Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The church as ambulance base

Matthew 5:1-16
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

John 1:35-51
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

            We’re unpacking different ways of thinking about the church in this sermon series. Last week Susan talked about one of the images we think of most often, the image of the church as a family. We’re all adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. In the church we get to know each other as brothers and sisters and we take care of each other with love.

            This week we’re looking at a very different image, which is suggested but not spelled out in the Bible. The image we’re exploring this week is the church as mission station. In John’s Gospel at the last supper Jesus says he is sending the disciples into the world in the same way God sent him into the world. After he rose from the dead he repeats the same message to the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The church continues the mission of the first disciples, so at our core we are sent into the world like Jesus.

            Mission means “sending.” We are a community that is defined by mission, defined by being sent. One theologian says it like this: “God’s church doesn’t have a mission, God’s mission has a church.” Another says, “The church exists for mission like a fire exists for burning.” If fire stops burning it isn’t a fire anymore, and if the church stops going out into the world it isn’t really the church. The church’s mission is its purpose. It’s not something we do, some extra thing that is a nice part of the church’s activity; our mission is the whole reason for our existence. The church is meaningless without our mission.

            The church is defined by mission, and the mission of the church is defined by Jesus. As the Father sent Jesus, so we are sent into the world. That means we are called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and invite people to be reconciled to God. We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus, to introduce people to him and to let them know that they are loved and they are not alone. Like Jesus, we are called to be powerless and called, sometimes, to suffer for the message.

            That’s not just a calling for a few of us, the professionals or the religious elite. It’s not a calling just for extroverts or for elders, but for everyone. It’s not an optional, extra credit assignment; it’s a fundamental part of who we are as the church. We have different ways of following that calling based on our gifts and abilities and occupations, but we are all called to mission.

            There are two major parts of that mission we share: there’s the part we do together and the part we do on our own. We have a mission together: Laurelton has a mission on this corner to share the love of Jesus through our words and our actions. We do that through cafĂ© and worship, through Christmas baskets and supper and scripture. We do it through supporting other partners in mission, like Cameron and People’s Ministry in Christ and the Community Food Cupboard.

            The point isn’t getting people into the building; it’s using the building to get the message of love into the community. The point of the building is to give us space to welcome people, space to learn for our mission, space to cook and share fellowship to welcome others and strengthen the community.

We all have a part to play in that by using our gifts and possessions to build up the church for our mission. Maybe you love to cook: come on out on a Saturday and help make breakfast for your neighbors. It’s a great way to welcome people practically to a warm space and remind them that they are not alone. Maybe you like to visit: there are so many people in our community who are hungry for fellowship, hungry for someone to listen to them, desperate to know that they matter. You can do that just by sitting down and listening while you eat breakfast.

We do mission together not only as a congregation, but with the wider church as well. We are not a big enough church to send a missionary to another country, for instance, but together the Presbyterian Church sends many missionaries to countries around the world to share God’s love through Bible teaching, healing, building schools and providing clean water. We take part in that wider mission of the church through our gifts to the denomination and through our prayers for the church around the world. We also take part through going on short term mission trips like Bob, Karen, Karen, Susan, Carl, Linn, Charlie, Sue and Allison are doing this week in New Jersey.

That’s the part of the church’s mission that we do together, and that’s an important part of the story. Maybe even more important than that is the mission we each do on our own. We all spend more time outside the church than inside it. Your main mission is in your everyday, Monday through Saturday, world. The best way to get the church’s message into the world is through you, because you are part of the church and you spend most of your time in the world. The church’s job is to prepare and equip you for that mission.

When I go to work at Rural Metro I start my shift at base, that’s 811 West Ave. At base I check in, get my gear and my truck and make sure everything I need for the day is on the truck. At base we have a big parking area for the ambulances as well as a bay to wash them at the end of the shift. There’s an equipment room where we replace the supplies we’ve used. There’s also a training room to learn and practice skills and a dispatch center where the calls come in. That base is where we go to get prepared for the mission of providing emergency care for the people of Rochester. But our main work obviously isn’t at base, it’s on the road in the city, so we only spend a small part of our shift at base.

