The Rev. Stephen Norris preached this sermon for St. Andrew’s on July 7, 2013

Participating in God’s mission
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

          As a child, the absolute last thing I wanted to become as an adult was a Christian missionary.  I remember those times when I was a young child when missions Sunday rolled around.  On those particular Sundays, the church was transformed into the foreign country of a visiting guest missionary.  There were colorful banners, flags and robed choirs in the dress of the indigenous people who lived in those foreign countries from where the missionaries hailed.  And the music on those days was somewhat similar to the music of the culture represented by the guest missionary.  It was sort of far out-at least I thought.  But then again, I was a child-a child who swore that he would never become a Christian missionary.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who was turned off by missions Sunday.  Most everyone else was too.  How did I know?  I knew because very few of them showed up.  I remember Missions Sunday being one of the most poorly attended services ever.  Attendance on missions Sunday was like the attendance on our Low Sunday (THE SUNDAY AFTER EASTER).

It’s pretty sad that folk run and hide when they hear that a missionary is coming to town.  It’s also sad when committed Christians don’t show up at church on missions Sunday.  But that’s what the structure and practice of the modern church has done to its members.  The modern structure and practice of Christianity has done a really good job of making missions irrelevant to our contemporary world and contemporary Christians.  It teaches that being a missionary is an occupation for a highly specialized someone who speaks four or five foreign languages and doesn’t mind living in a tent in some foreign country for the rest of his life.

Truthfully, this is what I remember from my early experiences of missions Sunday.  I grew up thinking that being a missionary is something totally unrelated to what I do as a contemporary American Christian.  Even at 38 years old, I still hear a lot of messages about tithing and supporting local church programming, but not many about being missionaries in our contemporary society.

The truth of the Gospel, the truth of our faith, is that Christians are a missionary people.  We are an apostolic people as we claim in the Nicene Creed.  We are called out by Jesus and sent on a mission.  By our baptisms we are commissioned as witnesses and empowered by the Spirit for missions.  And our mission in this world is this:  to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.

After all of these years I must confess that it still seems a little odd for me to think of myself as a missionary, even though I am a member of the domestic and foreign missionary society of the United States of America.  If you are a member of St Andrew’s then you are also a member of the missionary society.  The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was the legal name which was given to our church in 1821.  In fact, it is still the legal name of the corporate body of our church.  So, if we are truly a missionary church as our name proclaims, shouldn’t we all refer to ourselves as missionaries-missionaries who are commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God?

How do we do this and at the same time live in North America? Jesus clears it up in today’s gospel.  He commissions 35 teams composed of two missionaries each and sends them out into the world on a single-minded mission.  He tells them that wherever they can, wherever they find themselves, to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.  He warns them to not become distracted by those who will not receive them.  He cautions them to not be led astray the powerful acts that they will perform.  He beckons them to remain focused on God’s mission and not their own power.  Jesus calls them to proclaim the nearness of God’s power, which can change lives.  Why, does he speak to them in this way?  He cautions them to keep focused on the mission because there are many in need of the new way of life that they will bring.

Brothers and sisters, there are many in our own cities as well who need to experience this new way of life.  There are plenty who need to experience God’s freedom and peace in their daily lives.  There are others who desperately need to experience a physical, maybe a spiritual healing.  And they are waiting on us to be the missionaries who bring them God’s righteousness, peace and joy.  The real message today is that we are called to be those people (missionaries).  You and I are called to be the change we wish to see in the world!

One of my favorite saints is Saint Francis of Assisi.  Saint Francis is credited with having said that everywhere we go we should preach the gospel, and only if we must should we use words.  His words sum up quite well what I would call an incarnational approach to living as a missionary in the world.  St. Francis would say that if Jesus is truly our Lord, we shouldn’t have to always tell others of that fact!  They should be able to witness by the way we love and pray and seek justice for all that the Christ light burns brightly within us.  And the the light within us should then draw others into this new way of living and being, which brings new life to all.  Therefore, he would say, by simply being in relationship with the world, we can actively proclaim God’s kingdom.

Jesus calls us to be missionaries.  He calls us to proclaim God’s unconditional love to the entire world.  We don’t have to move off to another country and wear sackcloth and ashes to do this.  And we don’t always have to use words.  We can participate in God’s mission anywhere we find ourselves.  We are members of an apostolic church who sends out its members as missionaries to proclaim by word and deed the good news of God’s love for all in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Being a missionary is about living out that message.  And that message begins with the fact that, as missionaries, we are called to be the change we wish to see in the world.  AMEN!