Sunday 24th February 9am Worship
Series: Pathways to Growth
Title: Participate / Send
Bible Reading: Luke 10:1-9;17-20
Preacher: Phil Swain, Susy Cornford
One of my favourite movies is “Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves” with Kevin Costner. Ok, so it is not actually a great movie … but it holds sentimental value for me as it was the first movie that I took Marion to on a date. And, believe it or not, it really ties in with today’s topic.
If you weren’t here for the past two weeks, let me catch you up. We have been looking at a concept called “pathways to growth” – or how we help those connected to this church to keep growing and maturing as Christians and in their connection to the TUC church community. In the first week we looked at their first experience and how we can make sure we are a welcoming church and looking for opportunities to reach out to others. Last week we pondered how we can be helpful in developing a sense of belonging and connection to Jesus and to our church. This week … well, this is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves comes in…
If you don’t know the story … Morgan Freeman plays the character of Azzem, a Muslim who Robin Hood saves from prison whilst fighting the crusades in the Holy Land. Azzem says to Robin, “Our way lies together … You have saved my life, Christian. Now, I will stay with you until I have saved yours.” And from that moment on, Azzem accompanies Robin on his quest back in England. Then – as in all Robin Hood stories – they form a band of misfits … people who don’t belong but find a sense of belonging together. In this new community, everyone plays their part, everyone has a role to do. And then in the classic scene at the end, Maid Marian has been taken by the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin and the crew are trying to break into the fortified castle to save her. Robin and Azzem climb onto a catapult in order to be flung over the wall … and Azzem says to Robin, “Is she worth it? Is she worth dying for?” And Robin nods “Yes” and they are launched. Trust me … this all does tie together.
You see, sometimes when we become connected to a person or to a group … we begin to build a sense of ownership. We begin to think … “This is not just Turramurra Uniting Church, this is my church”. And when we have ownership – we want to be a part of what is going on, we want to participate, we don’t just want to receive from the group, we want to share what we have with the group. For some of us in the church, that sense of ownership or desire to contribute comes from a response to what Jesus has done for us. If Jesus gave so freely of himself, to the point of dying on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and rising to give us eternal life … then we think like Azzam. “Our way lies together … You have saved my life, Jesus. Now, I’m with you, I’ll serve you and work for you.”
For others our motivation for participating comes from an understanding how community works. We might be a bunch of misfits here , but we have been brought together as one – a bit like Robin Hood’s merry men and women – and if this community of faith is going to work, then we all need to play our part. To use our gifts and skills and passions to benefit the community and to help achieve our collective vision.
And for others – we are like Robin and Maid Marion – the motivating factor for participation is … LOVE. Whether it our love for Jesus or our love for each other … we want to give of ourselves to the cause because we love it. Whether we are singing it to Jesus or to each other – we sing the words of Bryan Adams theme song from Robin Hood … “You know its true, everything I do, I do it for you” … because I love you.
It is the same in the bible reading we had today. Jesus did not just welcome people to listen to him, he called people to be a part of his community and to help in his work. In our reading, he is sending out 72 people … probably close to everyone in the community at that point – go and help others know about God. Note that this is happening in chapter 10 of Luke’s 24 chapters. Jesus doesn’t wait until the end before involving people, he wants them to be participants … now. Mind you, Jesus gives them some basic training of what to do and what to expect – but largely he sends them out and then celebrates at how God works through them! He doesn’t expect them to be perfect, but he wants them all to be involved!
The questions that I have is … how do we do this as a church? When people feel that sense of connection here at TUC, and want to be a part of what is happening, what processes do we have to be helpful for people to be involved? I think we make the assumption that if people want to be involved then they will take the initiative to find out how. But Jesus didn’t do that – Jesus didn’t wait until the followers came to him and asked, “What do you need us to do” – Jesus made the first move and invited them to participate.
And I am talking more than asking someone to fill a gap in a roster (not that this is bad … I am just saying it is more than this). Research shows that when people are serving in an area which they feel passionate about and where they feel their talents are needed … then they will give their best and find deep fulfillment in what they are doing.
