Mission Impossible

Men and Women of St. Luke's, I know some of you often travel by air for your jobs. Suppose, just suppose you were about to enter the line to check in your luggage and receive your boarding pass. Pastor John walks up to you and hands you a new ticket, your passport and an extra piece of luggage to check onto the plane. He said he needs you to divert your travels by just a day. No problem about the business meeting you were to attend, it's been postponed. You will simply fly into Malaga, Spain, retrieve your luggage. Take a hydrofoil across the Straits of Gibralter into Morocco. You will then deliver the one new suitcase to another individual who will be carrying an identical bag. Make the switch. He will disappear into the crowds to continue the journey into unfriendly territory while you return to Spain for your return flight. Perhaps this sounds exciting - a bit of an adventure. You only have to find a complete stranger in a strange new country where you don't speak the language. You only have to get through customs six times, and you pray there is nothing illegal in either of those mysterious suitcases. And Pastor John stands there and asks if you will do it? Will you be willing to aid in delivering the Word of God into non-Christian territory to missionaries waiting to receive 100's of Bibles just like this one? Not just a Mission Impossible plot, but maybe like a mission improbable.

Now, I'm sure you will not be approached for such a task. But would you be willing to respond positively to such a call? Most of us would weigh the risks involved, envision the possible danger and quietly mumble our apologies and move on, relieved when we get home, thankful to see our warm and comfortable kitchen, stocked with our favorite snacks, pondering over our many blessings. Breathing our many thanks and praises for a bountiful God who has spared us from such an adventure.

The problem is, there are areas where people have never heard the gospel message let alone read the Bible. Poverty, disease, violence, government control and ignorance sort of take precedence. They have been with us since the days of Genesis and continued on even after the days of Noah. And, still continue even after 2000 years of Christianity. So if that's the case, what is so good about the good news of Jesus Christ? Why do people like me, and Pastor John, and Bishop Gnocke and Bishop Anderson get so all fired up about passing it on? About doing mission to those who haven't heard? Well for one God asks us to. And for another, people are longing to hear!

Let's turn in our LBW to page 198 - the service of Affirmation of Baptism. There are some things in here that we profess, and promise to do - we say this before everyone here and before God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit - who we believe are present with us in this place. #4 - make public affirmation (How often do you say it outloud? How often do you turn up the Christian radio station so people on the street can hear the words proclaimed in it? #5 - assume greater responsibility in the life of our Christian community and our mission in the world. #12 you have learned God's loving purpose for you and all creation. You have been called to be witnesses. Do you renounce all the forces of evil? #13 - in the prayers. . . that they may be sent into the world in witness to your love. #14 - Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed?

Do you remember making all those promises? Well, then you have joined forces with Matthew's community. If you will either pick up your Celebrate inserts or turn in your Bibles to our Matthew text, let's look at what is going on here. Matthew is addressing a community of Christ's followers who still consider themselves to be Jewish. For many years, Jewish Christians continued to go to the porches of the temple teaching in I imagine lively and heated discussions with the rabbis that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises given to the descendants of Abraham. But then a life altering event occurred. Roman forces came in and devastated Jerusalem leveling the temple and in effect changing the face of Jewish worship forever. Gone were the temple sacrifices. Jewish leaders gathered in a sea town called Jamnia during the years 66-70 CE to discuss what it now meant to be the nation of Israel and God's chosen people. You can imagine how many factions were represented and how many arguing voices were heard across the land in the market places and town squares and in the evenings on the rooftops. What did it mean to be Jewish in this new day - not to mention this weird upstart group called Christians.

So, in reality, to be a disciple of Christ in Matthew's community was extremely difficult and divisive if for no other reason because it was difficult to be a Jew. It easily could mean loss of your livelihood. It easily could mean dividing your family over political issues as well as neglect due to lack of monetary support. Young rebel gangs probably chose violent means to get their point across. Roman forces still hung around trying to maintain peace and would squelch rebellion carrying off upstarts to prison or crucifixion. Anger and violence were a present reality for the young Christian community whether they came from Jewish background or gentile. So, for Matthew's community, Jesus words were especially appropriate. And Matthew was preparing and encouraging his people to stand up for what they knew to be true and be willing in the face of such threats to their lives and their families to continue to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. He was honest and forthright. He taught them the gospel and disclosed the dangers in meetings held in the safety of night's darkness. Then, when they were ready, he sent them out to proclaim the good news in broad daylight. Everywhere they went and in everything they did they were to profess Christ. Once you have heard, once you have proclaimed the faith that is in you at your baptism, then that is the call laid upon you even if it means humiliation, loss of income, division in the family, or death.

