The Sending of the 12…and the 500
May 1, 2016
Today is graduation Sunday! Our college and university graduates are headed into new and exciting and (if we are honest) anxiety-producing next steps in their future. Graduates and parents (and high school almost-grads and parents), you may not feel ready for this. You have probably guessed – accurately – that you do not know everything you will need to know for the journey ahead. There’s going to be a lot of on-the-job education. But ready or not, it’s launch-time!
Today is graduation day for the disciples, too, according to our Scripture passage from the Gospel of Luke. We are only in chapter nine, but Jesus has called the 12 together and given them “power and authority over all the demons and to cure diseases.” Then without further ado, he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.
- They have no textbooks or online resources.
- No instruction manual, “How to Handle Demons, Cure Diseases and Proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
- No CraigsList for temporary housing.
- No credentials at all.
- Indeed – no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money.
Surely they are aware that they do not know everything they will need to know for the journey ahead. There will have to be a lot of on-the-job education. But, ready or not, it’s launch-time!
We no longer expect disciples of Jesus to travel on foot, without backpacks or credit cards. We no longer expect that, after you have joined a church, you will walk from town to town healing, preaching and casting out demons. Healing has become the task of medical professionals. Preaching we leave to the religious professionals. And we don’t even talk about demons or exorcisms – unless we’re talking about video games or movies.
Instead we provide safe, comfortable places for people to join us to hear and experience the good news. We open our doors every Sunday morning. We try to remember to publish our worship times. We greet our guests warmly and invite them to return.
Increasingly in the western, industrialized world, they shake the dust from their feet and do not return.
Bob Farr and Kay Kotan, authors of the book we are reading and studying together this month, 10 Prescriptions for a Healthy Congregation, say that the churches they worked with in Missouri to which people were not returning had 10 shared symptoms:
- Their leaders and members did not know, or didn’t understand, their own mission and vision as a church.
- They didn’t have hospitality ministries, or the ones they had were not successful in countering the feeling of exclusion that their guests experienced.
- Their worship services were not accessible – in all the many senses of that term – to the non-church-going public.
- They were not connected to their communities as a congregation; their neighbors didn’t know them or what they did.
- They did not offer an intentional path of faith development for anyone – not longtime members or brand new Christians. They assumed that once you joined, you would figure out on your own how to be a disciple.
- They didn’t create ways to connect their new members with the life and ministry of the congregation.
- They filled committee positions instead of developing leaders.
- They didn’t make strategic plans for the future. Instead they allowed tradition and the calendar to drive their ministries.
- The structure of their governance systems was complicated and kept many of their members busy with committee responsibilities instead of doing hands-on ministry.
- Their pastors, staff members and key volunteer leaders spent their time doing ministry instead of raising up and equipping other leaders to do it.
For the five Sundays of May, starting today, we’re going to focus on this book by Farr and Koten, learning from it and from the Scriptures what a healthy church looks like. Just listening to sermons about this is only the beginning! We need your participation and feedback as well. Because all of this – the book, the sermons, the discussions about the book and the sermons – is part of our own Vital Church Initiative process: part of our own efforts to understand our strengths and our weaknesses, and to make plans for a strong, healthy, vital future for UUMC.
So I’m asking you to do two things: read the book, and participate in one of the sermon discussion groups. A list of those groups, their meeting dates, times and locations is in your bulletin. The groups include our Gateway groups which are opening up this month to include anyone who wishes to join them just for this month. The books are waiting for you to pick them up on the tables outside the sanctuary. Donations are welcome but not necessary. I would much rather have you read and learn from the book than decline to do that for financial reasons.
If one or both of those two opportunities to participate in the VCI process is simply not possible, here’s a less time-consuming option: respond to the sermons via the One-Stop. Each week the sermon will include a few questions for you to respond to in writing. Give us your feedback and put the One-Stop sheets in the offering plate…. Or in today’s case, in the offering basket as you come forward for communion.
The learning you’ll get from the sermons won’t be as complete as reading the book, and the questions on the One-Stop will be designed to be answered quickly. So your responses won’t be as in-depth as the feedback coming from the small groups. But in order for this process to be effective as many people as possible need to learn what makes for a healthy church! As many people as possible need to be part of the conversation about University Church and our future!
So let’s start.
Healthy congregations, say Bob Farr and Kay Koten, deeply understand their mission and vision.
- Mission is the church’s reason for existing. The mission of our denomination is “to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
- Vision is how we carry out our mission. A vision is obvious, strategic and measurable. Congregations may share the same mission, but each one has its own vision.
Do you know University Church’s mission and vision? They are printed on the back of our bulletin every Sunday…except for today. We also have a Hospitality statement, and it’s usually on the back of the bulletin too.
