July 7, 2019

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Isaiah 66:10-14 Galatians 6:7:16 Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Who doesn’t love a great surprise? Forgive me if I have shared this with you before, but it is a great story of surprise and maybe a little disappointment. Our son Josh was turning 4 and we were headed to Rick’s parent’s house for a birthday dinner celebration. Now, you need to know something about my mother-in-law to get the full impact of this. My mother-in-law, God bless her, is a crazy woman (Which I mean in the nicest possible way) when it comes to buying gifts. She will go to great lengths to get THE PERFECT GIFT. She has 5 sons all with wives or significant others, 15 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren. Christmas shopping is a full-time job with her finding the perfect gift for each, taking some back because they weren’t just the right thing. I think you get the picture. This particular moment, Patty (my mother-in-law) was so excited for us to come for Josh’s Birthday. She had found this firetruck for Josh. It was huge and it had lots of bells and whistles on it. She couldn’t wrap it so she had planned for it to be under a blanket to be pulled back in order to reveal this perfect gift. Well….
We get in the car. Buckle everyone up, and start the ignition when Josh says: “I can’t wait to get to grandma’s house because I am getting cowboy boots for my birthday!” Rick and I look at each other with that, “Where did that come from” look. “Josh, you are not getting cowboy boots for your birthday”. “Yes I am. Grandma always gets me just what I want and I want cowboy boots.” Josh, you never told grandma you wanted cowboy boots.” “She always gets me what I want and I am getting cowboy boots”. The ride to there house was not far, but we spent the entire time assuring him he was not getting cowboy boots. We get there, my mother-in-law is so excited and I don’t think we had the time to warn her that he was expecting cowboy boots. Josh pulls back the blanket on this beautiful firetruck; looks at it and says “I hate it. Take it back. I want cowboy boots.” Everyone was surprised that night.
Today, both Paul and Jesus seem to be warning us a bit about the surprises that are ahead as the people who are sharing the good news with the world are being sent out. What they will find out away from the close-knit group of followers they have been with, is that not everyone wants what they are selling. They will be with people who have different customs and traditions and they need to respect that. But ultimately, they have to be faithful to the calling they have been given and it won’t be easy.
Jesus sends 70, unnamed people; not just men; not just women; not just young adults. Jesus sends 70 unnamed people out to the community to be His hands and feet. Jesus sends them with a warning. He sets the scene for them so that they might avoid being caught off guard. “I am sending you out like lambs to the wolves”.
Let’s stop here and talk about the very brutal honesty that Jesus presents to the disciples. The tension in the air about this group of people following this Jesus dude, is high. People, especially those in authority, do not understand how this nobody guy has this group of people willing to go wherever he sends them and do whatever he asks. They have to use soldiers and armies and the fear of great punishment in order to keep their subjects in line. This Jesus is dangerous, and they do not know what to do. Common people are either totally curious to know more or terrified about how this lunatic is going to change their world. The people Jesus sends out are given all the information. Don’t think this is going to be all roses. Not everyone is going to jump with joy when you come into their community. Many, maybe even most will be unsure and very skeptical of what you have to say. Know that. Be patient. Eat with them, talk with them. Spend time getting to know them and accept who they are. Meet them where they are in life. Start there. Be willing to eat things that you are not sure of and talk about things that make you a bit uncomfortable. Above all, Care about them.
No, the gospel doesn’t say all of that but, it really kinda does. The thing that was so amazing about the youth group at my church, and the Young Life group I was a part of, was that this was the core of their ministry to teenagers. Meet them where they are and know them. Take time to listen first and show love and care above all. In doing so, the door to share the Gospel message will be wide open to you because you have first lived out the gospel. They won’t all welcome you with open arms. But that is not your responsibility. Share the good news and then, if they do not want to hear it, continue to care. If you must, move on, knowing you have done what God has called you to do.
Think about how we approach church, beyond the many wonderful reasons many of us come to worship on a regular basis. That is for another sermon. But we are here. While the importance of the church varies among us, most of us would agree, that this place is important and we are uncomfortable with the fact that it isn’t what it was in the past. The church isn’t the center of people’s social experience. The church isn’t the first choice for most people on Sunday morning. The number of people gathering to worship in churches on Sunday mornings has declined. What we know of the church is slipping away and we are desperate to get it back. We continually ask….. “How do we get people to come to our church?” LISTEN TO THE GOSPEL LESSON!!!!!!!
“GO out to where the vicious wolves are and spend time with them.” “GO to their homes and where they work and experience life with them.” Never, in all of the Gospel, does Jesus tell the people to get together as a committee and figure out what big gimmick you can come up with to get people to come here. If you can just get them in the church, they will have the chance to hear the Good News! JESUS NEVER SAYS THAT!!!!!!!!
