Sunday, July 8, 2007

Free for Missio Dei

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 WPC July 8, 2007

So did you see the fireworks? The bright colors—red, purple, green, and yellow—lining the dark night sky; explosions rattling ears. Did you cook out? Stuff yourself with hamburgers, hotdogs, brisket, ribs, beans, potato salad, homemade ice cream. On Wednesday, July 4 we celebrated independence day, and for most citizens at least, it meant, a day away from work to celebrate independence from British colonial rule; to celebrate our freedom of living in this republic.

Freedom, the illusive concept, yet what we all long to experience. Even we Christians recognize freedom as a foundational aspect of our Christian identity.

Last week we focused on the freedom from aspect of Christian Freedom. To sum up the message: Christ calls us to discipleship. In doing so, Christ sets us free from those things that would hold us back, restrict us, and keep us down. Do we get this? Do we realize what the significance of this is? It is my prayer that each of us can experience Freedom from our burdens, but certainly it is not something that happens overnight.

Anyone come here this morning without a burden, without feeling some kind of guilt or pressure or worry? For the rest of us, this takes a life-time as we seek to become holy as God is holy. A life-time to discover the ways in which Christ sets us free, free to be you and me. Experiencing this kind of freedom must be like soaring with eagle’s wings, like running without growing weary. Redeemed, and invigorated, like being ready for a long bike ride with David Ytuarte, or a carefree game at the ball-park with Cat and Doug, or a long hike with Bob Horning. You may even say, “Hey, this freedom stuff is alright, now what?

Now we look at the flip side of the coin; the second part of the equation. Freedom from would naturally lead to freedom for. Paul assures us the freedom from our burdens is not a license for doing whatever we want because inevitably doing whatever we want leads to hurting others, broken relationships, robbing us of our very freedom. Nor does freedom from mean complete autonomy, because this would lead to isolation and loneliness. Instead, freedom from our burdens sets us free for a new form of subjection—to Christ and to one another. As Calvin put it: freedom from means freedom for joyous obedience of God’s will summed up in the commandment to love God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.” As Paul puts it, freedom from our own burdens means freedom for lovingly bearing one another’s burdens and working for the good of all. Uff.

Freedom for obedience…freedom for loving God…freedom for loving our neighbors…freedom for loving ourselves…freedom for bearing one another’s burdens…freedom for working for the good of all. This is a purpose driven life. IS there anything else to add to this list?

You may have noticed I haven’t yet talked about the strange passage we read in Luke: seventy disciples sent out as missionaries, laborers for the harvest, lambs midst wolves. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I come across passages that I would prefer to just leave for the first century Christians; not let it sneak into our understanding of the world. We are free in Christ, but does this entail walking on snakes and scorpions; traveling with only the clothes on your back?

Is that the message about freedom for? But as I studied it, it became clear that this was an interesting passage about mission, about early mission work. The disciples go from town to town, door to door to proclaim the reign of God. So maybe there is freedom for mission. Okay, that’s it…let’s go, off to the fields!

Or would you rather leave it in the 1st century? Who here considers themselves a missionary?

As many of you know, after finishing college, I worked for more than 3 years for a missionary organization in a foreign country; I was even given the title: missionary. But in all honesty, I rejected the title missionary because it’s a loaded term. I mean, what do you think about when you think of missionary? “Missionaries,” such strange people, wouldn’t you say Libby? Let’s face it, while there are many positive role models found in many missionaries, because of traditional missionary practices, missionary carries negative connotations like paternalism, cultural imperialism, and colonialism. It was something done by people who felt they possessed some kind of truth, who set off for some far away land to a people who did not know truth and were in need of conversion.

A prime example of where this took place: New Mexico. This was a hot spot for missionaries, especially Presbyterian missionaries, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not to mention the catholic missionaries who had come a few centuries earlier. Without missionaries, this church, nor any other, might not be here. True, we can be proud of our heritage, yet much of the mission work we read about might make us cringe….yikes, students in missionary schools were punished for speaking Spanish? Yikes, traditional practices and lifestyles were deemed uncivilized, even barbaric? Yikes, the native people were not AMERICAN.

So who’s ready to go be a missionary!!!?? Our problem as Christians is that Christ sets us free for mission. Seriously. Does not Christ commission disciples to go: to labor in the fields, to heal the sick, to announce the coming reign of God? Christianity is a missional religion. We are compelled to share the GOOD news of the gospel! While we don’t know what historians will say about us in 100 years, in the very least we can learn from the past and consider new ways of understanding Christian mission.

And I think this strange passage from Luke and the disjointed passage we read from Paul can provide insight to this new understanding. First, if you notice the disciples are told by Christ to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. In other words there is a subtle but critical call for prayer.1 Before we engage in mission we pray; we seek to discover what God is calling us to do.

