Sermon: Community of the Sent
Scripture: Acts 1:8
Date: October 30, 2016
How would you feel if I told you that many of us have an understanding of church that would be completely foreign to how Jesus intended His church to be. Because, here’s the thing, many Christians see church as a place to come. It’s a building. A Sanctuary. A destination. Too many come to church for their own personal edification. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended when He talked to Peter about building His church on Peter’s faith and then later told Peter that if he truly loved Him, then he needed to be about the work of feeding His sheep. In reality, the established church of Jesus’s day was no different than so many of our churches today. The church was the Temple. It was primarily a place for people to come and encounter God. In fact, people would come from all over, travel many miles and many days just to worship in the Temple. They would bathe in the ritual immersion baths at the Temple gates to be cleansed. Then they would bring their doves or lambs or other sacrifices to the priests in order to be forgiven and they would learn the faith from the Priests and Rabbis who taught there in the Temple. They would remember the good old days when King David was on the throne, maybe celebrate a great Jewish holiday and when it was done they would go home, edified, even renewed, by their experience in church but essentially unchanged. And as they walked out of the gates of Jerusalem on their way home after their time in the Church, they passed the same beggars that were there when they came to church in the first place. And they walked down roads that were lined with Roman crosses, hurrying by and talking with great excitement about the next time they would make their pilgrimage to worship in the Temple. And they failed to make the connection between the church and those beggars and those poor souls who struggled with their last breath. And if they prayed for them at all, it was more along the lines of thanking God that they were not like those who were on the outside of the church. Jesus told a story about the Priests and the Church leaders who encountered a man along the road in great distress, who rather than risk their place in the church, simply crossed the road, thanking God that they were not like that poor man. But Jesus did not view the church as just the Temple, but rather saw the church as the whole world. According to Luke, as He was preparing to ascend back into Heaven after His crucifixion and resurrection, He laid out His vision of the church when He told the Disciples to go to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. These words, of course, echo the words that Matthew records that we call the great commission. In essence He was knocking down all of the walls that were intended to confine the church to one place, one location, where the people would be expected to come if they wanted to encounter God. Now instead of the people coming to the church (the Temple), and essentially the church being limited to the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish nation, the Church of Jesus Christ would go to them. To all people and all places. Disciples, I am sending you to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. When John Wesley, who was an Anglican Priest, was essentially denied access to the Anglican Churches, Wesley surely had this passage in mind when he pronounced “It makes no difference if the church of England won’t allow us to come inside. The whole world is my church.” And the Methodist movement was born. Methodists were always intended to be a sent community. They had no place to come and worship, so they went to serve. Our heritage is that of the Circuit rider. You see, Jesus never intended for His church to be just a gathering of the faithful. He intended for His church to be a community of the sent. Not a place where we come to just learn from the priests and the teachers, and fellowship with like minded people, but rather a place where we are commissioned and sent out into our community and world to bring others to Christ. Which brings us to the fifth answer to the overriding question of our study, What In The World Are We Here For? And that answer, is that we are here to be sent. The fifth purpose for which Disciples are called is to be sent into all the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. Christ intends His church to not be the community of the gathered, but rather the community of the sent. Filled with disciples intent on making disciples.
I read a story about a pastor who started a church more than 30 years ago with basically just he and his wife and they now have over 10,000 members. And from the very beginning they set about to be a community of the sent. And he relates that early on they were very intentional about building the church through special events and services. And so in one of those first years, they went all out to promote and invite folks to the Christmas Eve service. They sent out post cards and went door to door in the surrounding areas inviting persons to come. They used newspaper and radio and television ads to get the word out. For weeks they pointed to getting persons to come to one of the Christmas Eve services. And their efforts paid off. He said the services were packed with new persons. The planning team was elated, that is, until the pastor stood up near the beginning to welcome everyone and said, “We are glad you are here, especially those who are here for the first time, but let me just say that if you are just here to occupy a place in the pews and enjoy the music and take in my sermons, we don’t want you. We expect everyone at this church to get up out of the pew and be a servant. So if you aren’t here to serve in some way, let me just say that there are other churches in the community where you will fit better. But here you are just taking up a space that we need for someone who is here to serve.”
