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Becoming a Missionary February 9, 2014

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Matthew 5:13-20

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

February 9th, 2014

Focus: God is a missionary God, He sends.

Function: That the hearers go into their community as sent ones.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Becoming a Missionary

 

You’re really in over your head.  You’re not sure why you decided to do this.  To dedicate years of your life to doing this.  But, you did. It must’ve been God working inside you.  He motivated you to spend two years of your life fundraising, fundraising thousands of dollars to pay for and support your ministry for the next several years.

He motivated you to take the three month intensive crash course in a foreign language you had never even heard of, so that you could go to a country you couldn’t pinpoint on a map.  They don’t have the Word of God.  There’s starving children, diseases are rampant among the population.  They’re not educated, the children are illiterate, but there may be a guide there who knows a few words of English.

So you’re packed and ready to go.  You’ve spent two years preparing, you’ve been vaccinated so many times that you feel like a pin cushion and you made sure to bring along that mosquito net so you don’t get malaria.  You’ve said your goodbyes to your friends and family, and now your real missionary journey begins.

That’s the picture we have of a missionary.  Someone who drops everything, forfeits the life they’re currently living, and moves to some third world country.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known several who fit that category.  Hannah’s mom even taught in Nigeria for several years.  They’re good people, doing good things, doing the work of the Lord.

But that language is trouble for our church.  It’s not correct and it’s hurting our ability to be witnesses.  Back in December, we spent four weeks together in Bible class in the fellowship hall downstairs trying to change this language.  Seeking to redefine what a missionary is.  The class was called “The Missionary Nature of God and His Church.”  I appreciated the feedback and the participation in the class.  Together, I truly believe we were making good progress.

And then the LCMS, our beloved synod, dampened my spirits.  In the January edition of the LCMS Reporter, their monthly newspaper, they included this poster. Open and show poster.  “Hard work.  Big bugs.  Spotty internet.  Assaults of the devil.  Speaking the faith.  It’s a different life.  Are YOU up for it?  Become a Missionary.”  And if you flip it over, this lovely chart breaks it down for you.  “The Road to Missionary Service.”  It’s a step-by-step guide to getting you out into the mission field.

You know the head slap?  Like you’re so disappointed in something that you take your forehead and your throw it into the palm of your hand?  do it.  I know you’ve seen it.  You’ve probably done it.  When I was in confirmation, we knew we were in real trouble if Pastor Kastens gave us the dreaded double.  do it.  Duck.  Hide.  Run.  Something bad was coming!

After just teaching our Bible class, and then immediately getting this poster in the mail…it got the dreaded double.  I couldn’t believe it.  What are we doing?  Why do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot and crippling our ability to witness and serve God?  I showed the poster to Hannah, and her response cheered me up.  “That happens when we’re baptized.”  Thank you, thank you Hannah for paying attention in Bible class.

We become missionaries of the gospel the moment we become part of God’s family.  It doesn’t take this chart.  It takes just one step.  Right there.  point to font.  In your baptism, God called you and He sent you.

This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in our reading today from Matthew.    You are the salt of the earth.  Apparently, salt is used for 14000 different things today.  Flavoring, preserving, treating chemicals, making things, etc.  But every one of these uses is beneficial.  We are the salt of the earth.  As God’s people, we benefit the world around us.

You are the light of the world.  This one’s easy enough to see.  In darkness, you can’t see anything.  You’re blind.  But when the sun comes up, you can see things clearly.  You are a city on a hill.  Easy enough, we’re visible to our community.  If something is elevated, you can see it from far away.  Think about the grain elevator here in town.  Easy to see and people notice it.  People notice us…good or bad.  You are a lamp in a house.  Much the same as before with light, but now on a smaller scale.  The lamp provides light, the ability to see, to the home. It’s worth noting that Jesus’ analogies cover different settings.  Home, community, and the world.

And without a doubt, this fits into the greater narrative of Scripture.  The word missionary comes from the Latin, missio, and means sending.  It means both to send, and to be sent.  And our God is a missionary God all the way.  Scripture is full of Him sending.  He sent Abraham to a new land.  He sent Moses to Egypt and Pharaoh.  He sent Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh.  He sent the 72 to witness to the towns around the Mediterranean Sea.

But He is also sent.  God the Father sent the Son, Jesus Christ, to us.  Jesus was and is a missionary among us.  He came not for the healthy, but the sick.  He came not to the proud, but the humble.  He came not to the Pharisees and scribes, but to the tax collectors and prostitutes.  And in His coming, He died and rose again.  His death cleanses our sins.  His life and resurrection breathes life into our frail bodies once again.  In Christ, we are a new creation.  That doesn’t happen if God isn’t sent.

