given on Sunday, October 10, 2010
Did you notice anything unusual this week? Did you stumble across something that needed repairing? Did you still have to mow your yard even though we are now in October? Did you notice the leaves are beginning to fall?
Each day that you step outside of your home, you enter into a world filled with needs. Sometimes we are so busy keeping things just so-so in our own homes and our own lives that we close our eyes when we step outside. Why are we so afraid to look outward and see what needs there are beyond our own yards?
I expect as Jesus was walking along the path with his followers close at hand, he was looking for those with needs. The others who were still trying to understand his teachings and his demonstrations of grace probably were so engrossed in their own discussion and issues that they did not see the needs of the others beyond their small group.
During the ancient times, lepers were kept segregated from the main population. Once diagnosed as a leper, they were outcasts from society. As lepers, they knew the prognosis was terminal and were exiled from their family and friends. Still they went searching for healing, hoping that Jesus could cure the leprosy. They had faith in Jesus.
God’s grace is our responsibility. As Christians, we accept that grace and then put it into action. We accept the New Covenant to love one another, and we serve as God’s hands and feet. We are to expand God’s reach by reaching out to others in need. We are to take a risk and serve one another. That is the definition of mission.
As Methodists the month of October has long been associated with the Festival of Sharing. One day-long event brings Missourians together in mission. The festival is designed to physically demonstrate in a very concrete, or real, manner what Methodists do as servants. The various kits that are put together, the quilts that are raffled, the goods which are gathered, and the work to distribute all the bounty is just one method the conference uses to demonstrate the church’s connectional ministry; its mission work.
Christians working together can create more strength than one Christian working alone. The United Methodist Church spans the globe as a highly structured organization. UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is one of the most respected international relief agencies. When a disaster hits in the United States, it is sometimes on site before the Red Cross and certainly before FEMA shows up. As a Methodist, I take pride in that, but does that mean I personally participate?
Believe it or not, I do. As a member who drops in an offering, some small portion of that offering right here in this very church ends up being sent to UMCOR through the apportionments we pay to the Missouri Conference.
When my friend went on a mission trip to UMCOR headquarters, she witnessed how the dollars were used and how efficiently the program worked. One of her tasks was to create the flood buckets. The dollars sent from the conferences or from individuals has more buying power through UMCOR than it does if we personally put together a flood bucked and ship it off to the center, which is located west of New Orleans.
We are in mission at an international level when we pay our congregation’s apportionments or when we send a personal donation to UMCOR or any other program such as the Mozambique Initiative or Nothing But Nets. The Nothing But Nets campaign has been selected by Bill Gates’ foundation as one of the best, most efficient charities. He supports it, as does each $10 donation for a net that a member or a church gives. The mission is to wipe out malaria by providing a mosquito net for each and every man, woman and child living in the underdeveloped countries where malaria continues to spread.
Yet, the various programs mentioned are often those that reach out to people anywhere in the world. The programs go international as well as national as needed. When the hurricanes hit our shores, UMCOR is there. When a tsunami hits the coast of Thailand, UMCOR is there. When a tornado rips apart a church in Kansas or Missouri, UMCOR is there; but now the crisis is close to home. Now, the need to serve one another becomes extremely personal—the tornado could have hit our very own church or home or school.
Mission is necessary because there are so many with needs. The needs can be as tragic as a flash flood or a microburst. A fire can rip through a home or even a city block. An earthquake can shake the confidence an entire community has had in their homes. When the damage is done and the people step out to see what needs to be done, Methodists and all Christians regardless of denomination provide God’s grace in many, many ways.
Is mission necessary? Not only is it necessary if we are to care for our brothers and sisters next door or in another state or across the country’s borders, it is simply part of our acceptance of God’s grace. We know his love; we step out in mission to demonstrate his love to others whether or not they are Christians.
We live in community with one and another. We do not live alone. I am sure there are days we wish we could go inside our homes, close the door, leave the television off, and withdraw from the worldwide community, but sooner or later, we have to open the door and go outside.
Jesus walked from one community to another demonstrating love. He healed the ten lepers even though only one came to thank him. He taught his disciples how to love unconditionally, how to heal, and how to pray. Mission is our means of spreading God’s grace. The mission may be next door; it may be across town or in another county. The mission may be clear on the other side of the globe, but the need cannot be ignored. Jesus did not ignore the lepers, he heard their pleas, and he healed them
Deciding to include mission in our lives is not something the church must do as a congregation, but it can. Stepping out to join a mission team may be an extremely risky experience, but you can. You can also be privately and quietly mission-focused on your own. But, if we fail to include mission in our lives, we will not be following Jesus’ teachings.
In Max Lucado’s UpWords this Friday, he ended with the prayer we used earlier in the service. Look back at those words. Do you see a mission in them? I think it is right there:
Help me remember, Lord, that when I show your love in tangible ways to “the least of these,” I am ministering directly to you.
Showing love in tangible ways: what a marvelous definition of mission. One other paragraph from Lucado’s devotional shows just how easy mission can be:
Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can’t be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread and meat for sandwiches? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries: hospitality.
Hospitality. The simplest and yet the most obvious form of mission begins in your own home. It is almost a lifestyle or part of one’s personality to be hospitable whether in one’s private home, at one’s job, or at one’s church. If hospitality is part of our mission, consider what else can be:
- A smile when passing someone who looks unhappy
- A friendly handshake as you meet a new employee
- Raking the yard for the elderly neighbor
- Changing a tire for the worn out mother in the parking lot
- Helping a customer find a specific item in the crowded shelves
- Joining a group of individuals in a fund raising walk
- Offering to tutor kids in the local school
- Helping to prepare meals for shut ins
- Joining a team to clean up the yard of the terminally ill
- Dropping off cans of food for the local food pantry
- Sending your gently used clothes to the Salvation Army
- Mowing along the gravel road
- Joining a mission team building a home along the border
- Holding a crying baby for a mother too tired to care
- Sending a check to UMCOR
- Offering to paint a fence for the couple dealing with Alzheimer’s
- Serving at the church dinner
- Writing a check for a youth mission team
- Offering to sing Christmas carols at the retirement center
The list can continue on into infinity. Any time we reach out to help others we are in mission. In our small rural communities, there are many times when you automatically reach out to help fill a need for a family member, a friend, or a neighbor. Those are the times you are in mission.
The question for you is whether or not you have found your heart “strangely warmed” by the work that you do. Do you find that when you serve another in any manner, you sense a quiet peace within your own heart? When we offer unconditional love to others, regardless of their circumstances, we are in mission. When we offer unconditional love to others with needs, we are serving as God’s hands and feet. God’s grace grows with each and every act we do in his behalf.
Time after time we see someone hurting, someone in need. Whether we step out to share your grace face to face or whether we send money or an emissary, help us to share your love. Help us to find ways to demonstrate your unconditional love to those who have yet to know you. Guide us as we make decisions each day as to how we help others whether one-on-one or through one of the church’s arms. Let us see our actions as your actions and our love as your love. Thank you, too, for sharing with us the glory of your power. When we close our eyes at the end of the day, may we know that your grace reached out to others through our efforts. –Amen