Teach (March 17, 2019)
Ok, let’s start with a test: who remembers the 1st Mark of Mission from last week? (To proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom. We Tell.)
This year, we’re using the 5 Marks of Mission to guide our Lenten journey. They were developed about 20 years ago by the Anglican Communion to help the church live out our identity as people who embody and live out God’s mission.
We are God’s mission people. That’s why the church exists. That’s our whole raison d’être. The church is called to live out the mission given to us by God. Christopher Duraisingh puts it very simply, “A church which is not in mission is not the church.” We are the church for the sake of the world.
And this First Mark of Mission is the heart of our mission. In all that we do and say, we proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. We Tell the good news of God’s love.
Today, we move on to the 2nd Mark of Mission: To teach, baptize and nurture new believers. We Teach.
To be honest, I find this mark of mission one of the hardest ones to talk about. Part of the reason is that many of us no longer know our faith. We have stopped learning. We are largely Biblically illiterate. We have forgotten our story, and the danger is that we will lose our identity. We are shaped more profoundly these days by advertisers than we are by the gospel.
If that is true, if we have forgotten, how can we teach? If we no longer remember, how can we nurture new believers?
So let me suggest this. In order for the church to teach, we who are the church must make a fresh commitment to becoming learners once again. If we are to teach, we must learn.
Let me ask you a question. If I were to ask you what the gospel was about, how would you answer? If a friend or neighbour were to ask you about what the heart of the gospel is for you, how would you answer?
That’s your homework for this week. Take this task of learning seriously. Take some time to reflect for yourself on the faith you hold. Try to sum it up in a couple of sentences or paragraphs. What is the heart of the faith for you?
Let me tell you my answer.
For me, it begins and ends with the love of Jesus. If our words and actions don’t meet the test of love … it’s not the gospel. If we exclude someone … it doesn’t meet the test of love and it’s not the gospel. If we fail to reach out to help someone in the name of love … it doesn’t meet the test of love and it’s not the gospel. If we don’t love our neighbours as we love ourselves … it doesn’t meet the test of love and it’s not the gospel. If we fail to be agents of God’s loving grace in the world … it doesn’t meet the test of love and it’s not the gospel.
In the 1st century bce, a gentile came up to the great Jewish sage Hillel, who died when Jesus was a teenager. The gentile wanted to convert to Judaism, but would do so only if the rabbi could teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot.
Hillel accepted the challenge, and said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary—go and study it!”
That’s what this 2nd Mark of Mission points to. Know the heart of the gospel, and then learn how to live it out. Go and study it.
Twenty years later, Jesus said much the same thing in the great commandment. Love God with all that you are; love your neighbour as yourself.
It’s easy to say, and it takes a lifetime of learning to live it out. I’ve included an insert in your bulletin (included at the end here). It’s part of a song by Ken Medema, and I’ve found it to be a helpful way of thinking about living out the great commandment. Keep it where you can see it.
We love God with all that we are. We commit ourselves whole–heartedly to God. Our whole being, heart, mind, soul and spirit is oriented towards God. The first question we ask as we seek to make a decision is, “How will this please God? How will this choice honour God?”
Imagine it … God at the very centre of our lives. God the deciding factor in the decisions we make. Not our bank balance. Not our convenience or comfort. Not our wants. Not our retirement fund. Not our own desires. Not our political beliefs. Not our desire to have life meet our needs first and then give what’s left over to God and to others.
God is the determining factor of our life. Imagine it.
And the second and equally important part of this one great commandment is to love your neighbour. Seek what is best for your neighbour. Reach out to your neighbour with love and compassion and grace. To love our neighbour is to help meet the needs of our neighbour in the same way as we meet our own needs.
If we don’t love God with all that we are and if we fail to love our neighbour as we love ourselves … it doesn’t meet the test of love and it’s not the gospel.
We take it a step further. For Christians, Jesus is the best image we have of what God is like. Throughout his life, Jesus was inviting people to follow him, to live as he lived. And to be a follower of Jesus means that we are called to learn and grow in our faith.