And then Jesus sends us.  In John 20:21, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’”  And in the Great Commission of Matthew 28: “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  And again in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

God is a missionary God. He is both the sender and the One who is sent.  And He has sent us.  As God’s people, we are a missionary people.  As His church, we are a missionary church.  We don’t send missionaries.  We’re already sent.  He has already sent us into His kingdom, into this community, our community of Stewartville.  It happened at your baptism.  God sent two new missionaries into our community just last week, McKenzie and Milo, missionaries to Stewartville.

One of the ways that we as Christians have struggled with this, and still do, is by thinking people will come to us.  We call it the attractional church.  We’ll put on programs, and people’ll come.  We’ll hold community events, and the community will show up.  If you build it…they will come.

But that’s not the way it works.  Because of sin, that’s not the way it works.  What sinner seeks out God on their own?  Why should someone out there come to us?  They can’t and they won’t.  And if we sit here thinking we’re attractive, nothing’ll happen.

Instead, we are a missional community.  God has sent us.  We gather together here to hear His Word, to receive forgiveness of our sins, to be built up by a community of believers, and to find strength in the Lord.  And then, we scatter.  We go our separate ways into the community which God has entrusted to us.

Being sent starts under your own roof and works its way out from there.  It starts with your family, then your neighbors, your whole street, your subdivision, your city and county.  It starts with proximity, being there among the people.  You can’t witness if you’re not there.

Then it goes to presence.  I know any one of our school students can agree to this one.  And I’d say all of you can.  You can be somewhere physically, but be completely checked out mentally.  Perhaps there are a few people here among us today that are falling into that trap right now.  I wonder what’s for lunch…maybe we’ll go sledding this afternoon…I have so many errands to run today.  If you’re not present, actually living in that moment, you’ll never get to know the people around you.

Which is the third key.  Relationships.  God built us to be a community, not individuals.  He didn’t just make Adam and say go have fun.  He made a community.  We need each other.  And it’s only through relationships that you gain a hearing.  If a person knows you, they’re much more likely to listen to you and to respect what you have to say.  They’re also more likely to come to you when they’re hurting, and that’s a glorious opportunity to share the gospel, to wrap them in the arms of God, comforting them with His love.

Figure out where the people are in Stewartville.  Many of you already know.  I’ve heard the farmers gather at the gas station for coffee, as do the ladies at Tarsilla’s.  You know where the youth hang out here in town.  You know where the cool place to be is on a Friday night.  Be there.  Proximity, Presence, and Relationships.  Be there.

I promised you in December that I would work with our community leaders to figure out what the needs are here in Stewartville and how we can serve those needs.  Because serving is one of the best ways to open the door for the gospel, to gain a hearing with people.  Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve.  So do we.  And we’ve got this right in our mission statement here at St. John’s. Serving as God’s family: sharing His love, telling His story.  First, we serve.

Just this week, I had lunch with one of the principals here in town, Matt Phelps from Bonner.  He loved it.  He was delighted to hear that people in this community care and want to be involved.  He had plenty of ideas of how to plug us in, to get us in the door of a public school, where we could build relationships and start changing lives.  Just to share one idea of the many, they need volunteers to read with kids.  That simple, come in 30 minutes a day, however many days you want.  Just sit and read with a child.  That’s not hard to do.  But doing it, you help them gain a life skill.  You build a relationship with them that opens other doors.  And for some of these kids, you might become the only positive role model in their life.  Just 30 minutes.

I have more of these lunches coming up.  And then I’ll bring all the ideas back to you.  We can’t do them all.  But we can do a few, we can be good at a few.  We can be involved in our community.

But while you wait for me to do that, you don’t have to just sit around doing nothing.  You can be involved in your own little corner of our community.  The next time it snows, clear your neighbor’s driveway.  Get to the know the people around you so you know the details of their life.  If you find out a neighbor is having surgery, visit them in the hospital.  Visit them once they come home.  Bring them meals for a night, a week, or even a month.

You are God’s chosen people.  You are God’s sent people.  You are His missionaries.  Not this. hold up poster.  You don’t have to do this, you can, but you’re called already.  You’re sent already.  Get to know your community.  Get to love your community.  Serve your community.  That’s what Christ did for us.  And so that’s what we do for others.  We are a city on a hill.