Sermon: VII Pentecost (10b)
VII Pentecost (10b)
15 July 2012
Fr. Patrick Allen
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Well, that’s a little bit of a tough act to follow! But maybe after – or in the midst of – our prayerful concern about these changes in the “doctrine, discipline, and worship” of the church about which Bp. Lawrence has written to us, it might be helpful to turn our attention, however briefly, to the mission of the church.
We talk a lot about mission in the Church – what the church is here for, and by way of contrast, what it is not here for. We have just sung together, “Lord, you give the great commission.” And of course the church sends and supports “missionaries,” who in some special way enact the church’s mission. Just yesterday afternoon I drove past a church in Mt. Pleasant which right on the sign out front proclaimed itself to be “a missional church.”
So, mission. You know our word “mission” comes from the Latin mitte, in another form, mission. And it has to do with “sending” – that’s normally, outside of churchly contexts, the way we would translate it.
And in this morning’s Gospel lesson, we read that our Lord gathered to him the Twelve and began to send them out two by two. He began to send them. That infinitive to send in the New Testament’s Greek is apostalein, and thus the Twelve become known as “apostles.” These whom Jesus gathered to him, whom he makes the foundation of his Church, are precisely and essentially “sent ones,” who go forth to show forth Christ in the world.
And so the Church founded upon them is and must be “missional,” to us a Latinate term; “apostolic,” to use a Greek-derived term, or “sent” to use a good old monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon term.
The Church is sent, is apostolic, has a mission, to bear the Good News of our Lord’s resurrection throughout the world, baptizing and making disciples, spreading that Good News by our words, by deeds of love, by the joyful, hopeful quality of our lives in the world for the sake of the world, and, yes, by our “doctrine, discipline, and worship.”
And in this two-by-two sending of the Twelve, we see a sort of trial run at doing the Church’s mission. In a sense, it’s not yet the real thing; Jesus hasn’t yet died so he is not yet risen, but nevertheless in Jesus the Kingdom of God is at hand, has come near. So it’s a kind of training mission, and it’s important, to be sure, for what is actually accomplished: real people are really healed, real sinners really repent and return to the Father of Love. But the mission is also important for the lessons they learn, lesson that will hold them in good stead as they (and we) live out God’s mission in the world.
One of these lessons – and it may be the most important because it takes us right to the heart of the Gospel – Jesus teaches by placing artificial constraints upon the Twelve in their work. We’ve all been through this sort of teaching method at one time or another. When I was in high school I played on the basketball team, and sometimes in practice our coach would have us play scrimmages in which we could only dribble or shoot with our left hands, to teach us not to rely so much on our right hands. In my typing class – I’m that old – our instructor would sometimes require us to wear blindfolds as she dictated, so that we learn to rely upon our eyes on the keyboard.
And of this apostolic training mission we read, He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.
Again, these are artificial constraints. There’s nothing wrong, and a great deal right, with making prudent provision for future eventualities. Prudence is, after all, a cardinal virtue, and the Bible and the Church commend its cultivation and practice. And, in fact, later on in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus will tell these apostles to take all these things and more as they go out.
But this artificial constraint, this take nothing for the journey requirement reveals the behind the scenes, just out of view, actual fact of the matter reality and teaches the attitude appropriate to that reality. The attitude, the approach, the disposition that the apostles and the Apostolic Church will need.
Take no bread, no bag, no money.
I suppose, especially in view of our popular, Oprah-fied American heresies, that we need to be clear and that the lesson is not, “Take nothing for the journey because everything you will ever need you already have within you.” No, the lesson is, “Take nothing for the journey because you have nothing; take nothing because God will provide.” The lesson is that we are to be, day by day, moment by existential moment, utterly, completely, determinedly dependent upon God’s gracious provision for all of our needs.
“Put not your trust in princes,” says the psalmist, “nor in any child of man” – including oneself, one’s own planning, one’s own foresight. “Put not your trust in princes,” nor in money, nor in achievement, nor in General conventions, nor in … fill in the blank.
Jesus strips the Twelve of the good things a prudent man would take on a journey, the good things even a prudent man might be tempted to rely upon, so that they may learn to trust in God’s providential, gracious provision, for all their needs, as they are faithful to his calling. Which means, by the way, that this stripping, this this depriving, is an act of grace, a manifestation of his love. Jesus loves them by requiring to leave these things – bread, bag, money, tunic – behind.
And it is also the case that, from time to time and for our own good, he allows us to be stripped, deprived of some good thing, so that we may develop eyes to see what is the actual truth, the “one thing needful,” and to learn to love and trust in that alone, in him alone. Like Amos, I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; I have no oracle, but it may be that that is exactly what the Lord is doing for us, will do for us, in the collapse of a denomination we have all loved.
In any case, Jesus sends the Twelve on this mission, to preach and to heal, but he does it in such a way that as they go they will be pointed right back to him, to Jesus, who is in himself the totality of God’s gracious provision, God’s own Self.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters is a woman named Patty Griffin. She has a song called “Mad Mission” about the difficulty and glory of the vocation truly to love another person in this world. She sings, “It’s a mad mission / under difficult conditions / a mad, mad mission / sign me up.”
Well, it is, you know. To love God and our neighbor in this fallen world is a “mad mission under difficult conditions.” And, left to our own devices, an impossible one. And so Jesus requires his Apostles, his Sent Ones, to be stripped, deprived, so that they may come truly to know and love him, to see his gracious provision and learn to trust him, so that may truly love the world. It’s “difficult conditions.” But look at Jesus – for them, for us, for the Church and for the world – giving himself, stripped and deprived, laying aside every divine prerogative, for the sake of the mission given by his Father: to find us, redeem us, and finally bring us home and love us forever.
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