This morning we continue our series on The Basics: 21st Century Faith. Two weeks ago, we talked about theology and how we might come to the idea of good theology or better put, healthy theology. Last week, we talked about discipleship. Discipleship is following and following requires movement. You cannot follow Jesus from your pew. The Spirit of God nourishes us and guides and teaches us in here during our weekly gathering. But not only here, in our homes, our relationships, our daily devotions, which should be increasingly challenging your faith rather than just pacifying you where you are. Not only in those places but following the work Jesus taught to caring for the hopeless, helpless, hurting, and unheard. It is bringing salvation that is more than the fire insurance policy. It was helping broken people move toward wholeness in this life. It was the Community of God in the here and now as well as the then and there.
All of that brings us to the next part of our series, where do we serve or perhaps better said, what is the mission?
Let me see if I can explain with a personal story. In 2004, I gave myself a mission. While the details are a little fuzzy, I believe it started the morning after Ava was born. I bought a small stuffed animal and a little black journal. That first morning I made my first entry in the journal. It was my intention to take all the events of each year of Ava’s life and chronicle them in this journal. It was to be a way of letting her see her growth to adulthood through my eyes. For the first several years, I wrote in it every year without fail. Toward her middle school years, life became a little more difficult, a little more chaotic and I missed a year or two. However, as we were preparing this week to drop her off at college, I sat down and finished the final few years’ worth of entries. As we were getting ready to drive over to the school, I handed her this work of her lifetime.
We made our way to the school and spent the day getting her room ready, visiting the campus, meeting staff and faculty, and finally, saying our goodbyes. Heather and I left and went back to the hotel. We wandered around town for a bit and found a place to eat, wandered around some more, and went back to our room. Around eight o’clock or so, I had a text conversation with Ava.
“How was dinner?” I asked.
“Good,” she said. “Collards and macaroni salad. Also, someone has mom’s exact bike.”
“Sounds good,” I replied. “They probably stole it (the bike). You know how they are.”
“College delinquents,” she said. “Also, I tried to that journal, and I love you, but you have bad handwriting.”
My mission, with greatest of intentions, was only sort of accomplished. I suppose I’ll have to create a print version to translate the less than stellar penmanship in the original. At least now she has some idea of what translators go through while working with ancient languages if she ever decides to be an archaeologist.
The Jews of Jesus’ time had their own mission: to preserve their culture and way of life during a foreign occupation. They sought to figure out how to live out the Torah while being subjugated to Roman rule and law. And it wasn’t always an issue of the Torah giving the answer but someone’s interpretation of the Torah. Many of these interpretations became very regimented and strict. For instance, in our story, the Sabbath rules of what constitutes work and what doesn’t were argued over, codified, written down, argued over again, recodified, and so on. You could only take so many steps. You had to set up the food for the feast before nightfall. You couldn’t do anything work-related until the next nightfall and so forth.
In the passage we read, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue during Sabbath. since the Sabbath celebration customarily began with a meal Friday night, this was likely, on Saturday morning. As Jesus taught, a woman enters, bent over as she walked, unable to stand up straight. Jesus sees her walk in. Jesus is more than aware of the laws and customs of Sabbath. And Jesus makes a point of crossing the line. The establishment had set up the rules, good rules to honor God and to rest from their work as God had rested on the seventh day. Jesus in effect says sometimes the spirit of law is different from the practice. Jesus lays hands on the woman and heals her.
Of course, the leader of the synagogue, a learned man in his own right, is indignant. “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” And that was true. What would it have hurt for the woman to be healed on Sunday or Monday. Eighteen years was a long time. A few more days was nothing, right? Yet, Jesus’ lesson was more than reading Torah or the writings or the prophets. It was practical, rooted in the real world. He tells the leader and the others who are indignant, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” In other words, if you’ll take care of your animals and preserve their lives, you most certainly better be willing to preserve the lives of God’s children and give them what they need.
And that is the nature of mission for the disciples of Jesus, meeting the need. Which leads me to two thoughts.
First, the mission of the church is not self-serving. One of the things about institutions is their propensity for protecting and serving the institution. Make no mistake, churches are institutions whether in the local sense or the denominational sense. They exist because they can preserve themselves. And yet the mission Jesus was about served only those who were healed, made whole, and brought home. Think back to the story and remember the need of the woman was greater than the need to preserve even the Torah law.
Second, the mission of the church creates followers of Jesus. The official United Methodist mission is to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Notice those two things and their direction. The things themselves are for the betterment of the person (make disciples, individual followers of Jesus) and the betterment of the Creation itself (to transform the world). Sounds great, right? Pretty basic stuff. Let’s dig deeper. Making disciples isn’t finding people to follow your church (though they may go there) or people to follow your ideologies or theologies (though they might do that too). Making disciples is finding and encouraging people to follow the Way of Jesus: not the way of Michael; not the way of Adnah UMC; not even the way of the UMC or GMC or any other MC. The mission is making disciples to follow the Jesus Way of Life.
So, what is the mission? When we get down to it what is the Jesus Way of Life? We have to go back a little way in Luke to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry for that. In Luke 4 after being tempted, Jesus goes to the synagogue and reads a passage from Isaiah and claims it for himself. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In Matthew 25, he describes those who will be part of the community of God as those who see the hungry and thirsty them feed them and give them something to drink. Those who see the stranger, the outsider, the outcast and invite them in. They see those needing clothes and clothe them. They see the sick or imprisoned and go to visit them.
Notice what all of Jesus ministry points to: meeting the need. Mission meets needs: not personal preferences, not political persuasions, not theological interpretations. Mission meets needs and meets them where they are. In every case where Jesus speaks of or lives out the mission, it is all about what we are doing out there, where those in need are. It meets the needs of bring physical, emotional, and spiritual brokenness to a place of healing so the person can come to a place of wholeness in and before God. It does so for the sake of the person in need which in itself is the sake of the gospel, the good news Jesus spoke of in Luke 4.
The question to ask ourselves is what needs are we meeting? Our own? The institutions? Or those who are genuinely in need.