6 Pentecost, Proper 9
July 5, 2015
Homily by The Reverend Delia Faye
Today I'd like to start out with a little history.
We know that the four Gospels were written by different people we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, at different times—John may be as late as 110 CE–for different groups of people. Matthew sounds like it was written for a Jewish congregation while Luke seems to be written for a Gentile congregation.
We also know that in some cases, the writer, or an enthusiastic scribe, added words to what Jesus said that plainly were not spoken by him.
A case in point is at the end of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus sends the disciples to all nations, telling them to preach the Gospel and to baptize people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That's the Trinitarian formula: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
However, that is the only place in the whole Bible that the formula appears. You'd think of Jesus had really said that it would be all over the Gospels and that Paul would have picked it up. After all, Paul was careful when it came to the Gospel and he wanted people to get it right.
So the Trinitarian formula is probably what is known as a scribal gloss--something added later by someone who felt it was important. But not what Jesus actually said.
And that's almost a shame, because we've built a whole theology of mission around that one addition to the Gospel. We've sent people to the farthest corners of the world to preach and baptize. So in a sense, not only have we built a theology of mission around it, we've also fulfilled it as a commandment.
The other thing we did with this commandment was to twist it to our advantage and come up with Manifest Destiny and colonialism. We don't do this now, but there was a time that Christianity and colonizers went hand in hand, and it wasn't pretty. Christianity was taught as a new religion, yes, but it was used as an excuse to enslave or keep down those to whom it was taught.
A student is not more important that their teacher, so the new converts were not ever to be equal or above their Christian teachers. Since Europeans were the Christian teachers, things split along racial lines, and we are still dealing with the fallout of those ideas to this very day.
Hopefully we don't believe that anymore.
But we still feel the need to send missionaries to far flung places of the globe. However, we've discovered that people want to hear the Gospel proclaimed not them by their own people. Guests preachers are fine, but for long term preaching it's better to listen to someone like yourself. People relate to each other better.
Well, two things:
First: we need to realize that for some people WE are the far flung reaches of the earth. They get to send missionary here just like we got to send missionaries there.
And second, we need a new theology of mission. We've gone to all nations and preached and baptized. Now, that all the nations are doing the preaching and baptizing, what are we supposed to do? Sit on our hands and do nothing?
There is another time Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission, and it's in today's Gospel. Jesus sends out his apostles to preach and cast out demons. They preached repentance, cast out demons, and anointed the sick.
This is another view of mission—going and doing things, that need doing. Hopefully in conjunction with people that are already there and who knows what needs doing. This is mission as being present as a Christian to a need one can fulfill.
Just after the civil war in Liberia not so many years ago, a junior high counselor wanted to go on a mission there. We sent her, praying that she could find a need that she could meet. She went and stayed with some friends of my family who ran a couple of schools. It was, however, summer vacation.
Being just after the war, children who had been soldiers were being encouraged to turn in their weapons in exchange for a free education. Lots of children and teenagers signed up for this program.
The teachers, however, were overwhelmed. Not just by sheer numbers of students but by something no one had thought of and no one knew much about. Every child had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD. How do you teach a room full of shell-shocked youngsters?
Well, the junior high school counselor gathered as many teachers as she could and taught them what she knew about it--which was a lot. Everything from basic counseling to case specific issues was covered. It took days and days. At the end of it, the teachers were better prepared and the students better served.
God put the two needs together--the desire of the counselor to go on a mission and the need of the teachers for some direction-- and came up with a solution for everything. Everyone benefited.
We've been sending people to Liberia ever since—most recently rice farmers and hydrologists. We've also had Liberians coming over here as good-will ambassadors and sister city coordinators.
All in the name of Christ and doing work for God's kingdom. We do mission work there and they do mission work here. For us, they are far flung and for them we are far flung.
Mission happens where ever we are, be it Africa or here at home. Jesus didn't send the twelve to far off places. He sent them two by two into the area they were in. Preach, heal, cast out demons.
Our mission field doesn't have to be farthest Africa. Our mission field can be right here. We are to do mission where we are—that's our calling. Here at St. John's our mission outreach is our thrift store. Our mission field is the small communities we gather from.
Go into all the world is great, but going into our own communities is better. We are to be present as Christians in our communities. And most of us are dong that.
We have some form of volunteering we are doing or people we go and see or something we do that we don't really think of as mission. But it is mission.
And as they say in other places:
God bless the work.
God bless the workers.