Thursday, August 11, 2011

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

Last spring I was asked to deliver a sermon for the CBFO General Assembly and the topic I was given was “The Mission of God: The Mission of the Church.” As I prepared that sermon over and over again I felt led to bring this same theme and this same passage to our church family. You would think that I would be tempted just to preach the same sermon, but I believe that a sermon is written for a specific people in a specific moment. So, while a sentence here and there may sound familiar to those who were there that morning, the reality is that little of the earlier sermon remains. Our congregation is at a different point in our missional journey than those gathered for that earlier event. We are on a mission-centered path, but, I think it is critical that we continue to go back to Scripture to make sure the path we are on is on track with God’s will for us as individuals and as a church family.

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. We heard this passage read 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. God loves us and wants us to live in that love. This is not a polite religious philosophical statement. God has demonstrated the depth of His love with God’s remarkable choice to come incarnate to walk among us, to teach us, and to show us the way. God has demonstrated the depth of His love with God’s incredible choice to claim a path of sacrifice that we might know redemption and grace. Real and authentic love begins in the heart of God and is initiated in the action of God.

Verses 11 and 12 makes the sending Mission of God personal. It reads; 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. Verse 11 is almost identical to verse 7- it is the reoccurring theme that because God loved us we are called to love one another. Our love is to be reflection of God’s love. We hear it when Jesus teaches; “A new command I give you: Love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. (John 13:34-35). We hear it echoed in Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth when he teaches that those who have reconciled to God through Christ are called now to become ministers of reconciliation. We hear it from the lips of Jesus when he proclaims, “As I was sent, so I send you.”(John 20:20) The redemptive Mission of God expressed through the love of Christ is to become the Mission of the Church. 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 for its relationship with the world.

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 who are made children of God through the love of God expressed through Christ, each one of us, are to be the reflection of God’s love for the world. This 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 – all who have known God’s love -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.

As you know, a number of our youth and 20somethings headed to Canada to work with refugees in July because they heard God’s call. One of the results of their work crossed my desk this week on email. A community center leader that had viewed the work of a refugee focused Baptist Church with skepticism has changed their tune. This week they wrote a letter asking for the chancellor of that area to do a letter of appreciation to the church, to the missionaries they worked with, and to the FBC OKC mission teams for the great work they accomplished during their time there. A heart of compassion and hands of service built an important relational bridge to will change the texture of ministry in that community for the good. The team did not pass out tracks or preach on street corners. The directly and meaningfully served in humility and love. They reflected God’s love and those in that community felt its power. Similar stories emerge from almost everywhere we God in God’s name – whether across the street or across the world. God is calling out and sending out people to find their place in His Redemptive Sending Mission. Our job is to have an open heart and a willing spirit. For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son – and now sends His church

But hear that our embrace of our place in the Mission of the Church it is no small short term task. It would be easy to sit down and pat ourselves on the back and pronounce “well done!” for all we have done. But when the church understands its place as a reflection of the Redemptive Sending Mission of God it will continue to be call it out of its comfort, into the difficult highways and byways of its community and the world. The Mission of the Church will continue to draw us from the safety of our sanctuary 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 us to learn to speak to a world that it not our own, even when rejection and suffering are a part of the package. The Mission of the Church will summons us to act as agents 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 in our own community and to those across the globe that do not have a personal relationship with God. Let us not grow weary in doing good – let us know grow weary in claiming our part in the Mission of God.

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. As I was sent, so I send you. Where is God calling you? Where is God leading us next? Amen.

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