Mission and Discipleship 3: Mission Fundamentals

As Christians, all of us have been baptized into God’s mission. Baptism, which is for all of us, is the foundation of our calling to serve Christ in God’s mission, not some specialized calling into something called “the ministry.” As your pastor, I live out my baptismal calling in particular ways. The ways you live out your baptismal call to participate in God’s mission will be different from my own. What is important is what unites us: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one body, one mission. If I were not your pastor, if I weren’t a pastor at all, God’s claim on my life would be no different and no less than it is today. And in this series on mission and discipleship, I am challenging all of us to rethink God’s mission and to consider how—not whether—God is calling us in this new year. You may be someone who considers yourself very active in mission and ministry work, or you may be someone who has never really given that kind of thing a second thought. I am convinced that, in 2016, God is calling you to commit yourself new to the mission of God.

In a sense, I’m asking you to put yourself back at the beginning again, to look ahead to your future in God’s mission, rather than looking back to what you have already done or not done. And our gospel lessons this month have primed this restart, this new beginning approach. For three weeks now we have been dwelling at the beginning of Christ’s own public ministry. Two weeks ago we stood at the Jordan River and watched as the skies opened and the dove of the Holy Spirit descended, while the voice of the Lord blessed Jesus: You are my Son, the Beloved. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry. Last week we went to a wedding in Cana and witnessed Jesus’ first public miracle, the turning of water into wine. And this morning we entered a synagogue and heard Jesus’ first public speaking engagement—part one. Next week, we’ll hear part two. So the gospel readings have encouraged us to re-commence, to start again, to renew our discipleship journey with Christ once more.

There are lots of different, helpful ways to think about what it means to follow Jesus Christ. We can think of Jesus as the teacher and us as the students, learning from the great Professor. Or we can think of Jesus as a pioneer, a trailblazer, who clears a path for us to follow behind in his footsteps. I like both of these, and there are certainly others we could name, but I think an especially helpful alternative is to think of Jesus as our pattern. When we follow Jesus, we are supposed to imitate him. When we minister in Christ’s name, we ought to do so in ways that look like Christ. Of course, to do this requires creativity and imagination—we don’t live in first century Palestine, for example, so we need to adapt. And we have been given the Holy Spirit to empower us to be Christ-like in ways that are new and fresh and exciting yet still recognizable. This is one of the fundamentals, one of the absolute basics, about what it means for us to participate in God’s mission, to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Christ is our pattern.

Imitating Christ, seeing Christ as our life’s pattern, has a lot to do with big-picture ideas. Love, patience, self-sacrifice, turning the other cheek, faithfulness—all of these characterize Jesus Christ in broad strokes. They should also be descriptions people use for us. But just as often, imitating Christ means paying attention to the finer points, the details of a particular episode in Christ’s ministry. So it is with our reading from Luke 4 this morning. Paying attention to what Jesus does in this passage can supply us with some other “mission fundamentals” to build from together this year.

When we pick up in Luke 4:14, Jesus has just returned from forty days of fasting and facing temptation in the wilderness. In Luke’s gospel, then, this is the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the kickoff, you might say. And Jesus starts things off in his hometown, in Nazareth, right where he grew up. So often the temptation, maybe even a temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness, is for us to think about missions and ministry and discipleship as happening away, over there, wherever that is. But if we want our ministry to look like Jesus—and we do—then ministry begins in our own backyard; missions begins where we are. After Christ-likeness, that’s the first of our missions fundamentals: begin where you are.

We also read that Jesus starts at the synagogue, on the sabbath. We don’t know much about what happened in synagogues on the sabbath before about a hundred years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In fact, our best picture of synagogue life until about A.D. 150 is this passage from Luke 4. But we do know sabbath was a day dedicated to rest in and worship of the Lord. For Luke, it’s important that we know Jesus begins his ministry in the context of worship. Jesus’ whole life, Luke is telling us, will be dedicated to worshiping the Lord. And that’s another of the mission fundamentals we want to remember: mission and ministry are grounded in worship, and the lives of those of us who participate in God’s mission should be lives that worship God.

Finally, in this launch of Jesus’ ministry, it is almost impossible to overstate the role of Scripture. Jesus chooses passages from Isaiah 61 and 58 to announce to the world what his mission will be about: good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, empowered by the Spirit of the Lord. This Jubilee announcement, this proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor, is soaked through with Scripture. Jesus’ reading from Isaiah recalls passages from Exodus and from the Psalms, as well as the prophets, passages that are at the heart of God’s love story with Israel. And in following Jesus, we need to soak up the Scriptures as well, to know them well enough to hear them and live them faithfully. That’s yet another of our mission fundamentals: we cannot participate in the mission of God faithfully if we are not reading Scripture, together, regularly.

So here are four mission fundamentals: imitate Christ, in everything you do; begin at home, start where you are; stay grounded in worship and make your whole life an offering of worship to the Lord; and soak up Scripture: drink deep from its wells. If we, as a church or as individuals, take an honest look at our ministries and discipleship, and if we can honestly say that we have heeded Christ’s pattern in Luke 4, then we can be sure we are responding faithfully to God’s baptismal call to missions.

But there is a final word in Luke, and it’s one we need to hear: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Only Jesus can utter these words; only Christ can speak them confidently and truthfully. And because they are true, we can follow the one who speaks them. Thanks be to God in Christ.

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