes:  “Lewis wasted no time in casting off assumptions once the brutal facts of his reality were clear.  There was no water route.  There were miles and miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them.  They had no trail to follow.  Food was scarce in this rugged terrain.  And winter was coming.”  Bolsinger writes:  “This is the canoeing the mountains moment.  This was when the Corp of Discovery faced for the first time the breadth of the challenges posed by the Rocky Mountains and came to the irrefutable reality that there was no Northwest Passage.  No navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean.  This is the moment when they had to leave their boats.  Find horses and make the giant adaptive shift that comes from realizing their mental models for the terrain in front of them were wrong” (Ibid., p. 93).  Canoes would not get them over the mountains.  That which had served them well thus far, no longer would work.

They could have responded to the challenge differently – especially because the order from their Commander in Chief specifically charged them to find a water route from sea to sea.  Bolsinger writes:  “They could have decided that they had indeed discovered the vitally important, but certainly disappointing reality that the long-hoped for Northwest Passage and its water route was a myth.  . . .  They could have turned back.  They could have returned to Washington, made their reports, and told Thomas Jefferson that another crew more equipped to travel long distances through mountain passes should be launched on a different expedition.  But they didn’t” (Ibid., pp. 93-94).  History is defined by this moment and all the other things they could have done.  Nevertheless, Bolsinger writes, “at that moment, without even discussing it, Meriwether Lewis simply proceeded on” (Ibid., p. 94).   Deep within, he knew – as did Clark and the rest of their men – to what they really were called – not just some specific order from President Jefferson; but as men of the Enlightenment – even if it meant they would have to learn a whole new way through uncharted territory – Lewis, Clark, and their men were 100% dedicated to discovery in service to others as what gives meaning to life.  . . .  They kept going – re-committing to the principles that lie in the core of their being.  Leaving behind the familiarity of their canoes, they literally left the map.  They journeyed on.

It’s one week after Easter; but later that night according to the gospel of John.  Though Mary Magdalene had come from her garden encounter with the Risen Christ, the other disciples did not yet know what to make of the news.  Frightened, perhaps, that when the religious leaders caught wind of the story that the tomb was empty; their own crucifixions would be next.  Pick them off one by one, over some talk of “he is not here but has risen.”  Until every last preposterous voice was silenced.  There were no known mental models for how to live after your dead rabbi had risen from the grave.  No easy course to travel after one who had taught and healed and inspired was crucified, dead, and buried . . .  only to appear to them alive again just a day after the Sabbath rest???!!!  Standing in their shoes, we too would likely lock ourselves away in fear.  Not knowing the next steps to take after Mary burst in to declare she had seen the Lord!  It was their defining moment.  The moment all of heaven held its breath to see what this little ban of humans would do.

The gospel of John tells the story differently than do the gospels of Matthew and Mark, where the disciples later are given the great commission.  The gospel of Luke links with Acts to expand upon the reception of the Spirit 50 days after Easter at Pentecost.  But the gospel of John tells that it was on that first night of the week, the very night the tomb was discovered empty; the Risen One comes to his faithful followers breathing peace, in order to send them out into the world.  Somehow, he expects them to release others from their sins – a charge likely to clear those who had crucified him; so that the hearts of Christ’s followers would remain open.  Pure.  Ready to give witness to a revolutionary love often unseen on the world’s stage.  “Peace,” the Risen One says to those locked in fear.  “Now go.”  Get on with it – all he had commanded them pre-crucifixion.  They were to live the peace of laying down their lives for another, even as he had laid down his own for the sake of all the world.  “By this,” he had told them just a few nights ago at the supper when he knelt before them to wash their feet, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  Almost like Acts of the Apostles records in that part of chapter four that we heard earlier – though it seems like a hyperbolic exaggeration.  The vision of a beloved community enacted.  Living in one accord – heart and soul fully committed to one another so that all was freely shared for the common good.  Giving powerful witness in word and deed to the way God always brings new life.  Epitomizing grace as any in need found themselves filled.  According to scripture, these were the first marks of the ones who followed Christ’s Way.  No matter if the world around embraced the Way or not, together they journeyed on.

