Monday, May 3, 2010

God's Invasion: Through Sending Us

Preached Sunday, May 2, 2010

Scripture Readings: Acts 1:1-11; John 20:19-31

At Sunday supper a family discussed the sermon from that morning. It had been about “The Second Coming of Christ.” The teenager had a lot of questions, and the parents did the best they could to answer them, but they were deep and hard questions. The father finally said, “We don’t have all the answers we might like, but we have all we need to know. The best thing is just to live each day as if it were your last.” To which the teenager answered, “Aw come on, Dad; I tried that once, and you grounded me for a month!” (Robert Jarboe, in “Parables’ Etc” July ’93)

The disciples had a lot of questions for Jesus, even after his teaching them for three years, from the time of his baptism to his crucifixion and resurrection. The questions weren’t about his second coming because they didn’t understand, yet, that he was going away and coming again.

Of course he had told them he was going away and coming back, and they should have known it, but there you are. That’s the disciples for you. It’s too bad they weren’t as smart as we are!

Well, maybe they were just as smart as we are. Then where does that put us? That puts us in the place where we can learn from the things that Jesus told those disciples so long ago. It means we need to learn the same things. And that’s a good thing because that’s exactly what the Bible gives us.

It’s obvious that Jesus’ priorities were different from his first disciples’ priorities (meaning our priorities). It’s clear that they were (and we are still) like children on a road trip asking, “Are we there yet?”

Jesus’ first priority, for his first disciples, and for us as disciples, is not for us to arrive, but for us to be sent. That’s his first priority. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) And in the Book of Acts, before Jesus left his disciples for heaven, he told them and us, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Jesus often defined himself as one who was sent (Mathew 10:40; 15:24; John 4:34; 7:16 and many others), and that is how he defines us. We are always sent, or ready to be sent. Being “sent” means having a purpose. It means always having a mission.

Mission is a Latin rooted word. The Latin root means “to send” or “a sent thing”.
Jesus sent his disciples and us outward. His priority for us is that we know that we are sent; to think of ourselves as sent people. We are sent on a mission.

In Acts the mission of the first disciples was to begin where they were, in Jerusalem. Some of them would never get any farther in their life. They would die in Jerusalem. But they needed to know that they should be ready for anything, anywhere.
The disciples’ question to Jesus in the Book of Acts is worth looking at. The question and Jesus’ answer clear up some issues that we still have trouble understanding.

The disciples asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

Jesus answered their questions and ours about the time when the plan for the kingdom of God was to be finished. This is the, “Are we there yet?” question. He said, “It is not for you to know the times and the dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7)

It is not for us to know the times. And in this sense we are not in a different boat than the first disciples. We are not better then they were. We are not wiser, or more holy, or more qualified to know when Jesus is coming to complete the kingdom of God. Nowhere does the Bible say that people coming later in time will be able to know the time.

Knowing the time is not the point. The point is living faithfully as sent people.

Both the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts teach us that being people sent by God in Christ cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit. Jesus always puts together being a person who has been sent with being a person full of the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In John, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you.” And with that he breathed and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)

Part of the nature and experience of the Kingdom of God is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people. The Holy Spirit is described by Jesus as the power to be his witnesses. The Holy Spirit is the part of God that brings us, as persons, into the full experience of God as a personal reality. In the sixteenth chapter of John Jesus said, “The Spirit will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:14-15)
In other words the Spirit makes itself real by making everything about Jesus and his Father real for us. The Spirit in all its fullness brings us the Son in all his fullness and the Father in all his fullness. Without the Spirit, we ourselves are not spiritually real; our faith and experience of the Lord are not real, and we cannot be witnesses.

In the verses we read in John, Jesus breathed and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) It was Jesus’ way of saying that the presence of the Holy Spirit within them came from his true resurrected presence with them; his living breathing presence. In Matthew, Jesus said, “I am with you always.” The living presence of Jesus is the key to the living presence of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:20)

If we have Jesus, we have the Spirit, but we have to make sure that we are going about our lives at the prompting, the timing, the guidance, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said as much when he told his disciples and us to wait for the Spirit to act.

