Luke 9:1-6, 10:1-11
Ordination of Officers / Commissioning of Mission Workers
June 9, 2013
William G. Carter
One Sunday, I heard the creation of a new word. We were singing a hymn, and the person next to me was not worried about the words on the page. The print said, “Chosen of the Lord, and precious,” but I am sure he sang, “Chosent.” It was a brand-new word. I think it is a pretty good word – “chosent.”
As far as Jesus is concerned, those who are chosen are sent. They are one and the same. They are not selected by him in order to withdraw from the world. They are picked in order to be deployed. Chosen and sent – or “chosent.”
In the Gospel of Luke, we hear two passages of Jesus sending his followers. First, it is the twelve in his immediate circle – Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, and the other ten in between. He confers on them his holy authority and sends them out to confront the forces that damage human life. He said, “Proclaim God’s authority over life – and heal whoever you meet.” And off they go. They have pretty good success, and learn a good bit along the way.
Then, once again, he expands the circle, and adds seventy more people. The Lord groups them in pairs and gives them the same commission: “Heal the sick that you find, and declare God’s Authority has come into your midst.”
They came back and said, “Lord, your name has a lot of power!” He smiles and says, “I saw Satan fall out of heaven. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven!” This is the blessing on those who go when he sends them. They are “chosent.”
These ancient stories reveal a deep truth. The God we meet in Jesus Christ is a missionary God. God takes flesh in Jesus because he has a mission to the world. Jesus is sent from heaven to earth. Then Jesus sends those who follow him to continue the mission. It is the same mission: to proclaim God’s Holy Authority and to heal.
To heal what? It is never specified; whatever is ill, or twisted, or broken, or dirty, or infected – that is what God wishes to heal. And this restorative work, this saving work, is never separated from God’s Authority. That is the meaning of the word “kingdom,” which refers to the places where God is the rightful ruler.
On a day when we commission people in our midst to serve as servant-leaders, we affirm the nature of God’s mission, in the name of a God who sends. We are chosen by God in order to be sent to the places where God needs us to serve.
I don’t know about you, but this was impressed on me at an early age. My family went to a church that was always sending people into the mission field. One young couple came back with slides from the Amazon River and spoke about an encounter with piranhas. That made quite an impression on our potluck dinner.
Then I went off to seminary. On the opening day, the dean told us how an entire graduating class in the early 1950's went into the mission field. The president at the time was John Mackay, a former missionary, and he had a great influence on the students. As the academic products of the selfish 1980's, we shrugged it off.
Then we stood in line for the cafeteria and passed by a plaque remembering some graduates of Princeton who were killed in response to their witness. One was shot in India, another thrown off a ship. One was murdered for printing the truth about slavery in St. Louis, another was beaten to death as he marched for civil rights in Selma. It gave us pause, and made us wonder what we would face when we took Jesus seriously.
These seemed like amplified situations, rare and remarkable, and nothing that the normal Christian might ever face. But then I heard Jesus declare after his resurrection, "You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." That's not a command, but a declaration. If you testify to Jesus, if you believe he is alive rather than dead, if you understand what he continues to do in the world, if you follow him, pursue him, and obey him, then you will be his witnesses. And there's no telling where it will take you.
Around this congregation, we have seen people who hear Christ’s voice, go where they sense he is sending them, and come back changed. I could keep you here all day with the stories, but I would rather send you out to the places where God wants you to be. We have sent people to short-term mission trips, and they come back with stories, not only about the work that they accomplished, but the ways they have been changed.
Or someone will get involved, sometimes after years of watching from the sidelines. Something wakes up within them. Faith goes deeper and love extends wider. The time they spend healing the world is time well spent that also heals some part of them.
I have seen grumpy old men break into laughter when they play kickball with children. I have seen self-absorbed teenagers crack open with compassion when they encounter with people with real needs. I have seen well-settled people come alive with fresh energy when it dawns on them that life is changing, and they cannot stay settled where they were. It is not a stretch to declare that God is probably behind a lot of these disruptions.
Here’s the point: if they had played it safe, if they had shrugged off the invitation in order to honor their own comfort, if they had never gotten out of the easy chair or the cushioned pew, they might have missed the joy of Jesus.
The Bible is full of stories about people on the move. The same God described in that thick, old book is the same God who pushes us, or pulls us, or prompts us, or entices us to make our lives a pilgrimage. We are called closer to the heart of God. We can’t get there if we stay stuck in the same old places.
Maybe that’s why Jesus gives the same directions to the twelve and to the seventy. He says, “Travel lightly. Don’t pack a lot of stuff; the stuff can become a distraction. Don’t slow down to shake the hands of everybody on the way. Don’t worry about taking money; the Gospel’s essential work can be done without a lot of money.”
All he gives us is a word of peace, God’s peace. It’s the peace of the Christmas angels, singing to the shepherds about the great glory of God, and made real in the great gifts of mercy and respect. Whoever you meet is a Child of God, forgiven in Christ, respected by God’s Spirit. That peace is enough to change the room, and it’s the peace that makes people well.
“If you meet people who don’t want this,” said Jesus, “wipe off your feet and keep moving. Don’t waste your time on antagonistic voices or warlike hostilities. No, I send you to declare that God makes peace with the world.”
Once again, we can’t know this unless we get off the couch. In our time, that’s becoming harder and harder for a lot of people to do. A well-meaning person said to me, “When I go home at night, I stay home. My home is my cocoon.” I thought about that, then I asked, “Do you ever think God would like you to get out of your cocoon and become a butterfly?”First, of course, you’ve got to leave the cocoon.
It’s hard to do that, when you have a remote for eight hundred channels, a Home Shopping Network full of stuff you don’t need, a thousand baseball games to watch that you yourself will never play, to say nothing of hundreds of Food Channel recipes that you yourself will never cook. We live in a culture intoxicated with entertainment. Entertainment is a way to smooth over and forget that there are grown-up brothers and sisters who hate each other, or children who go to bed bruised and hungry, or promising students who are put down for how they look or where they live. Christ sends his people into the surrounding towns and says, “Heal the broken people, and proclaim there is a Loving God whose holy ways are peace and well-being for all.” This is our mission, because this is God’s mission, and God gives it to all of us.
We set aside people as church elders to direct us where we need to go. We deploy church deacons to make Christ’s ministry a humane ministry. All of us are part of what God is doing to salvage the world. We are chosen and sent – chosent – to make a difference.
A woman was telling me about something she likes to do. “I volunteer to read stories to children who don’t know where both of their parents are. I do this every Tuesday, and I never cancel out. I want them to know they are loved.”
A man told me yesterday about his work with those recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol. “Some of them are charged too much money to stay in a halfway house,” he said, “and I want them to be treated fairly as God rebuilds their lives.”
Today we bid God’s peace on three people traveling to Haiti, as they go to show compassion. We send a couple of our own to work all summer with the kids at Camp Lackawanna. Some are going to North Carolina to investigate how our congregation may worship more deeply. Others will work with the children and families of our community to teach God’s love through our Vacation Bible School.
Take note: none of this work is hypothetical. None of it is imaginary. All of it is specific, among real people with real names and real needs.
So we are sent – chosent – to announce in word and deed that that God's dominion is right there, within our midst, not because of our good looks, not because of our expertise, but because the One who gathers us in grace is the One who always sends us out in love.
To this God, be all glory and honor, sovereignty and service, mystery and ministry, now and forever.
(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.