This past week a group of 6 Middle School children and their adult sponsors from two churches on the East side took a mission trip… to Seattle! They stayed at St. Luke’s in our cottages and visited a number of agencies that provide meals for people in need. All of that was eye-opening for these kids, but what really transformed them was the time they spent getting to know the people of St. Luke’s and some of our guests from the feeding program. They developed some questions to ask folks and then in pairs conducted interviews.
And they listened. These kids who upon arrival had no real idea why they were there except for some vague notion of helping people, became completely engaged as they met new people, new brothers and sisters in Christ. I watched these bored looking kids and their anxious leaders absolutely bloom in the few days they were with us. They had a great time and they didn’t want to leave. When I asked them what they had learned, one of them said it best. She said, “I learned that they are normal.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that there is nothing and no one “normal” at St. Luke’s!
I wonder what those first disciples encountered when they were sent out two by two into neighboring villages. They were told to arrive empty-handed. They were to show up at the doors of strangers in need of hospitality. They had to be dependent upon people to host them. There is a certain level of humility that develops when you cannot provide anything for yourself and require the kindness of strangers. By traveling in this manner, they were imitating Jesus. Their mission began in complete dependence upon God’s provision for it to succeed.
I imagine that they became very aware of their circumstances. They paid close attention to the neighborhood, looking for an opening, looking for someone who might be willing to invite them in. I also imagine that they had to become excellent listeners, open to hearing about what really mattered to others.
The disciples may not have had anything material to offer, but they did have the stories of their own transformed lives and their love of Jesus. They may have been needy in terms of food and shelter, but they walked in the belief that “God’s grace was sufficient for them.” They had a gift to share in the good news of God’s loving embrace of all people and the power of God to heal and deliver those who are suffering. They may have been experiencing a “poverty of purse,” but they had no “poverty of purpose.”
Some of the people they encountered rejected them, shut their ears, wanted nothing to do with them. Jesus predicted that would happen; and he told them not to let the rejections cling to them but rather to shake it off, move on and entrust themselves to God. But others were open and receptive. I can imagine them talking late into the night after the meal is over and the food is put away and the children are in bed and the twilight dark is all around. I can almost hear their conversation and their questions. “What is the good life? Where is true meaning to be found? How can I know God better?” These conversations are the fertile ground where the seed of the gospel is planted. This is how God’s loving embrace spreads, one by one in relationships of openness and respect.
The church wasn’t born when a building was constructed, or a strategic plan implemented or a set of spiritual laws and doctrines developed. The church is born out of lives transformed by relationship. It begins when we encounter the love of God in Christ and share that with others. The body of Christ grows when faithful disciples respond to the call to love God and love others by reaching out our arms to a broken world.
God asks us to show up, to listen, to speak the truth in love and to leave the results to God. Our mission and our call is not dependent on our building or budget or wisdom or strength. Our mission is a direct response to the love of God poured into our lives for the purpose of sharing it with others.
Our new Presiding Bishop calls himself a CEO, “Chief Evangelism Officer.” He lit up the entire General Convention of the Episcopal Church with his sermon at the closing worship service this past Friday. He told them all to “go.” Like Jesus he sent everyone out from 10 days of resolutions and budgets and structure to be the church in a hurting world. In one of his sermons he said this:
“We have to remember that the disciples didn’t have trust funds and endowments. They were not the established Church. They were more sideline than mainline. And yet because of their witness to the radical welcome of the gospel, inspired and propelled by the Holy Spirit, here you are and here I am, two millennia later. As the old song that my grandmother used to sing goes, ‘It is no secret what God can do; what he did for them, he’ll do for you.”
Well St. Luke’s doesn’t have endowments or trust funds either. We are in some ways completely dependent, unable to meet our own needs without the kindness and generosity of others. And yet we have a tremendous gift to share. When I thanked the kids and their leaders for coming, they said that it needed to be the other way around. They wanted to thank St. Luke’s for sharing the riches of God’s grace and radical welcome of all people.
This next weekend we have an opportunity to be sent out to our neighbors two by two. We have been given a free booth at the Ballard Seafood Festival Saturday and Sunday. I am pretty sure we may be the only Christian church represented. We won’t have anything to sell. We won’t have anything fancy to give away. We won’t have a slick advertising campaign. But some of you will be there in pairs, willing to listen to the needs and concerns of our neighbors, willing to share the good news of God in Christ, willing to tell the story of how lives are transformed as we welcome all God’s people into the community of the beloved disciples. We’re going to show up. We’re going to listen. And if we are invited to, we’ll speak the truth in love. We can leave the outcome to God. We are simply called to be faithful and to go to our neighbors where they are.
Many of you can’t be there in person, but I want to ask you to commit to prayer for this mission. The shifts are two hours long. Maybe you could take a two hour block and remember during that time to pray. Pray for those who are present at the booth. Pray that we may have open ears and open hearts. Pray for the neighbors we meet. Pray that we may be able to hear and respond to their questions and longings. Pray that God may do a work of transformation in all our hearts, enabling us to live and love more deeply in the way of Christ.
As we follow in the way of Christ we are sure to discover anew what the Apostle Paul heard from the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
“It is no secret what God can do; what he did for them, he’ll do for you.”
The Reverend Canon Britt Olson