In June church folk scatter to the four winds. Along with vacations, camps, ball games, and camping trips, many go out into the world on mission trips. A few years back, some youth from a friend’s Appalachian church traveled to the dark underbelly of Pittsburgh to shine for Jesus. At a rest stop along the way they bumped into a church group from Pittsburgh headed to help the poor people of Appalachia. Maybe they could have all stayed home? People sometimes travel a long way to accomplish things they wouldn’t dream of doing in their own back yard.
Today Jesus tells us how to go out in his name.
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
We love watching Jesus do his thing. Every disease, every sickness, every need is addressed. Action and compassion blend to meet every need.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” These words of Jesus should make us a bit nervous. Who can’t appreciate watching Jesus heal the sick, preach the kingdom in, find the lost? But then he flops down and says, “Whoa I’m beat. Battling demons and healing lepers takes it out of you. I want you to ask God to send people out to help me.” Hmmm. what people does he have in mind?
Jesus starts rattling off names: “Pete, Andy, Jim, John…get out in the neighborhood. Phil, Tommy, Matt, Thad…you guys start down at the trailer park and work this way.” Then you hear your own name called. He lays his hands on you and prays that you’ll take charge over evil spirits and heal diseases and do all kinds of crazy stuff not on your summer bucket list. A last word: “Y’all have a great time. Tell me all about it when you get back!” and he is gone.
How about we stand before our congregations on Sunday and say: “OK gang, this summer let’s not go to Pittsburgh, or Mexico, or Africa. This summer, let’s focus on people within five miles of home. Marvin and Sal, you work with kids. Melodie and Julie, pay attention to folks in public housing. John and Danis, you visit the nursing facilities. Andi and Steve, plug in at the local jail. Stick your head in every house and tell people: ‘God’s Kingdom has come near!’ If you come across people who are sick, put your hands on them and heal them. When you find people filled with demons, cast them out. Oh, and if you come to a home where someone has died, raise them up before you leave. Don’t expect any pay…and we don’t re-imburse mileage either.”
No wonder the laborers are so few. You call that a mission trip, Jesus? We thought we would nail a few shingles onto a Habitat house, then take everyone to Dollywood. Stay home? With our own neighbors? Can you really call it mission when it doesn’t involve jet airplanes and video cameras? Still, these are the words of Jesus, so what can we learn about Kingdom mission Jesus?
1. Mission starts at home. If you won’t learn a language, work with kids, visit the sick, or walk with folks who are homeless, poor, and struggling right here in your own neighborhood, what makes you think you’ll be more effective twelve zip codes away?
2. Jesus calls ordinary people on mission. Check out the list of disciples Jesus sent out. Only two of them are described at all. One was Judas Iscariot, “the one who betrayed him.” Jesus sent Judas out to touch, to heal, to cast out demons, to preach, to cleanse. There is nothing here to indicate that he failed to do his job. The other person described in this list is the author of the gospel himself: Jesus called “Matthew, the tax collector.” Matthew describes himself as a low down, worthless tax collector. Looking down this list of workers, it is hard to escape the conclusion that God uses nobodies. Perhaps there is even a general rule for disciples-in-the-making: “only tax collectors and traitors need apply.”
3. Prayer is a pre-requisite and a fruit of mission. If the work doesn’t keep you on your knees, you’re not aiming high enough.
4. Leave the stuffed suitcases, electronics, and fat wallets behind. Focus on people. Jesus said to stick your head in to folks’ houses and lives, find out how they live, get to know them. Don’t come with all the answers. Don’t bring your bags of goodies to share with poor unfortunates. Instead, receive the hospitality of the neighborhood. Go in lean, dependent on the welcome of others. Your blessing of peace might be the best thing you have to offer.
5. And what message should we carry? What message might be enough even if we prove ineffective at driving out demons or raising the dead? There it is, in Romans 5, where Paul writes:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us….For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
This is the message that still transforms lives, makes sick people well, raises dead people from tombs. It is the message that proves the kingdom has come. God has poured his love into our hearts…and that love has a name: Jesus.
So get on with the summer’s trip. Go far or stay close by. Build, dig, mow, ride rides, do whatever it is you do. But don’t forget the message…the message that brings in the harvest. Don’t neglect the life-giving message that you have been given to carry. Christ died for us. Christ lives in us. Christ changes us. Jesus sends us out to our neighbors. Go forth in the name of Christ!