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John 17 (selected verses)
I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Evangelism, mission, sharing the Gospel – we have mixed feelings around these words. I’ll never forget having coffee with a student my first year as missioner and she was trying to figure out what came next – graduation was quickly approaching – and she got kind of embarrassed before asking me a question – “so, is God going to be mad if I don’t go to a third world country and try to convert people.” I’m not sure world mission was her vocation. But she was called to be a missionary. How do I know? Because we all are. To be a Christian is to be called into mission. Mission isn’t for super-Christians. It’s for Christians. Prayer – which has been our chief focus this semester at Omega – prayer is not an end in and of itself. The chief purpose of prayer, or at least one of them, is to fuel a life of mission. Consider tonight’s reading; it’s a piece of a prayer that Jesus prays the night before he dies, and what does Jesus pray for? Jesus prays that his disciples will embrace their mission. “As you have sent me into the world,” he says, “so I have sent them.” Now, I know I’ve said this before but the word church comes from the Greek ekklesia – which means to be “called out.” The church is not a building. The church is a group of people called out into the world with a mission. “As you have sent me so I have sent them.”
But we have mixed feelings about mission, Christians and non-Christians alike. For non-Christians the word mission makes them wonder, “I don’t get it. Why do Christians want to convert people? If my faith works for me, who are you to persuade me otherwise?” And I think we’re rightly sensitive to that question. God knows that when it comes to sharing our faith we Christians can be clumsy and awkward. But, should we accept this as a valid reason to not engage in mission? In other words, should we really embrace the logic that says, “Just because some people do it badly no one should do it at all?” You see I know you, and I know myself, and our great danger is that we’ll buy into the myth that says, “my faith is private – it’s my faith. It’s about me, it’s about God, and it’s not about anyone else.”
There is a great truth that we need to be reminded of daily. Christianity is not about you. Christianity is not about me. It’s about our world. It’s about the entire human race. And finally, it’s about God – and more specifically about God’s mission in Jesus Christ to restore both our world and humanity to a right and intimate relationship with Himself. Christianity is about the mission of God, which means that the church – well, that’s just what we call the uncanny group of people who claim to have found new life in that mission.
And so tonight, let’s look at mission by first asking a pretty generic question – what is a mission? If mission is important what is it? A mission, simply put, “is when your safety and comfort comes 2nd to the cause.” Mission happens when there’s a cause that comes first, which means that your personal safety and comfort comes second. For example, a navy seal is sent to a foreign and hostile land to rescue a fellow citizen on death row. Practically speaking, it matters very little if G.I. Joe gets a headache or a backache or if he just gets plain scared because once he commits himself to the mission the prisoner needing rescue has to come first – before his safety and before his comfort. That’s what a mission is; it’s when the cause comes first. And so to understand Christian mission we have to first understand that there is a cause so to speak – that God has an agenda for our world and for every person in it. And what is that agenda? Well, I think the last line of our reading sums it up pretty well; for the world to know that God has sent Jesus into the world and that, as a result, we are loved by God as completely and fully as Jesus is loved by God. That’s the mission – the last line of our reading – for the entire world to know that God has sent Jesus into the world and that because of that we are loved more than we could ever possibly dream. And so, that’s the first thing I want to say about mission – it’s not about us. Christianity is not about us. That’s the first thing I want to say.
But here’s the second – Christianity is about us. Mission is about us. Does the scope of God’s mission reach to the outer edges of the universe? No doubt. But is God so personal and so powerful that He has every hair on our head numbered? Does God care deeply – and I mean deeply – about our personal fulfillment and joy? By all means! So what’s the secret? The secret to personal fulfillment and joy? Mission.
You see we cannot be whole – we cannot live lives that are full, lives that God intended us to live – without being, for lack of a better word, missional. It’s impossible. Until we find something Bigger – something so valuable that we’re willing to lose our lives for it – we’ll never find our lives. That’s just how reality works. Live for yourself and you’ll never find yourself. Lose your life for something Bigger and you’ll save your life, and you’ll find your life, in the process.
And notice, Jesus implies as much in his prayer. Jesus prays that His joy would be made complete in us. The Greek word translated “made complete” really means to fill up to the point of overflowing. Jesus wants our joy to overflow. If we hear the word mission and think drudgery and duty we don’t understand mission. Mission is about our joy – it’s about doing the very thing in life we were meant to do; it’s about being the kind of person we were always meant to be – someone so confident in God that we can finally get over our selves; and because of that someone who reflects God to our world.
Are you confused yet? – That’s okay – it’s a paradox. Mission is about putting our safety and comfort second to the “cause” of God’s Kingdom, but at the same time, only by putting ourselves second can we experience Jesus’ joy made complete in ourselves. So let’s put all this in perspective. Let’s say that your primary goal – what drives you – is to live a safe, cozy life. Find a safe job. Find a safe spouse. Or, avoid both because that feels safer and cozier, depending on your temperament. Here’s what I’d say about that. If we seek first our comfort, then for the most part we’ll get it. We’re smart enough and we’re privileged enough. If we seek comfort we’ll get it. But that’s all we’ll get. The invitation to live a missional life – to put the cause of God’s Kingdom first – this is a call to a much bigger life. And isn’t that the choice we face every day – between safety and sacrifice; between our small concerns and God’s big ones? You see over time our choices add up to a lifestyle and in the words of St. Paul we reap what we sow – either a sufficient amount of comfort, or an overflowing abundance of joy.
