Two Sermons with Member Mission Homework

By The Rev. James L. Gill

[The Rev. James L. Gill of East Winthrop, ME; Mark 4:21-30, Luke 4:24; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, preached at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Augusta, ME; February 1, 2004.]

Proposal:

Since we are to be together for two weeks, I want to consider a two-part sermon. Part One today and Part Two next week. You only get credit if you are here both Sundays!

You get more credit if you help me by being in touch with me, by mail or email, during this next week, as I prepare for Part Two Sermon.

Let me explain my primary emphasis in these two sermons: it is to highlight our Monday to Monday Ministries as individuals. You have every reason to be proud of Prince of Peace ministries and missions, but I would like us to focus on you, as individual members of Prince of Peace, and your daily places of ministry.

There are six areas of ministry for each of us: (1) Family, (2) Work, (3) Local Community, (4) Wider Community, (5) Leisure, and (6) Church. The worksheet I’m distributing asks you to focus on the first area (Family) – though I wouldn’t mind your including Local Community as well – as you think about your individual missions / ministries. Then, let me know your thoughts. No need to include your names, and I certainly will not mention them in Sermon Two.

Primary ideas:

“Where do you look to see what a congregation looks like when its members are the missionaries? Do not look at the congregation. Look at its members. Look at what they are doing in their daily lives.”

1. God’s mission has a church, the church does not have a mission.

2. Who are today’s primary missionaries / ministers–the institution and its programs and actions or the individual members in their daily places of ministry? I’d like to focus on the second, without diminishing the first.

3. We join God’s mission/ministry in baptism.

4. There is a distinction between “body mission” – Prince of Peace missions / ministries – and “member mission” – your individual missions / ministries.

5. Our present works for love and justice in our daily places of life are our “missions,” our “ministries.”

6. A primary purpose of a congregation is to find ways to support members in their daily living, their Monday to Monday ministries.

[Adapted from When the Members are the Missionaries: An Extraordinary Calling for Ordinary People, by A. Wayne Schwab, Member Mission Press, P. O. Box 628, Hinesburg, VT  05461-0628.]

Discovering the ministry you carry on already.

We live in six daily areas of ministry. Each of us is trying in ways both large and small to make the world a better place. Otherwise we would not be here – we would not be in church. Our Monday to Monday living is no easy matter. (The real miracle is not to walk on water or thin air, but on the earth” – Thich Nhat Han, Buddhist Mystic.)

Each of us lives in six areas of life each day:

home (includes family or close friends)

work (includes school and volunteer work)

local community (neighborhood, town or city)

wider world (society, culture, economics, or government in county, state, nation, and world

leisure / recreation

church

our own spiritual health (includes physical and emotional health)

church life and outreach (service and evangelism) in the congregation, district, nation and world

Let’s look at our ministry at home. Please fill out the following worksheet and return it to me before next Sunday.

List present actions. Let’s write down what we are doing right now in the home area of ministry.

1. What am I doing now to make life better–more loving or more just – in the home area of my life? Feel free to name the smallest thing – just so you are really doing it.

2. What is it that I am trying to change in my home so that life there is more loving and / or more just?

3. What seems to be blocking the change I am trying to make in my home?

4. What do I believe God has been doing or telling me to do in my life in my home? (Try a response beginning with: “I believe God is…”)

* * *

Jesus quotes a familiar saying: “Truly, I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24).

I find personal comfort in the story of Jesus’ troubles being heard in his hometown…today’s Gospel story. It wasn’t comfortable for Jesus, to be sure, but somehow it increases my faith to hear how human Our Lord was, and is.

Trouble getting a hearing in one’s own territory. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” That carpenter down the street…Who is this Jesus to put on airs? To say that prophetic scripture is fulfilled in him?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I do know from my own experience, that the hometown crowd is the hardest to convince. Over forty years a parish clergy person and now over ten years a counselor…I’ve often heard, from my own family members, “Hey, Dad, don’t preach at me” or “Come on, don’t give me that counseling lingo.” And, truthfully, I confess that Saturday nights, when I was putting final touches on the sermon…was probably a time when I was least full of Christian charity or even good manners with my family. Or, more recently, I confess that the deep listening I give clients in the therapy room for an hour at a time sometimes is much more difficult for me to provide – or be appreciated for – among my family members.

