Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9C)
July 7, 2019
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s a tradition at my seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, 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’s 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’s 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. As exciting as it is, it can also be an unsettling time for graduating seniors and their families as the thought of leaving quickly turns into reality. Without much preparation at all, close friends and classmates are saying their “goodbyes” and getting ready to 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 to a new home with the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead. This is certainly what my family and I experienced as we prepared to leave the seminary community, and I suppose this is what it’s like for most people who are preparing to begin a new journey, people like the disciples in our Gospel lesson for this morning.
I imagine that, for Jesus’s disciples, the thought of being commissioned and sent out to proclaim the Kingdom of God was both exciting and terrifying.
I imagine that they were excited by the thought of going out into the world to share the Good News of the Gospel, to say to their brothers and sisters, “Peace to this house,” and to prepare a place for Jesus.
But, I imagine that there were also burning questions running through their heads, questions that would only be answered once they finally arrived at their destination.
What will this new journey entail?
Will it be dangerous?
What will the people be like?
Will they reject us and the message that we have to offer?
Yes, I imagine that these questions and many others like them must’ve been running through the heads of Jesus’s disciples before their journey into the unknown, especially when Jesus says to them, “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, which by the way, applies to all of us and to all who’ve been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like the journey of the seventy disciples in our Gospel lesson for today, the resurrected life is a journey into the unknown, 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’s amazing work that we’re called to do as followers of Jesus. It’s amazing and life-giving work, but it’s not without its difficulties, difficulties that often cause us to question ourselves and the vocation to which we’re called as baptized Christians.
Before sending them on their way, Jesus warns his disciples about the challenges they’ll encounter along the Way and how to respond in the face of adversity. 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 his disciples and to all who choose to follow him: there’ll be be times when you feel like an outcast because of your faith. There’ll be times when you feel rejected because people aren’t ready to hear the Good News of God’s love. People will turn against you, and they’ll attack you because God’s dream of a world redeemed in love is different than they’re own ideas and beliefs. 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’s a world in which there’s no more hunger or poverty, violence or oppression; a world where people are no longer injured or killed because of the way God made them; a world where our own ideas of justice and peace give way to the justice and peace of God. Only in the fullness of time, when this dream of God becomes a reality, will we finally be able to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has been fulfilled. The mission of the Church, our mission, is to keep working until that great day comes and to always 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. As fellow pilgrims along the Way, we’re supported in our ministries by the love and guidance of the community, and we’re strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s important to remember in our work that we’re merely messengers of the Gospel and that we can’t force anyone to receive it. When others reject us or cast us out and when we ourselves fall short of our call, 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’re sent will come to know and believe in the love of God in Christ Jesus.
I want to leave you this morning with the words of the late Reverend Dr. Charlie Price, used each year at the end of the Service for the Mission of the Church at Virginia Seminary. I invite you to consider the impact of these words and to revisit them throughout the week ahead as you think about your own call:
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.