Be My Witnesses
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus’ mission statement outlines the order in which the Gospel would spread:
First to Jerusalem and Judea: the homeland, with people familiar to them
Then to Samaria: those heretical, backwards kin, who are Jews but don’t worship in Jerusalem.
There was often such bad blood between Jews and Samaritans,
that this was like an instruction to invite all the people you can’t stand to your party.
And then, to ends of the earth- well, you can’t get more inclusive than that.
Like Woody joining the church, and then inviting others, Jesus mission is like ripples in a pond. His love is meant to widen out in concentric circles, enlarging to include the whole world.
The other thing to notice in this passage is that the followers of Jesus are no longer called disciples. Disciples are ones who learn from a teacher—but now the disciples have graduated. Jesus is ascending, his work on earth complete.
The book of Acts refers to Jesus’ most faithful followers as apostles, which means ‘the sent out ones.’
Jesus’ instructions to his followers to be his witnesses signals not only an itinerary, but also a change in roles
They would be leaders instead of followers
They are to go where the people are, not wait for them to come to them in their holy city of Jerusalem.
In my preaching, I often invite people to consider ourselves modern day disciples,
That we might take Jesus’ teachings to heart and apply them to our lives,
That we might find connection to the stories and meet Jesus.
But more and more our culture demands that we too graduate to become apostles
People outside the church often have misconceptions about Christians
Thinking us to be judgmental or backward.
Others have been wounded by the church,
while still others have simply moved on, finding more compelling ways to connect with the divine.
We cannot afford to approach our faith as simply a place for us to receive spiritual balm
Our faith also needs to be the place where we are equipped to be the sent out ones
who, having experienced a true home in Jesus, offer the peace of Christ to others,
and live out the acceptance and forgiveness we have received, and inviting others to the Source.
This is right in the new mission statement for St Matthew,
Which is part of the fruit of the Community Conversations our church has been having in the visioning process.
It is printed on page 13 of your bulletin, and it builds on the old mission statement
as well as the goals identified in the Congregational Assessment Tool,
a church wide survey done in the interim process.
It states that we are “called to proclaim God’s love for all...” and
“Guided by the Holy Spirit, we reach out to the wider community and welcome our neighbors to a life of worship, preaching, teaching, Christian care, service, and spiritual growth.” We celebrate and welcome six new members today, and celebrate Adaline’s baptism today, it’s a start! You all faithfully wear your nametags so that we can get to know one another.
And with scores of ideas on inviting and welcoming others from our Community Conversation It is clear this congregation has a real desire, in the words of the Congregational Assessment Tool:
“To develop a strategy for welcoming and incorporating new members into the church.”
A true embrace of this mission will take work. It implies a change in our mindset.
You see, the mission strategy of Lutherans has always been boats and babies:
We come from churches built from immigrants who had lots of kids. But the boats aren’t coming from northern Europe anymore, and so our strategy needs to include reaching out to new groups of people who may or may not look familiar or enjoy the same things are we do. But the biggest challenge is actually changing our expectations of what church is about. This was brought home to me when I was talking to members of a 15 year old evangelical congregation Who happened to visit my previous church.
They were charter members, and from the start their plan was to plant a church
And then, when they reached a certain size, to start another one. The whole church was divided up into small groups, and the principle was the same At a certain point in the life cycle of the group, they would divide in half, forming two new groups and incorporating new people. The couple I was speaking to had just split their small group whom they’d been with for 8 years. Over that time they had met weekly, praying and studying together, supporting and sharing. It was hard, they said. They now needed not only to invest themselves in a new group, but they also made time to reconnect with their friends from the old group. They were 100% willing to do it because that was what they signed on to do— Welcoming others and incorporating them into the community was their mission.
I couldn’t help but notice the different in mindset as we sat at coffee hour Each group of parishioners gathered with their dear old friends, Perhaps saying hi to a newcomer, but then making a beeline for familiar faces to reconnect. There is nothing wrong with fostering deep relationships— in fact it is an important facet of our work as church.
But we are clearly to go broad as well as deep, and it is something we Lutherans need to work at.
When Jesus ascended, the disciples kept looking up after him, into the heavens,
As if their answer would appear there. The truth is, they needed to be looking at each other. The same is true for us. There is no magic solution for our congregation to meet its goal to welcome new people and help them find meaningful connections and ways to contribute. We are the modern day ‘sent out ones,’ apostles sent to live out the courageous love of Jesus. Jesus’ instructions are for us: Be my witnesses.