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Sunday, September 9, 2018
One Whole-Church Worship Service 10:00 a.m.
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

I used to take church groups on short-term mission trips to Jamaica. Our base was about thirty minutes east of Ocho Rios in Galina, a small town in St. Mary Parish, which is the poorest of the parishes in Jamaica. On a hill just outside of the town was an infirmary that was set up by Queen Elizabeth during her coronation, back when Jamaica was a British Colony. The infirmary is actually a bit like a nursing home here, although it is far more basic. Just imagine a barracks with cots lined up along the walls every few feet with a community bathroom at the end of the barracks. Infirmaries like these house the crippled, the lame, people with special needs, and the elderly with no one at home to take care of them. They used to receive funding from the British government, but now they are left to fend for themselves. We’d take our mission teams of youth and adults to the infirmary a couple of times a week, bringing a basic broth to feed them. They had little else to eat.

Jamaica is an island. You are never very far from the shoreline when you live there. However, when you are poor or lame and you live a couple of miles from the shore, you never go to the beautiful beaches. This mission agency we served with decided that trips to the beach for the folks at the infirmary were important for their healing and humanity, so we would take an afternoon to load up a couple dozen of them onto buses and bring them to the beach. Each person on our team was partnered with someone and would sit on the shoreline with them as the waves gently washed over their bodies. Their skin was often dry and rough, so we’d take the sand and saltwater and exfoliate their skin. The simple joy of the beach brought out the best in them and in us. They laughed and cried. We laughed and cried. This was not easy work, but it was joyful work. Getting our friends from the mountain to the beach took hours of effort and lots of hard work, but living out the love of God we had in serving others brought all of us profound joy. This simple act reminded us that God calls us to so much more than we typically allow space for in our lives. Whenever we focus ourselves on what mission actually is, we come to realize what we’re missing when we don’t tap into God’s power through serving the world. I am grateful for moments in my ministry when everything gets to its simplest form and the people I serve with recognize the good life God is calling us all to.

Over the next two months, we’re going to talk a lot about mission around here. When I say the word “mission,” what comes to mind for you? What is mission?

Mission is a word that has transcended its “churchy” meaning. Businesses now have mission statements. So do schools. The Blues Brothers were on a Mission from God to get the band back together. Mission has so many meanings in our world that its original meaning has lost some of its force. My hope – not only today but throughout the coming weeks – is that we as a church start reclaiming mission. I want us to truly understand the biblical foundations of mission. I want us to connect those original ideas behind mission with our lives today. I want us to feel equipped and empowered to do mission. I really want our church to have a strong sense of mission not only for today but in the years to come. I want us to be a church that makes a difference for Jesus locally and globally.

I think most of us believe that mission is a great word for churches, but it is a scary word for many of us as individuals. Let me unpack what I mean by that a little bit. I would be really surprised if anyone gathered here today would be upset that our church has a Mission Committee that connects locally and globally with people who are doing good for others. We’re glad that 10% of our church’s giving goes to such efforts. We’re glad that there are people in this church who go and help at Supper House in Muskegon or who volunteer at the People Center or Love in Action or Habitat for Humanity.

So, why is mission scary for many of us individually? While we’re glad that others step out in mission, many of us have not done so on our own. We don’t feel equipped to serve. We don’t feel spiritual enough to do something called “mission.”  Or we’re just plain nervous about entering an unfamiliar neighborhood or interacting with people we don’t know. And that’s just about deeds of service. What about evangelism? Most of us are scared to silence when it comes to speaking about God’s love in our lives and how that is good news for others. We’re worried our stories aren’t interesting enough or that we don’t have the right words to say. We’re concerned we’ll offend someone. And so we leave mission to be one part of what we do as a church, but we largely let it happen apart from ourselves individually.

This is a mistake! It’s easy to say that the church has a mission, but that’s actually backwards. It’s not so much that the church has a mission, but rather the mission of God has a church. The church is the vehicle for God’s purposes in the world. God is the driver. God is the One behind it all. We do mission because God calls us to do mission, not because we’re nice people or because it’s the right thing to do!

Churches can do so much good in the world, but sometimes I believe that churches have forgotten why they do what they do. They want to make a difference, but they’ve left the spiritual motivation elsewhere.

This morning I want to take a few minutes to look at our text in Acts. This Scripture gives us a picture of what is foundational to our understanding of mission. Without this understanding, we’ll be spinning our wheels when it comes to mission. So, let’s take a closer look at our text.

