In Christ’s name and by his grace
we accept our mission of witness
and service to all people
We are called by God to a mission.
This mission comes in the name of Christ – for it is his mission – and by his grace – for only though the grace of Christ can we hope to fulfill his commands. The mission is two-fold – to bear witness to Christ in word and deed, and to serve others in love as we have been loved.
Acts 14:26 explains the return of Paul and Barnabas to Antioch –
…they sailed back to Antioch,
where they had been commended
to the grace of God for the work…
The commendation – i.e. the commissioning for ministry – came through the church.
The grace and work of God come to us
through Jesus Christ, through the church,
and carry us out into the world.
Ambassadors for Christ (2 COR 5:20)
“In Christ’s name and by his grace…”
Our ministry is always in the name of Jesus Christ. We may not initially understand what this means, because our culture is so different from that of first century Mediterranean world. We do not live in an obvious feudal system where only a few land owners control the economy and the vast majority of people work in service to the few. If we did, we would recognize the idea of acting on someone’s behalf or “in his name.” In our context, when an employee goes to pick up and sign for a package, she is doing it as a representative of the company and its owners – i.e. “in their names”. When an ambassador or attaché travels in a foreign country, they go as representatives of our government and our president – they speak, write and act “in our name.” When a parent gives a child the debit card to run into the grocery store and says, “just punch in the code 1234” the child is being asked to act in the name of the parent.
In all of these circumstances, the presumption is that the representative will only do or say that which the sender would.
A representative does not act on her own behalf, but on behalf of the one who sent her. Paul writes to the Corinthians about this representative ministry: 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 COR 5) Our lives of faith are to be lived as representatives of Christ in the world – in his name – doing and saying only what he would have us do and say.
Some years ago there was a popular phrase “WWJD – What would Jesus Do?” It spread broadly and was modified with many variations on that theme – my favorite tongue in cheek one was “WWWJD – What would Waylon Jennings do?” When we remember that we are not Christ himself, but his representatives, then our ultimate question is better put “WWJHMD – What Would Jesus Have Me Do?” Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem to be cruicified – this may not be quite what he meant for us when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Notice he did not say, “Take up MY cross…”
How do we fulfill this representative ministry? We cannot if we rely upon our own strength or our own cleverness or intuition. Nor can we ever do it fully, completely, perfectly. Thus we must rely on his grace. Again, Paul says, “12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (PHIL 2)
How do we experience the grace of Christ? As Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (JN 15:4-5) Abiding in Jesus includes our heads, our hearts, and our bodies. We are called to use the gifts of intellect and reason that God has given to us to study, reflect and understand. We are called to use the gifts of creativity and emotion to dream, hope, and wonder. Some of us relate more with head, others more with heart – both are important and good and gifts from God. In this we can learn from one another. All of us are called to do – to bear fruit – this is the work – the witness and service, of which we speak.
In both word and deed… (COL 3:17)
…we accept our mission of witness and service…
As ambassadors we are called to bear much fruit that will last – our lives of faith should have some impact in and on the world – on ourselves, on other people, on creation. This impact will be the manifestations of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven – signs and foretastes or “first fruits” (RM 8:23).
Our mission is from the WORD of God made flesh – Jesus of Nazareth. The WORD (in Greek “logos”) is the wisdom, knowledge, reason, thought and communication of God. The WORD of God comes to us through human words – including those found in the bible which tells us a story of God’s continuing relationship and work of redeeming creation. Thus as representatives, our ministry must include words as well – or other symbols and images as forms of communication. As God is communicating with us, so we are with communicate to others. We use art and song and prayer and preaching and teaching. We speak out against injustice and for the vulnerable and powerless. We speak of our own brokenness and our experience of ongoing transformation as a witness to others that this work is necessary and possible. We learn to speak in ways that respect and honor the experiences and voices of others who differ from us. Peter and Paul had very different experiences of Jesus, and very different understandings of their individual ministries. Had they focused on these differences, they never would have learned to hear, understand, support or love one another. This did not mean they would work side by side – for God called them to different things. They did work in mutual respect.
