Messengers of the Good News

“Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.”  Mark 1: 38

Several weeks ago I preached on our understanding of church as ecclesia, the Greek word for church, which is literally translated, “the called out ones.”

The purpose of the church is to be people “called out” by Christ to be his body, every day, in the world.

In that sermon I described and defined both the “Vendor” church and the “Missional” church

The “vendor-driven” or the “market-driven” church has become pervasive in America today, across the whole theological and denominational landscape.  The vender driven church is characterized as a church that:

  • Comes together to get our own needs met, and thereby primarily reducing itself to being  consumers;
  • It also can become an audience or clients who take in what the professionals have to say, and thereby reducing itself to being amateur Christians.

The alternative, for lack of a better word, is referred to as the “missional church.”

It’s a bit mis-leading, because when most of us hear the word mission we think of outreach to the poor or perhaps old-fashion evangelism to the un-churched.

This isn’t what we mean by “missional.  What then does “missional” mean?

I like the way Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder put it in an address at Duke Divinity School:

“The church is not the object of God’s mission; it is an instrument of God’s mission. Therefore, the role of laity is not primarily that of serving the institutional needs of the [church], but to be the church in the world where they work and live.  A church … shaped by God’s mission invites [us] to be part of what God is doing and where God is doing it.”

In this transitional time at KUC, you have the opportunity, I dare say the responsibility, to assess who you are and why you are here, as church, as the ecclesia.

Once again let me suggest that we examine KUC’s identity and purpose through the lens of KUC’s tenets of faith that state that:

  • God is active in the world and in each one of our lives.
  • By God’s grace, we are loved, forgiven and strengthened to respond to God’s call to live by the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • In the person of Jesus Christ we know what God is like and who we are to be like.
  • The Holy Spirit is present among us encouraging us to work for peace, justice and reconciliation in our broken world, and;
  • In response to the gift of God’s loving kindness, we have a responsibility to live out what we say we believe… in our homes, in our workplaces, in how we treat others, in sharing what we have…

How then do we become messengers of this Good News?  We do so by incorporating these tenets of belief into the actions of our daily lives.

To help us become and be messengers of the Good News, let us listen again to the good news according to gospel of Mark contained in this morning’s lesson, Jesus said:

“Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.”

Those of you who have gotten to know me these past nine months or heard me preach; you know that I enjoy telling my story; the story of how God has worked in and through me all these years and how God brought me to this time and place as I am seeking to be God’s messenger.

Every single one of us has a story to tell, the story of our days and years on earth: Our stories go on, until the day we die, and even then our story continues in the memories of our friends and loved ones.

I see it with breathtaking clarity every single time I am called on to preside at someone’s memorial service.  It is such a privilege to hear the stories.  This past Friday we celebrated the life of Virginia Menke and we heard her story. It was so eloquently spoken to us by her children and her husband Allen.

Perhaps we haven’t thought of it this way, but the Lord has a story too.  The Lord’s story, like ours, can be remembered in its moments.

  • The way God created the heavens and the earth, and called them good.
  • The time God regretted creating humankind, and sent the flood to wipe us out, but saved a few to give the world a second chance.
  • The promise God made with one single couple, Abraham and Sarah, to give them a land and a name and a multitude of descendents, even though they were too old to have children.
  • The time that went by when God seemed to disappear, but then, when things could not get more bleak, God heard the cries of his people, and rescued us from the hands of the Egyptians, and brought us safely across the Red Sea, and gave us manna to feed us in the desert, and commandments to guide us into the promised land.
  • The anger God unleashed at us years later, when we willfully ignored the Lord and neglected the poor and felt proud of ourselves anyway … and God sent us into exile, and we were humbled, and then God brought us safely home.
  • And then, oh, then!  How God himself came down to us as Jesus, and was born in a barn of all places, and grew up to be a man who taught the truth … who touched the outcast and welcomed the sinners … who angered the self-righteous religious leaders and frightened political authorities ….
  • How this Jesus took on the sins of the world to himself, and died on the cross for our sake, and rose from the dead so that death would have power no more.

