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Date: February 19, 2017 (Epiphany 7: MISSION ACTION SUNDAY) 1. Texts: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Ps. 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48. 2. Subject: mission. 3. Topic: the life of the disciple reoriented towards mission. 4. Aim: encourage, educate. 5. Proposition: “The Sermon on the Mount calls us to a reordered life and God’s mission tells us what that will look like.” At its meeting of January 20 - 21, the Diocesan Executive Council devoted itself to grappling with mission in the context of the Diocese of Athabasca. You might find it helpful to use the following sermon either as is or as the foundation for your own public reflections on mission in our diocese. Please note the date for which this sermon is intended.


For weeks now our worship has been—well, bombarded—by the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, in what Matthew calls an authoritative declaration,1 challenges all the listeners to adopt a new way of life, a “perfect” way, 2 and to be quite honest, it can seem overwhelming. Who can be perfect, as God is perfect? The quick—and easy answer—is that no human being can be perfect. So, if we are to take scripture seriously, we’ll have to look for a better answer. That better answer focusses our attention not on being as perfect as God is, but rather in allowing his perfection to be seen in our lives. It is not that we can achieve or work towards perfection, but that we can ever more authentically allow his perfection to be expressed in and through us. We choose to open ourselves to be channels of God’s perfection into our world. Remember, we are disciples of Jesus Christ. A disciple is not just a learner, as if Jesus were some theme to be learned in school and about which you might be expected to write a paper. The gospel is not mere content on which a disciple might be tested. If we’re looking for a better term that learner or student, we should try “apprentice”. The disciple learns the 1 Matthew 7:28-29. 2 Matthew 5:48. Page 2 of 5 -A missional reorientationcontent of the Master and then applies the Master’s actions and life in his own circumstances. So, the Jesus-apprentice learns the gospel from Jesus, from his words, actions and life, and applies that gospel to his own words, actions and life. That’s what a disciple is, the apprentice of Jesus the Master who lives out the gospel he’s learned in ways that others may witness. So, the disciple is already committed to allowing God’s perfection to flow through his or her life, to be seen and heard in actions and words. This should actually make that whole “Sermon on the Mount” much more palatable—and doable. We disciples have already embarked on a lifetime journey towards reflecting God’s perfection. The “Sermon on the Mount” is nothing new. In fact, this reminds me of another statement Jesus made—also on a mount: And Jesus came and said to [the disciples], ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’3 This “Great Commission” gives focus and direction to the “Sermon on the Mount”. In the “Sermon” we hear a large part of “everything that I have commanded you.” The “Great Commission” tells us what to do with the gospel content we hear in the “Sermon”. This is good. It’s hard enough to cope with “being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” without knowing how to do it. With the “Great Commission” Jesus gives us a pretty good clue as to the how of reflecting God’s perfection: we go, we make disciples, we baptize, we teach and we remember. While the Church in the past has often interpreted to go as to go to foreign lands on missionary journeys, that’s not exactly helpful for us more stationary disciples. “To go” rather seems to point towards leaving our easy, comfortable and relatively ineffectual Christian enclaves to reach out to those around us. We leave the comfort of our pews and the easy assumptions of our shared Church 3 Matthew 28:18-20. Page 3 of 5 -A missional reorientationlife to interact with those who do not yet know the Master. This disciple must leave the comfort of parish life to interact with those who stand outside the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. We go, even if that only requires a phone call to a neighbour or a walk downtown to a coffee shop. But Jesus gives us a larger and far more significant goal than merely being nice to someone or having a chat. He says we disciples are to make disciples. The disciple is a virus in society, seeking to replicate the faith relationship with God in the lives of others. The disciple passes on what he has experienced and learned from Jesus in ways that invite others to respond in faith and discipleship. The disciple so lives out her life of faith that others are challenged to find their fulfillment in Christ. The disciple is always a disciple-maker. That will take work, time and commitment. Becoming a disciple is never a one-time event: it is a process of transformation as we allow that perfection of God to become evermore deeply rooted in our lives. As the disciple makes disciples, it will require walking with the new disciple in solidarity. That’s why we disciples have to teach—but we rarely teach in a classroom setting. We teach by example. We teach by sharing. We teach by allowing others to see God at work in us. We teach “all that Jesus has commanded” us by living according to those commands. We share our stories, our struggles and God’s successes. We allow others to witness the transformation God’s perfection is working in us. This is why we have to constantly remember that Jesus is with us. Being a disciple requires vulnerability and courage—the courage to care about others. We need our Master with us or else we will find ourselves overwhelmed by the enormity of our discipleship and by the pressure of society. Disciples are those who constantly remember the presence of Jesus, a presence that protects and empowers. Now, you may have wondered why I skipped over the baptize part. That’s mostly because baptism is not so much what the disciple does to someone else— it is what the disciple enables in response to the faith of the newcomer. You see, Page 4 of 5 -A missional reorientationbaptism is the choice of the individual who seeks to be joined to the Body of Christ. Baptism is our sign not only that we have chosen to become disciples but it is the sign of the empowering presence of the Spirit. Baptism depends not on what the disciple does, but on what the disciple-in-training does. The Church baptizes in response to the faith proven in the life of the newcomer. So, as far as the active disciple is concerned, baptism is what we offer, not so much what we do. Now, both the “Sermon on the Mount” and this “Great Commission” seem to rely heavily on duty and obligation. Jesus punctuated his words with a fair number of commands, like “Go therefore and make disciples…” and “Be perfect…” My experience says that people today are not well motivated by duty and obligation. So, let’s take a step back from the verbs he used, to see a far grander picture than duty and obligation. Both the “Sermon on the Mount” and the “Great Commission” are all about God’s desire and plan to transform the world. He knows—as do we disciples— that most of the world lives separated from him. We are living, speaking and acting contrary to God’s plan for us. We are not experiencing the abundant and divine life for which we are created. In effect, we’ve cut ourselves off from him and experience life as orphaned from our heavenly Father. God’s intent and plan is to reconcile all people to himself in love. His mission is to implant his love into the heart of every person as each person responds to his love. Nations like South Africa and Canada have carried on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, but God is the originator of such—Jesus is his commissioner and the Church is his commission. It is in Christ that we are reconciled to God and each disciple has accepted that reconciliation for him- or herself. We are bound together by the presence of the Spirit into one great commission, the Church. And it is the Church’s task to be God’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Our task is to be those who carry out God’s mission. Disciples minister in service to God’s mission to reconcile the world to himself. Now, doesn’t that sound larger than just duty and obligation? Having experienced the saving love of God, we disciples share that experience in ways Page 5 of 5 -A missional reorientationthat enable others to choose it for themselves. We carry out God’s mission to save the world by reflecting his saving love to the world. Which brings us back to the “Sermon on the Mount” and being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. I said at the beginning that the disciple is the one who allows God’s perfection to be reflected in all that the disciple says and does. This carries out God’s mission to save the world. As we reflect the life of our Master in what we say and do, we serve as God’s missionaries to those whom we know and love. Yes, Jesus may have used commands to direct our ministries, but we disciples have an eternally significant privilege: we carry out God’s own mission in our daily lives. We share the saving love of God and in that way become the love of God for others. The “Sermon on the Mount” has been guiding us in this privilege—far grander than any duty and obligation. All we have to do is be the disciples Jesus has called us to be. All we have to do is reflect God’s perfecting love in our daily lives and in our relationships. All we have to do is devote our ministries to God’s mission. Then we will see not only the fulfillment of the “Sermon on the Mount” and the “Great Commission”, but also of that prayer that we pray every week: “…Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” AMEN.