First Reading Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm Psalm 66:1-8
Second Reading Galatians 6:1-16
Gospel Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Today, Luke recounts the first mission trip. The concept of mission trip can mean different things to different people. I must disclose my bias as we explore Jesus’ sending of the 70. God made me a little skeptical. I like to spin it more positively, and call it ‘critical discernment’. However you interpret that, I try to go with my gifts.
When I think of mission trips, I recall how each spring I receive at least a few letters from young people requesting donations to support their summer mission trip. The letter usually shares how they are going to Honduras, Costa Rica, or some other exotic sounding tropical location to paint a church or build someone a ho
me. Perhaps they are raising $1,000 to go on this trip. If 70 youth participate, at $1,000 each, we as the Church are spending $70,000 to paint a building. I wonder what the mission really is. I wonder if we are doing mission as Jesus intended. I wonder if we could be doing mission better, or at least differently. I warned you, God made me a little skeptical.
Perhaps we should explore the first mission trip to see how Jesus guides us. Jesus sent out 70. This is a multiple of 7, the number of wholeness and completeness. We, and all of humanity, are called to go out into the mission field, because salvation is for all of humanity. Jesus sends us out in two’s, because the mission starts with relationship. Jesus sent his first missionaries ‘where he himself intended to go’. Isn’t this everywhere? Where would Jesus not go? The mission is intended for every corner of the earth. Jesus sent the 70 out to preach and heal, but primarily to prepare hospitality for Jesus ... to prepare the Way of the Lord.
“Carry no purse, no bag.” No need for fundraising letters. No bags to check on the flight. There is an urgency in the sparse packing list. The mission often requires us to be nimble and adapt. We never know where God will lead us, and Jesus warns the journey may be tough. Rejection, humiliation, persecution, and suffering are possible, even probable. It’s a tough vacation package to sell.
All we need to pack is the peace of Christ, and even that is intended to be given away. We share the peace Christ brings to our lives in hope it will be received and reciprocated. If our work is rejected, we are to simply move on. Stick with the mission.
Jesus tells us the harvest is plentiful. Sometimes in scripture, harvest seems to point to judgement, but judgement is God’s work, not ours. Jesus speaks here of harvest in positive terms, of gathering humanity in full maturity and preparedness for the reign of God. There is much work to do, and the laborers few. God is calling us all to the mission.
But what are we to actually do? What is the mission? Is it painting a church in Costa Rica? From page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer, ‘the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ’. A lofty goal, but a little vague in the details. What are we to actually do?
Too often, we get bogged down with process, action steps, and the metrics of success, and leave little room for God’s activity. We approach mission work with the goal of fixing something, or someone. We have something they do not, and we tell them how they need it. We are doing it right, and they are doing it wrong. We have the secrets to success and happiness, while they are woefully failing. They cannot do it for themselves, so they need us to save them. We develop dynamics of power that never allow us to approach another person as a valued child of God, all of us equal in God’s eyes.
In his book ‘Toxic Charity’, author Robert Lupton describes how well meaning ministries may cause more harm than good. Instead of spending so much money to paint a building somewhere in Equador, what if we entered deep, loving relationship with the people of that community, and with them, explored their needs and dreams and hopes? What if we then partnered with them to offer resources and support for them to be who God is calling them to be, not what we say they ought to be? Lupton proclaims that every human being, no matter their poverty level, suffering, education, or situation, has value in God’s eyes. Every human being is created in God’s image, shares this divine dignity, and has something to offer. Our mission is acknowledge every person’s value, abide in relationship, and encourage, support, and celebrate them.
God enriches the mission through relationship and transformation. When we see others as partners in mission, people to do ministry with instead of to, God will join us and incredible things happen. About 50 years ago, the people of St. Paul’s discerned with others in middle Georgia that there was a need for safe, affordable housing. St. Paul Apartments and Village was just an idea, but through faith and partnership, a building was constructed. More importantly, a community was created. We continue to lift up every resident in prayer, celebrating their dignity, and supporting who God calls each of them to be. In all of my encounters with our literal neighbors, I have never been asked for a handout, only a hand to hold.
Many years ago, the fledgling ministry Haitian Hope met with the local church and people in the village of Trouin. In the early days, the mission was unclear, but it began with relationship and listening. Today, we support our brothers and sisters in Haiti and their hopes and dreams by funding education and a school lunch program. Students are being educated and fed, but the mission is in transforming relationship. We are not fixing the people of Haiti. They do not need fixing. They are not broken. In relationship, we are growing together in the knowledge and love of God. Together we are building the kingdom.
The specific actions of our mission can be elusive. We must always remember that God is calling the shots. If we say God is our copilot, then someone is in the wrong seat. This is where critical discernment, even skepticism, can serve the mission. If our work is not completely and selflessly about love, then it is not about God. This is our primary litmus test for all we do in the mission field. In recent years, our community has run several mission experiments. We have invited college students to meet and live on our campus. For three summers, children have gathered at Freedom School to be educated, and more importantly learn they are valued and loved. We participated in a reorganization of Loaves and Fishes to journey more deeply with the marginal poor. The Path To Shine program at St. Paul’s invites people from all over the community into relationship with some of our neighborhood elementary children. These mission experiments all started with relationship and listening. We moved forward fueled by God’s love and example. How ever we measure the success or failure of our work, God is present in the relationships, and is transforming us all.
No matter where our mission takes us, if God is our focus we can never be far off the path. God is responsible for the relationship, love, and growth in our communities. We are called to be open to this transformation ... to plan, organize, and work in a way that anticipates rather than impedes ... and to pray for and invite others to join us in gathering the harvest that God has prepared.
The 70 returned to Jesus transformed with joy! No demon could hold them down, trampling snakes and scorpions. These powers of the enemy still exist, but have no power over us. We are called to God’s mission. We are now the hands and feet of Christ. It is a powerful calling, to live as those who teach the reality of the resurrection, while continuing to share our expectancy of the fulfillment of its promise. Let us enter every mission field to which we are called, with faith and without fear. The harvest is indeed plentiful. Amen.