The book of Acts dives right into things – into a period of time that must have been one of the hardest to describe in history. Jesus had made some noise with his teaching and healing ministry, but then the Romans crucified him. Yet a couple of days later Jesus starts appearing to people, not as a ghost or a memory, but rather as a flesh-and-blood person who bore the marks of crucifixion on his body. He was dead. God raised him from the dead. He spent time with people for a little over a month after the resurrection, preparing them for what was to come and telling them about the kingdom of God, and then, he ascends into heaven right before their eyes. How life-changing all of this must have been! But also how confusing!

Before Jesus went away he promised to leave the Holy Spirit with them. This Spirit would be the wind in their sails, the gas in their engine, the power in the movement. This movement launches from the death and resurrection of Christ and moves forward empowered by the Holy Spirit. That’s the first lesson for the church in anything we do: The Holy Spirit is what empowers us. Yes, we have brains and brawn and some resources, but the church is the church only because the Holy Spirit gives us power to be the church. These first disciples did not start a worldwide movement that changed all of human history because they had a good mission strategy and adequate financial backing. No, it happened because God was behind it. God still is behind it today, and so our church must rely on the Holy Spirit for all we do. Without the Holy Spirit, we will quickly lose power and will be no good to anyone, least of all to those who need us. Lesson One: Rely on the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples not to do anything until the Holy Spirit came upon them. Then they were to act.

So, the disciples waited in Jerusalem. What did they do with much of their time? They prayed! This is the second lesson we learn. Not only does the church’s power come from the Holy Spirit, but the church’s unity and direction come from a strong commitment to prayer. This is prayer that seeks God’s will in all things. It’s prayer that orders the life of the pray-er around the will of God.

Prayer is vital to the life of a Christian, so it is foundational in all we undertake in mission. But we really underestimate the power of prayer and the power of the One to whom we are praying. Annie Dillard wrote, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”[1]

Those first disciples who most keenly felt the departure of Jesus from their midst knew that prayer was at the very foundation of what God wanted them to do. So they committed themselves to prayer. Today we need that same kind of prayer life, because “prayer is the way to stay in love with God. Prayer is the way individuals, small groups and congregations grow and become vivid. It is a habit, a discipline, but not discipline with a clenched jaw. Prayer is more about receiving from God than it is about asking God for things or working hard at intercession.”[2] So the second lesson we can take from this text is that prayer is absolutely essential to any effort of the church. Trying to do mission without the Holy Spirit or prayer would be like trying to drive your car without gas. You won’t get anywhere without it.

So, what are the disciples actually called to do? Jesus tells them, “Wait for the Holy Spirit, and when that Spirit comes upon you, then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” What is a witness? Simply someone who tells others what has happened to them. All followers of Jesus are witnesses. That is our third lesson. We all have a story to tell about how life with Jesus is different than it was without Jesus. Each of us has a story to tell, and it is our story. Like those first disciples, God has called each of us to share the difference Jesus has made in our lives.

I realize for many of us that we are nervous about sharing our stories. We’d rather leave that for the pastor or for others who seem super spiritual. So I encourage you today to think through your own story of life with Jesus. How is your life different than it would be apart from Jesus? At some point you will have the opportunity to share that story with another person. Be ready, willing, and able to share that story.

But, of course, this calling to bear witness goes way beyond our words. We believe we share this in our actions. Our passage ends with the disciples staring at the sky because Jesus has mysteriously just left them. They don’t know what to do. Two men come up to them and ask, “Why do you stand here looking at the sky?” Don’t just stand there in awe – do something! So the disciples go from there and start sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed. They tell their stories. They bring healing to the broken. They bring restoration to the outcast. They cross racial and class boundaries. They live out the good news because they – like us – are sent in mission. We live in their legacy.

In the coming weeks we have a lot of ground to cover about mission, but let me start here. All of us are on a mission from God. All of us. So pay attention to your life to see how the Spirit is leading you in mission. Be attentive to God’s calling for you. In the coming weeks we’re going to look at mission in our community. We’re going to hear some of what God is doing in the church around the world. We’re going to consider how we live out our mission as a church. We’re going to get out and actually serve in our community with purpose and joy. It’s going to be fun and encouraging, so I hope you’re ready to join in. My hope is that every person who attends these services will find a sense of purpose in living out the good news of God’s love – all the time and everywhere!

When Jesus left the disciples, they stood there staring at the sky, unsure what to do next. The angels who wake them up from their stupor have a message that is not just for them but is also for us, “You have seen Jesus go. You will see him come. But between that going and coming there must be another. The Spirit must come, and you must go – into the world for Christ.”[3]

We have our orders. Let’s get moving!

[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, 40.

[2] Martha Grace Reese, Unbinding the Gospel, 51.

[3] John Stott