Yesterday we began the 14th week of the Experiencing God series. The theme focused on what it meant to be Kingdom People. Below is my take on what it will mean for our congregation.
At noon on April 22, 1889, with a wave of a hand and the blast of a cannon, the Oklahoma land run began. The New York Times article published the day after captures the intense hours just before the rush began. People from across the globe and across the social spectrum stood side-by-side ready to find their place in a new land. Oklahoma City would have claimed a population of 7 when the cannon was sounded, and numbered over 10,000 by night fall.[i] The hopes and diversity of those at the starting line would define the character of our great state.
The moment that triggered the missionary expansion of the Church was a quieter affair, but demonstrates the similar sense of hope and a similar scene of diversity. The passage begins; 1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. This morning we heard our focal passage read in English and Spanish and see it written in Burmese as well. This was fitting. This one verse paints a remarkable picture of the church in Antioch. The short list of leaders reflects an amazing array of racial, social, and economic diversity. Barnabas is a Helenistic Jew and a cultural insider with the early church, Simeon emerges from the heart of Africa. Lucius came from North Africa, from what it now called Libya and had migrated to Antioch. Manaen grew up in the comforts of the Jewish royalty. He grew up as the stepbrother to Herod: the same Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded and oversaw the trial of Jesus. The zealous Saul was best known at this moment for his persecution of the early church. He grew up a leather worker and emerges from synagogues in Tarsus and Jerusalem.
Church historian Mark Moore notes; “This list is impressive because it indicates the mobility of this church. Because their leaders represented such a broad array of people, the church could move evangelistically into any sector of this pluralistic city with a coherent voice for Christ. Simeon could speak to those of African heritage (blacks); Saul could debate in the synagogues; Manaen could deal with the wealthy politicians; Lucius could minister to the immigrants. Furthermore, because of the diversity represented in the leadership, this church would be more likely to avert the kind of racial division that impacted the young church of Jerusalem.”[ii] The strength of the Antioch church was found in their diversity.
God could use them to reach the world because they already had a Kingdom worldview. They could see past the boundaries that normally would separate them from each other and claimed a focus on what made them one, their shared relationship with God through Christ. Many churches are locked into a myopic worldview. It is all about them. It is all about their comfort. It is all about their convenience. The church in Antioch would have had to choose to deal with language and culture issues. The tough choices made them the church they needed to be so God could use them to touch the world. I celebrate that we are making these same kinds of choices.
Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of when Brian and I first met the Chin community. We knew the right thing to do was to invite them to come and be a part of us. We could have never imagined how much it would come to mean to all of us to have their community a part of our community. We could not imagine how much better we would be as a family of faith because we made the choice to cross language and culture and become family to each other. There was a moment when we tried to reach out to the growing Hispanic community. Alan and Griselda Escobar came to help us. We tried to do it on our timing and it did not work. In due time Carlos and Debra came into our lives. It was clearly the movement of God. Our hearts were ready and God moved. We have begun to make forays into the Classen-Ten-Penn community. God is opening doors of opportunity for us. When a church has a global world view, God can use it to touch the world. God is making us Kingdom people – a people with a Kingdom worldview. Get ready for God to move.
Our passage continues; 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." We find the church in Antioch engaged in a moment like this one. They were worshipping side-by-side – and God moved. We should not be surprised. The passage speaks of them worshipping and fasting. We do not talk a lot about fasting. It is a concept that seems oddly out of place in our all-you-can-eat buffet world. Fasting is the act of choosing to do without in a way to sharpen our hearts – our attention – to hear from God. They came to worship with a sense of expectation. They came wanting and expecting to hear from God. They had a Kingdom heart.
Stan and Kay are friends that Beth and I cherish. They were serving as missionaries to Indonesia at the time and were living in Jakarta. They decided to spend some focused time praying and fasting. God laid my name on their hearts and they began to pray for me without really knowing why – but did it as an act of faithfulness. They did not know that at that same time half way around the world I was being rushed from one hospital to another with the question of life and death still very much in question. Their prayers were being lifted at the very moment I needed them most. They came to God with expectation and God stirred.
I wonder if we come to worship having taken time to prepare ourselves to hear the voice of God. The cultural temptation is to view worship is something planned for us. It is where we ask if the music is the music that pleases our ears or if the sermon “feeds” us. It is not about what we get from our time in this place instead of asking what we bring to this moment and how God might stir among us. The church in Antioch came with expectation. They came as people with a Kingdom heart. God did not disappoint them. The Holy Spirit said; “I am going to ask you to send out your very best. You have welcomed the world in your midst – now I am going to do something special through you.”
Verse 3 tells us; 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. We also need to hear that the initiator of missions is the Holy Spirit and the tool of the Holy Spirit is the church. In the church of my childhood missions was the act of the denomination. We identified those with a heart for missions and sent them to the denomination to determine where they would go. We heard from the occasionally and we did missions education based on the stories of other missionaries, doing other things, in other parts of the world. The New Testament story is the story of where the Holy Spirit stirred within local congregations and then they responded together – missionary and church acting as one. Missions belongs to the local church. Missions should be an act of the church driven by the urging of the Holy Spirit. The local church was and is intended to be the centerpiece in missions – both local and global. God calls Kingdom people into His Kingdom work.
We can celebrate that our church is seeking to reclaim the New Testament model; to reclaim our place in the mission story. You see it manifested in what God is doing among us as we seek to minister alongside the Chin both here in our city and in Malaysia. The first dollars have landed in Malaysia to empower their schools for children. I believe the day is soon coming where we will name a missionary who will move to Malaysia and served as a resource and relationship with the Chin refugee community living in the slums and make-shift refugee camps. Over the next year or so you will also witness our congregation working with Chin leaders across the nation to begin Chin churches everywhere the Chin community has landed.
The Spirit has stirred within Margaret Ford’s heart and the heart of others and it appears that we will be invited to become a part of the story to deal with human trafficking. God is moving. Paul and Barbara Calmes, Joey and Jeannie Clifton, and Jeannie Lemons were a vital part of what God is doing in Guatemala. Their hands became the hands of God as they touched and ministered those living in remote locations and in orphanage walls. God has used our church as a vital part of the ministry in Aceh, Indonesia. When we made the initial commitment to give an offering, we could have never imaged that we would ultimately have to offer ourselves as a tool of God to empower the work in that wounded part of the world.
Other churches in our country are on a similar missions journey. We will have great opportunity to work with them in partnership to reach people with the “good news of great joy that is for all peoples.” The global church is growing at a remarkable rate. In fact, the majority of Christians now live in places that we once considered mission fields. They too have claimed a Kingdom worldview, live out of a Kingdom heart, and are ready to partner for the sake of the Gospel. The next season of mission will be defined by how we as the global church choose to work together so that all may know this one named Jesus. The opportunities are tremendous. The question is whether we are ready and willing to be the kind of Kingdom people that God can use to touch the world. A church of rich and poor, rich in ethnic diversity worshipped and prayed. They came with expectation and God moved. He asked them to send out their best so that they God be Kingdom people used by God to touch the world. They responded and the world was never the same. May it be true of us.
[i] Into Oklahoma at Last, available at http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0422.html#article on 7/2/09.
[ii] Moore, Mark, “Leaders of the Church at Antioch,” available at http://markmoore.org/resources/essays/acts/leaders.pdf on 7/1/09.