For us in this day and age, professing Christ is not just about building a healthy, vibrant, welcoming church community. It is not just about maintaining a happy, James Dobson family whose members stay off drugs and kids go off to the best college. It is not just about you being honest in your business ethics. It is not just about giving a tenth of your increase to mission, or feeding the poor, or doing joint ministry with Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Jews or whoever. It is about confronting the sinfulness and evil of this world square in the face, and saying "I will not let you overwhelm another child of God again." You were asked, Do you renounce all the forces of evil? And you said yes. But it seems like such an impossible mission.

Our present world is not so different from Matthew's. The universal church remains divided into denominations. And these denominations and their members continue the debate over what it means to be the church and the people of God in this new day. We are passionately divided over difficult issues. And, while we argue, the spector of death looms nearby in post offices, high schools, airports, jogging trails. These past months have made us very much aware of the evil and sinfulness that continues to be a part of our world. We stood aghast in front of the TVs on September 11. And still we are asked to pass it on. Why? Because in the face of all that evil, the gospel changes lives. We saw it in the selfless efforts of the rescue teams, in the generous support from around our country, in the tears and the letters and flowers offered in solidarity with those who mourn. Yet, to reach those who need to hear it most seems impossible. But the Gospel comes from God - just speak it.

The first step is to look at ourselves. Ask, do I live like the gospel message means everything? And, am I willing to say it outloud when the opportunity arises? Let me share a simple story.

I became friends with a woman when our family was stationed in Germany months before the wall came down. She was a military spouse same as me, and of course, so far from home, always glad to meet a new face. It was exciting to be around her because her passion for people and her zeal for Christ was quite contagious. She volunteered tirelessly all over post, participated in the relief efforts of the Officer's Wives Club, Women of the Chapel and the Hospitality House. And I followed in her footsteps riding the wave of her spirit. In fact it was her spirit that first got me to consider ministry as a life style and eventually as life's career.

But her whole life had not always been such a model. From her teen years on she slept around, tossing relationships aside as easily as changing clothing, dropping someone as soon as they became truly interested. She claimed no depth to her existence. Although she had gone to church as a kid, through her twenties there were more questions and doubts than evidence that God was real. Too much hypocrisy - especially her own had weakened whatever faith she might have leaned upon. Too much controversy among the churches told her organized religion was something to avoid. So, what had happened to change all that? A well trained pastor with a powerful message? A witnessed miracle? No! Just a couple everyday people whose lives had meaning and whose voices were willing to witness to Christ's claim on their lives.

The most influential was a young woman who had "Jesus saves" stuff all over the house. Cute magnets, photos, books, stained glass doodads - you know - dust catching stuff. What kind of religious nut have I found she thought. But when asked what "church" she went to, the woman answered "all of em." You don't belong to one church or one denomination? Nope. I go where the Word of God is being preached and I go where people respond with joy! The variety just adds richness and depth. You can be sure my friend kept watch on that one's life and wasn't disappointed. She participated in ministry wherever her gifts were useful. The "stuff" was not a shell - but ornaments on a life that centered on Christ. And she was not afraid to confess it to all she met and invited them to explore the Word with her without hesitation. The doodad gal changed my friend's life. Her life changed mine. And, I'm standing here, hoping my testimony will change just one someone who hears the Word of God through it.

So many of us do service and ministry projects every day offering relief to the hurting folks of this county and this state and our world. And, how many of us offer the invitation to hear God's word for a weary people that says Jesus loves you so much that he has given you the relief that begins now and lasts an eternity? He has given his life. He poured out the life giving blood from heaven for you. . . . and you. . . . and you.

The pyramid math works. Pass it on! There is a woman named Tillie Bergen in Arlington, Texas who returned from missionary work in Korea maybe 20 years ago. She convinced a church to give her the space of a closet for an office out of which she would do mission work for the poor. In exchange for rent money, clothing, food, medical services she asked to be allowed to do a Bible study in their homes. Today she has over 200 house churches in poverty stricken apartment complexes throughout the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. Her mission complex now encompasses several city blocks in Arlington, TX with medical, dental, and legal professionals lining up to offer their services for free. Youth groups come to study at a house church to see how it works. Tillie simply asked to study the Bible with a weary child of God and the Holy Spirit moved in that request.

Matthew laid out the cost of discipleship clearly and only you can decide if you will say yes. But the rewards are great!

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan