Sentness - Sent People
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
So I had the idea, after we used this SENTNESS book as part of our council’s leadership retreat a few months ago, that there was enough good stuff in the book – good, faithful, thoughtful, practical ideas about being the church in the world – that maybe it would be good to share some of those good, faithful, thoughtful, practical ideas with the rest of you. So that’s what’s up with this SENTNESS plan for the next few weeks.
The book suggests there are at least six “postures” – or six ways of being and living as followers of Jesus – that get it right, if we want to carry out God’s mission in the world. Those missional postures are listed on the back of your bulletin so you can see where we’re headed. But before we get to the first theme, or missionary position, “SENT PEOPLE,” I want to set the stage a bit.
So, I want us to think for a moment about why we’re here. I don’t mean why we’re “here” in a cosmic sense – we’ll get to that, perhaps later. I mean why did you roll out of bed this morning and show up for worship in this place, at this time? And why wasn’t it another place? Or at another time? Or both?
I suspect…and I’m admittedly being quite presumptuous, I realize…but I suspect that most of us gather here looking for something we are reasonably certain we’ll find, right? We come listening for a certain type or style or quality of music and liturgy? We come at 8:30 or 10:45 or 5 p.m. because we have things to do and places to be and this is the time that works for us. We come hungry for bread and wine or grape juice if that’s what we prefer – and the good news and promise those things pour into our lives. We come looking for a sense of peace and comfort, perhaps, through the prayers we’ll pray and through the familiar friends and family we expect we’ll see here.
At the risk of being too simplistic or crass, perhaps, don’t we choose to worship here, as we do, for many of the same reasons we might have chosen to eat out at whatever restaurant we opted for last time we went to dinner – because we were in the mood for Mexican, or pizza, or whatever; because we knew we could get a table; because the price was right… the place is clean… because someone we know had been there and liked it... maybe, just because there was a special occasion or a special reason to go out and make that dinner special in some way.
So, I posed the question about what brings us each here today – or any given Sunday – because I suspect our answers will illustrate in as quick, as easy, and as personalized a way as I could think of, the premise of why and where we can begin this conversation about BEING SENT PEOPLE.
Because, as good and as holy as many of the things are that bring us here from one week to the next may be, the reality is many of us come looking for ways to be served, not so much to find ways we can serve. Not enough of us Christians are showing up to our respective houses of worship because we have something to offer, something to give, something to share – not just with our own particular congregation, but with the world around us, too.
So, again with the question, why are we here? Did any of us think that we came here – that we come here week after week – because we are looking to be used? Do we come here believing that what we could gain from or offer to all of this is completely separate from those things that make us comfortable or meet our needs – things like the time, the music, the liturgy, the sermon, the prayers? Do any of us think that we come here because we couldn’t wait to give our offering? Do any of us come here because we wanted this short and sweet little hour out of our week (not more than an hour, please) to light a match under our behinds and to send us out to give and serve the world around us?
It may not be true for all of us, all of the time, but the opening premise of this “SENTNESS” book is that the church has fallen victim to and is complicit in perpetuating the same culture of consumerism that’s making a mess of the rest of our society. The presumption is that we’ve worked so hard at meeting each other’s needs that we’ve failed to meet the needs of the world around us; that we come to “get” too much of the time, rather than to “give” as much as we’re able; that we work really hard to meet people’s expectations – here in church – rather than expecting each other to respond to the challenge of God’s grace in their life.
Some of you saw this little ditty from Shane Claiborne that I posted online last week:
This is too much of what the weekly ritual of “church” has become for too many. Church has become a place to which we go, instead of the movement of which we are a part. Too many church people think about how to get more people into the church, rather than about how to get the church out into the world. Too many church people worry about how the world might change the church, instead of working to see how the church might change the world.
So our Gospel for the day is appropriately known as “the Great Commission.” And one of my favorite professors and theologians, Mark Allan Powell, pointed out once that we often forget or leave out or are in denial about the most important part of Jesus’ Great Commission. We understand we’re to make disciples of all nations; that we’re to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that we’re to teach all sorts of things about God’s love and God’s law.
But the first – and maybe the most important – part of that commission is to GO. Not “build it so that they will come.” Not “turn on a light so that they can find their way up the drive.” Not “unlock the door and wait for someone to show up.”
No. The power of our baptism is in the unsettling, challenging, uncomfortable, scary, sometimes, “GO” of it all. “Go therefore…into your neighborhood, into your offices, into your schools.” “Go…into your community, into the hospital, into jails and prisons and soup kitchens.” “Go…into a new career, into a different income-level, into another way of living, perhaps.” “Go…to that person who’s waiting to be invited; go to that person who’s waiting to be forgiven; go to that person who’s waiting to have a deeper conversation than the small talk you’ve exhausted so many times already.”
And this isn’t all rocket science and it doesn’t have to mean hopping a flight to Haiti or Honduras. There’s a story in this book about a guy who recruits the owner of the gym where he exercises to sponsor events in his gym that build wells for fresh water in Africa. The gym owner doesn’t even consider himself a Christian, but he’s doing God’s work and loving it.
There’s another story about a woman who builds relationships with the needy people in a trailer park in her community, where she helps them manage finances, find child care, and organizes rides the grocery store.
Yesterday, Anne Janelsins told me a complete stranger brought her a fresh bottle of water from the hospital vending machine, because this stranger could tell she needed something while she sat in the waiting room while they ran tests on her sick husband.
I had a conversation this week with someone who’s interested in revamping our Eucharistic Ministry program where you all can help share communion with people – in their homes or in their hospital rooms – when they can’t make it to church. So scribble something on the Grace Notes today if you’re interested in being part of that.
These are all holy, profound, simple – sometimes – examples of what it means to be SENT PEOPLE.
We are here as God’s children, in this place, at this time, by virtue of the baptism we share with Jesus Christ. And the power of that baptism doesn’t just call us here to sit and stay for an hour each week. Our baptism, and this place, I hope, are our anchors as we walk or waddle or fly our way out into the world. This place is merely the practice field. This is a filling station. What we do here is a dress rehearsal.
We are a people called AND SENT for the sake of God’s creation. We are children of God SENT to love one another; SENT to love our neighbor as ourselves; SENT to love our enemies; SENT to heal the sick, preach good news to the poor, promise and proclaim the resurrection of the body and SENT to set our hopes on a life everlasting.
And of course, all of this is possible only because of and when we believe the last part of Jesus' Great Commission: "Remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age."