At the end of your life, how would you like our life as a congregation to be summed up? Can you think of one phrase or sentence that, in a nutshell, would describe our priorities, our focus, and our relationship with God?
No doubt there are many good answers to that question. As I studied especially today’s readings from Galatians and Luke here’s a catchy phrase that popped into my mind that I hope describes us as a Christian community: We Repent. He Sent. We Went.
You remember in last week’s reading Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaritan territory and, not surprisingly, found themselves rejected by the local people. In response to this snub, Jesus disciples asked him, Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? I smile every time I hear that line because it’s such a human response. Jesus’ message of love for all people is just too hard for us to swallow so we often find ourselves backsliding into what might be called “black and white thinking”: Good and bad, right and wrong, clean and unclean.
But in response to the disciples’ desire for divine retribution Jesus rebuked them. “No!” In this week’s reading we find that those same disciples are ready to obey. Something shifted. Jesus disciples repented. Repentance means changing direction. For Christians it means changing direction in response to God’s will. It means that we mean what we say when we pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
As John the Baptist, and then Jesus himself show us in the gospels, repentance is always the first order of business for disciples of Jesus Christ. Confession comes first in worship. We repent.
The second order of business is to listen for God’s will for our lives. What is our mission as a congregation? What is our purpose? While we care for one another—ministry—this is not our purpose (today’s 2nd reading). Our Christian purpose always points beyond us. For Jesus and his disciples this meant moving beyond their borders: the Gerasenes, the Samaritans. And when the disciples were among their own people their attention turned to the diseased, the despised, the ignored, the outcast, to do works of hope and healing. This is Christian discipleship.
The point is: After they repent—after Jesus changes their attitudes about calling down fire on other people—they are sent. We Repent. He Sent.
Today’s readings are loaded with words that speak of sending: The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead(v.1)…Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers(v.2)…See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves(v.3).
But if it ended there it wouldn’t be much of a story! No, if we repent, and the Lord sent—well and good. Now the question is: What will his disciples do in response to being sent? Well, there’s good news. They went! They fulfill their mission, they live out their purpose, and return, the Scriptures say, with joy—and no doubt, with lots of stories, too. Remember, last week we heard that one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. One key to experiencing joy in life is fulfilling the purpose for which we were created.
We repent. He sent. We went. Is there any story from our life together that follows this pattern? Something happened to me a week ago today that for me affirms the power of Christ to equip us as a congregation for the ministry in the world to which we are called.
You see on your bulletin cover a picture our congregation’s delegation at last Sunday’s Pride Parade. That was my first time to walk in the parade and the experience reminded me that my views on homosexuality are not the same today as they once were. Although it’s a bit of an exaggeration, my views years ago were probably closer to Jesus’ disciples when they asked Jesus if they should command fire to come down from heaven and consume those with whom they considered “sinners.” Over the years, especially as I’ve heard individual stories, the direction of my thinking has changed. I describe it as repentance.
There are many ways the Holy Spirit sends us into the world. Last Sunday I felt quite literally sent to Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle to participate in the parade. And, those of us in the picture went.
What happened there was astonishing. There were thousands of people lining the streets. As we walked along the route, these people were cheering and applauding. Now, keep in mind, this is the Pacific Northwest, which isn’t famous for being friendly toward the institutional church! And keep in mind that as we walked we weren’t doing anything special. Just walking. Waving. Holding the sign you see on our bulletin cover. And yet, somehow just showing up and walking a couple of miles in downtown Seattle filled those who were there with hope and gratitude and amazement. We could see that some of these were trying to make sense of Christians in a Pride Parade. This didn’t fit their negative stereotypes of Christians.
Now, every few blocks on the parade route there was an MC narrating the event. One of these MCs was a drag queen. Picture a guy 6’5” in heels, women’s clothing and make-up, with a deep voice. As we walked by him this MC said, “I think every Lutheran church in the area is here.” And then he said, “I’m not a Christian. I’m spiritual, but these Lutherans are what Christianity is all about.”
That wasn’t all. At one point a man came out of the crowd and started talking to some folks from our church. He saw our banner and said, “Lakeridge Lutheran Church? Really? Oh my god! Lakeridge Lutheran Church? Oh my god! Lakeridge Lutheran? Oh my god!” (“I was confirmed there!” He was in complete disbelief. This was not the church he remembered.) His experience in the church while he was growing up was one of fear. He was one of those outcasts who felt judged and rejected for who he was. The world of his day treated him a bit like the world of Jesus’ day treated Samaritans and lepers and what his society called “sinners.”
The point of this story is simple. In response to what I believe was the urging of the Holy Spirit years ago, my heart and mind were changed. Repentance. That led me to participate in a parade last week. The presence of Christians at that parade forced many along that parade route to re-think what they believed about Christians: Maybe all Christians aren’t bigots. Maybe they’re not judgmental. Maybe they’re serious about Jesus’ message of love for all people.
How will our life as a community of faith be summarized? Or, how would you like it to read? “We repent. He sent. We went.” That sounds pretty good. Or, as Luke puts it in today’s reading, “The kingdom of God has come near.”
People of God, let us continue to embrace our mission to the world, especially to the outsiders, to those whom society calls “sinners.” Let us as a congregation continue to build on the many ways in which we have been partners with others who are building God’s kingdom on earth. AMEN