So put on your thinking caps. What do you know of UUMC’s Mission, Vision and/or Hospitality statements? Write what you remember: words, phrases or entire statements.
And now consider the second question: Does what you remember help you to know who we are and what we do?
The disease most mainline churches suffer from, Farr and Koten say, is that they have taught people to “play” church rather than to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We have allowed ourselves to believe that if we go to the church building once or maybe twice a week and do religious stuff we will become spiritual. But this has not turned out to be true. Rather than being a place, a time and a way that equips its people to live as disciples, the church has allowed itself to be a place and a time and a way to do fellowship. As if the church is simply a place to hang out, develop friendships, learn moral lessons for life, raise kids, and wait to go to heaven.
Because fellowship – not discipleship – has become the mission of our churches, most of our church activities are focused on helping us do that. We focus our time, energy and many of our resources internally: on activities for different ages and life stages, with missions in the community and the world added on.
If church is primarily a place for fellowship, a place to hang out, no wonder younger folks are making alternative choices – there are many better places to hang out than the church!
And if our mission and vision statements say one thing, like “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” or even “We are a progressive Christian community, serving others, rooted in Scripture and tradition, called to be a beacon for Christ in a changing world” but our focus is on internally-directed, fellowship-supporting activities…then no wonder we can’t remember that mission and vision.
And if we can’t remember our mission and vision, then how do we make decisions? We make them based on resources: money and people. And no one ever feels like they have enough money or people. Rev. Anthony Robinson says that when you run a church that way, you’re always approaching people from a sense of deficit. “If we can just get more people, we’ll be OK.” “If we can just get more money, we’ll be OK.” But who wants to sign on to an organization whose aim is simply to get more people and money?
We can no longer assume that people want (and should want) what we have to offer… especially if we’re not sure what it is we’re offering!
Brothers and sisters, members and friends of University United Methodist Church – we need to rediscover our mission as a church.
- We need to know who we are and what we do best, and then we need to share it.
- We need to structure our life together so that it supports and encourages that sharing.
- We need to find the University Church-way of making disciples in order to transform the world.
And while your pastors and your staff are an important piece of leading that process, the people who are really going to make it happen are not the religious professionals.
Did you notice that Jesus did not choose one single religious professional to go and do his work? None of his disciples were priests or rabbis or teachers of religious law. They were fishermen and tax collectors. They had no special education or official credentials.
He called the 12 together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ was to go out with power and authority to neighbors and strangers who were in need, to go to them with compassion and a message of hope. It still is. You don’t need a seminary degree or a religious title to have this authority. You – all 500 of you and each one of you – have been given authority by Jesus to do this.
It is riskier than painting walls or singing in the choir or attending worship or studying the Bible – all of which are excellent things to do. But to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to go to neighbors and strangers in need with compassion and a message of hope. And you – each and every one of you – have been given the power to do that.
In order to live out our mission as the body of Jesus Christ,
- we are going to have to shift our focus from internal to external;
- we are going to have end the unacknowledged mission of our church as a place of fellowship;
- and we are going to have to articulate a mission and vision that is authentic to who we are and gives voice to our passion as Christians.
- We are going to have to shift our primary activity from running programs to developing people to be disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
You may have noticed that I skipped the demons. We don’t talk in terms of demons much anymore. Instead we use words like cancer, or alcoholism, or generational poverty.
Then and now, demons are the things that hold you back, that prevent you from moving forward with health and strength, that prevent you from growing to be all that God created and called you to be. In which case, the demons that hold back a 21st century congregation are things like
- fear of change,
- inability to see a different future,
- distractions that use our time and energy,
- and even indifference toward the future of the church beyond our own lifetimes.
These are the demons we are given power to cast out, so that the kingdom of God may grow.
Early on in his ministry, according to Luke, Jesus gave the disciples power and authority to cast out demons and cure diseases. He told them to travel from town to town proclaiming the kingdom and healing, to offer compassion and a message of hope. But he did not then leave them alone. He kept teaching by word and example what he meant. It was on-the-job training. And he kept inviting them back to this table, where he fed them with exactly what they needed: himself. “Do not be afraid,” he said, “I am with you always.” And then he took the greatest risk of all.
Greg Carey. Commentary on Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]. Posted on WorkingPreacher.org. June 15, 2008. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=98
Edward F. Markquart. The Original Recipe: The Harvest is Ripe. Pentecost 4A, Matthew 9:35-10:8. Posted on SermonsFromSeattle.com. http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_the_harvest_is_ripe_sermon.htm
Bob Farr and Kay Kotan. 10 Prescriptions for a Healthy Church. Abingdon Press, 2015.
Anthony B. Robinson. “What’s Your Passion?” The Christian Century. April 27, 2016. Vol 133, No. 9.