If we are not obeying the Holy Spirit’s power and direction then, again, our spiritual lives are unreal. We are living out our own independence; not from the life of Christ, and we have nothing of value to say about Jesus. Without the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives we can only talk about ourselves.

Without the waiting and praying linkage of the Holy Spirit the routine of our Christian life and the routine of the church are just routines. They are just activities. They have nothing to do with any witness about Jesus, only about ourselves, and about the church as a social and service club. Jesus warned his disciples and us against the danger of Christian mission and the life of being sent without the reality of the Holy Spirit.

There is another danger. And that is the danger of trying to be spiritual and full of the Holy Spirit without the bother of being sent. As Christians we are tempted to want to sit and cuddle with God. The God who reveals himself in Jesus is a God who takes joy in sending. He himself is sent. God sent himself to us, and he can find no greater honor to give us, as his children, then in sending us to others.

Jerusalem and Judea were the place where the disciples were at the time. This has been used to say that mission must begin where you are. And this is a good lesson. Let’s begin where we are.

But the disciples didn’t want to begin where they were. They didn’t want to be where they were. Jerusalem and Judea were the places where they were in danger. Galilee was their true home, and the place where they were safest. Even when we are in our own little personal environments, there are places close to us where we try to spend the least amount of time and attention. There are places where we have to watch what we say and do, and cannot really be ourselves, and we don’t want to risk taking Jesus there. This might be our family, or our neighbors, or the people we work with. The closest places may be the places we least want to be sent.

We want the safety of our own Galilee. We want our comfort zone. We don’t want to learn to do things we don’t already know how to do. We don’t want to think about new things, or try new ways of doing things, or try to say something important in a new way. Being sent requires faith, and courage, and humility, and enough love for God to listen to him above our own fears and prejudices.

We are sent to be witnesses of Jesus, but we misunderstand this because we think that being a witness is a matter of talk. That was always a hard thing for me, because I was never a good talker anyway.

In a court trial it is sometimes said that a witness “gives evidence”. There must be evidence. There must be an integrity between the talk and the reality that you represent. Your talk and your reality have to match, or your fail as a witness. There is the old saying that, if you were put on trial in a court of law for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus’ mission was in what he said and did. Do our talking and our living clearly give evidence of who sent us? Does the Spirit empower what we say and do? Is there spiritual life in what we say and do?

Looking at life this way changes our life. We do not live lightly. We pay attention. We look for God. We look closely at other people. We listen to them and watch them, in order to understand them and to be ready to be the person in their life that God may send us to be.

We look at our world in a different way. We look at the needs of our world and our community. We are waiting for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to show us what to say and do in this world to make the righteousness, the justice, the faithfulness, and the love of God real.

Living in the promise of the Holy Spirit takes us out of our rut. It makes us both observers of life and participants in life.

Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” The Father sent Jesus as a servant and as a sacrifice. How do we serve the love of God and the kingdom (the justice and righteousness) of God with the people around us; our families, our church, our school, our community? How do we serve sacrificially? Do we serve only when it is easy or when it suits us?

“As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus died to make the kingdom of God a reality. Most of the first disciples died for their faith. In some parts of the world, today, Christians are being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, raped, and killed for their faith. Those Christians know the meaning of fear in the sense that they usually face those fears faithfully.

When American Christians see the values of the kingdom of God challenged in such a way that it appears that Christians may be placed at a disadvantage, or in such a way that living the values taught by the Bible may be challenged by law, we feel fear and doom and anger.

That is to be expected. But we often do not show the calm, the courage, the faith, and the love that Christians living in dangerous lands show. We are really not ready to take up our crosses to follow Jesus.

“As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” The sending of Jesus was the most important thing that has happened since the creation of the universe. What if his sending you and me is as important as that? We love the fact that Jesus was sent to us. Do we love the fact that we have been sent into the world in the same way?

Somehow we are called to be, for this world, what Christ is for us, and for this world we live in. This is the plan for the coming of the kingdom of God, until the time that only God knows, when he will make it complete.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” When Jesus was sent, he was never alone. Because Jesus has sent us as he was sent, we are never alone. The one who sent himself goes with us. Through the Holy Spirit the living Jesus, with all the fullness of God, goes with us.

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