A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest
Abilene, Texas
Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost + Year C
First Lesson: II Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
Second Lesson: Galatians 6:1-16
Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

✠ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Quote above the main entrance to the Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Seminary.

It is a tradition at the Virginia Theological Seminary that every spring, on the evening before commencement, the graduating seniors are recognized and commissioned in a liturgy called the Service for the Mission of the Church.

As you might imagine, one of the purposes of having such a service is to send forth those who have come to seminary to be formed for ordained ministry, but actually, what I love most about this service is that there is no mention of ordination at any point during the liturgy. On the contrary, the Service for the Mission of the Church focuses on the ministry of all baptized Christians and the mission to which we are called – to “Go ye into all the World and Preach the Gospel.” You can find these iconic words from the Gospel of Mark printed above the main doorway of the chapel at the seminary, serving as a reminder to those who enter that all who are baptized into the Body of Christ are sent forth and commissioned to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus by word and example.

The Service for the Mission of the Church and the end of seminary is a powerful and moving experience for graduating seniors and their families. In many ways, it is the culmination of years worth of hard work, commitment, and the willingness to answer a call to ministry that began long before the students ever arrived at the seminary. It can also be an unsettling time for graduating seniors and their families as the thought of leaving quickly fades into reality. Without much preparation, close friends and classmates are preparing to say goodbye and go their separate ways into the world to serve Christ and the Church. All of a sudden, it’s time to pack up and move again, with the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead. This is certainly what we experienced last May as my family and I prepared to leave Alexandria, Virginia, with our eyes set toward northwest Texas.

I suppose that this is what it’s like for most people who are preparing to begin a new adventure, people like the disciples whom Jesus sends forth in today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke. I imagine that Jesus’s disciples are filled with excitement but also a sense of anxiety. They are finally going to get the chance to do what they’ve been getting ready to do – to go into the world, to say to their brothers and sisters, “Peace to this house,” and to prepare a place for Jesus. But, I imagine that there are also questions running through their heads, questions that will only be answered once they arrive at where they are going. What will this new way of life entail? Will it be dangerous? What will the people be like? Will they reject us and the message that we bring?

Yes, I imagine that these questions and many others like them must have been running through the heads of Jesus’s disciples before their journey into the unknown, especially when Jesus says to them, “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”

Today’s Gospel lesson is all about being sent forth, and it seems especially appropriate that we hear it this morning as we prepare to welcome a new member into the Body of Christ in the sacrament of new birth. [Today, at the 10:30 service, we will welcome Robert Colley into the household of God in the celebration of Holy Baptism.]

Like the seventy disciples who are commissioned and sent ahead to every place that Jesus intends to visit on his way to Jerusalem, Holy Baptism is also the beginning of a new journey, one that requires us to be as vulnerable as “lambs in the midst of wolves.” Baptism calls us into a new way of living and a new way of being, one that challenges our worldly sensibilities and empowers us to do the work of building up God’s Kingdom on earth.

It is amazing work that we are called to do as followers of Jesus.

It is life-giving work, but it is not without its difficulties, difficulties that may cause us to question ourselves and the vocation to which we are called as baptized Christians.

Before sending them on their way, Jesus himself warns his disciples about the challenges that they will face and how to respond. He says to them, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’”

This is Jesus’s warning to all who choose to follow him: there will be times that you are rejected because of your faith. People will turn against you, and they will attack you because God’s dream for creation is different than our own. God’s dream for creation is a world turned upside down which, in the words of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is really “right side up.” It is a world in which there is no more hunger or poverty, violence or oppression; a world where people are no longer injured or killed because of how God made them; a world where our own ideas of justice and peace give way to the justice and peace of God. It is only in the fullness of time, when God’s dream of a world turned upside down becomes reality, that we will finally be able to proclaim that the kingdom of God has been fulfilled. The mission of the Church is to keep working until that great day arrives and to remember that we have a crucial role to play in its arrival.

Thanks be to God that we don’t have to do it on our own. It’s a comfort to know that part of living in a community like Heavenly Rest means that we are supported by each other in our ministries and that we are strengthened and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s important to remember in our work that we are merely messengers of the Gospel and that we can’t force anyone to receive it. When others reject us and when we ourselves fall short, God is still there and able to carry on despite the shortcomings of others and our own imperfections. My brothers and sisters, together we are yoked with Jesus in his death and resurrection so that those to whom we are sent will come to know and believe in the love of Christ.

I leave you with the words of the Reverend Dr. Charlie Price, used each year at the end of the Service for the Mission of the Church at Virginia Seminary:

Go forth now in the name of Christ:
Go to the city and the country;
Go to distant lands and nearby places;
Go where his name is well known and where it has never been heard.
Go to the strong and the weak; remember the weak.
Go to the rich and the poor; remember the poor.
Go to those who welcome you and those who reject you; pray for your enemies.
Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Amen.

Click here to hear an audio recording of the sermon.

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