Now notice that Jesus doesn’t say “Come be a warden. Come be a member of the choir. Come take a set of envelopes. Come take a turn on the Church Committee.” Jesus doesn’t even say, “Come be a member of the church.”
What Jesus says to us is, “Come be a disciple. Come, follow me.”
Jesus says, “Follow me. Do what I do. Live as I live. Trust as I trust. Reach out as I reach out. Love as I love. Show compassion as I show compassion, and especially to outsiders, to the people on the margins, to those whom society scorns and leaves on the side of the road. Love God. Love your neighbour.”
That’s the church’s work: we are called to work with God to serve and heal the world. We come together for the sake of the world. We gather here on behalf of those who are not here.
For me, that’s the heart of our faith. We are not primarily called to be members of the church. We are called to be disciples of Jesus, followers of Jesus.
Therefore we do what Jesus did. And it’s going to cost us something, just as it cost Jesus.
To put it slightly differently, Christian faith is not about information. It’s not about learning certain facts and doctrines and such things. Christian faith is about formation. It’s about being formed in the image of Christ.
I quoted Christopher Duraisingh earlier. “A church that is not a church in mission is not the church. Mission is a matter of love. Mission is God’s love affair with the world. The church’s part is to get involved in a love affair with other human beings with whom God has already fallen in love.”
We dare to believe that God is having a love affair with the world. We trust that God’s love is deeply and profoundly real. That’s the good news which we proclaim. That’s the 1st Mark.
Then to meet the 2nd Mark, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we follow the one who beckons us to live more faithfully. In order to teach, baptize and nurture new believers, we must make a new commitment to become students, learners, followers. We begin by learning.
Here’s your homework for this week, as we receive this gift of Lent as a time to reflect more deeply on our faith: Take some time to reflect on the faith you hold. Write it down in a couple of sentences or paragraphs. What is the heart of the faith for you? How are you growing?
We have good news to proclaim. We teach, baptize and nurture new believers. The first 2 Marks of Mission invite us to grow on our life–long journey of faith.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams puts it this way: “Jesus doesn’t seem to talk about making members of the church or recruiting people to sign up: Jesus wants disciples. He wants members of his body who share in the action of the body — a disciple is a learner. Go and make learners; encourage people to embark on the journey of discovering what the gift of God is.”
The 2nd Mark of Mission: “To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.” We Teach.
Thanks be to God.
The following was included as an insert in the bulletin
“Monday eyes see practical necessity, building the economy,
the killing of the enemy, the guarding of our ethnic purity,
protecting the Great Society, giving the world democracy
even if it means killing and torturing to do so.
“Monday morning minds create the policies of sovereign states,
talk of good and thrive on hate,
and God help you if you deviate for fear that you might create
confusion which we cannot tolerate.
“Sunday eyes can see the world in a whole new light:
making real the weakness that the strong despise,
and the wisdom which confounds the wise.
“Sunday light exposes lies,
cuts the monsters of our Monday world down to size,
sees the tears which the suffering cry
and shuns the power which money buys.
“Sunday morning minds are free to love the enemy,
dream a new community, see a new reality.
“Monday morning can see the things they think are good for me and
Monday morning eyes go rushing headlong across the way,
across the road, not caring who they trample on and
“Sunday morning eyes can view the man who stands beside the road,
the lonely woman, the frightened child,
the hopeless one who has no one to tend him or her.
“Sunday morning eyes will not let me go on
until something I have done will make a difference.
“Monday morning eyes will see
that things must be done efficiently, and if it is not quickly done,
then Monday morning eyes will soon be gone.
“Sunday morning eyes will take time to search the road,
and find the hopeless one,
restore the rhyme and reason of life
no matter how much time it takes, for heaven’s sake.”
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
March 17, 2019 (2nd Sunday in Lent)
Philippians 3: 17–4:1
Luke 13: 31–35
Genesis 15: 1–12, 17–18