Yes, home and hometown, can be difficult areas for us to “talk the talk and walk the walk” of our Christian lifestyle.

So what is God telling us through today’s Gospel story? What is the message for us to hear and obey in our lives today and in the days to come?

Well, as the story goes on, we hear that Jesus’ hometowners wanted proof of these miracles he was doing elsewhere. They wanted to see him in action, right here, right now. It sort of reminds us of the scene when Jesus is on the cross, and the crowd is taunting him to show his power and come on down from the cross. He saved others, let us see him save himself.

And Jesus sure doesn’t give them what they want to hear. He reminds them, through two stories from the Hebrew Scripture (the only scripture there was at the time!), that God doesn’t limit himself to any chosen people; and often comes to the help of those “outsiders.” That’s hardly the nationalistic message they want to hear. Maybe it’s like reminding ourselves, as we mourn our war deaths in Iraq, that God is just as concerned with those Iraqis, who mourn their war dead.

Jesus’ big mistake was to suggest that God’s love was wide enough to include people his hearers did not want to include. How is this message with us? Surely, God must agree to dislike the people we dislike! He must let us decide who is in and who is out. In our extreme moments, it seems like we are more interested in excluding sinners from salvation than in being saved ourselves.

Wisely, God has not left that choice to us. God scandalizes us with the extent and breadth of His love. We must be careful. We are never more in spiritual danger than when we think we know what God can and cannot do. Who God does or does not love. There are so many more things about God that we do not know than things we do. Our only reasonable position is one of humility, along with a sense of expectation and openness to what God can do in our lives and through us in God’s world.

A one-sentence sermon: “It is NOT true that God has resigned and left the world in our hands.”

Yes, sometimes the witness we are asked to bear, as followers of the universal God, offends our hearers who may be less than delighted to hear that God-in-Christ offers salvation to all creatures, all nations, without the kind of limitations and borders we all put on our vision of “Who’s In and Who’s Out?” of God’s favor.

The Episcopal Church, of which I am a member, is presently going through some considerable internal pains over differing views of how one’s sexual orientation puts that person “In” or “Out” of the running to be a bishop. So that’s a hometown issue that I can identify with and pray through.

Catholic monastic Thomas Merton said: “The greatest danger is identification of the Church with a prosperous and established economic and cultural system, as if Christ and the world had finally settled down to be friends. The Church needs Christians with independent and original thought, with new solutions and the capacity to take risks.”

To summarize Jesus’ ministry in his hometown:

1. Jesus knew his identity and that his authority had been given him from God. He knew who he was and where he was going. He had fought with Satan in the wilderness and he had won the battle. Jesus had no need to be flattered to tailor his message so as to win approval ratings.

2. Jesus preached from the scriptures. He spoke God’s word. His listeners could not deny that his points were valid, so they reacted violently, trying to rub out the messenger because they couldn’t rub out the message.

3. Jesus put his life on the line. He was so strong in his convictions that he was willing to risk not only the approval of his audience but to risk losing his life. He knew what he was called by God to do and he was going to do it.

That’s why we come to church, isn’t it?

1. To claim and reclaim our identity. To avoid identity theft. To be reminded of “who we are and whose we are.” There’s a host of folks out there who are after our identity…identity theft, in the spiritual sense. Consumerism can be a religion. I am if I buy. I am what I buy.

2. To hear and know God’s Story of Love for us. We hear God’s Word in Scripture and are open to the Holy Spirit to learn more about God’s Word, Jesus, as God continues to work in the world.

3. To Put Our Life on the Line. Today’s lessons, Jeremiah and Jesus, remind us that telling God’s story may well cause us resentment from the world. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

We are here to claim and reclaim our identity; to hear and know God’s story of love for us; and to put our life on the line – to be empowered for our Monday to Monday ministries.

