A Missions Sunday sermon from Rev. Kim Priddy, Associate Pastor: Missions and Community.
This suitcase went with me to Nicaragua on my immersion trip while I as at Wake Forest Divinity School. As you can see this seems in opposition of the scripture that Steve Cothran just read for us. We were there for ten days, I mean what is a girl to do- not take one extra change of clothes??? So instead I took clothes for all ten days, then plus some, and I think I even packed bread. When I showed up at the airport that morning at 5am and met up with my cohort, it did not take long to notice that I had the biggest suitcase. I do want it on record that each person on our ministry team used something from my suitcase as well as asked to use my suitcase to bring home their souvenirs.
We were doing the things in Nicaragua that Jesus commissioned his twelve; we were there to proclaim the kingdom of God and to help with the healing of those in the community who were sick. The hospitality and generosity of the community with whom we stayed with was overwhelming. I fell in love with the people, their spirit, and for my time there, I felt a part of their close knit community. But I have a feeling God already knew that was going to happen.
Our six verses remind us that our mission is simple and held in God’s providence. Jesus’ directive is empowering, but more than that, before he sent the disciples, remember they were up close and personal, they observed him healing (before this passage are four healing stories) and they listened so many times to him describe the Kingdom of God. Although this morning we are not standing in front of Jesus, hearing the words with our own ears, WE are reading the stories, studying the word, and feeling the sense of the Holy Spirits’ leading.
I cannot help but notice that each time I read the text; I turn it upside down in my mind. I keep reading from the bottom up, kind of like the literary trick, chiasmus, taking the concept or in this case, the good news of the text and repeating it in reverse order. Luke writes it in the order of proclamation, healing and hospitality, but in this direct and simple text and drawing from experiences, I have reversed it in my mind to hospitality, healing and proclamation.
So I am going to start at the bottom and read verses 3 through 5, Jesus says to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. 5 Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
So while in Nicaragua, we were totally dependent on the hospitality and generosity of our host. There were no hotels, no restaurants, no grocery stores; the community was comprised of about two dozen, 2/3 room homes, a school house, and a church. Our meals were prepared by the women of the community; we attended the graduation of four children, played numerous games of soccer in the school yard, and assisted our new friends as they put into place a community healthcare system. Their gracious spirit helps me to better understand why Jesus would tell the disciples to take nothing.
I do not think he had in mind for them to pack lightly so that they could travel faster; although I have firsthand knowledge that big suitcases can slow you down, but travel lightly to learn to depend on God’s provision. These instructions are echoed in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
Taking nothing encouraged the disciples to depend on the people they served, to rely on the kindness of strangers. This is a crucial lesson when you serve others. It is hard for any human being to be humble when serving others; it is easy to unconsciously pat ourselves on the back for doing such a noble thing. Jesus is preventing those serving to fall into a state of subtle superiority.
And we can’t skip over the words of encouragement that Jesus departs on them, “Wherever they do not welcome you.” Jesus has been there and done that and knows that everyone is not welcoming, not all understand the message about the coming kingdom.
Just this past week, the Nobel Peace prize was awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his “resolute efforts” to end a 52-year war with the nation’s largest rebel group, one of the longest civil conflicts in modern times. Notice the word “efforts,” Colombians last Sunday voted down the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The Nobel committee said in a statement that they hoped the prize would encourage the 65-year -old Santos and “give him strength” to get a peace deal done. We all need encouragement to finish the race- my hope is that he will shake of the dust and continue his work.[i]
So we go, we go because our God is a sending God- God sent Abraham and Sarah to start a nation, sent Moses to free a nation, sent Elijah and Prophets to warn a nation, sent Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild a nation and sent Esther to protect a nation. God then sent His son as a child of the Nation. And then Jesus sent them out- the twelve disciples, then seventy-two; their mission turns out to be an extension of his own ministry… and then there is us, called to also be an extension of healing and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.[ii]
And for some go means to travel to Eastern Europe and Thailand, and for some go means to volunteer at the neighborhood school. One summer my sons Brad and Ryan had the opportunity to do missions in Puerto Rico. Ryan was not as confident in his call to go as I was in his call to go, so as he is boarding the plan, he teaches me through a theological discussion that GO is not a quantitative measurement.
On our walls are the names of those who go far and those who go close.
For this is simply how our God works, the way God has always worked in the world. And it becomes more personal when Jesus commissions us.
