Sermon-prior to leaving for East Timor
July 19, 2009
The Liddles in East Timor Information and Blog
In thinking about my own sense of call to this endeavor, I find it helpful to consider the enduring themes of the Bible. One of them is the concept of "The Journey.” In the Genesis narrative we read that God called Abram out of his homeland in Haran to the foreign land of Canaan. In the book of Exodus, God leads an enslaved people on a wilderness journey to a land of freedom and promise. These themes form the backbone of the entire biblical narrative and are told and retold in various ways throughout the Bible.
Over the years, reading the story of Jesus has prompted me to spend time in soup kitchens, homeless shelters and prisons. Motivated by the Hebrew Prophets, I've found myself protesting war and speaking for justice. My journey of faith has also lead me to travel in India, the Philippines and East Timor. Very formative for me has been moving to Duluth, Minnesota and becoming a part of this community of disciples. Over the past 6 years you've given me the opportunity to learn and teach, to participate in leadership, and develop life long friendships.
I continue to be drawn to the Bible because it speaks to the human experience in such infinite ways. As I read the Gospels though, two consistent themes run throughout: Jesus' call to Follow Him and his redundant command to the disciples, Don’t be Afraid. The combination suggests that for a Christian, the point of life is following Jesus; and that it can be difficult and scary. Like the disciples in Mark’s Gospel, I continue to find Jesus both compelling and more than a little unsettling...
What has always struck me as most startling though, is that it seems that when Jesus calls us to follow, He wants our very selves. For me, following Jesus means striving daily to hear God's call and responding as best I can even when the call is scary, vague, or unpopular. That said, I often feel like the man in Mark 9 who's son is possessed by a demon. You might recall this story where the disciples have tried to heal the boy and can't. Jesus shows up and says to the man: “all things can be done for the one who believes.” The man shouts out: "I believe, help my unbelief!" Indeed as convicted as I feel about the life of discipleship, I certainly have my share of fear and doubt...
Like many of you, the text of Matthew 25 has been central in my faith journey and we are all familiar with its lyrical prose: “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you gave me clothes, sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.”
Indeed caring for strangers and those living on the margins is not just a nice thing to do – it’s a justice requirement that God sets forth over and over throughout Scripture. Yet if we listen closely to today's text, we will realize that there is more... These verses also invite us to reflect on the spiritual peril that can unfold when we always respond to God’s call as the provider. When we are the one providing food, drink, clothes, or we’re the one visiting, or healing, we risk acting from a position of superiority and initiative. So its worth considering that when Jesus says, “I was a stranger”, as his disciples, we too must be willing become strangers. In various ways, we must accept that following Jesus inherently implies vulnerability and commitment.
Thinking about all this gets us to our perceptions of the meaning of mission and what it means to be a missionary; no doubt a term I myself have mixed feelings about. It helps to remember that God called and sent Jesus the marginal carpenter from Nazareth on a mission to show us God’s true will for the world. Jesus in turn calls all of us to a life of mission on behalf of the world that God created and loves.
In the United Church of Christ, our global mission work is about partnership and mutuality, about participating in God's vision of Shalom that Jesus was so passionate about. We're not about imposing our beliefs and values on others. We're about recognizing and embodying physically, the global nature of the Church of Jesus Christ, and being in relationship and solidarity with people living all over the world – especially those living in poverty, sickness, or political peril.
In this context our question shouldn’t just be “what can I teach” but more importantly “what can I learn.” We shouldn't tempted to give advice, but listen intently to others; we should not only assume the role of provider, but receive the hospitality of others; we should not seize initiatives or proselytize, but allow our hosts to guide our work. Our goal is to support our partner churches in their own contexts, to learn from them, walk with them, and allow ourselves and our churches to be shaped and transformed by them even as we share our own skills and commitments with them.
The Church's Mission takes place from everywhere to everywhere, we send missionaries from here to there to share skills and expertise, and we also welcome missionaries from there to here for the same reason. Part of being a missionary then, is about being a stranger, and being a stranger involves accepting a certain vulnerability, a certain ambiguity and a certain weakness. Our best advise then as missionaries, is to look to Jesus and try to understand his approach to people; to enter other people's world with a sense of reverence and humility, while relying on God's ever present grace to guide us. Amen.