Sunday, December 27, 2009

the last Sunday: mission and church today

And so dawned my last Sunday at Opawa. An ending after six most excellent years. Emotionally it was going to be tough.

Normally the last Sunday in December is the quietest Sunday in the church year, what with the post-Christmas slump and summer holidays. But this service was to include two baptisms, three people welcomed into membership and the commissioning of one missionary. Which was a wonderful way to end.

But it also made the service very awkward to curate, especially with non-churched friends and family turning up for the baptisms. In the end I decided all I could do was acknowledge the parts of the service would mean much for some, but not all, and to ask for Christmas cheer.

I also used boats – origami on seats as people arrived, and the invitation to write a prayer for a person they came to support, or for their own journey. And during the final song, people could come and sail them on the pool that had been made at the front.

Being my last Sunday, I wanted to remind Opawa of our journey mission. Again, not very “unchurched” friendly. But it’s not every day you conclude six years of ministry in a pretty major change project.

So for those interested, here is what I said in terms of mission, church and change. Not attractional, nor super-Christian, simply …. Luke 10:1-12. It’s a Bible passage that’s been hugely important for my thinking here at Opawa, guided and shaped me, so on this last Sunday as your pastor, I want to return to it, remind us together of this text.

There are other reasons why it seems appropriate for us today.

First, it’s a passage that has shaped people throughout history. Take the life of a man named Brendan the Navigator. Born in Ireland about 5th century. Became a monk. Sensed God telling him to it was time for a new adventure with God. Which included building a boat. With a sail. But no rudder. No way to steer. St Brendan, he was called to literally trust the wind of the Spirit.

Set his boat free, with his 12 disciples, from the Dingle peninsula, down bottom of Ireland. Story goes that Brendan and his disciples drifted past the northern Isles of Scotland, then the Faeroe islands, then Iceland and eventually over to North America. Whereever they went, they proclaimed God’s peace. Shalom, goodwill to all humankind.

But now, we’re all educated people aren’t we. We all know Christopher Columbus was the first person to find America, not an Irish monk named Brendan. In a boat with no rudder.

Then in 1970, a man named Tim Severin, as part of National Geographic expedition built a boat exactly like Brendan the Navigator. Set sail from Ireland. Sure enough, the winds and the tides carried him to North America, by exactly the same route that Brendan said. And Brendan the Navigator was inspired by today’s Bible text Luke 10:1-12, need to go on adventures with God.

Take a man named Hudson Taylor, who in the 18th century, felt God calling him to China. He was told he wasn’t educated enough. He went anyway. In China he adopted some radical new approaches to mission. Like using Chinese language, dressing like Chinese, using their Chinese culture to spread peace, shalom of God. Hudson Taylor on to establish China Inland Mission and has been called the most important missionary since Apostle Paul. Just with Brendan, Hudson Taylor was hugely inspired Luke 10:1-12, need to go on adventures with God.

I want to open up the passage by asking 3 questions:
Who is God in Luke 10:1-12?
Where is God in Luke 10:1-12?
What is God up to in Luke 10:1-12?

In answer to the first question, Who is God? The answer is in verse 1: God is a sending God.

Jesus gathers people in the gospel of Luke, invites them to follow, in order to send them. Doesn’t gather them to build a big church. Doesn’t gather them so they can huddle in a fortress against the big bad Jewish world.

Gathers to send them. Or in the words of Emil Brunner, “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission there is no church.”

One thing I always find inspiring about this sending God here in Luke 10: is that the 70/72 have no names.

Back in Luke 6, Jesus goes through an identical process to the one here in Luke 10. He gathers 12 disciples and sends them. They have names. But here there are 70/2 and they have no-names.

Perhaps its because they were saving space. Not that much room in the Bible.

Or is that God’s sending is so often entrusted to ordinary people. Not upfront, 12 , leaders of the church. But everyday, ordinary, no-name people.

So mission never starts with us. Not our bright idea. Not something we do because we need to make up to God for bad stuff in your past. Not something we do because we’re bright and talented and have a name and could be useful. It’s simply because God is sending God. Who chooses all types of ordinary, everyday people.

Which brings us to the 2nd question: Where is God? God is present in two really interesting places in Luke 10:1-12.

First, God is present in verse 1, in the person of Jesus. Who gathers the community and in the gathered community, prepares to send.

So if you like, God is here, at Opawa, as we prepare to send Judy.
You sensed a call Judy. Brought that call to us at Opawa. First church board, then to the church mission council, then to us at a church meeting. So that’s the first where is God. God is in the sending community, walk in prayerful commitment, that God will send workers into the harvestfield.

