Luke 10:1-9; Matthew 28:16-20
Good morning! This is such an auspicious day! As I said before, we have a lot going on in worship. Today we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, and then we will commission our youth mission team. These are important and exciting events in the life of this congregation. And if that weren’t enough, today is my first anniversary as your pastor. So, to celebrate our anniversary of one year together, I’m going to preach my shortest sermon ever.
As most of you know, I’m an only child, and as such, I’m tempted to use this occasion to talk about where we’ve been over this last year and where we’re heading. But, in the grand scheme of things, I’m not that important. You folks, you, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church are important; our mission as the Church, as the people called by God and sent out into the world, that’s important. When I’m at my best, I’m busy equipping you for that work. So today’s sermon is about the work that we’re called to do.
Both of our scriptures this morning are remarkably straightforward and easy to understand. In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sends out seventy disciples to visit every town that Jesus intended to visit. Jesus instructs these disciples to offer peace—Christ’s peace—to every household they visit, and to tell the people they visit that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”
It’s important to remember that there are more disciples than just the twelve who follow Jesus around the Judean countryside. This is a reminder that the work of the church doesn’t belong to a select few, it belongs to all of us. Jesus calls more people than his closest disciples—there’s too much work to be done and eleven or twelve disciples are not enough to do all the work. It takes all of us. And the work calls us to get outside of the church, meet people where we find them, and proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near to them, too.
In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus appears to his closest followers, the eleven remaining disciples. The disciples were there to worship Jesus, but Jesus reminds them that worship is not enough. He reminds them that they are called to go out into the world, to baptize and teach, to make disciples of all nations. Again, this is pretty easy to understand. Living into these two scriptures is the challenging part.
I read a very interesting blog post a couple weeks ago. It was written by the Rev. Dr. Jan Edmiston, who recently served as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. Her blog is called A Church for Starving Artists, and in a recent post, entitled, “When Has a Church Passed the Point of No Return?” she posed some difficult questions:
Churches grow and slow and some die and some find rebirth. Again—how do we know when a congregation has reached that point when nothing will bring them back to life—even in a new semblance of life? Here are some choices that seem to prompt certain death:
1. Leaders choose to keep more money in The Cemetery Fund than in the general fund for ministry and mission.
2. Everyone—and I mean everyone—has their own pet project/thing they love and they’ve stopped asking “What does God want from our church?” It’s become what we want and we argue about that.
3. The same people have been serving in the same leadership roles for over 10 years.
4. The surrounding area is brimming with new people, new commercial projects, even new public transportation options and the church is not growing.
5. The congregation does not look like or sound like the neighborhood and there are no efforts to change this.