"Keep Going" - Sermon, June 18, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Keep On Going”
June 18, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Matthew 9: 35-10:23

While it sometimes feels like a broken record and a little easier to be a ‘negative Ned OR Debbie Downer’ right now, it is hard to escape or ignore the news cycle right now.  While I usually like to err on the side of hope and joy, it seems as if violence and bad news has become all too common in our world these days, including violence over differences in thought.  It is a feeling like being a lamb in the midst of the wolves (or in our case, coyotes and mountain lions).  Just this past week, we have seen incidents of violence in Alexandria, VA, in San Francisco, seven sailors dying in a crash on the USS Fitzgerald, as well as terror attacks in London and Manchester England a couple weeks ago, or remembering those who were killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando a year ago.  There is also more, as other incidences that don't always get reported. Plus, we also saw the sad news about finding Terry Blake’s body in the Graeagle area earlier this week, as she had been missing a little over a week.
            While we try to be positive and try to look for hope on most days, we also need to allow the space to lament, to grieve, and to pray -- even when it may sometimes feel like our prayers are empty and hollow.  But on the other hand, we often want to try and find answers right away as to why bad things happens, sometimes hastily jumping to conclusions.  We want to be quick to blame something on x, y, or z for a myriad of reasons, maybe equating things in the world to being like ‘sheep without a shepherd’ (Matt. 9: 36).  And in some cases, we want to seek revenge, you know, an eye for an eye.  Yet once again, I keep gravitating back to being sheep among the wolves, as things in the world are like the wolves, but if we are not careful, we too could become the ones who are the wolves when we are too quick to judge or jump to conclusions, myself included, because I too have been a lamb, but I have also been a wolf too.  Yet amidst everything that’s been happening lately, we are called by Jesus to keep on going, even when things around may seem like they’re in constant turmoil and even through the tragedy and difficulties that the world throws at us.  Maybe that's why we need to be in the mission field more than ever and keep going out there!!
Almost a year ago, when I began my ministry with you and asked the question, “where do we begin?,” we read a similar text in Luke’s Gospel.  But this morning, in Matthew’s gospel, we are kind of flashing back to when Jesus was beginning his ministry in earnest.  He already has his twelve disciples that we heard by name, but Jesus now gives the original twelve disciples the same authority that he has, healing the sick, bringing hope, and sharing good news of Gods kingdom.  See, Jesus has been having HUGE crowds gathering around wherever he went, as he shared his love, his compassion, and healing presence with those crowds.  But to do it all by himself is too big of an undertaking with this vast mission field before Jesus and the twelve disciples.  However, as we read “The Great Commission” in Matthew 28: 16-20 last week, Jesus ultimately empowers the disciples to reach ALL of the world, extending the invitation to the journey of faith to include EVERYONE!!  And for us, it means to keep going and making that invitation to everyone!! 
Yet I think today, our mission field is even more vast and even more expansive than in Jesus’s time, and the opportunity for harvest is great and growing, but we still need the workers, even today.  Of course, those workers today are each of us.  Once again, I don’t need to ‘beat the dead horse’ about the decline of those who are engaged with Christianity or the church, but there are factors at play, perhaps instances where we are called to be sheep among the wolves, but instead many feel as if people in the church universal have become the wolves.  In her book, Searching for Sunday, evangelical-turned Episcopal author Rachel Held Evans (who’s coincidentally the same age as I am), explains that the decline, especially among the younger generations is because “we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power,” but instead we “want to be known what we’re for [not so much] what we’re against.” -- Definitely something to think about here, and a challenge in which we as disciples of Jesus need to keep on going, by sharing the good news of the Gospel message and bringing the light and love of Christ to a world of bad news and darkness, and even to an even more skeptical world that does not exactly trust what we have to say or may not even trust the good news of the gospel.   But more importantly, we still need be like sheep and be as gentle as doves as Jesus reminds us when we do our work in the mission field , as well as being known what we are for (Matthew 10: 16).  
As we talked about last week in Jesus’s call to the disciples to go and make disciples and carry on his work in the world, we also need to keep practicing our own discipleship, which is some of the work of ‘The Great Commission.’ Basically, practicing what we preach and letting what we study in scripture and the Holy Spirit guide our actions is one way to keep going and living into ‘The Great Commission.’  Even when we practice our own personal discipleship of study, prayer/devotion, forming and engaging with small groups, visitations, and engagement with the community through outreach, Jesus tells the original twelve disciples and us that it’s not going to be an easy world to minister to, or an easy mission field to engage for that matter.  Jesus is once again reminding us that nothing is easy even though many of us (and me)wish that things would be a little easier and simpler.  But amidst the challenges and difficulties that we’ll face in the mission field, we DO have the assurance that God’s presence and Holy Spirit are with us when Jesus says “don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it.  The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words” (Matt. 10: 20, MSG).  We need to keep going, even when the road gets tough, or when being out in the greater community and world feels like being sheep in the midst of wolves.  
    However, there are times where it is tempting and even easier to become wolves ourselves, especially in the midst of declining attendance and engagement in the church, or in the midst of disagreements.  I know in the past, I would often get a little discouraged when I invited someone to church and would never see them, but perhaps that's also when I was too pushy about it, basically being a wolf with a holier-than-thou mindset, something I've unlearned over time after my own struggles with the church,  God, and Christianity. Even thinking back to John Wesley and his methodical ways and enthusiasm for serving Christ, we too may catch fire and like Wesley, want to spread the word and might have a burning passion, zeal, and enthusiasm, but we don’t want to come across as overzealous or holier-than-thou either.  That actually turns people off to the church more often than not.  Like I said last week, we don’t want to be pushy about making disciples, but as we keep on going into the mission field and greater world by building healthy and essential relationships, we do want to keep encouraging and inviting people to join us on the journey through such relationships, being gentle as doves and sheep.  
    One of the things we have talked about in this church in my first year here is the continued desire to reach out to the families in our neighborhood and I've talked a little bit about it with the Christian Education and Spiritual Growth team last month and we will be continuing the conversation this summer (after ACS).  However, for anything to be done well and in order to be intentional about making things happen, it takes baby steps and being like sheep and being gentle as doves, and willing to let things start small.  But when it comes to reaching new people, especially younger people and families we also need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, does our worship appeal to younger people?  Do we have enough programs for younger people?  I actually think its more than worship or programs. As I continue to read in Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans makes an important point that 
we need to stop building churches around categories and start building them around people.  And I told [youth workers at a conference] that, contrary to popular belief, we can’t be won back [to church] with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans.