* * * * *

[The Rev. James L. Gill of East Winthrop, ME; Isaiah 6:1-13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11; ]

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, preached at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Augusta, ME, February 8, 2004

“God’s Word only spoken, God’s Word only heard.” Amen.

For those of you who are here at Prince of Peace this morning but were not here last Sunday (to hear the excellent sermon!), I have to tell you that this is Sermon Part Two and is influenced by the responses I received from many of you during the past week. These responses were answers to questions about your individual ministries in your everyday life, sometimes called Monday to Monday Ministries.

The homework questions came from a book, When the Members are the Missionaries: An Extraordinary Calling for Ordinary People (information for ordering it is at the back of the church) by A. Wayne Schwab, and were focused on you, as individual members of Prince of Peace in your daily places of ministry. Schwab’s way of looking at this lists six areas, or fields, of ministry we all share: (1) Family, (2) Work, (3) Local Community, (4) Wider Community, (5) Leisure, and (6) Church.

I said last week that it was asking a lot of you…to do this homework and share your thoughts about your individual ministries. I  said I was more confident about you Lutherans than I would have been with fellow Episcopalians! My confidence in you has been rewarded and, in all honesty, I haven’t given my own church family a similar chance to perform, so I had better retract that comparison.

Theology underlying this vision of member mission / ministry (quoting Wayne Schwab)

God is on mission:

– God is at work in the world to overcome evil and to make it a better place.

– Justice is the public face of love.

– Where love and justice are blocked, God is there working for change.

– Where we meet love and justice, God is there.

– God’s mission has a church.

– The church does not have a mission; the mission has a church.

– The church collaborates with any who work for greater love and justice.

We join God’s mission in baptism:

– to make Jesus Christ known in word and deed.

– to love our neighbors as ourselves; and

– to strive for peace and justice.

So, mission is “in reach” – reaching into God’s mission in our own lives and comes before “outreach.”

– Jesus is concerned with how we live our Monday to Monday ministries.

– Sunday is for direction and power to live that way.

Jesus Christ shares his power over evil with us – “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

When a congregation wants to implement this vision:

– it sees every member on mission wherever they are all the time.

It sees a basic purpose is to support the members in their daily living as Christians.

– it helps members discern their daily missions / ministries in their mission fields.
Great response: about a dozen returns. Very thoughtful comments on doing ministry / mission Monday to Monday.

Field of ministry – Home:

1. “What am I doing now to make life better – more loving or more just?

Taking a proactive response to handling housework (doing the dishes, etc.) in the fairest way, giving consideration to each family member’s life situation – i.e., when our teenager works at a job, I take over that work slot, doing the dishes late last night, writing love notes to my spouse and leaving them where they will be read …hugging my spouse more, not letting ‘little issues’ get the best of me…helping spouse do the income tax return (now there’s a ministry!)…responding to a friend who just called to talk…praying for spouse, children and grandchildren…providing transportation for grandchildren since their mother is not able to do it…Spouse and I have a short Bible Study together each morning, also a prayer of thanksgiving at our evening meal…being more positive, cheerful and companionable (since I am ‘disposed to be grouchy’…Reminds me of Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip who said, ‘Can I help it if I have crabby genes?’)

2. “What is it that I am trying to change in my home so that life there is more loving and more just?”

I am trying to change my words and actions toward child who is unable to fulfill responsibilities…I continue to have difficulty sharing my concerns and fears with my spouse. I stew over things before coming to an answer, all the while shutting out my spouse. When I change and do open up with my spouse it brings us closer…If I were to find an area of change, it would probably be in the area of more prayer and bible study…I’m trying to establish more open communication with our teenager, more interaction, even if it’s just hanging out at the kitchen table. This is a change that I pray for every Sunday during Holy Communion…The change I’m working on is less stress and more understanding.

3. “What seems to be blocking the change I am trying to make in my home?”

