... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 2 Year A
Message June 22, 2014

Mission and Discipleship

Text: Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

If there were one theme linking all the readings this morning it would have to be mission – God’s mission and our roles in that mission. The Genesis story of Hagar and Ishmael is on the human side a story of threat, envy, fear and, jealousy, but from God’s side, faithfulness and mission. And like the Gospel story today, it is a harsh story to our 21st century ears and senses. One mother demanding the casting out of another – a move surely to result in the death of both Hagar and Ishmael. The fear that Ishmael – Abraham’s eldest son – would end up claiming what Sarah saw as Isaac’s birth right is perhaps understandable. Yet to our sense of justice it becomes a barbaric demand. And to top it off God encourages Abraham to acquiesce to Sarah’s wishes. Despite what at first seems cruel, we see God’s mission more forward – Isaac will inherit God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah yet God’s mercy extends to Hagar and her son. In a way Abraham becomes the father of the two nations – Jews and Arabs.

The psalm likewise is devoted to God’s mission, but from the perspective of one who is devout in his worship and already in service to God. Assured of God’s promises the author seeks further guidance and teachings in order that, through him as a living witness, the world might see God’s graciousness.

Paul’s letter to the Romans develops the aspect of mission as a life journey of obedience dedication and response to God’s action in and through Christ Jesus. Paul argues that believers have been freed from sin by union with Christ’s death through baptism and that leads to a living of life devoted to God’s service. While at first glance this might seem very simplistic, Paul’s concept of freedom for believers is in reality a choice of servitude – servitude to evil or servitude to God. In baptism Jesus has opened the door for freedom to choose and we can choose to be obedient to God or not. The understanding of the theological underpinning gives reason for the practical life choices we can make.

Matthew’s Gospel passage for today comes from a wider passage often referred to as the ‘Missioning Discourse’, which is the second of the five major discourses in Matthew. What we hear today may well be deemed to be one of the more difficult texts to struggle with as it shows Jesus not as some kind gentle and approachable rabbi but as a bearer of harsh realities and a harbinger of conflict and division. Thus to fully appreciate what at first appears to be so contrary to our imagination of who Jesus was, we need to look at the whole discourse. That discourse has to do with mission and the preparation for the same.

Here we must pause a moment and think about mission. What do we mean by mission? How does it or ought it to govern who we are and what we do? What does it mean for us here and now? First of all mission can be defined as “a ministry commissioned by a religious organization to spread its faith or carry on humanitarian work” a group of persons sent to perform a service or carry on an activity” or a goal or assignment. However in practice mission is much more than these definitions because it says who we are; it defines our roles and sets up the parameters of responsibilities and expectations. An example of this might be one’s mission to bring healing to others as a medical person – doctor, nurse, ambulance attendant. Once stipulated these roles now define who you are, the expectations the responsibilities and all aspects of the goal.

At the outset of the Missionary Discourse Jesus defines the mission – having given the twelve authority to cast out demons and unclean spirits and to cure every disease and sickness, Jesus sends these disciples to the lost sheep of Israel to proclaim the good news, to cure the sick raise the dead cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. The mission was laid out, their responsibilities defined and their expectations are now laid bare. They are being sent among the wolves: they will find obstacles, antagonism, hatred, and persecutions. However they are also being warned that the mission will require they adhere to the teachings they have been given. In other words mission or rather to be faithful to mission, will require discipleship. And today’s reading is the commencement of what will be several weeks concerning the principles of discipleship.

Discipleship requires commitment, dedication, devotion to the exclusion of all else and, a readiness to give one’s all for the cause. Discipleship may result in antagonism from family friends or authorities. It might result in chaos in the environment surrounding the disciples. But if the mission is that of God, God will give the strength to persevere.

A few might question such an aspect of discipleship. However let’s look at some aspects of our lives. Carol and I just celebrated our 40th anniversary and as a gift for that milestone a friend gave us tickets to see a concert – Julio Iglesias. As we watched that performance it struck me – what dedication the artists must have in order to have come so far? Sure it had to begin with talent, but that talent had to have been honed. The hours of practice must be mind boggling. To practice hitting the right note, the memory of so many songs, and never once making a mistake. We could look at Olympians and their excellence in their respective sports. CBC has interviewed most of these champions and time after time we hear of the hours of dedicated practice: the early wakings, the long trials, the temptations to quit, the desire to be and do as others around them and sometimes the conflicts within the family over the amount of monies time and effort being spent. Discipleship demands discipline and for most that also requires not just self-commitment but also someone who teaches, coaches and, acts as the mentor to maintain the level of commitment necessary for success. That teacher coach or mentor also has a mission – to make the learner or pupil realize his or her potential.

In today’s passage Jesus is the teacher and the mentor warning the disciples that they are still learning and they have a long way to go before success spills forth out of their efforts. He goes on to warn them of what might face them and who might become their adversaries. In such situations they need to focus and that focus is Jesus, and what Jesus had taught them. Obedience to the teacher’s voice will in the end be the means to avoiding the temptations to abandon the mission.

As Christians we have been given a mission. In fact the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel lays out that mission not just for the twelve but for all believers – “go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” That is our mission. Unfortunately we have been tempted away. We sit in our comfortable pews and focus inward. We have forgotten what it is to be evangelists. Yes, we do do some good works and I’m not knocking that in any way shape or form. In fact I laud them, the meals on wheels, the adopt-a-highway, the food bank, the community involvement – Cranberry Festival, Communities in Bloom. Yet we have not really found a niche which binds us, which centers on our mission statement to be a welcoming community. If we are to be welcoming we will need to be proactive – to get out there and welcome rather than waiting for them to come to us. Yes, we are welcoming. We show great warmth and passion and friendliness to the visitors who come into our midst. But what about the throngs out there who don’t know us? We need to meet them to show them our love our sincerity our warmth. We need to find a niche as the Christians of Trinity St. Albans (All Saints) wherein we can be welcoming to the wider community.

There are lots of opportunities hospice Muskoka, TSA Welcome Wagon, Youth Drop-in, the limits are only set by our imagination and our commitment. We have our mission – we need to discover how best to do it and with disciplined commitment, to practice it.