For example, why did Jesus go to the cross? Was it for the world? Was it about us? Or, was it about Him? His joy? Because I’m arguing that mission is about both.
Well, clearly God’s mission was for the world. “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son.” John 3:16 – if you haven’t read the Bible you’ve at least seen the signs at football games, or looked at Tim Tebow’s face paint. Jesus died for us; his mission was for the world. But at the same time, I want you to consider the radical claim of Hebrews 12:2, which says – “For the sake of the joy that was set before him Jesus endured the cross and disregarded its shame.” Why did Jesus go to the cross? For the sake of the joy – so his joy would fill up to the point of overflowing. I love asking people what they think this verse means. In other words, what joy was Jesus so gaga over getting that he weighed the pain of the cross, and in the words of Hebrews, just disregarded it? What joy – or what cause – was so worth it to Jesus that the cross seemed as nothing? Remember, the Son of God existed before the foundation of the world. He already had everything – union with God, equality with God, the worship of angels, not to mention the entire creation that was created through Him and for Him – what joy, what cause, could possibly be worth the cross to the Man who had everything?
As crazy as it sounds, the implication is clear – us. What treasure had been lost that was worth dying to get back? You. Me. The thought of having you back, the thought of having me back, this caused Jesus so much joy that it made him endure the cross. And that’s where the Gospel begins, and because of that where mission begins. We’re the death row inmates, condemned to die in a foreign and a hostile land. Jesus comes to set us free knowing full well that this mission in particular will cost him everything. Why did Jesus do that? For the joy – for the joy of knowing that you and I are safe.
So what does all this mean for your life? Well, the answer is everything but I’ll just leave you with one thing. Ready? Preach the Gospel always. Profound, isn’t it? Preach the Gospel always (1) by doing God’s deeds and (2) by speaking God’s words.
First, do God’s deeds, or to put it differently acquire God’s heart. Learn what actions please God and then do them. And here’s the miracle; before you know it, you’ll be pleased to do what pleases God. Feed the poor. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Defend the vulnerable. Be slow to speak, slow to anger, and slow to judge. If there’s someone that’s wronged you, don’t wait for them to come to you. Be like God, go to them. I mean, isn’t that what God did for us? To put it differently, a day will come in real space-time history when God’s Kingdom will be established fully on this earth. When that happens, certain deeds and attitudes will no longer be acceptable. So maybe, just maybe, we should start preparing both others and ourselves now for that future reality. Here’s a paraphrase of what Paul says about all this in Colossians 3. “Kill those things inside of you that belong to the old creation: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed. That’s how you used to live but now you have to get rid of all that – anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive language from your mouth. Strip off the old self and clothe yourself with the new self – the compassionate self, the kind self, the humble self, the meek self, the patient self. Above all, clothe yourself with gratitude and love.” This is where preaching the Gospel begins – with a changed life, when we acquire a new heart. Preach the Gospel always by doing God’s deeds.
But there’s a second piece to our mission. St. Francis once said, “preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” “Preach the Gospel and if it’s necessary then use words.” Now, I hate to be anti-St. Francis. That’s kind of like being anti-puppy. But whenever I hear this line quoted in sermons I cringe because this is what I imagine people typically hear. “God wants you to be a good person, but you don’t have to talk about Jesus, especially if that makes you or anyone else uncomfortable.” Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words. Here’s what I’m trying to say. It’s necessary! Faith, according to Paul, comes from what is heard. Just think about your own story. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that you’ve been given new life in His name, how did you come to that conviction? Did you walk by a soup kitchen or have someone open the door for you and think ohhhhh now I get it – Jesus died for my sins and on the third day was raised, how did I miss that? Or, did you go to a camp where the Gospel was clearly laid out? Or to a church where the Word was preached and eventually took root? Or to a friend that told her story and how she came to faith? According to Paul, faith comes from what is heard. If you’re a Christian, my guess is that you’ve put your faith in Christ because at some point you heard the Gospel.
You are called to speak God’s words – to speak real words to real people about how a real God sent Jesus Christ into the real world and that because of that we are really loved more than we could ever really dream. Of course we have to be respectful and appropriate and gentle and non-judgmental – but that just goes back to part I of our mission; doing God’s deeds, acquiring God’s heart. God doesn’t force Himself on us and so let’s not think we have a right to force ourselves on others. But God does speak and so should we. This is how 1 Peter puts it: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; but do it with gentleness and reverence.” Are you ready? A lot of people out there are in desperate need of hope. Are we ready to give an account of the hope that we have?
Is God going to make you go to a 3rd world country and try to convert people? Maybe, but I doubt it. So where’s your mission field? As long as you live never forget my answer. Wherever you are. Your dorm, your sorority, your fraternity, your major, the band, the water polo team, the young democrat society, the young republican society, the lab, your job. When you’re not in church where are you? That’s your mission field. Wherever you are. God will not make you go anywhere. That’s not how God works. All God’s going to do is ask you to take Him with you. We talked about Providence last week – you are already where God wants you to be. That’s not the question. The question is whether we’ll make life about building our own kingdom or about building God’s. “As you have sent me into the world,” Jesus says, “so I have sent them.” I’ll leave you with the first word of the Great Commission. Go.