June 20 (Core Value 8) The Church is Mission Matthew 28:16-20
Last Sunday I talked about diversity.
I tried to make the point that diversity happens when we’re focused on Jesus, not necessarily because we focus on attracting a certain demographic.
For example, the kind of diversity that God intends—it doesn’t happen when we finally get a certain number of women in leadership—it happens when Jesus makes us no longer sexist!
The kind of diversity that God had in mind for his creation—it doesn’t happen when we get a certain percentage of racial minorities among us—Rather, it happens when Jesus makes us no longer racist!
The kind of diversity that is the kingdom of God—it doesn’t happen when we strike the right ratio of poor people and rich people in our church—rather, it happens when the gospel of Christ makes us understand wealth and power in completely different ways!
I wanted to recap a little bit this morning because last week’s core value and this week’s core value go hand-in-hand.
Diversity and the desire to bring others to Christ—they’re two sides of the same coin.
So, this morning I’ll be addressing the 8th and final core value of this church.
It says we desire to bring others to Christ.
It seems fitting to have it here in the final position. All of the core values build on each other, and I think they kind of culminate in this last one, which has to do with spreading the good news!
I know that these core values were listed in random order, and that we shouldn’t say that one is more important than any other one.
But still, it makes sense that after spelling out the kind of fellowship that we’re trying to be—1)a place where fellowship is enjoyed and relationships are nurtured…2)a place where we study scripture and seek to form our lives by what we find there…3) a place where we know who we are and value our specific history in the Anabaptist tradition… 4)a place where we truly value all our gifts—even the ones that aren’t the most ripe, where we know that God is pleased with all expressions of worship and not just the ones we like…5) a place where we pursue creative, nonviolent ways of thinking and living… 6 +7) a place where the leadership of our group is shared among a diverse people who are focused on the Living God…
It makes sense that after naming all of that, we finally express our 8) desire to extend this gift to other people, to invite them into God’s kingdom—God’s reality!
We want to draw others in; to share the good news, to share this radical alternative to business-as-usual with as many other people as we can!
And so this final core value begins with a few simple words.
We desire to bring others to Christ.
It’s a simple enough statement…but just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy!
It’s a huge thing! The gospel is a powerful, life-changing story!
Trying to invite people into it is a task that might seem challenging on a good day, and downright impossible on a bad one.
Our faith encompasses so much, that it can be hard to know where to start when trying to share the good news with people who haven’t heard it! That’s especially true when those people are so different than we are.
Presenting the gospel is hard enough with people we know well.
Presenting it to people we don’t know…that seems like an even bigger challenge.
So I think we try to manage. We try to make it a little bit easier by focusing on the different ways we bring others to Christ, the different methods we might use.
So we talk about Outreach—which often means service projects or social events that are intended to bring people who are “outside” to the “inside” of our fellowship…(hence the term “out reach”).
Or we talk about Evangelism—which most of us might take to mean something like knocking on doors and talking to strangers…or Revival meetings with evangelist preachers like Myron Augsberger or George Brunk or Billy Graham.
Or maybe we talk about Mission—and for many of us, mission is something that happens hundreds or even thousands of miles away, probably in a different language.
We might be used to thinking of mission as something that a few special people do, with the support of a ‘sending’ congregation or conference…and these special people have to be smart enough to learn a foreign language and bold enough to keep asking for money.
These are three ways that I think we try to express this final core value—this desire to bring others to Christ. Outreach, Evangelism, and Mission.
And I think typically, most people can find themselves in one of these areas.
We understand that the resurrected Christ gave his followers a Great commission, the one we heard today… “Go and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
We know that even as early in the story as Abraham, God was blessing a particular people not so they could sit around and feel good about themselves—but so that they could be a blessing!
We know all that, and we know that faith is a huge—huge thing that encompasses our entire life! So I think we tend to put ourselves in one of those three categories to try to manage this Great Commission.
For example, we pick ‘outreach’ as our thing because we don’t mind hard work. We’ll go and serve somewhere…and let our actions speak for us. Or we’ll organize some social events hoping that some people who are “out there” will eventually build some relationships with people “in here” and eventually come to know Jesus on a deeper level.
Or maybe you cast yourself as an Evangelist because you think people just need to hear it like it is. Maybe you don’t feel like you have the time to give to service projects or other outreach opportunities, but you love conversations and you’ve never met a stranger you didn’t like. J
Or maybe you’re not comfortable with either of those, so you support Mission…either financially or you yourself would love to be overseas somewhere, learning the customs and the language and helping people far away understand the Bible in their own language or start churches in their village.
Each one of those things is good and has it’s place. But each one also misses something vital about the point of this 8th core value, and maybe even something vital about the Great Commission as we heard it this morning.
