Sent Out Church
Viet Le graduated at the top of my high school class.
He had escaped from Viet Nam following the war, spent time in a refugee camp in Laos.
Then he took a boat across the Pacific Ocean, lived for months in CA before finally settling in OH.
I was friendly with Viet; we shared all the same classes
and an interest in the life of the mind.
But I never invited him to join me at the theater, or hung out after a football game;
I never talked with him on the phone.
Several years later I got a letter from Harvard.
It was from Viet.
He told me that his life at Harvard was good, he was keeping up with his studies.
But the real reason for the letter was to tell me that he wished we had been better friends in HS.
He said that I really hadn’t given him a chance, and in many ways, he was right.
The gospel lesson this week has got me contemplating missed opportunities.
I wonder if the people in Nazareth looked back on the way they treated Jesus and said,
you know, we really missed the boat with that guy…
Consider the Gospel today.
Jesus has just come off some his most extraordinary miracles:
He healed a woman that no doctor over a 12 year span had been able to cure;
He brought a girl back from the dead.
But Jesus had done that in the Greco-Roman cities of the Decapolis.
Now he was home in Nazareth, with the people he grew up with.
And they weren’t giving him the time of day.
I guess they must have thought they knew about him already.
“Don’t we know your mother and brothers?
Where are you getting all these high minded teachings? You’re a just plain old carpenter!”
They rejected Jesus’ teaching and his miracles, refusing to believe either.
I wonder if later on they said to themselves,
Maybe we should have listened to him?
Maybe he could have helped our sick?
The people of Nazareth were operating out of what has been called “functional atheism.”
A functional atheist isn’t a true atheist – someone who states that there is no God.
It’s rather a person who says they believe in God but in everyday life acts as if there is no God.
The people of Nazareth believed in God, but didn’t think God could heal through Jesus,
so they didn’t bring their sick
They read scripture, but didn’t believe that God would speak through a hometown kid,
so they didn’t listen.
They did not expect God to enter their world, and therefore were not ready when it did.
I think we have our own modern equivalent.
Wayne, the parish worker I served with in Manchester, pointed out that people often say,
“All we can do now is pray”, as if calling on God were a last ditch effort.
Wayne’s motto was, “Why not pray first?”
Wayne’s comment helped me examine my assumptions, because I realized that often didn’t pray first.
If I wasn’t asking for God’s guidance and help, then that meant either I thought either
I didn’t need God, or that God wouldn’t help.
That’s what my actions were saying.
But I knew I did need help, and I wanted to believe God would help if I asked…
so I began to give it a try: Pray first, act second.
In so many areas of life we function as if God isn’t present,
as if God can’t or won’t make a difference in our lives.
We try to keep on top of everything, as if our success depended on us.
We construct agendas and outcomes, as if we could control our future.
We manage our finances and buy insurance, as if we could purchase security.
Like the people of Nazareth, we continue business as usual and miss the miracles under our noses.
Jesus, however, gives us a different example to emulate in this lesson-- his disciples.
Jesus sent them out to proclaim the Good News, cast out demons, and heal the sick.
They were hardly well prepared
They often misunderstood Jesus, and really didn’t get who Jesus was
Most were unschooled peasants, and they were not to take anything with them—
just the shirts on their backs.
But Jesus did give them the key element: his power.
Mark says, “He gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
While the people of Nazareth had things all sewn up,
Jesus’ disciples learned to follow Jesus’ directions and trust in his power.
We are in a time in the life of our community where it is more and more important
to think of ourselves not only as disciples who sit at the feet of Jesus to learn
but also as apostles who are sent out.
For as long as any of us can remember, people just came to church
it was what everyone did
people could start a congregation like a branch office of a company
people who had been in the company elsewhere (the Church) would join
and come to that branch to connect with the company and get the services offered.
But now practicing Christians are a much smaller slice of the population
and many who consider themselves Christian do not feel a need to attend church.
So in order to share the Good News we cannot just stay here in the walls of this building
but we have to go to where the people are.
We need to operate more like a field hospital than a branch office
We need to set up shop where there is need, where there is a hunger for good news.
That’s why I am so grateful that we have folks in this congregation who are going working to get the Family Promise affiliate up and running in our area.
Another church has joined as host, the congregational church in Bristol,
and if all continues in this vein, they will be up and running by the end of the calendar year.
Others are connecting with the Muslim community in Connecticut
Four folks from our Islam class that week joined me attending “A Taste Of Ramadan” last week.
In both of these ministries, our folks are building bridges and connecting with people often
misunderstood and stereotyped, offering to work alongside them for the common good.
They are working to heal wounds of poverty and cast out the demons of prejudice.
And there is so much more to do!
Are we, for example, going to go through the Reconciling in Christ process, as suggested by our council,
to make an intention welcome to GLTB people, when the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage?
Will we connect the dots with the racism expressed in the shootings and riots
with the tensions in our own changing communities, and be a force for the end of racial prejudice?
We need to be in prayer, because these and other issues are critically important in our world
Jesus is looking for people to send out into these places of mission and ministry.
As we continue to be sent out by Jesus, we can expect some false starts and spectacular flops.
Not every town the disciples visited wanted to hear their message.
Success however was based not on how many people joined their movement
but in the faithfulness of the messengers.
Likewise, our success is based not on our attendance records or financial viability,
but on our openness to the transformation Jesus wants to work in our lives and the world around us.
The people of Nazareth might have said years later, maybe we missed the boat with that Jesus guy…
We don’t have to make the same mistake.
We can bring our lives and our ministry and the needs of world to prayer.
We can trust in Jesus to equip us with his power
and to send us out to do his work of healing, casting out demons, and being Good News in the world.
I have always wanted to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.
I want to travel light, so I have my trusty walking stick and this backpack.
What do you think I have inside it?
It’s empty. What will I do to survive?
There are huts along the AT, sometimes people leave food. Nature to provide food and water.
Rely on God.
Today in our Gospel lesson Jesus sends out his disciples with only the clothes on their backs and a staff.
He wanted to teach them the same lesson—to rely on God, and God’s power.
If we aren’t going to hike the AT, how can we practice relying on God?
Prayer; giving generously; taking a risk or an opportunity—doing something new