This is the Lord’s story and it is our privilege, our sacred privilege, to tell the Lord’s story, and to witness to the impact that God’s presence has upon our world.  And this is what being messengers of the good news means. So how do we tell God’s story, and how do we carry that good news into the world?

The one thing that I don’t think we do is to hit people upside the head with it.  I cringe at the self-righteous arrogance passing for evangelism over the airwaves and in the political discourse today.  For example, I get very upset when an individual alleges to speak for God on any variety of topics.

So how do we strike the right balance?

First, one of the most effective ways we proclaim our faith doesn’t involve words at all: it is simply how we act … every time we remember that we belong to God and that we are marked as Christ’s very own, and then act with integrity, by holding our gossiping tongue, or by questioning a racist comment, or by standing up for a classmate who is being picked on, or by showing up yet one more time to visit a bed-ridden friend.  Whenever we love because Christ first loved us; whenever we challenge abuses of power the way Jesus did, we are carrying his story into the world.

Bishop Carder, again, considers this our primary calling as “missional” people:

“The church seeks above all else to LIVE the Jesus story. The church with a future is a church that knows who Jesus is, takes with utter seriousness what Jesus says, goes where Jesus goes, does what Jesus does, and loves those whom Jesus loves.”

Our actions speak louder than our words, so it’s crucial we start there. But we can’t end there.  Listen again to what Jesus tells his disciples about his mission:

“Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.”

Sooner or later, we must follow Jesus out into the world, proclaiming his message.  But how?

Why don’t you start by reclaiming your history? From its beginning in 1892 the founders of KUC set out to create a church “dedicated to the worship of God.”  They worshiped together faithfully.  KUC’s first constitution states that, “The church was organized for the worship of God and the advancement of his Kingdom.”  The earliest members used God language effortlessly, “We acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as the Great Head of the Church and receive the Holy Scriptures as authoritative in matters of faith and life.”  They sought to integrate their faith and beliefs into their everyday life.

You might start by remembering how you learned about the Lord yourself.  It didn’t just come written upon your DNA.  Someone, more likely, many someone’s passed this story on to you; your parents; a Sunday school teacher; a camp counselor; a professor; a friend. Think back on how you learned God’s story.

You might start by pressing your comfort zone.  The place to begin is probably not in your office, but inside the community of faith. Talk to Anne Faurot about how you might become involved in our Sunday school program; talk to me or Jo Forrest or a church officer about where you might get more involved in the church; participate in the adult education or bible study classes that are happening right now.

You might start within your own circle of loved ones.  Read a Bible story with your young child or grandchild and talk about it.  Reintroduce the language of faith to your supper table or at bedtime: Ask something as simple as “Where have you seen God today?”  We need to help each other recognize God’s presence in our very midst.

Some of us will be eloquent, and some of us will stumble, and none of us will have the words exactly right, not even half the time.  But we are called to speak, we are called to testify.

As seminary preaching professor, Tom Long puts it:

“We need … to think of ourselves more than just ‘church people.’  We need to think of ourselves as more than people who go about our daily business and who have a quiet, almost secret compartment in our lives where we are religious. We cannot be human, much less faithful to God, if we keep silent. We must begin to think of ourselves – dare we claim the name? – as witnesses.

Beloved in Christ, we have a story to tell:

  • It is a story of good news … a story of love handed down from generation to generation.
  • It is a story of the faithful worshiping a living God, remembering how he took us by the hand and led us out of bondage into freedom.
  • It the story of being baptized, being “marked by God as his very own,” with the blessing of God descending upon us and dwelling in our hearts forever.
  • It is the story of bread broken and a shared cup, at the cost of the one who gave his life for us.
  • It is the story of the extraordinary in our everyday lives, and how God appears over, and over, and over again.

Choose that story, live that story, tell that story.   Amen.