We pray out of recognition of who’s in charge, not us. TO put it another way, the disciples were to recognize that they were to participate not in their own mission, in which they had some kind of power over others, but rather in Missio Dei.

That’s not Spanish, but a fancy latin phrase that I love. Missio Dei: God’s mission. When the seventy recognize that it is not their mission but God’s mission they are able to consider the possibility that God is at work everywhere, and that they are able to cooperate with God in bringing about God’s reign of Peace. (I’ll say a bit more about this in the congregational meeting)

Second, what are the missionaries told to do when they encounter someone else? To dine with those who welcomed them in. TO sit around the table and eat and drink whatever was provided. Twice Jesus says this. This was a big deal for this time because of certain dietary restrictions of the day… kosher food only, no shellfish, no food from animals with split hooves, no food sacrificed to idols,

these things were not found on the menus back in those days in their community. It’s harder than being a vegan. But now Jesus is saying it’s okay.

When I was in the role of a traditional missionary, it was easy for me most of the time to go by this suggestion of Jesus. I love Mexican food, and I can eat just about anything, I was served cow tongue tacos, pig feet tostadas, and I ate it up!

By eating food others prepare, you accept a gift given to you. Plus, what does it mean to sit at table and share a meal with someone else? First, if you are a guest, you are usually the one served. The setting and the pace of the evening is decided by the one providing the food: just about all terms are set by the host. Whenever I dine in someone else’s home, it is customary for me to submit to them; to learn about them by looking at pictures on the walls; to listen to their stories as I seek to discover who they are. I am the guest. This happens whenever we dine in someone else’s house. So it would seem that missionaries are to enjoy a good meal with someone, and instead of teaching them a thing or two, they are to learn, to discover, and be open to the ways in which God is working in the host’s life.

Early protestant missionaries to New Mexico had little success in winning converts, particularly the male missionaries who came to start churches and to teach people the truth. They were usually viewed suspiciously and kept at arms length by the people. Interestingly, the early women missionaries, who were not allowed to be preachers but instead were to work in schools or in health clinics (women’s work), had the greatest success in getting to know those indigenous to the land; these women were invited into homes to share meals and to know the families. Much of the reason for this, as some historians and sociologists point out, was not because these women were better at converting than the men, but rather because they were actually the one’s who were converted by the native people. Many women came to realize that the people were not inferior as they once had thought, but that they had a different but valid way of living in the world. They came to discover that even practices of faith, while different, were not necessarily contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The women healed the sick, provided education, and they ate with the people and shared in their lives,

and in doing so pronounced peace and the coming kingdom of God.

Christ sets us free to participate in God’s mission in the world. And this mission is critical, for it is one which demands works of peace, justice, and mercy.

At the end of this month Barbara Medina is taking a huge step as she responds to God’s call for her to be a witness for peace in Colombia, a place where Christians’ very lives are at risk on a daily basis as they stand up to injustices. Barbara has prayed a ton about taking this trip, just as I’m sure she has a ton of concerns about going down there. But she, empowered by the Holy Spirit, has been set free from these anxieties and freely she responds boldly to God’s call. Surely she will be invited to eat with others, speak in a foreign tongue, and have opportunities to learn, even as she pronounces a message of Peace, and witnesses to the coming of God’s reign.

But I want to make clear that mission, Missio Dei, participation in God’s mission is not something that just takes place in far off lands among a foreign people. I am convinced that God frees us for mission, for pronouncing peace and God’s reign of love and justice, whenever and wherever we work for the good of anyone. Whenever and wherever we are given an opportunity to encounter someone, anyone, a co-worker down the hall, a neighbor down the street, a tourist lost in town, and experience a glimpse of their lives and bear some of their burdens.

This is the work God would have us participate in. We do mission at home, when instead of loosing our temper or our patience, we are empowered to patiently love and forgive an energetic child or a hard-headed spouse. We participate in mission as we give care to the elderly who may be incapacitated, or ill; how hard it can be to constantly maintain a patient loving attitude. Teachers must not only be educators but moral guides, counselors, disciplinarians, and protectors for youth who wonder what their lives mean; is this not missio dei?

As we follow Christ, we are set free from our burdens so that we might be you and me, and in this freedom we are free to be missionaries, who bear witness to the good news of the gospel, by bearing one another’s burdens. By enjoy a good meal with other’s, both friends and strangers, sharing our lives and our love to discovery of what God is doing in the world. This is something we may participate in every time we sit at table for a meal; every time we get together for a cookout on the forth of July; every time we gather around this table for a the great memorial feast; the ultimate sign that God’s compassionate love will sustain us in this good work. Thanks be to God. Amen.

1 Cousar, et. al. Texts for Preaching, p.

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