I (Dan) preached at Exeter UMC in Exeter, NH a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I would post that sermon to the blog...so, here it is:
Missions, simply put, is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Proclaiming the Kingdom is bringing the light of the life of Christ – of hope, of joy, of peace, of grace, of forgiveness (for yourself and for others)…
Sadly, missions has been seen in negative light at times. Some missionaries and some mission agencies have been viewed as paternalistic or imperialistic, which is basically the world’s way of proclaiming kingdom The World proclaims kingdoms in conquest – by taking and forced submission of others. Yet Jesus proclaims Kingdom in giving – hope, light, … life!
Missions is proclaiming the Kingdom – not in conquest, but in healing, love, and spiritual restoration and formation.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The Good News is that God has been working for restoration of creation since Eden.
God chose Israel to proclaim the hope and prepare the way for the restoration. God made provision for this restoration through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. God has commissioned the Church – the Body of Christ in this World – Christians – to proclaim this message of hope, healing, reconciliation, restoration and peace.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and missions is not the job of one person or a handful of select individuals. Each of us is called to proclaim the Kingdom. All of us are called to mission. I want to look at how Jesus calls the fishermen as ways in which Jesus calls each of us into missions.
You may think, “I don’t know anything about missions.” But my questions for you are, “What do you know about being a friend? Do you know about listening, caring, loving, forgiving, challenging in love? Do you desire to see or bring health, justice, wholeness to this world – to bring Shalom to Creation? Do you ever watch the news, read the paper, drive by a homeless person and get a bit upset inside thinking, “something isn’t right – there must be a better way…?” If yes, then you know something about mission!
What did the fishermen know about the kingdom, about theology, about missions, about Jesus before they left their nets? In their minds ZILCH.
Jesus calls these fishermen and tells them that they will fish for people. They will use their skills, gifts, and trade for kingdom work.
The fishermen did not hold any position or have any power in the society in Jesus’ day. Caesar would not have called them to serve on his protective detail, and the Jewish leaders would not have chosen them to bring about revival and restoration among the people.
The fishermen were ordinary – like you and me. Obama or congress will not call any of us asking, “Will you fix our deficit… How does healthcare affect you… etc.?” Yet that is the wonder of God and God’s kingdom. God chooses each of us to follow Him and to proclaim the kingdom in our current setting and wherever tomorrow’s setting may be.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and missions happens everywhere because the Kingdom of God is open to everyone, everywhere.
We can do this in little ways everyday… How we talk to our kids, our spouse, our boss, the store clerk?
We may wonder why we are where we are – job, neighborhood, family, etc… - we may not always like it, appreciate it, or understand it, yet we have to remind ourselves, “Maybe I’m called to share and live life here…”
We don’t know who else God is using in the lives of those around us – we don’t always need to know. We live faithfully to proclaim the truth and hope we have, because Jesus has made a difference in our lives – because we have experienced God’s faithfulness and love.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and it is the role of each Christian.
You may have objections: “God can’t use me.” Or “God can’t use me like James or John or my pastor.” Maybe not, but James and John and your pastor don’t have the same relationships with people that you do. As we learn about the disciples we realize that they spanned the strata of society – to reach each person in every place.
In order to Proclaim the Kingdom we need to allow God to transform us by the renewing of our minds. We need to stop seeing the limitations of why we can’t serve and start seeing the possibilities of how we can serve.
The tasks within missions vary from person to person, because each person has a unique way to serve God and God’s kingdom. One may write the letter, one may pack the box of clothes, one may carry the box of clothes and deliver it, yet all are in mission together. It’s similar to a Nascar team. When I first heard of Nascar, I thought it was just the driver who was important. I had to learn that Nascar is bigger than the driver – and it’s not just the sponsors, either. You have wheel men and fuel men and guys who watch the computer to decide what tire to put on the next time the car stops in the pits – and you have the guy that holds the stop sign in the pits. All are important, because without just one of those people the driver won’t win.
We know from reading the Gospels that Jesus calls people from all walks of life to follow him. He didn’t tell all them to become fishers of men, but he calls all of them to “Repent” – to turn back to God and allow God to be first in all they do – so that as redeemed people they can serve the kingdom everywhere they go and in everything they do. Not all disciples went to all places, neither do all missionaries go to all places. Rather, each blooms where they are planted – and in some cases re-planted. Missions is the role of all Christians, with each of us serving where we feel God guiding our hearts to serve.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Matthew says that Jesus taught in their synagogues and proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom by healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness AMONG the people.
We know that we need God, and maybe that is why we are here in church. Yet all people including our co-workers, our neighbors, our friends, our family members, our teachers, our grocery clerks, the grandkids’ friends and their parents (the list goes on) all need to know God in a tangible way.
Missions is bringing stories of the doctor and sometimes the doctor herself/himself to those who are sick. Sometimes we can bring them back to the clinic, and sometimes we need to bring the clinic to them. Sometimes it means going down the street. Sometimes it means going around the world. And because we are family – a global body – we can serve around the world, even if we don’t “go”. We can pray, write a letter, or send a care package to a missionary. Sometimes it means providing food, lodging, encouragement, or other resources for those coming and going.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and that proclamation is Light into Darkness. In our words? Yes. In our works? YES!
Proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom can look like connecting to a missionary or a project in an area that fulfills a deep longing in your heart. You may say, “There is no orphanage in Exeter…” That’s okay, there are thousands around the world. Or you may say, “There is an orphanage in Exeter…” Great! Help them, and then find a missionary working with orphans and see if you can connect them with each other.
Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Follow me and I will make you a priest, a Sadducee, a tax-collector, a missionary, a deacon, a…” Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James, and John into a journey with what they knew – with what they had. Jesus would teach, train, and equip them along the way. If Jesus told them on the shore of Galilee that morning, “Follow me, and I will make you speak before thousands, have you heal people, have you appear before government officials, and, ultimately, you may end up a martyr or in exile,” then they probably would have continued fishing or mending the nets. In order to get them on the journey of their lives, Jesus didn’t need to tell them every stop along the way. Rather, Jesus just needed them to take the first steps.
I didn’t know exactly how God wanted me to serve when I first followed my heart towards ministry. I had a general idea of youth ministry, but I wasn’t sure of specifics. At the time if you would have asked me to serve internationally I would have said that you were crazy. In college, though, I just started getting involved in opportunities to serve. One thing led to another, and these opportunities “primed the pump” of my heart so that when I felt God asking me to take that big step into international ministry it didn’t seem so daunting. I knew with God’s help that I could make it. I didn’t know that I would end up in war zones and relief settings, Eastern Europe or East Africa or Central America.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and missions is for everyone, because Jesus’ last words before he ascended were instructions to all of his followers: “Go and tell your family, neighborhood, community, and world that God loves them.”
Missions is for those whose lives have been transformed by God
to tell those who have not experienced God’s love
that God desires to redeem and love and restore Creation to the Shalom – the peace and love and joy – that God intended from the beginning of time.
As Christians we are children of the King – not just any old king, but the King of Creation, the King of the Land and the Sea, the King of the Universe.
As we heard in the children’s address, each of us is a prince or princess in the kingdom. Wherever we go or whatever we do, we represent God and God’s Kingdom.
Seems a tall order, no? Who am I to represent God? Who are we to represent the King of kings when we shy away from speaking about our faith and about why Jesus makes a difference in our lives. Who am I – who are we – to represent Jesus when I/we can’t seem to go an hour – let alone a day – without: messing up; putting our feet in our mouths; wishing our neighbors would move away; acting too rashly or not acting quickly enough; getting mad at our bosses or speaking behind co-workers’ backs… Who am I – who are we – to do missions?
That’s another way where this morning’s Gospel story provides hope. I’m going to assume that some of you have heard about Peter in other places in the Gospels. For those who haven’t heard of ‘foot-in-mouth, rash-action’ Peter, well, he seemed to be the one who always messed up. And yet Jesus chose him as one of the first disciples, and eventually placed him as the disciple in charge of all the others.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and it happens because of God’s Grace and Faithfulness.
Early on in my ministry I had an eye-opening experience that has helped me to understand missions, ministry, and life as a Christian. I was in Ireland serving as an Assistant Youth Pastor working with a phenomenal youth pastor. We sat having tea one morning after a weekend of events that seemed like a complete disaster – the program for the youth flopped; the sermon to the congregation never had a chance to crash because it couldn’t even take-off; I felt the responsibility for the youth who left youth club early to get drunk instead. I questioned my call to ministry. I doubted I could be used by God.
Ken, the pastor, looked over his cup of tea at me and said, “God’s kingdom comes because of our greatest successes…” He paused – in reality for about three seconds, yet in my mind long enough for me to say, “Yes, I know. Exactly! And that’s why I could never do ministry.” Ken continued, “and God’s kingdom comes in spite of our worst failures because God’s kingdom coming is dependent upon God.”
And God, in His grace, invites us into ministry. God knows who we are – our potential for greatness and our propensity for failure. God knows everything about us, and God still loves us and invites us to join in the proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom – God’s Holy Work of Healing the World.
Sometimes this means in our home, hometown, or current job, and sometimes it may mean going around town or across the globe. We may never know in advance where the journey will take us, but we can trust the one who leads us on the journey because God is Faithful.
Missions is proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples everywhere they would go, he just asked them to follow one step at a time. And that really is the way of the Kingdom – one step after another trusting God to guide our hearts to speak or remain silent; stay or move; or how to share our resources.
If you don’t feel God guiding your heart somewhere, then start where you are – in your home, work, neighborhood, or school. Write a letter or email to a missionary. Research an afterschool program or homeless ministry in town, or human trafficking issues around the world. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked. Help the poor. Visit the prisoner and those in nursing homes. Take care of the orphans and widows. Each of those could be a starting point on your journey – and once you take a step, and another, and another, then you will be amazed at how God will direct your Journey.
I do not know where God will lead me next. I do not know where God will lead you. Yet I do know that God will be faithful to lead us and to provide for us on our way. And, I know that God will be faithful to guide you – each of you – as you step out in faith to get involved in missions.