We need to learn to hear our own voice – to discover what our personal encounter with God means, so that we can share what Paul calls “…my Gospel and the message of Christ.” (RM 16:25) Your gospel will not look just like anyone else’s any more than the apostles had the same experience of Jesus. It will, however, have a common core, as Paul reminds Timothy: “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel. (2 TIM 2:8). Each of us are called to master a simple articulation of the core Gospel –
God’s redeeming love works salvation for the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, Son of God, Savior and Lord.
We are also called to grow toward the ability to share our own faith journey and where we find ourselves in God today (1 PR 3:15). What do you know? What puzzles you? Where do you doubt or struggle? Where do you experience confidence, strength and a joyful peace? Be ready to share these things with others. Practice with your family and friends. Write it down. Practice in bible study here at church or with a prayer partner or spiritual buddy.
Not only in word but also in deed…
…our mission…of service…
Faith without works, says James, is dead. Belief is not enough – even the demons believe (JM 2). Words are not enough (1 JN 4:20). We need to live out our faith through actions. Our actions should have a similar character – such as that expressed in the Beatitudes or the Fruits of the Spirit
Beatitudes: from Luke 6: 20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” (see also MT5)
Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
It will also look different, for the deeds of each on are expressions of the gift of God according the measure of the grace of Christ received (EPH 4:7) “There are a variety of gifts but the same spirit” (1 COR 12; see also RM 12). So our ministries (our deeds, our service) will be different, but complementary, based upon our gift and calling and context. Each of us has different innate talents and abilities. We each have a different personality, different strengths and weaknesses, different vulnerabilities and experiences. All these many differences mean that sometimes we find it difficult to hear and understand one another – just as the apostles did, and just as the people in Paul’s churches apparently did. This confusion is nothing new. This reality returns us to where we started – the mission comes to us IN Christ’s name and BY his grace – “HE is the head of his body, the church” (COL 1:18).
For the sake of the world…
…to all people…
The promise to Abraham and Sarah was clear: 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (GEN 12) “All (families, nations, peoples) shall be blessed.” The Gospel is Good News – so it must be good news to ALL PEOPLE.
Jesus says, “When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself” (JN 12:32).
Paul talks about his efforts to accommodate different cultures, in effect becoming like them so that he might reach them (1 COR 9).
Paul says of God in Christ – “one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (RM 5:18)
This is already to be experienced within the church, as Paul says that while the individual distinctives remain, they no longer serve to separate or divide God’s children (GAL 3:28). Paul makes this a declarative statement, meaning in some way it is a present fact, not merely an aspiration. Yet we live in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God. We are saved, and we shall be saved. We are new creatures in Christ, and we shall be made new. The kingdom is at hand, and the kingdom will come. Part of the logic of the gospel is to proclaim things which are not as though the already were (RM 4:17). In doing this, we hold up for ourselves God’s vision, God’s dream for the world, toward which we aspire and hope and work. We are called to live into the fullness of this vision. One might think of all the grand statements that are made in a wedding ceremony. The couple is just coming together to begin this new way of life together, and yet they are proclaiming to self, other, community and God that they will be and do these lofty things, difficult things, whether they want to or feel like it or not.
We are called to love all people as God loves us, and in this love to witness to and serve all people. This does not mean that each one of us has a ministry to every single person in the world, or even in our world. Peter was an apostle to the Jews and Paul and apostle to the Gentiles (GAL 2:8). Paul Planted and Apollos watered (1 COR 3). Just as our gifts are different, our audiences are different. We are to show love to every person we meet, and every person we impact even without meeting. We are to love neighbor and enemy alike. This means that we as church have a responsibility to look around our community, and around our world, and ask, “Who is not receiving witness and service? Who has the church missed, neglected, ignored?” Matthew recounts Jesus’ command this way, “Go into all the world…” (MT 28) and Luke portrays Jesus saying, “You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (ACTS 1).
In Christ’s name and by his grace
we accept our mission of witness
and service to all people
BENNEDICTION: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 COR 13:13)