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Sunday, September 23, 2018
Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10 & John 5:1-9a
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Over the past two weeks Jill and I have laid the groundwork for mission. As we have seen, God’s call to mission is rooted in Scripture, particularly in seeing how the earliest followers of Jesus were sent into the world. After looking more closely at Acts 1 and 2, we’ve seen that Jesus knew that his followers were key to the exponential growth of his kingdom ministry on earth. So, empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided by prayer, they went out to preach the good news about Jesus, to show God’s goodness to others through healing, and to show God’s justice through sharing their resources and lives with each other. Their movement grew rapidly because the Holy Spirit was behind it, but it also grew because others noticed that this ragtag band of people were living very differently. People with different religious backgrounds were sharing life with each other. The rich and the poor were taking care of each other. Women were leading in ways not heard of in Greco-Roman society. Slaves were welcomed and even freed from their bondage as their masters learned the way of Jesus. Mission was not just for a handful of specially called people. It was in the hands of all the people, living out what God had called them to in their particular time and place.
Today we believe the same is true about mission. It is for all people, whether your calling is right here or it is going some place far away. It is at work and at home. We are all called to mission and to declare the good news that in Jesus Christ all are called to new life.
Often mission involves taking a risk, but that doesn’t mean the risk has to be life-threatening. Usually it’s just one step out of your comfort zone. Jill’s story last week about asking her neighbor if she could divide his iris bulbs is such a great example of this. She was bold in writing the note. I’m guessing writing a note like that is not a natural step for many of us, but little did she know that the Holy Spirit had a ministry in mind with this gardening project.
My good friend, Pastor Ed Perez, and his church really exist believing that all of them are sent in mission. I met Ed about four years ago. Ed had gone to seminary in Guatemala, and he was doing what pastors do, working within the confines of his denomination to work in the church. Then God changed Ed’s direction. God placed within him a desire to reach out to the children and youth of his community. He told the denominational leaders of this calling, and they were not willing to help him. They told him, “Ed, church is hard enough with adults. They barely bring enough to make ends meet. There is no money to focus on reaching out to kids. You can do it, but you’re on your own.”
So, that’s exactly what Ed and his wife Dyna did. They started a church in their home in Orange Walk, Belize. They started with a couple of dozen people from their neighborhood. They had tarps and plastic chairs on the dirt driveway outside of their rented home, and they held worship and children’s ministries right there. Whenever I’d talk with Ed about the ministry and his next steps, he’d begin his response with these words, “We are believing God…” We are believing God will send us children. We are believing God that we will have a building. We are believing God to send us to others who want to reach out to kids but don’t know how. Everything they do is rooted in belief.
On my first trip to Belize, we met with Ed, and started laying the stones that became the foundation. We prayed over that foundation. God provided, and it was built. The next year we worked on some walls. God continued to provide, and they have walls and even a roof. It’s been over four years, and the structure is still open air, but they have gone from a couple of dozen people to adults and children filling the building. They travel all over Central America to train others in children’s ministry, reaching Central America one child at a time, and they hold trainings in their open air building. They even have a sizable youth group.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Pastor Ed and his church truly live by faith. They continue to take one step at a time believing that God is with them and is at work in them. They are constantly being surprised by how God had used them merely because they asked to be used by God. I really believe that willingness is one of the most important traits a follower of Jesus must have.
By the way, we’re planning an adult mission trip to this ministry in 2019, so stay tuned on how you can be a part of this amazing work. I know I can’t wait for you to meet Pastor Ed.
Taking any step into the unfamiliar is hard, even for the bravest of us. Taking a new job, moving to a new town, showing up at a new exercise class, or basically anything unfamiliar can cause significant anxiety. I know that many of us wrestle with calling and worthiness when it comes to Christian ministry. We question if God really wants to use us. We wonder if we have the gifts or talents to help someone else. We worry about doing it wrong.