All of those things are ways the church tries to accomplish its mission.
See, what I’m saying is that God’s church does not have a mission!
Instead—God’s church IS MISSION!
And I’m not just talking about that third option. (let me try to explain)
See, words are like suitcases—they carry meaning. The longer you live and the more experiences you have, the more meaning gets packed away in the luggage you carry. You can call it baggage that you don’t even see…mental baggage might be a good term.
And what happens is, some words become really good suitcases.
They’re big and flexible and sturdy so they can handle a lot of weight.
And these special words become so crammed full of baggage that it’s hard to know what they really mean anymore.
Some good examples are words like “Freedom” and “Values” and even “America.” These are words that are so packed with meaning that everyone instantly thinks they know what they mean. But in reality the meaning they carry is different depending on something as simple as where you stand when you use them.
I’d like to suggest that “Mission” is one of those words.
It needs some unpacking. And I think the next part of this core value helps to do that.
After it says we desire to bring others to Christ, it goes on to say how we go about expressing this desire.
It says We express this desire by our support of the local, national and international mission efforts of our denomination and by attempting to be an outreaching and inviting congregation.
God’s reign extends well beyond our own town or state or country. Therefore our desire is to live God’s reign well beyond our own town or state or country.
Mission is not just one part of what the church does. Rather, mission describes the church!
The church IS mission!
We are just one small part of a whole network of Christians all around the globe.
Well-meaning Christian people have taken the Great Commission and spent their lives spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Sometimes these people employed horrific methods that did a lot more harm than good…and that in many ways the kingdom of God has prospered and flourished not because of, but rather in spite of such missionary activity.
But we also know that reaching beyond ourselves to introduce other people to the good news is fundamental to who Jesus was, is, and forever will be.
It’s easy to get intimidated by words like ‘evangelism’ or ‘missions’.
But I’d like to help us this morning by getting us to think of mission as more of an identity than an activity.
It’s pretty important that the first followers of Christ included at least one tax collector and at least one Zealot. I alluded to this last week, but I think it’s just as important to think about this morning.
The Zealot would have zealously guarded his religious heritage. He would have spent a large part of his life trying to subvert Rome by any means necessary because he saw Roman occupation of his religious nation-state as an abomination to be overcome. He would have had every religious justification we could think of to use any means necessary to kick Rome out.
…The same Rome that the tax collector was helping to fund, promote, and protect through collecting taxes. The same Rome that this corrupted tax collector was cheating his fellow Jews to support.
To say the least, these weren’t two people who had a lot in common.
Yet both heard the voice of Jesus saying “come and follow me”.
And so they did—and they found something that was even more important and more consuming than their individual political agendas!!
They came to be known as disciples of Christ…not tax collectors…not zealots…but followers of Jesus.
That’s a picture of mission! That’s a picture of church!
They found themselves on the journey—and I’m convinced that they learned to need each other both to learn and to teach the gospel of Christ.
They weren’t on a mission—they were mission itself!
So who’s your zealot? Who’s your Tax collector?
This core value ends by saying
We believe that if we build relationships with others we may be able to communicate the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.
I can’t help but reframe it just a little bit. It might be more true to say unless we build relationships with others we can never communicate the life-changing message of Jesus Christ! We worship a God who is revealed in relationship. It’s always been that way, ever since those first days in the Garden.
And we are a people who are created for relationships—not only with other people, but with God, with creation, and even with ourselves.
So what’s any of this mean?
Well, I think it means re-thinking who we are and what message we’re proclaiming.
It goes back to the first core value—the importance of fellowship and building relationships.
In reality, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
See, everyone here is an evangelist, everyone is involved in outreach, and everyone is a missionary. The only question is whether the story you’re sharing is the gospel of Jesus, or just some story about yourself.
Everyone sitting in this room, whether or not you’re even a Christian—everyone is proclaiming a message—whether or not it’s good news is the question each of us has to think about, and each of us has to answer.
God loved us so much that he gave us the world. Then we messed it up to the point that he sent his Son Jesus to redeem us. We killed him and he came back to be with us, to continue teaching us, to love and to guide us by the power of the Holy Spirit as we relate both to Him and to each other.
That’s the point of church. That’s mission; that we have died to ourselves and now live in Christ!
…I’ve been reminded recently that from time to time it’s good to give some space for people to re-examine their lives on a Sunday morning. I’d like to just offer that Christine or I or any of the elders are always available to talk with anyone who wants to know more about Jesus or more about becoming a Christian.
Just catch us after the service and any of us would be more than happy to talk to you about what God might be putting on your heart today.
Let’s close in prayer.