God’s Mission and Our Part in It
May 27, 2012

God’s Mission and Our Part in It

Passage: Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27, John 20:19-23

Pentecost, Year B-2012 (Year A Gospel used in place of the Year B reading)

Today we hear two stories of God re-orienting our perspective, two stories of the Holy Spirit shifting our attention from ourselves alone to God’s mission beyond us, and our part in that larger mission. Two very exciting and unsettling stories – for it is Pentecost, an exciting and unsettling day.

In our first story – our first lesson – the more familiar story of Pentecost, the disciples “were all together in one place.” They were praying and worshipping, being a community, waiting to see what was next. Jesus had risen, they had experienced his presence with them, and then 40 days after the Resurrection, he had ascended to heaven. Now 50 days after Easter, they waited and wondered, together, what was next?

What happened next was not their doing. They heard a sound like a violent wind. They saw something like tongues of fire – red, lively – coming upon one another. People from many different lands and languages were speaking with one another and understanding each other. The Holy Spirit was moving among them. The disciples found themselves part of something bigger than their own community. And as they participated in this larger mission, thousands came to faith and to community through Jesus, the Jesus who had touched their lives and brought them to this place.

To help us understand what was going on, let us consider now our second Pentecost story – our Gospel. The disciples were huddled behind locked doors, holding on to one another in a scary and dangerous world, one which crucified their Lord. And Jesus came to them, bringing peace to each one.

But not only peace. Jesus breathed on them. He gave them the Holy Spirit. He sent them out to participate in God’s mission, to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to all God’s people.

Both stories shift our focus from our own community – important and wonderful and healing as it can be – to God mission which we are (or can be) a part of. This shift in focus and perspective has important meaning for us personally and for this church. But before we look at these, let us consider what God’s mission is, according to the Bible.

God’s mission and purpose begin, according to the Bible, in Creation. In the beginning, God, for love, began with a formless void and created divisions, distinctions. God created distinctions: light from darkness, the heavens from the waters, earth from the seas, plants from the land, creatures from the earth, and humanity from the other creatures. God created humans, us, in God’s image, with all our distinctions of gender and race. And God said each time that our distinctions and differences were good, part of the richness of Creation.

The problem, according to the biblical story, is when we use our differences and free will for our own selfish desires, against one another, rather than in cooperation with God’s mission and community. So Adam and Eve chose their own way, and Cain killed Abel (who was different). Sin is being alienated, separated, opposed to God and to one another.

God’s mission of reconciliation of differences into harmony continues as God sent prophets and teachers to bring us together. Finally, God sent his own son Jesus to reconcile our differences in himself – he was fully divine and fully human – and overcame our separation from God by identifying with our alienation and dying, to rise again for our reconciliation. He calls and leads and points us to carry on this reconciliation mission, this mission of God, through our own lives and through the church.

The mission of the church, as the Catechism in the back of the Prayer Book says so beautifully, is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP p. 855) What then does it mean for us and for the Church to be part of God’s mission?

For us personally, it is a great relief and excitement to be part of God’s greater mission rather than to believe that our own individual accomplishments and perfection are the only standards of our lives. This does NOT mean that our own lives and efforts, and our distinctive identities, don’t matter. But they are important parts of God’s mission. We are needed as parts of God’s larger purpose, and our gifts and skills complement one another in this larger mission. It is not just about how good each of us is. Our lives, our prayers, our ministries, our generous giving, our mutual encouragement, are all needed as part of God’s mission to reconcile all people with each other and with God.

For us as a Church, our focus shifts from what we are doing – our own growth, budget, programs (and these are all important) – to how we participate in God’s mission in this world. So we ask how our worship, for example, helps those who are here to be reconciled to God and one another. We ask how our worship helps us to go out as reconcilers, and recognize that our daily lives are truly part of the work of the Church and expressions of God’s mission. We have Sunday School not just to teach things to the children who come because they are supposed to know the Bible to be members of St. Andrew’s. We teach those children who come to church to help them and all families to know God’s love in Jesus and to share it with others.

Our choir is not just for St. Andrew’s, nor do we sing for ourselves. You – we – sing for all the people of Puget Sound, the greater community. Some of them gather in worship here. Others will be touched because we will be reconciled and inspired by our worship and will go out and touch their lives.

And outreach is not giving our surplus, whatever we can spare, with others. It is participating in God’s mission though the work we support, just like worshiping, teaching, preaching, caring for one another and those who need God’s love. It is what we do as generous missionaries.

God’s mission goes on through us, through this church, and in ways we cannot yet recognize. It goes on in different languages – Jesus speaks not only in our own languages but as we heard this morning in all sorts of tongues – yet it is Jesus speaking. In earlier days, some churches thought of missionaries as going to foreign lands to bring God to them. We realize that God was already there – we go to share our understanding, the name of Jesus, and to learn about God from our brothers and sisters far away. An earlier perspective also spoke of the church having a mission – to serve God. I am suggesting now that God has a mission – and we and the church are invited and called to be part of God’s mission. This difference will guide us in this new age, this new world, this strange mission field where Christians and Episcopalians are a minority. Yet God is God, and we are part of a greater plan and mission.

Where will the Holy Spirit blow us? We are a missionary parish! Let us see where we go. In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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