In Mark’s Gospel this morning we heard Jesus declare, in so many words, that part of being his disciple, his follower, part of being his body as the Church, is being sent—sent out into the world. As we heard, too, in our lesson from Ezekiel: part of what being a prophet is, is being sent as well. God sends Ezekiel to Israel, his own stiff-necked people. And God sent Jesus into the world.
Jesus, we heard, received a lousy welcome as a prophet himself in his hometown, which I think, on a basic level, we can all relate to. No one seems to like a sibling or child returning with big city ideas, acting too big for their britches, so-to-speak. But Jesus’ hometown here is an image of the much larger situation… All Israel and Judea is Jesus’ hometown if Jesus was the Messiah. All of creation is Christ’s hometown if Christ is the Son of God!
This is the same as Ezekiel being sent as a prophet, who we heard is sent to his own people, not out into the wide world of different cultures and religions. God says, “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me.” And so it is true of Jesus. Jesus was sent into a creation that seems to have been rebelling and transgressing against God’s will and desire for compassion—for mercy and connection—from the very start.
And speaking of “being sent” and it being exactly the 4th of July today, America’s birthday, a weekend of fireworks and explosions, I wanted to do a little word study related to fireworks. The exploding bottle rockets and roman candles of this weekend have a dark side. They represent and remind us of war and the instruments of war, horrible things that we as a nation have turned to, cannon balls, gunshots, mortars and missiles of all kinds. Any thing that goes whizzing from one place to another, actually, we could call a missile. Or as dictionary.com defines it a missile is: “an object which is forcibly propelled at a target, either by hand or from a mechanical weapon.”
And missile comes to English from Latin missus, which comes from missionem, which means to release or let go or send, to be sent out. And that is where we get our word “mission,” in the Christian sense. But in light of the past 200 years or so of Christianity, when we think of mission, we think of foreign places, of conversion. Or we might think of our missionary Brian Palmer in Liberia that we support.
But looking back at Ezekiel and the Gospel of Mark, the prophet, Jesus and the disciples are all sent to their homelands. Mission, in its most original sense, is local. And having spent some time with you here at St. Andrew’s, and in the Perkasie area, I believe mission is still very much local and familiar. But I think it looks nothing like how you might imagine it. It is not screaming about Jesus on the street-corner, or setting up new churches, or passing out fliers, or putting up signs. Looking closely at our Gospel lesson the disciples are not sent out to proclaim “Jesus” so much as bringing healing and casting out evil in his name.
If you look at what Jesus asks his disciples to do when he sends them, then “being sent” is clear, “Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics [which means, basically, go in a t-shirt and blue jeans]. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Jesus says, go out and be yourself, unguarded. Don’t add anything extra to who you are. Go and stay with people that would have you. People who are not interested are to be left alone. And Jesus says: go and proclaim that folks should repent. And this literally means “turn.” Turn around from ideas and actions that deal death and shame to others. Turn around from cruelty and forgetfulness about God’s mercy. Turn around from self-pity and despair and all the stuckness these create. As people of Jesus we are sent to help soothe our community, to cure it, gently, of all the forces that defy God: sickness and evil of all kinds.
But at this point, as I talk about being sent, I know there is a big, looming sense of discomfort. There might be a nagging feeling that you do not know enough about the Bible; or that you don’t believe good enough or hard enough; or that you are small, and ordinary, and yet very very busy; a dragging worry that all this is nonsense. There is only decline and tradition, and nothing more, you may fear. There is a feeling that says, “How can I be sent to anybody to do anything?”
But what if I were to tell you, you’ve already been sent. The fuse of the firework that you all are, is already lit. You are all, already, brightly sailing through the night sky. Neither Ezekiel nor definitely not the disciples, knew the ends that would come of their being-sent. And only Jesus knew what would come of his incarnation in this world. So, do not get all prepared to be sent, do not worry and fret that you have nothing to say or do, that you can’t possibly help or heal anyone. But, instead, trust and believe that you are already sent out. Through you, God is already at work healing your community—if you would only get out of your own way.
It is not for us to know the good and the healing we’ve done, or may yet do. It is Christ that makes well, through us, as Christ wants. What we must do is settle into the reality that it is so. That, I think, is why Jesus tells his disciples to take nothing, and to basically do no arguing or fighting with those who reject them. Just go, Jesus says, and know that you do all these things with my authority given to you, as Mark’s Gospel says.
I think you know the feeling of when someone tells you of the impact you had, and yet you never knew what you were doing. As I entered into these days of goodbye with you all, they are very bittersweet. Bitter because ends are hard, but sweet because it is clear now that God sent me to be right here,for the exact amount of time I’ve been here. I don’t know what I’ve done, I’ve not tried to do anything special or fancy or extraordinary, just the job description found in your constitution. But it is Christ who does the transforming if there was transformation to take place.
In fact, this is what Paul is up to in his letter to the Corinthians, the smaller and humbler and weaker the better! Because then you are making room in your mind for Christ to be in charge. Or as Paul writes, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses… so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” And it’s exactly the same with your own lives. Go out of this sanctuary, go away from your laptop or tablet screen, go, and don’t prepare the words to say or the deeds to be done, but go, and know that God has already sent you, you’re already on the path, and good things can come from you. You are good because God created a good creation, and said so. You are good because you were baptized and re-created part of Christ too.
And that takes me to another one of these practices from the Trauma Stewardship Institute’s “Tiny Survival Guide” that I shared with you a few weeks ago. Clarify Intentions: How can I refrain from causing harm? How can I contribute meaningfully? And the answer, from our perspective this morning on the 4th of July, is to remember that God has sent you, you are on a mission, you are a missile of God’s love. We are fireworks with paths as long as your lifespan and even beyond, we believe.
So do not overexert yourself, do not labor and toil and stress yourself out, but rest and trust, from a place of grace, of calm belonging to God. Please believe that you are “contributing meaningfully” already as you do your best parenting and working and healing your community. So, as we make posts and comments on Facebook, as we engage in conversation, as we celebrate national holidays, as we navigate a volatile political climate, as you plan the future of St. Andrew’s: remember and trust you have been sent out by Jesus.