given on Sunday, March 13, 2016–5th Sunday of Lent
- Common lectionary:
- Isaiah 43:16-21
- Psalm 126 (UMH 847)
- Philippians 3:4b-14
- John 12:1-8
- Supplementary verses:
- Matthew 28:18—20
Undoubtedly everybody is sleepy this morning as we did spring ahead with daylight savings time this weekend, but our lives are fairly ‘ho hum’ these days. Our communities are not concerned with impending doom: no war along our borders, no terrorism seems imminent, starvation is not an issue, nor does a health crisis threaten our community. The fact is our community is pretty quiet.
The compulsion to prepare for a disaster community-wide or even personally has lost any sense of urgency. Our way of life, the daily norms of our lives, is safe. Or is it?
God’s mission is to stamp out the evil that exists in his world. Yet evil continues in our world and it exists next door! Why, then do we feel so safe, so complacent?
As sleepy as we feel this morning, we cannot afford to be sleepy in our daily lives. We need to be awake and alert to the evil lurking in the world. We need God. God’s mission keeps moving forward even though Jesus’ earthly presence ended with his crucifixion: his work, which is God’s mission, does move forward.
The verse is so familiar, those final words in Matthew 28:18-19:
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
God’s mission continues forward despite all the failures that are listed throughout the Old Testament, the Gospels, and now even into the epistles. But what happens to God’s mission when even Jesus suffered and was crucified?
Through the commission that Jesus gave the Apostles and the newest disciples during those final moments prior to his ascension into heaven gave all, even us, the direction to continue God’s mission. We, continue God’s story through the efforts of the earliest disciples as outlined in the letters or epistles of those disciples. And thirteen of those letters are attributed to Paul, a Jewish Pharisee who was converted along the side of a road through a vision of Jesus.[i]
Most of us know the story of Paul, born and raised as Saul of Taurus and a Pharisee who persecuted Christians, but Paul’s conversion experience has propelled God’s story and his mission forward extending Jesus’ message beyond Judea, beyond the Mediterranean coast, and even thousands of years beyond Paul’s time. But, do we consider the story God’s story?
I had to re-read a few resources and look beyond my memory for how the letters of Paul and a few other early disciples became such critical documents for God’s mission to continue even today, so let’s just review a bit:
Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, swore to wipe out the new Christian church, called The Way. He got letters from the high priest, authorizing him to arrest any followers of JESUS in the city of Damascus.
On the Damascus Road, Saul and his companions were struck down by a blinding light, brighter than the noonday sun. Saul heard a voice say to him:
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4, NIV)
When Saul asked who was speaking to him, the voice replied, “I am JESUS, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6, NIV)
The men with Saul heard the sound but did not see the vision of the risen Christ that Saul did. Saul was blinded. They led him by the hand into Damascus to a man named Judas, on Straight Street.
For three days Saul was blind and did not eat or drink anything.
Meanwhile, JESUS appeared in a vision to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and told him to go to Saul. Ananias was afraid because he knew Saul’s reputation as a merciless persecutor of the church.
JESUS repeated his command, explaining that Saul was his chosen instrument to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel. So Ananias found Saul at Judas’ house, praying for help. Ananias laid his hands on Saul, telling him JESUS had sent him to restore his sight and that Saul might be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith. Saul ate, regained his strength, and stayed with the Damascus disciples three days.[ii]
Reading through that summary today, I realized I had not remembered that JESUS was the one who spoke to Paul. My memory only recorded that he was struck down, blinded, and helped to Damascus. Is that important? Maybe not, but this week it was.
The letters that Paul wrote through his ministry are historical documents and models for mission work that took God’s story and spread it beyond the ancient community of ancient Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s letters are written with fervor, compassion, and purpose that could cause new, struggling churches to continue God’s mission forward.
Can reading the letters from the earliest Christians cause each of us singularly and as a community to keep God’s mission moving forward; or do we quietly meet together for worship, leave the church on Sunday morning, and simply keep Christ alive within our hearts and homes?
Who serves as the missionaries right in our own communities? Are we simply depending on others to carry the mission forward? Do the published writings of others inspire us to share the story with others or do we just read and agree?
This week I read a chapter in a book provided through the website Bible Gateway titled Hearts of Fire. The personal stories are of today’s, our contemporaries, who have suffered persecution simply because they are Christians. (The book is published by the organization The Voce of the Martyrs located in Bartlesville, OK.) The story broke my heart and I struggle to understand how to keep God’s mission moving forward when I feel so inadequate, so unprepared, so limited. But the Bible shares the story, not only of God’s unconditional love and grace, but of his forgiveness and redemption. And still. . .
There is the problem. Moving God’s mission forward is an active state and it is more than reading scripture and worshipping, it is doing. Reading that first chapter about Adel, an Indonesian Christian whose persecution erupted in 2000, I am reminded that I have absolutely no idea what it means to have my faith questioned much less threatened.
Threatening one’s faith is threatening one’s life. God’s mission is to make sure that each one as his children are safe; that no one is threatened. What it takes is doing all that we can to make sure that God’s mission moves forward. What it takes is sharing the Word. What it takes is living so all can know how to live as Christians even in our own communities.
God took on the mission in person—in the form of a man named Jesus. He faced the human challenges just as we do; but the mission was and is too important to just hear or to read. The mission goes beyond the confines of a church building or organized denomination. God’s mission is battling evil so each person can be redeemed and receive salvation.
Lent is a time for us to review and to reflect on how well we are living our faith. We must consider our individual service in God’s mission and our local church’s role in that mission. If we are not sharing God’s unconditional love for others, we have to name the failure and ask God’s forgiveness. But, we also need to deliberately accept the forgiveness, to release the sense of failure and then go to work.
With repentance, we move into corrected action seeing the world through God’s eyes. We live each facet of our lives as God’s co-workers and we are provided all the skills and strength to move God’s mission forward in any way we can as long as we can.
We see and hear the evil in your world,
and we are frozen,
unable to figure out what to do.
We read your story and learn about other’s
still we are frozen,
unable to identify what we can do.
We watch evil invade our world, community, even our family,
and we are frozen,
unable to scream out for evil to stop.
We feel the pain evil inflicts on the lives of your children
and we are frozen,
unable to heal the damage.
Forgive us, God.
Thaw us out.
Enable us to do.
Thank you, God, the father, son, and Holy Spirit
for loving us,
for sending Jesus to redeem us
for granting us salvation with life eternal. –Amen
[i] (The Apostle Paul (Saul of Taurus): Missionary Giant n.d.)