Proclaim the Good News
Category : Reflections
PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS
A reflection given at Holladay United Church of Christ on July 23, 2017 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”
- Matthew 10:5-15
We have come a long way together these past almost two years. I have one more Sunday with you as your Sustaining Pastor. As our time together comes to an end, I wanted to leave with you with some thoughts and encouragement for the future. Next Sunday I will talk about being “dressed for success” as members of the church (be sure to wear some fun items of clothing that express your faith!).
Today, I want to talk about the church doing mission.
That is what we are here for — to do mission. Just as Jesus’ first disciples were not just hanging out with him to learn some profound wisdom and understand the meaning of life. If they thought they were with him to cash in on his fame and popularity, they were greatly disappointed. Jesus called them and traveled around with them so they could learn from him, but the whole point was that they were with him to be sent out. Sent out to proclaim the good news. Sent out to heal, to offer people new life, and to make them whole again.
That is what is happening in this story from the gospel of Matthew. There are more than a few interesting things about this story. For one, this “sending out” takes place not at the end of Jesus’ ministry, but right in the middle of it. He has done some teaching and performed a few miracles and healings, but he hasn’t taught the disciples everything yet. They didn’t have all the answers; they didn’t understand all mysteries; they didn’t have the meaning of life all figured out. This was before his death and resurrection. They didn’t have their diplomas. But Jesus sent them out anyway — to get some “on the job training.”
And Jesus instructed these confused and uncertain students to do some simple things: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
Simple. Nothing to it.
Jesus sent them out with not much in the way of resources. No money or fancy suits. No slick sales pitch or magical incantations. Just a simple message, peace and a vision of the Realm of God. Just the power of God working through the Holy Spirit.
We are the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of Jesus. We are followers of those who followed him. And our task is the same as theirs — to be sent out in mission. To proclaim the good news.
Emil Brunner once wrote, “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church, and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.”
It’s hard to proclaim good news when you are spiritually exhausted and grieving and in pain. That is where this congregation was two years ago. I thank God that you have recovered. Maybe not completely; some wounds and memories will stay with you for a lifetime. But we are not debilitated. And if my ministry had something to do with your healing, then I am gratified we have been good for one another.
And it is hard to proclaim good news when we aren’t really sure what is good news. The way the Christian message has been preached for centuries doesn’t sound like good news to a lot of people these days. I hope I have been able to remind you that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus promise much more than saving us from hell when we die. They save us from feeling lost, and despair. They offer liberation, and healing, and community, and forgiveness, and freedom from fear. The world needs those things! The gospel of Jesus is still a unique and powerful message.
It is time to be doing mission again — offering those good things to people in our community and world.
Actually, we rejoice that you have been doing mission — even through the difficult times. Great mission work: feeding the hungry, housing and supporting homeless families, hosting support groups, caring for the earth, being a place of welcome for people seeking community. You are doing great things!
I encourage you to be open to doing even more great things. I hope your new pastor will bring some great ideas and enthusiasm when that person comes. But the best ideas come from your own history and hearts.
When I was in seminary, I took a class about learning to understand congregations. The teacher had a theory that each congregation has its own “story.” Significant events in a church’s early history often continue to repeat themselves in later years — sometimes good, and sometimes bad.
I learned from that idea that the key to a congregation discovering its sense of purpose or mission or calling is to look at its history: Why was a congregation started in the first place, and what do people still get passionate about in new ways?
Let me suggest a few things I have learned about this church’s history and passions.
Holladay Community Church was started in 1953 as a community of worship and education for Protestant Christians in the growing Salt Lake City area — many of whom had come from other places and were not part of the majority religious culture in this state. They came from many different Christian denominations. They were, in a sense, spiritual refugees — seeking community.
I urge you to continue to be a welcoming place for refugees. There are many refugees trying to come to this country to escape violence and oppressive regimes. They could use some support. But there are many other kinds of refugees: from toxic religious backgrounds, youth who feel bullied or excluded, LGBTQ persons, people who have doubts and questions. Continue to be a place of welcome and affirmation for them.
This church has always been known for its education. One of the first things Holladay Community Church did was start a Sunday School for loads of kids. I understand they used to meet in an old department store downtown for a while. Soon afterwards, we started the Holladay Preschool â€“ the only preschool of its kind in the area. The Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education program is a huge gift to this community. People who know nothing about the Christian faith will want to know what we believe and do. Keep teaching and nurturing children and youth — and adults!
Holladay UCC has had a fascinating history of innovative, community-minded mission projects. The Holladay Preschool is one example. Another is the “listening posts” of the 1960s — one of the first crisis hotlines in the country. Your Stephen Ministry program is amazing! These may not have been focused on building up the church, but they enhanced the life of this community. Continue to be creative in saving lives and making our community a better place!
You have also been open to new ways to worship and to be the church. That will be crucial as we move into the future. Know what is absolutely necessary for the church: the good news of Jesus and the Realm of God at hand. The ways that message is embodied and proclaimed may change. The love and grace of God does not change.
Finally, the youth group here has always had a huge impact on the life of this church. Some of its graduates are now leaders of this church. But its purpose and impact are much more than raising up new church members. A youth mission trip to California in the 1990s started some conversations in this church about welcoming LGBT persons — leading to the church becoming Open and Affirming (ONA). When the sanctuary was in its original configuration, the youth one time unscrewed and moved the pews to create a more communal worship environment. The youth have been a source of new ideas and renewal for this church. Keep being a place of welcome for them!
You have recently been through a time when perhaps some of you wondered whether this church would survive. Every church goes through struggles. Sometimes it is the struggle that makes us healthy and strong! But I truly believe this church is basically healthy and strong — and so gifted! You are in much better condition to proclaim the message in these changing times than many congregations are.
I have been telling this story a lot recently, but the first time I was with you for a Sunday morning worship service, I felt a powerful spirit here in this place. It brought me to tears, and it still does. There is life and energy here. Sadly, many churches do not have that.
Jesus’ basic message was that the Realm of God was at hand — among us. That is a powerful reality that transcends any one congregation, any one religion, and any one political agenda. Believe it. Proclaim it. Live it. And may God prosper your efforts.
Robert J. von Trebra