ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH APRIL 14, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram PALM SUNDAY
MADE FOR A MISSION
James 2: 14 – 18; Luke 19: 29 – 40
It’s hard to believe that Lent is almost over! Lent is a period of self-reflection when we think long and hard about the reasons Jesus came to die. This self-examination makes us realize we’re not here to glorify ourselves and it causes us to ask, “Why am I here? What’s my purpose?” Over the last few weeks we’ve discovered we’re made to be loved by God and to love him in return. We’re Planned for God’s Pleasure; Formed for God’s Family; Created to be like Christ; and Shaped for Service. Today we look at one final purpose God has for each one of you: you were Made for Mission.
God has given each of us a vocation in life, “a calling”. Our vocation is part of the mission for which we’re made. Before we can fulfill our vocation, we often need training or education. Frequently, our vocation becomes “a career” for which we’re paid. Although, many of the most important vocations – like being a parent, a spouse, a grandparent, a home-maker or a home improver – come without preparation or pay. The purpose of what we do and how we do it, is to glorify God. A calling from God makes life better for others and contributes to the health of our home, city, country and world. What we do all day long is not just a means to an end, it’s an end in itself. It’s part of the personal mission God has created you to do. At the start of each new day, it’s good to remind ourselves that God has given us this day, and the tasks we’ll do, to fulfill his purposes.
While each of us has a very personal mission, I want to speak about mission in general. Today is Palm Sunday. Historically, it’s the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts and cheers of an excited crowd who waved palm branches and created a coat carpet. Jesus entered Jerusalem, not on a horse as a victorious hero, but on a donkey as one who comes in peace. Jesus’ vocation wasn’t to conquer the earthly powers of oppression, it was to make a real and lasting spiritual peace. Jesus’ calling was to bridge the gap between God and humanity. Palm Sunday was the beginning of the end; the start of the week which would finish with Jesus’ crucifixion. It was the inception of the most important part of Jesus’ mission: to restore humanity to God’s favour. He did this by dying a brutal death on a cross. Isaiah speaks on behalf of the suffering servant – the Saviour who was to come, “I followed orders, stood there and took it while they beat me, held steady while they pulled out my beard. I didn’t dodge their insults. I faced them as they spit in my face. And the Master, God, stays right there and helps me, so I’m not disgraced. Therefore, I set my face like flint, confident that I’ll never regret this. My champion is right here. Let’s take our stand together! (Isaiah 50: 5 – 8). And you think you hate to get up for work in the morning! Pointing to Jesus as the one who fulfilled Isaiah’s word, Luke records, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) I find those to be powerful words, “he set his face like a flint”; “he set his face to go to Jerusalem”. We can feel Jesus’ determination as he passed through the gates of Jerusalem, on the morning we now call Palm Sunday. Neither the cheers of a star-struck crowd nor the taunts of those who plotted his murder nor the torture ahead, could derail him. You too are “Made for Mission”. Do you face it with resolve? Do you “follow orders” willing? Stand your ground no matter what?
I have often spoken of our brothers and sisters around the globe who, in the face of persecution and suffering, do just that. On February 9, 2019 in Columbia, Pastor Leider Molina, 24, had just finished preaching at his church in northwest Colombia. As he stepped out of the building, he was shot five times and died. The young man was a passionate preacher and active youth leader converting many teens from working as thugs for drug cartels to following Christ. Despite death threats and violence, church leaders are continuing this mission. On February 6 in Pakistan, a 13- year-old Christian girl was kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and married to a stranger against her will. Despite threats of retribution, her Church has filed charges in the case. Along with prayers for her safety and justice, people are asked to pray that she’ll be able to show the compassion of Christ to her violators. In Cuba, a pastor has been pressured by police and threatened with a machete, for repairing Church buildings after Hurricane Michael in 2018. He has been denied a car registration and the right to put a sign outside his place of worship. Regardless, he and his church continue the repairs through the night. All these Christians have set their faces like flint because they know they’re made for a mission and they know what that mission is.