Our two Bible texts today touch on those fears about calling and worthiness. They do so in two different ways, but I believe that they have a lot to say to us today. We’ll begin with the call story of Jeremiah. This is a beautiful story of God’s claim on Jeremiah’s life. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you,” God tells Jeremiah (1:4). Isn’t that just a beautiful notion. Before one cell had divided into two in his mother’s womb, God knew Jeremiah. God had a purpose for him. God knew Jeremiah. God set him apart for God’s work in the world.
So, here’s what I think is truly interesting about this call and what should be encouraging to all of us as we step out in mission – God does not call the equipped. God equips the called. God gave Jeremiah what he needed to do the work God had called him to. God knew Jeremiah and equipped him. So too, God knows you and equips you for what God has called you to. In Jill’s story about dividing the irises, God equipped Jill to be the type of person who could see the act of love and compassion needed for the widower, and the irises became the vehicle in which that could happen. In Ed’s story, God continually gives him and his community what they need for the ministry, and sometimes that has been through church groups from the States visiting them. God will give you what you need to do what God has called you to do. Willingness is far more important than talent in the way God operates in the world.
Jeremiah’s story is interesting also because it shows that age is a detail that doesn’t matter to God’s work in the world. After the Lord calls Jeremiah, he protests about his age. “I am only a boy,” Jeremiah says. The Hebrew word here could mean a child as young as those we handed Bibles out to this morning, all the way to a teenager. We don’t know what age he was, but God did not care about that detail. So too, God’s call is for you as you are now. If you’re a teen, God has a calling for you. If you’re a working parent, God has a calling for you. If you’re growing accustomed to being an empty nester, God has a calling for you. If you’ve been a part of this church for eighty years, God has a calling for you. Details like age are not what interests God. Willingness and openness are what matters. God has uniquely equipped each of us to our mission work, and the person you are right now is the person God needs you to be for God’s purposes in the world. Just be open to taking that next step.
Our text in John is a strange one for a mission sermon. It’s a healing story, but even more so in John it’s a controversy story because Jesus’ has healed this man on the Sabbath. It’s a story of a man who has been lame for 38 years. He lays by the pool at Bethesda, trying to get some respite in the healing waters of the pool, but he has no one to help him. In fact, the pool attracted a lot of people who were looking for help and hope. Legend had it that an angel occasionally stirred the water of the pool up, and when it was stirred, the first to get in would be healed. When we get desperate, we’re willing to try anything, aren’t we?
Archaeologists actually uncovered this pool, and you can visit it today in Jerusalem. Not far from the Temple – that place where heaven and earth met – this man lies suffering. In the shadows of that Temple and in the place where people are so eager to draw near to God, people pass him by. He has no help. Then Jesus comes along. God in flesh sees his suffering and does something about it. Jesus doesn’t need to wait for a miracle to happen to the water. He does the miraculous right there.
So, what does this have to do with mission? Good question! This man had no one to help him get in the water. For 38 years he suffered, and no one saw his need and did something about it until Jesus came along. Where was everyone? Sometimes all it takes is one person willing to alter routines, to do something different, to notice another, and to take action.
If we took a few moments to think, I wonder if God has put someone in each of our lives who just needs us to pay attention for a minute. I wonder what a difference each of us could make if we just took the time to notice another. We may all wrestle with our sense of calling or worthiness when it comes to stepping out in mission, but maybe the next step we need to take is to sound a bit more like Pastor Ed – I am believing God that…
I am believing God that I can bring hope to my neighbor looking for work.
I am believing God that I can live on less so that I can bless others.
I am believing God that I can befriend my classmate that everyone else ignores.
Jesus has restored this man to life. We are now the hands and feet of Christ. What are we doing? Sometimes it’s a simple as helping someone into the pool, negotiating the complexities of our health care and insurance, training someone to be financially responsible, or feeding someone.
You are that someone to another. There is no one but you. Stop looking around for someone else to bring help, hope, and healing. You get to do that. God gives you what you need. You are equipped and worthy because God has already called you. So move with confidence and compassion in your life, and for God’s sake, get going healing the brokenness you see in the world.