The church of Jesus Christ is a community of those who are sent out into the world. As Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit came to the disciples and empowered and encouraged and engaged them for service in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the whole world. These two passages tell us that disciples are those who are sent by Jesus into the world. It’s our calling, our purpose. As I study the life of Christ, and listen to His words, I don’t believe that we can truly be His Disciples unless we are willing to be sent into the world. Now the word “world” is a very broad term. Broad enough for us to get lost in it with our excuses. “Where do we start Jesus.” “Who is the world?” Where is it that you want us to go?
Well, I think if we study the ministry of Jesus, we can get a pretty good idea what he had in mind when he sent the Disciples into the world. So here are a few things we need to understand about where were are being sent.
First, the world that Jesus has in mind is not defined by geography. The Jewish concept of church was very much a geographical concept. The church was the Temple. That’s where God lived. It was God’s house. And it was the goal of every devout Jew to go to the Temple to worship at least once a year. The whole world revolved around Jerusalem and the Temple. But Jesus’ concept of world was much more focused on the heart. On people. He loved the Temple but He also loved all of those who were not welcome in the temple. Jesus’s church reached beyond the Temple to the pagans and the Gentiles and the sinners. His church included all of those who were not welcome in the Temple whether they be in Jerusalem or Samaria (in fact one of the reasons He got in trouble with the priests was because He implied that the hated Samaritans are welcome in His church) or Judea or to the ends of the earth. Now a couple of things here. First, when He tells the Disciples to go to the ends of the earth, we picture the Disciples spreading out and going to Asia and Africa and Europe. And there are indications that some of them eventually did just that. But what we need to know was that there would have been many priests and pharisees, religious leaders, who would have heard Galilee when Jesus talked about the end of the earth. Because for them, God’s world was the promised land, Judea in particular, and though they grudgingly recognized that there were many Jews in Galilee, that was really as far as their concept of God’s world extended. In fact, they didn’t have much use for Galileans in general (remember they dismissed Jesus with the words “Can anything good come from Nazareth” which was in Galilee) but certainly no good Jew should travel beyond Galilee. But Jesus pushed their concept of the world geographically. Is it any coincidence that He chose to plant His church in Caesarea Philipi (which on some Jewish maps was marked simply as the land beyond Galilee). No good Jew should ever travel there and so the idea that Jesus had first talked about His church in that forbidden land, was incomprehensible to them. More than that it was blasphemous and more proof that Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Jewish Messiah. He wasn’t even a good Jew. But Jesus intended for His church to expand the understanding of world beyond geographical and ethnic borders. Jesus’ world encompassed all people, no matter where they pitched their tent.
And Jesus’ understanding of world also was intended to expand the human understanding of church. In fact, His ministry focused on those who were not really a part of the church of His day. The ones who were left out of the Temple pilgrimages.
And so, He cared for the poor. The ones the Bible refers to as the daughters of Jerusalem. They were called that because they were not welcome inside the gates of Jerusalem. They had no status. They could not even approach the Temple. And even if they could get to the Temple they could not worship there because the sacrificial system had made the animals for sacrifice too expensive for the poor to purchase and offer to the priest. That was the main reason that Jesus chased the merchants out of the Temple. The prices they were charging made it impossible for the poor to worship. But Jesus concept of world included the beggars at the gates. The great mass of the religiously unclean. They were the ones that even the Disciples tried to rush Jesus by when they encountered them. But Jesus always stopped to minister to them in whatever way He could. And He said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He’s anointed me to go to the poor.” Disciples are sent in to the world of the poor.