Theologian Marcus Borg – as many others – likens the moment in which the church today finds itself to be much like the moment those first followers faced on the eve of Easter.  Locked in fear for what might come in a world that seemed hostile to the Risen One.  Another wise scholar of today describes us as those needing to learn to be “apostles on both sides of the door” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, D. Cam Murchison, p. 404).  “The missionary people empowered by this peace and this inbreathed Holy Spirit to bear the forgiving, transforming love of God into every sphere of human experience” (Ibid.).  The territory isn’t entirely unknown; for the first followers found their way post-resurrection.  Scripture also inspires us with the way they did finally leave that post-resurrection Upper Room to continue the adventure begun by their crucified and risen Lord.  Changing the course of history day by day in witness to the One whose life, death, and life again showed the Way of the great Creator of the Universe:  the abiding strength of love that triumphs even over death!  . . .  Though the current terrain may be unlike anything the church has enjoyed – at least since the founding of this nation; it is not impossible to traverse.  For remember, we worship the One whose very own mother was told at the announcement of his birth:  “nothing shall be impossible with God!”  (Luke 1:37).  It’s what Easter Sunday tells us!  What resurrection is all about!  . . .  That even when we stand metaphorically at the Lemhi Pass in Idaho – nothing but mile after mile of mountainous, off-the-map wilderness before us; the Risen Christ comes to us.  Breathing peace.  Helping us to let go of our cherished canoes.  Saying:  “Go.  Get on with it!  As the Father has sent me, so I send you!” (John 20:21).

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Apostolicity; a.k.a. Sent Out

A Sermon for 3 July 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 10:1-11 and 16-20. Listen for God’s word to us.

“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.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

In 2011, the PC (U.S.A.) did a major re-configuration of the part of our church’s constitution called the Book of Order. In the process, a new word was learned by many. O, it wasn’t a new concept in the history of the world or in the history of the PC (U.S.A.). It wasn’t even something new added to the Book of Order, really. Just moved in order to clarify a few things about why we exist as a denomination. Thus it came to be that tucked into a new section of the Book of Order called the “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity,” we find a new-to-many-of-us, yet ancient word: apostolicity. I’m going to read in entirety point d of F-1.03 that explains it all, so get ready. F-1.03 is the third Foundation of Presbyterian Polity. The principle named “The Calling of the Church.” Here the marks of the church are presented: from the unity of the church, to the holiness of the church, to the catholicity (or universality) of the church, to point d, which reads as follows: “The Apostolicity of the Church. Apostolicity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people. Because in Christ the Church is apostolic, it strives to proclaim this gospel faithfully. The Church receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent, both those whom we call apostles and those whom Christ has called throughout the long history of the Church. The Church has been and is even now sent into the world by Jesus Christ to bear that testimony to others. The Church bears witness in word and work that in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world. To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation, God’s kingdom drawing the present into itself. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms the Gospel of Jesus Christ as received from the prophets and apostles, and stands in continuity with God’s mission through the ages. The Church strives to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions. The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples. The Church is sent to be Christ’s faithful evangelist: making disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; sharing with others a deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service; and participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely; to free people from sin, suffering, and oppression; and to establish Christ’s just, loving, and peaceable rule in the world.” (PCUSA Book of Order, 2015-17, F-1.0302.d).

It’s kind of a mouth-full. And a whole lot of what we are to be about. But the why is pretty clear too: “In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people.” And a little later we’re reminded again: “To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation” (Ibid.). God sends us – the Church, in Christ and by the power of the Spirit. Why we do what we do and how we do it is because God sends us. We’re not to huddle up here together. Rather to be a part of the church is to be sent – beyond ourselves and one another – sent out into the world to share with whoever we find out there the good news of God’s love for us all. We hear it in “The Apostolicity of the Church.” God sends us because people need to know that: “in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world” (Ibid.). It is very good news and God desires for the whole world to hear it. Thus: apostolicity – the sending out. It is a very important mark of the church.