Whatever else God calls us to do, all Christians share a common 2-fold mission. First, we are to convey the good news of Jesus Christ. Remember God created people to love us and the Lord wants a family. The way God achieves this is by having you and I tell others what we’ve heard and seen. Jesus told his followers that when the Holy Spirit filled them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus said they were to be his witnesses. Not the police or the defence attorney or the prosecutor – his witnesses. What’s a witness? A witness simply tells what he/she has seen or heard. How many times have you told someone about a movie you saw, or what happened at the family BBQ or gave a report about an accident? Can you recall telling a friend about the wonderful person you’ve fallen for? You are capable of offering your observations, of being a witness. And you know what? You are the expert witness on your own life. You know what God has done in your life. God simply wants you to share what you’ve experienced with others. Now, before a witness goes to court, they’re prepped by a lawyer. A good exercise is to pretend you’re writing a letter to your best friend, telling what your life was like before you knew the love of God, how God’s love broke into your life, what it felt like knowing you were forgiven, and what it means to walk with Jesus now. In 100 words if you can. Try it – you may be delightfully surprised! Then all you need to do is share that encounter with Christ with someone else. Okay, it’s scary – not as scary as getting death threats, but scary. A Gallup poll showed 65 million Americans don’t attend church, yet more than one-half of them would try, if someone invited them. How about that? When was the last time you invited someone to church? Another Gallup poll discovered teens would rather talk about God than sex, drugs or music. I was surprised also. But maybe they want to talk about God because they’re trying to figure out “what on Earth am I here for”, and they’ve figured out that it isn’t sex, drugs or music. The point is, people are not as disinterested as we assume, and we may find someone who is open to learning more. Christians who don’t want to help people find God’s purpose for their life, are turning their back on Christ. By not speaking Christ’s message, we’re telling others to “go to hell”. We wouldn’t dream of saying that to someone metaphorically but failing to witness says it for us – literally. Perhaps we need a little more courage and faith that the Holy Spirit will be with us, and work through us, and God will bless our witness if we speak. We have good news! I encourage you to share it, or to invite others to come to church where they can hear it.
The other big part of our general mission is that we’re called to action. James asked, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” (2:14). If you say to someone who is hungry and cold and diseased “oh well, be at peace, Jesus loves you, hope you find a meal and see a doctor” then you really aren’t living your faith or your mission. In scripture, we see Jesus standing up for ordinary people including the underdogs society would prefer to ignore. Jesus spoke about visiting prisoners and looking after widows and helping the poor. If Jesus were here today, I doubt he’d have a problem walking down the worst streets in the world, helping the poor, the broken and the forgotten. I imagine he’d be the first to embrace those with AIDS, while the good, righteous religious folk judged them and argued over whose fault it was they were ill. Jesus felt strongly about this. He told of a future time when people will be blessed because when they saw him hungry, they fed him; when they saw him naked, they clothed him; when he was in prison, they visited him; when he was thirsty, they provided a drink; when alone, they welcomed him. His audience was confused because they’d never seen Jesus in those situations. So, what was the deal? The deal was: whenever they did this for others, they did it for him. And when they didn’t do it to others, they were not doing it to him. If you’re like me, benevolence doesn’t always flow out of your soul – sometimes it takes determination to be compassionate.
Bishop Fulton Sheen was a popular Roman Catholic TV personality. Once he visited a leper colony in Africa and was repulsed by the exposed cankerous sores on people, lying in their own filth. He walked by one man whose skin was open, pus-y and seeping. When Sheen leaned over to talk to the man, the chain around the Bishop’s neck broke and his cross fell into one of the ugly open wounds. He said this, “For a minute I was just repulsed. I wanted to step back. And then all of a sudden, I was filled – overcome with love for this person who had nothing. I reached into the sore and I took up the cross.” That is our mission: reaching out to people whose lives are broken, wounded, messed up in all sorts of ways and finding the cross within their wounds. It takes a deep commitment to Christ – and to people to do that. Only one with a keen sense of mission and purpose would have that love and fortitude. Only one like Jesus himself. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, O you who have been bought by the precious blood of this steadfast, resolute Redeemer—come and think awhile of Him, that your hearts may burn within you and that your faces may be set like flints to live and die for Him who lived and died for you!” We are made for mission. Set your face like a flint in the direction Christ is calling you to go and you will be part of Christ’s reconciling work in our world. You will never regret that you did, however much you suffer. As Jesus discovered in Jerusalem, “God, will stay right there and help us. Our champion is here so, let’s take our stand together!”