There are so many questions involved in this, such as:
- How do we help people identify their passions?
- Is a passion something you are really keen about, or could it be also things that make you sad, or angry?
- How do we help identify people’s gifts or abilities? Or their spiritual gifts?
- How do we provide appropriate and timely training or guidance for people wanting to be involved? What about mentors?
- How do we provide opportunities that are real and significant for people to participate?
- How do we make sure these opportunities are open to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities?
- How do we celebrate the stories of what God is doing through these people?
These are all really good questions – which I don’t really have time to explore today but we will be explore on Thursday night at the last of our Taskforce meetings. Instead, I wanted to spend the last chunk of this sermon looking at a particular question of what it means for TUC to be a “sending church”. Jesus sent the 72 out into the mission field, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”. In our context here at TUC … who are the workers and where is the harvest?
25 years ago we had the understanding that if we were talking about being a “sending church” that the harvest were people overseas who have not heard the gospel and the workers were people called to be overseas missionaries who were sharing the gospel message. And TUC supported several overseas missionaries – including some who grew up in this church. We still support several missionaries … but I not sure if we would answer the question of who the workers are and where is the harvest in the same way today. And to show you the trickiness of this question … I have invited Susy Cornford to be our “other voice” today.
Susy Cornford – Short Term Mission to Cambodia
- So I hear that you were recently in Cambodia … what was all that about?
- What sort of things did you do there? [Great stop to show some photos of the things you did]
- So … why did you go? You could have stayed at home and watched Netflix all day. What was the motivation behind spending your time (and your money to get there)?
- Following on from the last question … Today we heard about a bible story about Jesus sending people out to the towns nearby to share the good news in both their words and actions – to be part of God’s mission. Did you have a sense that this trip was also part of your faith … that you were not just helping the Cambodians but also serving God?
Firstly, I get excited when I hear about people offering themselves for these opportunities – and I hope that you found it helpful to hear Susy share. But I want to go back to my question about the changing understanding of mission. 30 years ago, mission was solely about Bible translation or converting people to the Christian faith … cultural learning or addressing social issues were much less down the list of priorities. Now, it seems to be reversed – mission trips are all about cultural awareness and showing the love of Jesus through our actions … not necessarily preaching for a conversion.
So what sort of mission was Jesus talking about when he was saying the Harvest is plentiful and the workers are few? Preaching the gospel? Showing the gospel through our actions? Both? I think it is both. Yes – I want to affirm that Susy in Cambodia was responding to the invitation of Jesus to be in mission! And so are Sue and Bill and Anne as travel down to Parramatta each week to teach English to immigrants?
But what about when I start teaching Religious Education in the schools this week? Or what about the ladies who are running playgroup on Tuesday or the Youth Leaders having fun on the waterslide on Friday night? Is that also mission?
If the mission of Jesus is sharing the gospel in our words or our actions (or both) … then yes – all those situations are mission. But I think the danger is this broadening of our understanding of mission is that sometimes we forget that we are SENT.
Jesus calls us to step slightly beyond our normal circles and reach out to those around us – and share this amazing good news that we have found in Jesus in both our words and our actions. Reach out and help people who are not yet on this pathway to growth to have that first experience of Jesus – or of the church … making this pathway to growth circular … that those we reach out to will then feel welcomed, connected, empowered and ultimately become others who are reaching out.
This series was designed to raise a whole bunch of questions – and stimulate positive thinking regarding how we might be most helpful as a church. If you have been to any of the taskforce meetings you would have seen just how many issues and ideas this theme can stimulate.
The real challenge is what actions flow from all these ideas. This Thursday at the last of our taskforce meetings – not only will be finishing the journeys of Rosalie, Kamala and Arno and looking at some of the questions I raised earlier about empowering people and providing opportunities for participation – but we will be working out a process for making sure that all this great exploring results in helping us as a church community being more helpful to all people on this pathway to growth.