Mission awareness Sunday

Mission is an interesting word.  It carries overtones of intrigue,

for any of us who grew up with spy thrillers and war movies.

In such circumstances, The Mission was always the thing that drove the plot,

that motivated the characters, and provided the action scenes

which led to all sorts of daring antics, harm for the villain,

and in the end, the hero getting his reward

(sorry, but I’m old enough that the hero was always ‘he’)

Some of us can be excused for having difficulty

adapting to the churches use of the word.

Though perhaps the church can bear some of the blame.

Mission, in the eyes of the church has often had a thrilling and dangerous reputation – intrepid souls called to far-flung places for the sake of the Gospel.

There were obstacles to overcome, objectives to achieve,

and frequently, there was the promise of real harm.

The church considered Jesus’ injunction to ‘make disciples of all nations’ very seriously, and it was something that motivated all sorts of exploration, and discovery –

and it led to conquest and oppression;

too much of the ‘mission’ of the church caused real harm to real people.

We argued that all this activity was for a greater good –

that the knowledge we gleaned from the gospel

required us to civilize the wild and untamed regions of the world –

and to be sure, we owe a great debt to the courage, ingenuity

and willingness of those souls who faced the unknown

with nothing but their faith and their wits.

We have recently begun to imagine

that the purpose of our mission as followers of Christ

is not to recreate our experience in the lives of those we do not understand –

their strangeness should no longer provoke our fear  –

our mission is best described by Jesus in this mornings gospel lesson from John 13.

Keep in mind, the disciples are gathered in that famous upper room –

they have shared what will be their last meal,

Jesus has washed their feet –

an act of service meant to give them an example of their coming mission –

and Judas has been overcome by that evil notion that will lead to Jesus arrest.

The next act in this curious passion is Jesus offering a new commandment;

‘love one another’.

This is the mandate of the church, whatever else we may say.

All of our activity must proceed

from Jesus’ urging his frightened disciples to love one another.

One of their number has just left to betray the cause –

the authorities will soon descend –

and their plans for a revolution of ideas will come to an inglorious end.

Love one another, Jesus says, and the mission of the church is decided.

With these words in mind,

the devoted servants of Jesus went out after the Resurrection

and announced that love had prevailed over death.

The love of God became the message of salvation, and so it should be.

The church grew and thrived in those early days

because those who felt abandoned (or lost in the terrible oppression of empire)

heard from these eager disciples that even when no one else showed them love,

God had – and most importantly, the messengers of Christ showed that love to them;

“there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; all are one in Christ” –

so said Paul –  who himself was moved to a mission grounded in love –

preaching a message of acceptance and invitation.

What that mission became in the darker days of church history is something else again.

Crusades, the Inquisition, a variety of ‘Holy’ wars and cultural assaults

that haunt the people of God to this day –

but our commitment to mission need not suffer because of the mistakes we have made;

we are still under order to love one another,

and that commandment has once more become the motivation for mission.

The work of PWS&D, supported by congregations all over Canada,

– states that their primary motivation is

to ‘…gladly serve women and men, young and old,

according to their need and regardless of their faith.’

No more the notion that we must make disciples ‘by compulsion’,

we reach out in love; no strings attached, just as God has done in Jesus.

The other danger, of course, is to imagine that mission

is something that happens somewhere else.

Mission was about Christians reaching out to ‘the lost’,

and how could the lost be among us?

We now know that there are people in our communities

who are hungry for love and acceptance,

for whom Jesus is a mystery and God an interesting abstraction.

Our mission is not to ensure that they are educated in the details of the Christian faith –

our mission, according to Jesus, is to love them.

The challenge for today’s church,

in a time of instant communication and expanding knowledge of other cultures,

is to understand the part played by the Spirit of God in this mission.

Love doesn’t lead to instant understanding.  Occasionally love is met with resistance.

But  Jesus command to love does not depend on that love being returned.

Our mission is to show the love of Christ with no expectation for ourselves.

We are, in the words of Living Faith, ‘…showing the hungry where bread may be found.’

That love is ours to share –

we need not travel the globe to follow the guidance of Jesus.

Our neighbours need understanding and compassion.

Our communities will benefit when we reach out in love,

– our mission begins here, alongside friends,

and among those whom we don’t always understand;

to love as Christ loves –

even at the expense of our need to be accepted by the people around us –

with no expectation of reward,

content to know that we will have offered an explanation for the hope that is in us.

The church without mission does not exists, some have said – and this is our only task

To love one another, in the shops, on the streets –

wherever people gather, whatever they believe, our task is to love them –

to be open to real relationship, to offer compassion, and service –

this is gospel proclamation, for which there is no language barrier –

it is the mission of all of us who would call ourselves the church.

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