The ministry of Jesus was both for the body and soul, and we hear it in the instructions to his disciples, verse 2 “and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” The church learns it obligation to minister to human hunger and needs in all its forms. Some churches and their programs today only focus on healing the body, and others only care about healing the spirit. Jesus did both. He lay upon the twelve, over and over again in this short passage, preaching and healing- concern for one’s bodies and one’s souls.[iii]
Hunger of the body- the aching kind- a feeling familiar to some in this place. The stomach aches from malnourishment, at the same time other illnesses crowd the pew; cancer, diabetes, depression, and it brings fear and worry with them. We live in a county that one in five family’s lives in poverty, 2800 school aged children experience homelessness, and we are number one in food insecurity. We live in a community that has pockets of neighborhoods that cannot easily reach the healthcare system. These are real hurts. Yet we know that Jesus cared about one’s body.
We are provided with many examples of him demonstrating legitimate concern for the body: Jesus’ feeding the 5000 on a hillside, restoring sight to the blind, curing the lepers, and healing the lame.
General William Booth, a British Methodist preacher who founded the Salvation Army, was once blamed for offering food and meals to poor people instead of the simple gospel. The old warrior replied back “It is impossible to comfort men’s hearts with the love of God when their feet are perishing with cold.”
We join hands with our ministry partners to help provide for the basic needs of our neighbors. We feed hungry stomachs, we build and repair homes, we volunteer in our schools, and we help to make healthcare available to all who are sick.
Hunger comes in all forms, not just of the body, we know there are souls that are tired, neglected, and abused— souls experiencing spiritual warfare. And we are called to be part of the healing. [iv]
I want to ask you to take a moment and look at your hands, I mean really look at your hands and reflect- reflect on how they have proclaimed the Kingdom of God.
What I am about to say is not a slam or critique my colleagues, but the best proclaiming/the best preaching that we all do for the Kingdom of God happens every day, it happens through our ministry, through our hands. As Baptist, we believe in the priesthood of all believers.
Although you do not get paid by the church… your sermons move people, and maybe you are thinking, well I don’t have my life in order to be preaching to others, then you have not given much thought about the first ones that Jesus called and sent out.
You have preached sermons of extraordinary compassion, some of you preach in the workplace, home and where you volunteer. You preach a sermon of unrestricted grace to a co-worker, a sermon of unconditional love to a customer, a sermon of undeniable hope to a friend, to a neighbor, even to a stranger, a sermon of care to your family, a sermon of comfort to the ill, or even the simplest sermon to others- your presence.
You have led in sermons of worship. As ministry leaders, we do not take for granted that you will show up each week. Worship is a sermon of giving praise and thanks to God. Our worship, confessing our beliefs, our offering of prayers, voicing our faith, singing our praise– all of this is a sermon of worship to a living God and you are an integral part.[v]
I was recently reminded of this call to daily preach our sermons when I heard our new Guilford County Superintendent, Dr. Sharon Contreras speak on Wednesday morning at a faith leaders gathering. She talked about her journey and her life’s work. She then explained that the most asked question of her is “what is the greatest need in our school system” and how she responded to the question, surprised me, it was not with the authoritative call for additional funding, policy change, or more involvement- to my surprise- she simply said- “if everyone would just love one another, then everything else would fall into place.” Her message sounds like a paraphrase of our scripture reading this morning, the ‘commission to teach love and offer healing’. Dr. Contreras told a room full of faith leaders that the biggest need for our schools is for folks to love for one another trusting the rest would take care of itself.
A sermon we can preach by the way we live and minister and share the Good News. For loving one another means we live out the call of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and healing. It is not only a sermon to be dealt with in words, but also in deeds. It is a message which is not confined to news of eternity; but proposes to change conditions on earth. It is the reverse of a “pie in the sky” religion. It insists that health to people bodies is an integral part of God’s purpose as health to their souls.
We can’t forget that the going and proclaiming and healing are under the authority of Jesus. Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. Is that kind of power and authority extended to us now? To cast out demons and cure diseases? I came across a reading in divinity school that I will never forget. With a single word, “authority” was brought to a level of clarity; the author described “Authority as followability.” Followability. A coined work that helps us to understand that true authority is what gives people the confidence to follow.
Many folks are packing to head south and east for Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas and Florida, and we pray for them as they go. We know they will find neighbors whose lives need healing of body and spirit and need to be reminded of the nearness of the Kingdom of God. I imagine they are probably all are packing their suitcases with many tunics and bread, but the suitcase is for their comfort. Oh, they will take supplies needed for healing: water, bandages, food, blankets, etc. But their hands will preach the sweet sermon of God’s love!
God’s way is simple- proclaim, heal and hospitality, or hospitality, heal, proclaim- it is simple; it is bold, because this is not the time to play it safe. Remember when Jesus sends, He doesn’t stay behind. In Matthew 28:20 he said “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And this is simply how we are called… And may it be so. Amen
[i] Huffington Post, October 7,2016
[ii] “Travel Light,” Rev. Hoglund
[iii] The Gospel of Luke, William Barclay
[iv] Layman’s Bible Commentary
[v] Downward, Upward, and Forward Behind Jesus Blog July 2015