And Jesus’s world included the sick. Everywhere He went, Jesus was engaged with the sick. He hung out with the Lepers. He gave sight to the blind. He even brought three people that we know of, back from the dead. He cared for sick. And that has been a model for the church. In a sermon about the place of the church in the world, the late Bishop Kenneth Goodson said: “when Jesus said to Peter that I will build my church upon your faith, every hospital had it’s ground breaking ceremony because the church invented the hospital.” Jesus cared for the sick and sent His Disciples out to do the same. But for Jesus, healing wasn’t primarily a physical matter. It was a spiritual one. Because in Jesus’ day illness made you unworthy and unable to worship in the Temple. Because illness made you spiritually unclean. Illness was considered to be a tool of evil. And so you were not truly healed until the Priests pronounced of the demonic forces that afflicted you. Remember when Jesus heals a blind man, he sent him to the priest to be pronounced as healed and a great debate arose about what made the man blind in the first place. Was it sin? Because if it was sin, then Jesus would have had no authority to heal unless He too was an agent of evil. Which he was frequently accused of being. And there was the woman who made her way through the crowd just to touch Jesus’s robe hoping to be healed of a blood disease. Why? Well the storyteller implies that this is really a spiritual matter because her disease had kept her from worship for many years. She was considered unclean and could not be spiritually clean until she was physically healed. And Jesus was criticized for hanging out and even healing those afflicted with Leprosy, which was the most dreaded disease of the day, because they were “unclean” according to the church. And just by associating with them, touching them. Jesus became unclean. In fact, Lepers were so feared that the law required that as they walked in the streets they would identify themselves as Lepers. And how were they required to do that. Not by shouting “Leper” but by shouting out “unclean”. Illness was as much a spiritual issue as it was a physical one. And so Jesus’s concept of the world included those who were ill and in need of healing – both Spiritual and Physical. And He sent His Disciples into the world of the sick.
And Jesus’s world included those on the margins- out of the mainstream – outcasts. The widows and the orphans. The very old and the very young. The Gentiles and the pagans. The sinners. He cared for everyone. And ministered to them all. One of the frequent criticisms of the priests and the pharisees was that he ate with sinners. They called his followers “dogs” which was a derogatory term for pagans and gentiles. But Jesus said: “let the children come to me.” And offered forgiveness and grace to the Samaritan woman. And restoration to a pagan demoniac dwelling in a cemetery. Disciples are sent into the world of those on the margins either because of their own actions and attitudes or because of the fears and prejudices and hatreds that are too often present – even in the church.
You see, the thing we need to see is that Jesus’s concept of world is not geographical in nature but rather it’s all about people. And so when He sends Disciples out into the world, he is sending us not only beyond Judea and Samaria, but also to our next door neighbor. He is just as concerned that we reach the people on Old Mt. Tabor Rd as He is that we reach the people of Central America and Africa and Asia and the Middle East and all the other places where the church has missionaries. I feel so privileged that I can be a part of a church family that sends people out all over the world. We just had a team come back from Nicaragua where they helped dedicate a school we have been partnering to build in a tiny village there. That’s the church. But I am just as privileged to serve with Disciples who stock the food pantry everyday. And who reach out to the children in the community through Kid’s Cafe and all the wonderful ministries of our children and youth. For the church, Jesus’s world is wherever there are people who are poor and sick and living on the margins. And so when we serve in God’s pantry, and Kid’s Cafe, we are going into the world. When we serve with the children and youth we are going into the world. When we serve the young adults and older adults, we are being the sent community. And on and on. Jesus intends for His church to be made up of Disciples who are willing to be sent into the world to proclaim Christ in whatever way we can, a community of Disciples sent out to people who are desperately crying out for God.
That’s what this Discipleship Fair is all about, because if we are going to truly be the sent community, the church of Jesus Christ, we must all take our place in Jesus’s world. And we must all have a part in extending Jesus’s church to all people. So I hope you will go out of this Sanctuary this morning and spend a few minutes exploring the ways that Jesus is calling you to go into the world. Because without Disciples who are willing to be sent, if all we do is come here for worship on Sunday morning, for our own edification, then we are not truly being the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus intends for His Church to be the community of the sent. It is the final purpose to which each one of us is called. It is the final purpose to which YOU are being called today. And without Disciples who are willing to be sent, there would be no church of Jesus Christ. No St. Luke church.