What Do We Think We’re Doing Here?

I want to begin the conversation, and I hope, spark our thinking about what may be the most important question we can ask. It’s a simple straightforward question about our over-arching mission as a church and as individual followers of Jesus Christ. The question is: “What do we think we are doing here anyway?” There are other ways to phrase the question. “What are we trying to accomplish in our lives and through this church?” Or perhaps, “Do we have a calling, or a mission? If so, what is it?”

How should we get at this question? I mean, where should our thinking on this begin? How does anybody “come up with” a sense of calling or mission? What “inspires” a deep and enduring sense of purpose?

One source of inspiration is our feelings. “If it feels good, do it.” The idea is that we basically make decisions on a “pain – pleasure” continuum.  Avoid pain, pursue pleasure. On this view, our mission in life is to maximize pleasure. We can accept certain levels of pain, discomfort, inconvenience and so forth only in so far as they ultimately lead to our greater pleasure. Many of us… and probably all of us at times are inspired by pleasure. We will work hard and endure a lot of suffering if we think the “pay-off” is going to be pleasurable enough.  I ask myself, “How much am I motivated by my own pleasure?” And I ask, “What is pleasing to me?” Pleasing physical sensation motivates some, but it’s pretty low on the list of pleasures for most. Many people are pleased by what we might call more elevated pleasures – things like, an appreciation of beauty, a sense of accomplishment, or security, or peace of mind, or of power or control. Emotional pain is associated with a sense of waste, failure, insecurity, powerlessness, insignificance.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with being motivated by these feelings. They are inevitable. As creatures with a partially animal nature this is just part of who we are. That is fine – we can even celebrate it as a gift and blessing from God. As the wise man says in Ecclesiastes 2:24, There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” But of course this is not all. For we are not merely bodily, mortal beings – highly evolved animals. We are children of God who look beyond pleasure for meaning – for our mission in life.

As Christians, naturally we look to Jesus Christ for guidance and truth. So what does Jesus have to say about our mission – our purpose? The marching orders Jesus gives to his people are actually pretty clear. Let’s start with what Jesus says through the gospel according to John. In John 20:20-22 we are told that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them [again], “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The word “mission” comes from the Latin “missio” which is the translation of the word “send.”  So the first thing is that Jesus sends his disciples – he gives them a mission. It’s seems undeniable that the disciples of Jesus were give a mission, but who exactly are the disciples sent on this mission? Of course they are the 11 – well actually 10. Judas Iscariot was dead and Thomas was absent. But is it only these 10 men that Jesus has in mind for this mission? I don’t think so. Rather it is a mission upon which the whole church of Christ is sent. The apostles, or “sent ones” are part of the infrastructure of the church – essential, but in no way the whole thing. So Paul writes, in Ephesians 2:19-20, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” We confess that we are “one, holy, universal and apostolic church.” In German the word “apostolic” is “apostolische” which kind of gets at the idea of “apostle – ish” – So we are the apostle-ish or apostle-like church. That means that what the apostle’s mission was, so our mission is.

Furthermore, in the passage of Matthew’s gospel in which the disciples are sent (the so-called great commission), they are charged to replicate themselves. Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” We are the “them” who are to do everything Jesus commanded the first disciples. Okay, its clear enough that the mission on which Jesus sends his disciples is our mission too. But what exactly is that mission?

Let’s go back to the text in John for a minute. “As the Father has sent me… so I send you.” The question then is, “How does the Father send Jesus.” This is where today’s gospel lesson from Luke comes back into view. Luke 4:16-21  “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Here is Jesus Christ’s own definition of his mission. Here is the “As the Father has sent me…”

First of all, The Father sent Jesus in the power of the Spirit. The anointing or unction of the Spirit is given to Jesus because he needs it for his mission. Even Jesus cannot do his work on his own, with his own energy, strength or power. He relies utterly upon the powerful presence of God’s Spirit to do ALL the work we was sent to do. So Jesus says in John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own.”  And in Luke 4:14 He went in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. “

Next, In the power of the Spirit, Jesus was sent to people in certain conditions. He was sent to the poor, to the captives, to the blind, to the oppressed. What does this mean? Who are these people?

All these people are suffering from conditions of privation. Privation is a state in which things that are essential for human well-being are scarce or lacking. This can be a lack of material things like food, or shelter or medicine. But social things like education, opportunity, equality or justice can also be lacking. It can even be a lack in qualities of character. People can lack compassion, integrity, understanding, generosity, or self-control. In some ways, all privation has roots in an impoverished or broken relationship with God. Call that sin, if you wish.

So the mission of Jesus Christ is to go to people in all kinds of states of privation and address them with good news. This good news is not merely a message, but the actual initiation of a process of reversal. The reversal starts at the deepest level of privation. Most deeply, In Jesus Christ, God is reversing humanity’s broken relationship with God by forgiving all sin and reconciling the world to himself. 2 Corinthians 5:19 “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…”

From this deep healing of human brokenness, In Christ, God goes on to initiate the reversal of every condition of privation. Willfulness is reversed to self-control. Callousness is reversed to tenderheartedness. Greed is reversed to generosity. Falsehood and guile are reversed to honesty and integrity. Justice is given where there is none. Opportunity reverses hopelessness. Freedom reverses addiction. Education reverses ignorance. And even on the most material levels, food reverses hunger, shelter reverses homelessness, medicine reverses sickness… and so on.

This was Jesus Christ’s mission. Jesus Christ was sent by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to go to people in all states of privation and declare the great reversal… the great “turn around.” The time has come and the process has begun.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. This is the year of the Lord’s favor… Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

As the Apostle Paul put it, “ 2 Corinthians 6:2 “Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation!”

Finally, (and I’m almost done this morning) it comes to us. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Just so. In Christ, we are sent by God to carry on the mission of the great reversal. We are supposed to be busy undoing human privation. We are supposed to be preaching, teaching, and above all working to fill up what is lacking – what is lacking in spirit, soul and body. That is our mission. When we are on this mission, when we are using our gifts and abilities to do this thing, we will have a full measure of the Spirit of God to empower and enable us. So the Bible says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Next Sunday after worship we will have a very important meeting of the congregation. This meeting is for the entire congregation – members and non-members alike. It’s for everybody who cares about the mission of Jesus Christ and the future of this Presbyterian Church. What I’m asking you to do between now and then is to think and pray about the conditions of privation – right here in our little corner of the world. What is really lacking, in the spirits, minds and bodies of the people here – those in the church and in this community? There’s plenty of lack to choose from, but some needs may be more acute than others. We need focus in our mission. As St Paul said, 1 Corinthians 9:26 “I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air…” So, I’ll end where I began.  The question is: “What do we think we are doing here anyway?” “What are we trying to accomplish in our lives and through this church?” Clearly we have a calling, and a mission from Christ. But we need to move from generalizations to specific action. So, the question I’d like you to wrestle with is just this… In concrete terms of your life and our corner of the world, what is our mission?

 

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