Here is the stark reality about church, at least in my experience. There are not a lot of people who come to an intimate understanding of the love of Jesus sitting in a pew at church on Sunday morning, or Saturday night or whenever they gather. I am not saying we don’t experience God’s love in worship. But if we think very hard and honestly about the moments in our own lives in which the love of God given to us through the Lord Jesus became a real, living, breathing part of who we are, it is not sitting in a pew listening to a sermon, no matter how great the preacher may or may not be. The deep reality of God’s love comes to us when we are moved by that love through the actions of other people. Human beings need to be touched and held and comforted. They need to experience acceptance and forgiveness and love from other human beings. That is how we come to know God’s great love. The church, and all that goes on here is very important. At its best, being a part of a church helps us understand that we are loved and we are enough. However great or small we may be in the society, or even in our own homes, who we are, just as we are, is enough and God loves us where we are. But the Good News is not locked within the walls of this or any other church. In fact, how the world sees the church can be a huge barrier to them really knowing the God who loves them. The more we turn towards the church and the people in it, the more our backs are turned to the world. Jesus sends us OUT.
Here is another great shortcoming of the church. (I know, never great when the preacher beats up the church, but someone’s gotta do it) The people of the church, you and I, are so desperate to get people in the door, and get them to do stuff in the church, that we have ignored the example we have been give by Jesus. Jesus sends them out with all the info. They know it is no easy task. It will be hard and there are people who won’t like you. It will require that you set other things aside for this time. Sacrifice. It is not for the faint of heart. We don’t do that in the church. We have reduced our ministries within the church by minimizing the importance or the commitment that is required to do anything. Let’s face it, we need more people to do things and if we expect to much, they won’t get involved at all. So, we give them part of the information, or part of the duties and we either leave the rest to someone else, or, we just let it go and it is killing us. We are content being the place of last resort as long as we continue to be a place you come. We need you. And, getting a little from everyone is better than nothing at all right? WRONG.
Paul is so cranked up about what people are doing for the kingdom of God and how and why they are doing it, that he writes with giant letters in his own hand. No secretary for this message. Paul saw it happening and it is no different today. We are content with the church being a place of convenience and spiritual support but God wants so much more for and from us. We, as individuals and as a church will get exactly what we put out there. If we give our all to the ministry God sets before us, great things will happen. But if we continue to the mission and ministry to the least we can get away with asking of people, we will get as little in return. So what do we do?
Thousands of books have been written to help congregations grow the church and build their ministries. And yet, the church continues to dwindle. What are we missing? Faith. Trust. A willingness to let something die because it is not doing the work God calls us to. A willingness to let go of what I like or what I am comfortable with, so that others might be able hear and see the love of God more clearly. A willingness to step out with the wolves and be the gentle lamb. That is what we are missing.
So, for us gathered here to worship this morning who come to church more Sunday’s than not: Stop looking for the simplest, least time requirement duties so that you can say you are involved. Each and every task that is done at the church is IMPORTANT and you need to know the whole truth. If you are going to be involved, you can’t be willing to simply set your duties aside and trust someone else will do it. YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO THIS MINISTRY, especially when it is hard. Take pride in being an usher knowing that you are the first connection people have as they come into the sanctuary. It isn’t just passing the plate. It is ministry focused on God. The same is true for every other, often mundane things, that we have to have done in the church. If no one will take on the entirety of ministry we are doing, then we simply will not do it. God will give us what we need and who we need. WE have to have some faith. Be willing to see worship through the eyes of someone who hasn’t been here most of their lives and be willing to do what is needed for them to know this great love the way you do. Trust the Holy Spirit to do the really tough work.
Above all, know that the success or failure of the church is not determined by how many people are sitting in our pews on Sunday morning. The success of the church will be seen when the mission of the Jesus Christ is lived out by church people. When those of us in the church are willing to go out, meet people we don’t know or understand and listen. Eat with them. It’s easier to talk when you have a dinner plate between you. See their need, not the need you think they have. See their need and step in to walk with them through it. Be willing to let go of yourself for the sake of someone else so they will know that same love of God you experienced when someone stepped into your world and took time to understand you. Be willing to get hurt. Be willing to suffer a little along the way. And know that when we are truly faithful, not matter how ill-equipped we may feel, we will experience that holy surprise the way those 70 disciples did in our Gospel.
To finish what I started…. Josh said “I hate it. Take it back”, because the firetruck is not what he thought he wanted. But I assure you, he did get cowboy boots at some point, but, that firetruck brought more joy to him than he could have imagined that day. God wants us to experience the holy surprise of seeing God do things we could not even imagine when we set out to be the disciples we are truly called to be; even when it is hard, and we have to suffer.
AMEN