At the same time, a number of my younger classmates who I lived, dined, worshiped with, and attended class with in seminary had very similar sentiments to what Rachel is saying.  And as someone who grew up in a more traditional church setting, I would feel very out of place in such a setting, although it does work for others.  Instead when we go into the mission field and keep going, it’s about being authentic, bringing our whole, true selves to the table with those we meet, as whole or as messed up as we may be.  I don’t see Jesus saying anywhere in his call for workers in the field to have your stuff together, as the disciples sure didn’t, given that they were imperfect, ordinary people who took up Jesus’s call to follow him.  And even when it feels like we are sheep in the midst of wolves in the field, we still need to be authentic and be ourselves, no matter which age group we engage with -- because we are ALL the body of Christ and we are ALL called to keep going to work in the mission field.  And if people don’t want to engage, we shake the dust off and say ‘peace be with you, although we still love you,’ and keep going.  
So despite the fact that it feels like we live in a bad-news kind of world right now, at least in this past week, we still have the good news of Jesus and his light, love, grace, and healing to share with the world as we keep going and keep living into ‘The Great Commission.’ We want to reach people of every age and all walks of life, as we know that Jesus was compassionate with everyone who he encountered while teaching and healing, even if he did dole out a little tough love here and there, especially towards the disciples.  But remember that it's still up to us to keep the work, teaching, and healing of Jesus going.  While it may feel like being sheep in the midst of wolves out there, we still need to go out and work in the mission field, as the harvest is riper than ever.  We still need to practice our own discipleship, but also reach out and invite others along on this journey as well, even if they may not initially engage.  But as you keep on going along that journey, be authentic, and be wise as snakes and as gentle as doves and sheep as we keep on going on this journey together!! The Holy Spirit will be with us from there!!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!!  

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