Church of the Beloved – A Sent Community

Sermon by Ryan Marsh – 7/17/2016

In only a few weeks I will start a full time residency as a chaplain at the UW Medical Center.  That means my role at Beloved will reduce to simply preaching three times a month and providing some leadership oversight.  Things like music and liturgy, pastoral care, outreach events and other duties will largely be in your capable and creative hands.  This will be a year that defines who we are as a community.  There will be changes for us to grieve together.  And there will be changes for us to celebrate. For instance, worship services wont look the same.   They will take on a far more collective flavor.  This change will require you to do that thing that maybe only you can do, because this community will need you to do it.  I’m talking about that thing that kinda makes you kinda special, and a little weird.  I’m talking about that thing that other people think is life draining, or have absolutely no imagination regarding, but for you it’s, it might be hard, but it’s a good hard, it’s life-giving.  It’s a thing you were made to do.  I’m talking about vocation.

These changes will continue to move us from pastor-centric models that characterize most churches, to becoming a Church that is truly ‘for the people and by the people,’ a community led church empowered by God’s Spirit.  This will require trust that the Spirit is going to call out the unique gifts of this community and we will become far more ourselves.  Vocation was hugely important to Martin Luther and the Reformation Movement, which turns 500 years old next summer.  Luther was best known for lifting up “justification by faith through grace,” but more recently scholars have noted that in his writings and sermons Luther equally lifted up vocation.  These were the two main platforms of the Reformation Movement: Grace and Calling.

Beloved, as we enter a season of change, with challenges, as well as great opportunities, let us look to both the Grace of Jesus, and the vocation to which we are called.  Within those two things our most essential identity is held.

I think that is what we see when we look at today’s Gospel story.  Jesus speaks of a Harvest to which he sends seventy of his followers.  What is the harvest?  We might assume that a harvest in the Kingdom of God must be the “conversion of people” to our faith, but that’s not exactly what we see in this story.  What we read in the Gospel is this:

– The “harvest” is when we are welcomed by people, when we are the guests of others, sharing food and drink together.

– The “harvest” is exchanging peace with someone you were scared might reject you.

– The “harvest” is being motivated by the grace of Jesus to bring wholeness, and trust, and liberation in the world, when before there was sickness, and fear, and oppression.

Paul talks about the Harvest in the epistle as “working for the good of all.”  No doubt in Paul’s mind is the Hebrew concept of Shalom, the spreading of God’s peaceful reign.  And then, when people experience it, taste it, become well by it, then being able to name the weight of the moment, by saying, “Wow, God is so close to you.”

I don’t think the harvest is the same for everyone.  It’s not a generic harvest, because your vocation is not generic.  It’s a particular harvest that is particular to you, because your vocation is particular to you.  Of course your calling has something to do with “loving God and loving your neighbor,” but how? The “how” part of your vocation is as custom to you as your DNA.  Your calling is as idiosyncratic as your life’s story, and the triumphs and tragedies that mark it.  So this is a vital question: Do you know your vocation?

Do you know what God is appointing you for and sending you to be and do this week?

Here’s a hint from the Psalm today:  “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and do it?’”  No.  Your vocation is found in the relationships that surround your life.  Are you a neighbor?  Are you friend?  A wife or husband, mother or father? Are you a sister or brother, co-worker or manager? Your vocation is found in the relationships that surround your life.

The importance of vocation shapes how we be church with one another.  It means that the purpose of the time we spend here for these few minutes every Sunday evening is to clarify and strengthen our vocation in the world.  This community is a support group for one another’s vocational calling.  We’re here to help each other better understand and live out all the unique ways in which God sends us out into your week, into our homes and jobs, schools and gyms, and neighborhoods, so that there, in the mundaneness of our lives, we can uniquely proclaim, “God is here.”  No longer view Church of the Beloved so much as a place to gather, but a community of people sent by God.

Today’s gospel passage about the sending out of the seventy has been an important story for our community.  It’s helped to define us as a sending community.  When Mary and Patrick and Solomon left on their immigration tour, or Charis went to start Echoes Church in Bellingham, or Jim and Donna moved back to their hometown as changed people, or Sarah went back East to be closer to family, or, there are many….

for each of these people we gathered around them and we blessed them and we sent them.  We could have interpreted these events as being left, as losing people who are so important to us.  But God has defined us as a sending people, a people sent to live out our vocations, whether we stay or whether we go.

