I’ll admit, unlike many of you, I never experienced basic training in the military. The closest I came was the 16 weeks I spent in the Houston Police Academy. My experience in this para-military organization consisted of running, a lot of running, physical training, boxing, defensive tactics, firearms training, marching, and classroom instruction where we learned how to write reports and had lectures on the law and arrest procedures. When we graduated we were given our assignments. We were paired up with a veteran officer who served as our Field Training Officer and would often tell us to forget all that stuff we learned in the academy. I’ll teach you what you know about being a real police officer they would say. In any event, the academy and the field training experience was designed to help us accomplish the mission of the police department: to protect and serve the community.
When I read the scripture lesson for today that’s the impression I got. Jesus was telling his disciples that he was going on ahead and that he had brought them as far as he could. They were ready and the rest was up to them in accomplishing God’s mission for saving his people.
This discussion Jesus was having with his disciples occurred during the Last Supper and is known as the Farewell Discourse. He tells the disciples not to be troubled, to trust in God and in him. He knows that what is about to occur with his arrest, trial and crucifixion will be hard for them to get their heads around. He tells them that he is going on ahead of them and that his Father’s house, their Father’s house, has room to spare and he is going to prepare a place for them. Thomas expressed his confusion when he stated what the others were probably thinking. He said that they didn’t know where Jesus was going and how could they know the way? Jesus utters what, to me, is the basic tenet of our belief. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He tells them that if they have really known him then they have also known the Father and have seen him. Poor Philip is still confused and says, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” You can almost hear Jesus sigh and slowly shake his head. He asks, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus goes on to explain that the Father is in him and that when he speaks it is God, the Father, speaking. The Father who dwells in him does his work. Jesus says, “Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. At this point Jesus gives them their marching orders. He says, “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” They have been with him for three years and have learned from him firsthand what they must do. He tells them that, as they are out there doing his work, don’t hesitate to ask for help in his name and that he will do whatever they ask for so that the Father can be glorified through him.
Jesus said that if we believers did the works he did we would do even greater works. How could we possibly do greater works than Jesus? Because he has given us the basic training upon which we can expand as we work to do his will. Jesus’ work was confined to Palestine but the Apostles were about to begin their mission of expanding the movement beyond the borders of Palestine to the rest of the world. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit they would be able continue what Jesus had started.
So, it’s been almost two thousand years since Jesus gave his disciples their marching orders. Has the mission been accomplished? Have we taken the hill or are we stuck in the trenches? I know that sometimes it seems like for every step forward we take two steps backwards. As hard as we may try, sometimes in the course of human events, we get it wrong. We’ve missed the mark, we’ve forgotten our intended objective of the mission. The mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The Great Commission as found in Matthew 28: 16-20.
To help keep us focused, we United Methodists also have our Book of Discipline to guide us. The book is a working document that has been evolving for over 200 years and evolves to meet the challenges of modern day society. The Episcopal Greetings found at the very beginning of the Book of Discipline states that the book makes it clear that The United Methodist Church is an inclusive society without regard to ethnic origin, economic condition, gender, age, or the disabilities of its constituents. Jesus didn’t turn anyone away and neither should we. In the section on Our Doctrinal Heritage, paragraph 102, our position on Mission and Service is defined. It says, “We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing. Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.” As Methodists, we strive to take personal salvation to a higher level that involves mission and service. We do what we do out of a love for God. Being personally pious is fine but we feel strongly that our love of God needs to be put into action.
In paragraph 103, Our Doctrinal History, it says, “the crucial matter in religion is steadfast love for God and neighbor, empowered by the redeeming and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Steadfast love for God and neighbor is crucial in what we do and what we do is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The spirit moves us where we need to be so that we can do what needs to be done in love, love for God and neighbor.
So how do we know what to do? I know we do it out of love but what is it that we are to do? Paragraph 105 defines Our Theological Task. “As United Methodists, we are called to identify the needs both of individuals and of society and to address those needs out of the resources of Christian faith in a way that is clear, convincing, and effective.” This is where the rubber meets the road. We look around us and try to identify what needs to be done in our community and then use the resources we have available to address those needs. After we pray for guidance the Holy Spirit gives us direction. Community has done that for years and, in accordance with that tradition of Christian charity, we continue to look for opportunities to serve. A few of the things we are currently doing is giving to our three designated non-profits and providing much-needed meeting space for recovery groups and other deserving entities. We need to continue to look for opportunities to meet the needs of those who need help and relief.
As servants of Christ what is our mission in the world? According to paragraph 124, The Mission and Ministry of the Church, “we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer.”
So, there you have it, your marching orders, protect and serve. Protect the weak and helpless, seek justice. Search out what needs to be done and serve God’s people with love and charity. The challenge we face as Christians in this world of divisiveness and turmoil is to not get pulled off course, derailed or sidetracked. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him. Because we believe in him we can continue to build upon the works that he has done.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious God, how undeserving we are of your love and forgiveness. We know we can never repay all we have because of the mercy you have shown us. Because we are your children we gladly accept the responsibility to continue the work your son Jesus Christ began here on earth in your name. Move us into action through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to complete the mission of bringing the last, the least and the lost to you. Send us out into the community to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. Help us to identify the needs of the individual and of society and to use the resources you have given us in a way that evidences your love for all mankind. In the name of your most precious son Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.