Teenage independence…leading to a search for own answers, not mine…Old habits, longtime independence gets in the way of sharing concerns and fears…I’m not sure, maybe it’s my sensitivity or lack of it, or too much of it? I’ll pray for wisdom and patience…My selfishness and slothfulness…My inability to show / tell someone that ‘I care.’

4. “What do I believe that God has been doing or telling me to doing my home?”

I believe that God wants me to know that He is in control…God is asking me to stop shutting out my spouse during troubling times…Just last Sunday, I was asking for forgiveness as I knelt at the Communion rail. God’s answer? ‘You need to ask your spouse for forgiveness’…I believe that God wants me to be a help and not a nag to a family member. At this time, it’s taking a lot of energy!…I believe God is telling me that things don’t always have to go my way…I believe that God is telling me to continue taking in those who are cast out. An abuse-survivor has come far enough to be able to spend overnights in our home.

A few responded – Work:

At school, volunteering with second graders, helping them with reading and book reports…Dropping off some of the products of my work to a poor couple in a nearby town. They seemed to appreciate it.

* * *

Our readings for today present us with three individuals, who might well be considered rather unlikely candidates for ministry…Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Their stories, of how God broke through their everyday lives and occupations and turned them into powerful missionaries / ministers…is an example of the truth that God does not choose fit persons for ministry; God chooses persons and makes them fit. These are stories of God in action through individuals – “member ministry.”

Isaiah’s call to ministry came in the inner Temple on what was probably an ordinary day for him, when he had the events of his life on his mind.

Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ is another reminder of how God uses ordinary people, even those who need a dramatic “turning around” of their lives.

Peter (and James and John) were called in the context of their ordinary job as fishermen to follow Jesus. They, like we ourselves, had to overcome the fear of leaving the familiar in order to take on new responsibilities as followers of Christ.

Even though our world is very different from that of Isaiah, Paul and Peter, the Divine Question still echoes and calls to each of us…”Who will go for me?” And there is still need for the answer, “Although I am unworthy, here I am; send me.” God often chooses the ordinary, unworthy persons like us.

Jesus tells Pete, James, and John: “Do not be afraid: from now on you will be catching people.”

Two parts to this statement:

(1) Do not be afraid…Yet fear and a sense of unworthiness was the valid first response of all three to being exposed to the Majesty and Goodness of God

– Isaiah: “Woe is me, I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lis and I live among a people of unclean lips…”

– Paul: “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”

– Peter: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Realizing our own unworthiness as compared to the Majesty and Goodness of God is a necessary first step to being a disciple of Christ. Conviction of sin is step one. But it is ONLY step one. But sometimes we stop there…There’s no need to wallow in our sinfulness. (Share an experience in the Philippines where the issue seemed to be whether or not the Stinkerdom of Mankind was more powerful than the Victory of God…We can make Good Friday more important than Easter.)

(2) “From now on (wonderful words that point us to the present and the future, not the past), you will be catching people.” Of course, the analogy of catching fish was perfectly suited to those three fishermen, Peter, James and John. When it comes to our ministries, our missionary activities in God’s world, maybe there are better analogies.

Someone on the internet wrote recently about how customer service has changed at a few large stores. Probably one near us. When you ask an employee in what aisle you will find your desired object, the employee no longer simply tells you. They now stop what they are doing and they walk with you to the aisle, pointing to the item you need. Then they ask, “Can I help you find anything else?”

Then, this person on the internet asks, what’s the difference between walking with someone and just telling them, when it comes to evangelism?

I guess it was St. Francis of Assisi who said something like, “Bring people to Jesus, evangelize, and use words if you have to.”

“From now on, you will be catching people” Jesus says to Peter, James and John…and to us. Maybe, just maybe, as we grow in our sense of mission / ministry in every area of our life, as we “reach into” God’s mission and display that power of God by the way we live, 24/7…just maybe, others will “catch” the virus of Christianity from us. Christian Faith is a contagious force, most often contracted by direct contact with a carrier of that force.

Let this kind of contagion grow among the members of Prince of Peace.