The church is a base for mission in the same way. It’s an important place to come to be refreshed and equipped for our mission, but it’s not where we spend most of our time, and it’s not where we do our most important work.

When we come to church we gather to share stories of what we’ve seen in the mission field, new things we’ve learned, new challenges we’ve come across and new questions that our work in the world has brought up. Together we give thanks for the week of ministry, for all the things God has done through us in the world. We praise God in song and prayer for what we’ve seen and experienced. We encourage each other like my coworkers encourage each other for our work and you and your coworkers encourage each other.

We dig into scripture together for new wisdom for our work in the world; that’s our training room. In worship and in education, we bring our questions to the passages and we find new things to try out. My job as pastor is to study scripture and other resources to equip you for your ministry in the world. I can do a better job with that if you actually bring your questions to church. If you tell me what you wonder about because of your work and ministry, I can do a better job figuring out what kind of equipment you might need. Without your insight about your unique ministry and unique experience, I can only guess what will help you.

If we keep the image of the ambulance base, I’m the equipment manager and training coordinator. I’ve got tools and equipment for you, but I need you to tell me what kind of things you need for your mission. Then you go out and live out that mission in the world knowing the church will support you.

Maybe your weekday ministry is teaching kids. For that mission you’ll need stories about Jesus to remember how Jesus reaches out to kids and to others who have trouble in the world. You’ll also need some biblical tools for thinking about how education and justice are related.

Very specifically coming up, there is a special UPT evening on October 17th at Trinity Emanuel about educating the traumatized child. There you’ll meet others who are excited about education and you’ll hear some of the unique challenges of urban education. That’s important for all of us because we are all invested in the city, so we’re all invested in our city’s children. It’s also important because even if you teach in a suburban school with lower rates of poverty and violence than the city, some of your kids bear the scars of different traumas, so those insights will make you a better, more loving, more Christ-like teacher. You will be better equipped for your mission in the school.

Maybe you spend a lot of your time caring for children in other ways. That gives you different opportunities for ministry for which you need equipment. Part of what you do is working with the kids in your care, so like teachers, you need to be reminded that Jesus loves the little children, especially for the times they are being difficult to love. You also have opportunities at the playground and elsewhere to interact with other parents and caregivers. That means you have opportunities to share the love of Jesus with people who might not know they are loved. Maybe some training around faith sharing will help you in that mission.

Maybe you spend a lot of time in a challenging workplace where everyone feels constant deadline pressure. Your mission there as an ambassador for Jesus is first, to do your job well so you can help your team perform. You can also create a better atmosphere by remembering that no matter what happens, God loves you. The more you remember that the more you’ll be able to stay calm under pressure and help others stay calm as well. You can also share love by treating others kindly. You need to be equipped with biblical wisdom on handling stress, or responding to bad behavior in the workplace.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, you are on a mission from God and the church is there to equip and support you for that mission. Our passages give us three different ways to look at that mission. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus pronounces blessings on different kinds of behavior like gentleness, peacemaking, and humility. Do those things wherever you are and you have God’s approval. Jesus also instructs us to be salt and light wherever we go. In little ways and big, at home and at work and at play, our job is to shine the light of God’s light so others can see God.

In our passage from John we see it a different way. We see John, Andrew and Phillip all introducing people to Jesus. It’s not our job to convince someone to believe in Christ, we just help make the introduction. We invite them to “come and see.” People everywhere need to see the truth: that God is love and that they matter to God. We can show them that. We can show them by treating them like precious brothers and sisters. We can show them that by being kind even when it’s unexpected. We can show them by being calm under pressure because we know our meaning in life isn’t what we produce but our being as beloved sons and daughters.

That is our mission: love God and love others. This church, this building, this community is the place we go to get equipped, encouraged and prepared for our mission. Your brothers and sisters are team members and blessed companions. So let’s enjoy the time we have together and get excited to go back out in service. Be peacemakers; be salt and light to a world that is often bland and dark. Serve and love, introduce people to Jesus and do your part to make the world just a little more like heaven. Jesus sends us in his name today and every day.

Thanks be to God.

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