Second, place that is God is Luke 10:10-12, is in the world beyond the church.

We see that in v. 5-6. After the disciples, the no-name disciples are sent out, feeling important, feeling commissioned, Feeling like a missionary. Sent by God, Supported by prayer.

And yet all the time, God is already at work. Beyond the church. So in Luke 10: verse 5, we have the person of peace. Opens the door to the missionary. Who invites them in. Who feeds you. And this is a village culture, so the person of peace begins to connect them, open relational doors with other people in the village.

And so the person of peace. Outside the church. Who’s not yet heard the gospel, who’s not yet a member, who’s not yet baptised, is essential to mission.

If we take this seriously, this has profound impact on how we see mission and how we see people outside the church. They’re potential people of peace. People in whom God is active, before we ever get there, in our culture and in communities.

We, the ordinary, no-name disciples are simply asked to go looking for the person of peace. When we find them, to let them do the work, feeding us, opening doors for us.

So the world is not “bad.” Instead, every day it offers us the possibility of finding a person of peace, an unexpected moment of God at work in our community, beyond the church.

Which is good news for us at Opawa. That we’re sent into our community and our workplaces, but God is already at work in our community and in our workplaces. Our task is to simply to look for where God is at work. Join that activity. God is already there.

A few months ago I was locking up after church on a Sunday. As I walked to my car, a voice said hi Steve from the house across the road.

It was a Waltham local. Sends her children to Brigade. Who was sitting with her neighbour. Who proudly introduces me to her neighbour, as the pastor of the church. And suddenly I’m being offered a cup of tea in a local Waltham house.

That’s Luke 10:v. 5-7

That’s where God is in the text today.

In terms of Opawa, it’s worth reminding ourselves that there are a number of ways that churches are doing mission today.

Some churches are attractional church. Run great services. Put out quality advertising. Expect people to come. Expect pastor to preach gospel. People to get saved.

Other is super-Christian church. Expects each of you to be marvellous examples of being a Christian. Go out and by yourself, through your ability to manipulate a conversation, to convert your workplace.

So Luke 10 offers us a very different type of church doing mission. God is here. In the Opawa church community. God is there. In the Waltham community. We’re to look for bridges, for people of peace. When we find them, to hang with them. To allow relationships to flow between the two. As it says in Luke 10:7 “eating and drinking”, sharing of lives. And in that encounter, God’s mission happens.

Which then invites the question: What is God up to here in Luke 10:1-12.

First, God is in relationships. Look in verse 1, how the sending occurs in relationships, in church community. Look in 1 again, disciples are then sent out in 2’s, in relationships. Look in verse 7, They are sent to eat and drink around people’s tables. Thats’ relationships.

As one writer put it, “the mission requires contact with people in their homes and towns, while brief contacts on the road are insufficient.”

So this is not a text about doorknocking. In fact, this is a text that actually discourages the use of tracts and of street preaching. Instead, this is a text about relationships, about spending time with people, about going deep with people, about sharing lives with them.

2nd thing that God is up to is the speaking of peace (Luke 10:5). Exactly what the angels said to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Glory to God, peace and goodwill to all humankind.

Peace is a First Testament word. Peace in all of life. Peace up with God. Peace across with people – neighbours and our families. Peace, down with the earth on which God-in-Jesus walks.

So the mission of God is speaking peace, to seek the wellbeing of all the facets of our community. Up. Across. Down.

3rd thing that God is up to in verse 9; Changed lives. Heal the sick who are there.

People get sick in all sorts of ways. Physically sick. Mentally sick. Relationally sick. Spiritually sick. Environmentally sick.

Often we as Christians get a bit tunnel vision about healing.
If we’re Pentecostals see healing as physical
If we’re liberals see healing as justice
If we’re Baptists we see healing as preaching.

And they’re all right. And they’re all wrong. Mission of Jesus is about the whole of life. Up. Across. Down

And so the sending God, speaks peace to all of life, can be at work through you.

So I’ve asked three questions of Luke 10: Who is God? Where is God? What is God up to?
God is a sending God.
God is active here, inside the church. There, in the community, as we look for persons of peace.
God is in relationships, in the speaking of peace and in the seeing of lives changed.

And so we come to the end. Steve’s last conclusion. Here are my last words to you: Luke 10:1-7
 1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
 5″When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.

Posted by steve at 10:33 PM

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