This has been an important Gospel story for the missional church movement in general, because what it does is flip the popular understanding of the Church as a place to which people come.  It flips that understanding on it’s head, and redirects the Church as a people whom God sends.  Look again at Luke 10:1, “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”  Can you see how this passage reverses the idea that Church is primarily a place of hospitality, where we are hosts?  To be honest, I’d be a lot more comfortable to remain a host.  Hosts hold all the power.  We know how to navigate the space, we know where the bathrooms are, we know when to stand up and when to sit down and when to say things like, “The Lord be with you.”

Guests know a vulnerability that doesn’t exist for hosts.  I remember visiting a Lutheran Church once. There was a whole basketball team visiting too.  I knew this because they were all wearing their blue jerseys.  They stood out, all sitting in a row along the back pew.  When it came time for the Eucharist,

we were instructed to commune by “intinction.”  This is insider speak for the “French Dip” of communion.  When the 6’5’’ power forward in front of me got up to the chalice, he looked inside it with horror.  I could tell that he supposed all of those floating bread crumbs inside it were the backwash from the rest of the congregation.  He hesitated, his face pained and conflicted, and then a resolve came over him.  He grabbed the chalice from the server and drank it like a swig of cod liver oil.   Hosts hold the power.  There is great vulnerability in being a guest.  No one knows this better than the 65,000 million refugees worldwide, or the nearly 1million immigrant neighbors in Washington.

In todays Gospel story, Jesus sends his followers to be vulnerable, to be “lambs among wolves,” to rely upon the hospitality of others, to rely upon, not their own power and privilege, but upon the God who sends them.  So, as you live out your vocation in vulnerability, don’t be surprised by rejection.  That is what I told Mary, Patrick and Solomon before they left on their latest immigration tour.  Last trip they were met with rejection in a few places.  It was hard.  But don’t be surprised by rejection as you live out your vocation. Living into vocation will summon resistance from some.

In the previous chapter the disciples were met with rejection and Peter suggests “Lord, do you want us to call down lightening?”  Jesus knows we will encounter resistance. “Just shake it off,” he says.  It’s not really about you anyways.  Shake off the dust and move on.  The way it’s talked about in AA and Alanon is “differentiate with love,” realize that the only person we can control is ourselves, and anger is a sign that we’re hooked into a game we can’t win.  So sometimes love looks like shaking it off and moving on.

The people of God are a sent people.  The missional Church movement’s main message could be framed this way:  “God has a mission – and God’s mission has a church.”  Our God is a God who takes action.  God takes action in the Exodus, in prophetic voices and, most profoundly, in the incarnation, by being born into utter solidarity with the world, ate and drank with sinners, gave good news to the weak, and challenged the powerful,was ground up under the wheels of the Empire, but was raised to life in the great rebellion against Evil, Sin and Death.  And it’s this Jesus, the action of God, who empowered the people with his Spirit to continue his work of bringing peace, being agents of healing and wholeness, and then letting people know, “Hey, do you see it?  The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Because God has a mission and God’s mission has church.  Notice I didn’t say, “God’s Church has a mission.”  Rather, “God’s mission has a church.”  God is on this mission, whether God’s Church is on it or not.  That means the question is not, “Does God’s church have a mission,” but rather, “Does God’s mission have you, Church?”  Has the mission of God grabbed hold of you?  Does it move you?  Does it move you out and into places of vulnerability?  Can you see why this would be such a radical shift for the Church?Vulnerability is hard, and yet, that is where the harvest is.  The harvest is only in the vulnerability.

Now here is the promise.  Luke 10:2 “He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful.”  That’s the promise.  The promise is that there is plenty.  There is a lot of low hanging fruit out there that is ready to be picked. According to Jesus the fulfillment of God’s mission is not illusive, it’s not scarce. It’s right out there and there’s more than enough!  I feel as though we’ve discovered that recently with our tax crisis.  We discovered plenty and in nine months we’ll be free of those chains.

So if it’s not a scarcity of harvest, than what’s the problem?  Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  What’s scarce is those who pick it.  Not a lot of people are willing to simply go out and get it.  The fruit just rots in the fields.  Why? Because it’s so hard to move from our place of comfort and hosting, from our place of power and privilege.  What does Jesus suggest we do about this problem?  “Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Just ask.    God wants us to want it.  Asking requires our desire.  We have to want it.  Ask.  Do you know your vocation?  Do you want to?  This community needs you to know your vocation.  This neighborhood needs you to know your vocation.  This world needs you to know your vocation, and be about it.

Beloved, you are a sent people.  You are sent out to live more deeply into your vocation.  And when we are sent in vulnerability, the promise is that the picking is plentiful.  Go get it.