Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sermon: Mission/Baltimore

The Baltimore Folk
Greetings in the name of Jesus.
What do you think of when you hear the word mission? When you hear of the term Evangelism?
For many these words bring up the image of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on doors two by two—interrupting dinner and being mildly annoying. Or young Mormon men bungling awkwardly though their first forays into the big bad world.
For others a more sinister cloud overshadows the word mission. They think of the troubling history of conversion by the sword. They think of conquistadores conquering continents in the name of Christ, but for the goal of gold.
Still others, many pastors especially, think of the words mission and evangelism as buzzwords used by church-growth gurus to make them feel insecure about the ministry they are doing. They are words that cause the number of people sitting in pews to replace relationships with the people in the pews.
And yet, despite all of this, the church is always called to mission.
Jesus, standing at the Jordon River—John the Baptist next to him, Spirit and dove diving upon him—was driven into the wilderness, but then driven to Galilee and to mission, to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God—saying that, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then Jesus calls the twelve to mission, to the proclamation of the closeness of the Kingdom of God—giving them authority over demons and disease.
Last week Jesus told his disciples of the raw uncertainty that goes with mission, about how you become like foxes without holes and birds without nests—all to proclaim the closeness of the kingdom.
And in today’s lesson the 72 are sent out in danger and hope, freely furthering peace, healing the sick, and wielding great power with a humble heart. Because then, as today, the church is always called to mission!
And today I would like to focus our imaginations upon one particular set of the 72—I would like us to consider one particular set of laborers, one particular set of lambs amongst wolves. Today, as we recognize that the church is always called to mission, I would like to consider the mission of those that Jesus has appointed to go ahead of him to the town of Baltimore.

Let us pray:
Dear Jesus, Lord of the Church, may the words that pass through my lips enlighten the hearts of the hearers, move them to mission, and proclaim your word to us this day.—Amen.

Imagine, the scene. The 12 disciples have lined us all up, two by two. Its like we’re animals headed to an Ark.
Then Jesus walks down the line of would be missionaries. He looks at the first group, and says, “Jerusalem.”
Someone in the back says, “Damn, I wanted Jerusalem.”
And he says to the next set of people, “Samaria,” and to the next, “Decapolis,” and to the one after that “Tyre.”
Then he gets to you and me, and says, “Baltimore.”
And with that there is an audible gasp.
The church is always called to mission, and our calling is to Baltimore.
Jesus calls out the remaining 31 cities and regions he is appointing people to go to. But you and I don’t really pay close attention to where everyone else is going to, because our minds are dwelling deeply on Baltimore.
We think, “My God! There is so much to be done there. The population continues to decline, but the problems continue to increase. There are fewer churches there, being forced to do more with less! There are so many people in need!”
And Jesus speaks to that, saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” It is almost a blessing of scarcity. It is as if he’s saying, “Thank God that there is a lot of ministry to be done. Thank God that you’re called to mission in a place that needs it!”
“but,” we think, “Baltimore is a dangerous place. In the last 10 days police seized 76 illegal guns.
That’s more guns than there are people standing in this line two by two!
That’s more guns than missionaries!”
And Jesus acknowledges that. He says, “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Mission, he states, involves physical danger—yes, but—he warns us—it involves personal danger as well.
It involves putting yourself out there. Being church—doing mission—involves other people!
It involves committing time and emotion.
It involves money and talents.
It involves giving of oneself!
It involves becoming involved!
“But,” Jesus quickly adds, in case we missed the other half—the positive side—of being lambs amongst wolves, because sometimes we Christians miss Jesus’ references to Hebrew Scripture.
“When I’m talking about wolves and lambs,” he says, “I am quoting the prophet Isaiah. When I’m talking about wolves and lambs I am quoting his description of the world re-ordered by God—the world as it should be and as it will be”
He states that, “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and the serpent—its food will be dust! There will be no hurt or destruction on my holy mountain.”
So, Jesus is not just saying “I’m sending you out into danger.

He is also saying, “I’m sending you into the dangerous world in order to be a model of the world as it should be.”
“Mission is not war-time-heroics, ‘sneaking behind enemy lines,’ but living without an enemy—pre-figuring the possibility of the gospel.
The mission Jesus calls us to be, is, to borrow an overused phrase, to “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
“And that change we wish to see is peace… you will say peace to this house.”

“But,” we say quietly to ourselves, hoping our Lord doesn’t hear, “the world that we see is violent—the United States, the country Baltimore is located in—is at war in two countries and flying armed unmanned drones above several more. Its not a peaceful place. Being here with Jesus is peaceful, but how could we share such a peace with such a war-like people? I don’t want to lose the peace of Jesus that I have by interacting with Americans.”
To this Jesus responds, “Say peace to this house. And if anyone is there who shares peace—who is a child of peace—you and they will share in peacefulness—but if they are all war-like the peace I have given to you will return to you. But if you are serious about this mission thing… and that the church is always called to mission… you have to be willing to risk your peace for the sake of sharing peace!
“And further,” he adds, “when I say peace I do not simply mean the absence of war.”
“I mean the peace of God—the wholeness, the good news and release, the freedom and the sight—that God gives to me and I in turn give to you that you might give it freely to others!”
Yet sadly, before Jesus can even end the speaking of his eloquent words you and I are already asking the same question again, “but what are the costs of this? Do Baltimoreans deserve to know the good news of the kingdom of God? For that matter what happens if they reject us? What if they don’t care for the healing and wholeness that is the mission of the church? What if they don’t care for the Kingdom of God?”
To this Jesus responds, “You still have to tell them that the Kingdom of God has come near! Sure, wipe off the soil of Baltimore—kick the concrete and asvault out of the treds in your sneakers, but still be the prophecy of Isaiah—still let them know the demands and the right rule of God! Still let them know about the Kingdom.”

And with that we went out.
We traveled to Baltimore.
We followed the church’s calling to mission.
We lived into the danger and hope of Baltimore.
We built up a center that serves 100’s of children—a peaceful place for them here in Park Heights.
We made space for those recovering from addiction to wrestle with their demons and find the wholeness that is of God.
We visited the sick,
we provided food for those that hunger, for that is the Rule of God and the Kingdom of God.
You and I, appointed by the Lord to go ahead of Him to Baltimore, have done great things.
We have embodied the gospel, as is our calling.
Wolves have been won over.
We stepped upon the backs of snakes, scorpions, and all that which would seek to harm people.
We subdued demons and throw down Satan.

But, just in case we get so wrapped up in our calling. Just in case the church weds itself to mission and falls in love with the power of throwing down the Powers of Sin, Death, and the Devil. Just in case, Jesus comes to us one last time.
He says, “Don’t rejoice at all of this. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven.” I believe words like Mission and Evangelism—as over-used and miss-used as they are—are important… I believe the Church is always called to mission,
and its an amazing mission—I believe it is a mission that can protect the vulnerable, heal the broken, and save the soul of this world, this nation, and this city
Nonetheless, in doing this mission we must not forget whose mission it is. In this calling we must not forget who has called us.
We protect because we are being protected,
we heal because we are being healed and
we save because we are being saved.
Because, “God has smiled on me, he has set me free. God has smiled on me, He’s been good to me.” (Hymn 152 in the AAHH)