Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“The Mission of God: The Mission of the Church” - I John 4:7-12

The following message was brought as a part of the CBFO General Assembly with the theme Missio Dei. I share it with you because it lays out how I understand the Mission of the Church in the context of the Redemptive Sending Mission of God.

When T Thomas called and asked me to bring this morning’s message my mind began to immediately run through what passage to use. It is no secret that my heart beats for missions. So, the Mission of God and the Mission of the Church – or the Sending of God and the Sending of God’s People is theme that finds its way into my sermons rather often. I was tempted to look over my sermon files, find a favorite, dust it off, and be done with the task at hand. It was tempting – there are sermon titles that boldly read: “The Mission of Christ,” “Doing the Right Thing,” “The Call,” “Kingdom People,” “A Heart for Our Community,” “A Heart for the World,” “Accepting God’s Assignment,” and a host of others like them. The problem is that I thought this moment deserved better that a rehashed version of a sermon prepared for another people and another place. Next I thought about claiming one of the great missions passages; Genesis 12, the Great Commission, Acts 1:8, or others - and using it to claim a fresh interpretation of an old mission standard for this place and this moment. But I thought that others had so shaped what we hear in these passages that the struggle to bring some fresh could be lost in interpretation.

A little over fifteen years ago Robert Fulghum released a book entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” As I thought and prayed about this morning, I had a Robert Fulghum kind of moment. The passage that played over and over in my head was the first verse I ever learned. It was John 3:16. I learned it out of the King James Version, so no matter what translation I have in my hand at the time I always hear it the same. How about saying it with me? For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. From my earliest memories of church this passage impacted my view of God. The God that love the world – and loved me – was not far way. This God was and is a sending God. It also told me that the God that loved me also loved everyone else in the world. It just made sense to me that we needed to make sure every knew that God loved them.

So, for the next few minutes I want to claim the heart of the passage I learned in kindergarten and look it its more expanded expression found in I John 4:7-12. Mary Hardin read this passage earlier in our service. Hear again verses 7 through 10. 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. The redemptive love story between God and humanity is born in the heart and the nature of God. With the same love that moved God breathed the breath of life in the Genesis, moves God to send his one and only Son, his very incarnation, to the world that we might find our way back home to Him. The Mission of God is a reflection of the very heart and nature of God – it is the love of God that initiates the Gospel story.

Verses 11 and 12 makes the sending Mission of God personal. It reads; Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This mission sending of the church is then born in the redemptive Mission of God. As we experience God’s redemptive love for us – as we experience God living in us and God’s love being made complete in us, the expectation is that we will become a reflection of that redemptive love for others. For God so loved the world he sent his one and only Son….for God so loved the world he sends His people – the Church into the world.

This Redemptive Sending Mission of God is at the heart of the Great Commission. When Christ commissions the Church on the Galilean hillside it transformed the scope of the disciples’ world and catapulted them into a global mission with God. The church was and is called to be at the center of missions. Bill O'Brien, one of my friends and favorite Baptist missiologist, introduced me to one of his favorite quotes. It says, "missions is to the church as flame is to the fire." When the congregation claims its place at the center of missions it is restored to its right and rightful place in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In its living out of mission the church finds a central element of its “raision d’etre” or reason for being; its foundation its relationship with the world. (1)

There was a time when we as Baptist outsourced our place in the Mission of God to organizations and structures that required our cash and asked for our prayer, and sent others in our place. The missionary was called out of the church to fulfill their individual sense of call. They were on mission and the task of the church was to support them. We were thrilled to get to see occasional slide show and were enthralled by stories of people that lived far, far away. While this method was efficient and the church could celebrate its global impact in supporting others to serve in their stead, the Church failed to understand their mission as a reflection of the sending Mission of God. The Mission of the Church was not designed for the selected few; it was and is to be a reflection of the way of life of every believer.