Apostolicity may be a fancy, new word for many of us. But it is not new at all according to the gospel of Luke. Here in the gospel we get another story in which Jesus is sending out those who have heard and received his message. It happened in Luke chapter eight when he re-stored the Gerasene man who had been tormented by a legion of demons. After Jesus healed him, he sent the man back to his home to proclaim how much God had done for him (Luke 8:39). It happened in Luke chapter nine when Jesus told his chosen twelve disciples that they were to go out. They were to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those afflicted (Luke 9:2). And now in Luke chapter 10, Jesus brings in seventy, assigns them a partner, then sends them out to go together to bring peace to whoever will receive them. They are to restore to wholeness any who are sick and are to tell of the reign of God that has begun in a whole new way among them! (Luke 10:9). After his own death and resurrection, the story will continue with the ascending Christ sending out any who will listen. All who hear and receive the good news of God’s favor. And then, at that first Christian Pentecost, the Spirit of God will be in every last one in order to fulfill Christ’s charge to go out to live beyond their little circle in ways that reflect exactly what Christ has reflected among us: peace, hope, forgiveness, new beginnings, unconditional love, un-earned favor! It is news every last one in this world needs to experience! . . . And so: apostolicity! We are sent.

For a long time we seemed to think it was just a special few. Perhaps you’ve been part of a congregation at some point in your journey that supported what we in the Presbyterian Church now call mission co-workers. Years ago, we just called them missionaries. Many thought of them as the ones like the first disciples who heard and answered a call. To exotic lands they would travel – the ends of the earth even. Our missionaries were intent to bring good news to people who most often were very different from them. Our mission co-workers still are intent to bring good news to people all over the world – to folks who typically are quite different from them. But the job’s not just for them. The gospel of Luke has shown that pretty clearly. If being sent out was just to be for some, ones like the first twelve disciples sent. If apostolicity was just for them, then we wouldn’t have this story of Jesus again sending out folks – this time seventy and side-by-side in pairs. Nor would we have heard of that earlier occasion when the restored man of the Gerasenes is to go out to tell good news. As a matter of fact, if apostolicity is just for the first special few; then we might as well turn to chapter one of Acts of the Apostles, grab a scissors, and cut out that whole book from our New Testaments. And perhaps most of the rest of the New Testament too. Apostolicity, however, is a mark of the whole church: mission co-workers, pastors, and every last professed disciple of Christ too. In fact, one commentator concludes that “the number seventy implies all of humanity, as Genesis 10 provides a list of all the nations of the world, numbering seventy” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, Elaine A. Heath, p. 214). After all, the harvest is plentiful. And as another commentator has written, such a plentiful harvest “calls for a large work force to reap the crops before they spoil” (Ibid., James W. Thompson, p. 217). Every last one of us is sent out – sent out by God to proclaim, through what we say, what we do, and how we live; we are sent out by God to be good news for the people all around us each day.

I don’t know where I learned a song that captures this well. Simply enough it’s called “Sent Out in Jesus’ Name” and it’s one of those catchy tunes that gets your toes-a-tapping. It goes: “Sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now to make the earth the place in which God’s kingdom comes.” That part gets repeated then a bridge takes the singers to the words: “The angles cannot change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love, of justice, and of peace. The task is ours to do, to set it really free. O help us to obey and carry out God’s will” (Source Unknown). . . . It’s something to think about. That God’s will – God’s hope, God’s prayer, God’s plan is for us to roll up our sleeves to change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love and justice and peace. It may not be an easy one, but it is our task to do – by the power of the Holy Spirit, as one’s alive in Christ. We are sent out in Jesus’ name – hands ready, hearts on fire, souls 100% committed. All that’s left is to pray God’s Spirit helps us to obey as we seek to carry out God’s will.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)