We see this clearly played out at Pentecost. As this little band of fishermen, tax collectors, and other assorted followers leave the safety of the Upper Room and find their way into the streets they experience something incredible. They had spoken Aramaic their whole lives. Now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they listened as other languages tumbled from their lips. I am not sure that they understood what was happening to them, but the scene moves from the Upper Room to the streets. Jewish from across the globe walked the streets, drawn to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple as a part of one of the grand religious celebrations. The crowd was bewildered – confused – even shocked – because they saw these simple Galileans speaking to them in their own language. “The Spirit-powered mission and the message of the church are clearly evident in the outpouring of these other languages. God’s action through Christ on behalf of the world is a proclamation that must be spread, to all people, in all languages, even to the ‘the ends of the earth.’” (2) The command they heard from Jesus on a hillside in Galilee to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth” suddenly was being realized before their eyes. In this moment the earliest “Church” inextricably discovered the living expression of the fact its mission and the redemptive Mission of God was the same.

It still is! It means that the missionary and the minister, the lawyer and the bricklayer, accountants and acrobats – all who are a part of the Church because of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ – are to be are to find their place in the living out of the Mission of God reflected in the Mission of the Church. When the Mission of the Church is the living out of the Mission of God there are no spare parts. Everyone matters and every disciple is called to engage – who they are and where they are- and wherever God might send them. Each will have a different place, but each has a place. While there is and always will be a place for missionaries, they must be tied to the living witness of congregations so that their mission expression is lived out as a part of an intentional corporate body of believer living out its part in the greater Mission of the Church. While there is and always will be a place for mission sending structures, their will and they way must begin in enabling the church fulfill its place in the Redemptive Sending Mission of God.

Even the traditional missional structures within the local church walls give way to a more organic movement of the people as the find their place and the voice in the mission of God. We looked to begin one congregation to meet a perceived need of the refugee community. That was three churches ago. We have gotten involved with Cowboy churches and the birth of an emergent church even before we fully understood how they worshipped. God brought opportunities to us without asking – and we said “yes.” This Kimberly Anno and Sarah Kroutil, two of our twentysomethings, are working on a summer medical mission trip to Haiti. They are moved by compassion by what they have seen and heard related to the ongoing tragedy in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They have heard God call and have responded. They do not ask our permission to go. They ask for us to release them and to bless their Kingdom endeavors. Paul and Barbara Calmes seemed to always going somewhere –and taking others along with them. India, Guatemala, Ghana, Kenya, China, and who knows where’s next. We are asked to simply bless their Kingdom endeavors. A number of our youth and 20somethings are heading to Canada to work with refugees this summer because they have heard God’s call. Our task is to release them and bless them. . Cathy Manuel prayed that God would fill the shelves of the food pantry and through a Walmart Grocery store God has provided so much that we are now expanding the number of zip codes we are serving. God did not ask – God provided and called us out. In the days ahead we soon ahead we will open the doors of a furniture ministry for refugees and working-poor families; we are working with others in this room to help begin a new Ghanaian church; we will partner with a Korean mission to reach Hispanics because that is where God has placed them. God is calling out and sending out people to find their place in His Redemptive Sending Mission. Our task as church is to embrace them, empower them, and release them. It is not how missions was done in previous eras of church life here, but it is how God is moving, calling, and sending now. For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son – and now sends His church

But hear that embrace our place in the Mission of the Church it is no small task. When the church understands its place as a reflection of the Redemptive Sending Mission of God it will call it out of its comfort, into the difficult highways and byways of its community and the world. The Mission of the Church will draw it from the safety of its sanctuaries to rub shoulder to shoulder with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and with those who live their lives separate from a relationship with God. The Mission of the Church will compel it to learn to speak to a world that it not its own, even when rejection and suffering are a part of the package. The Mission of the Church will summons it to act as an agent of reconciliation, responding cross-culturally to the hurt and the hopelessness that captures the souls of those living a world of darkness. The cross-cultural response will be to the both to their own culture, and to those across the globe that do not have a personal relationship with God. It will move us from looking for like-minded Baptist to instead working beside like-hearted Baptist (and others) who will partner with us as we seek to live out our place in the Mission of the Church.

For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son…Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

(1) Wilber R. Shenk. Write the Vision: The Church Renewed in the Christian Mission and Modern Culture series. (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995) 90.
(2) From “The Interpreter,” Commentary for Acts 2:1-21, Homiletics, June 4, 2006. Originally published in Homiletics, May 23, 1999.

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