April 20, 2008 – Mission Awareness

A sermon by Dineke Kraay on Mission Awareness

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ! On this Mission Awareness Sunday, the members of the Hildur Hermanson group intend to emphasize the mission work of our national church and the work of the Women’s Missionary Society. My first idea was to give you a lot of Mission information. It would have gone on like this: according to the latest statistics, in 2006 Canada Ministries created Fourteen New Ministries. It supported Twenty-six Specialized Ministries. In addition it gave funds to Eight Renewing and Eighteen Sustaining Ministries.

These are awfully dry statistics. But they come to life when the people involved tell their stories as they do in Stories of Mission. And I could probably have provided you with similar statistics about International Ministries. But again, it is the stories that count. So, I urge you to pick up your free copy of this booklet after the service. They are on the table in the Narthex. And do read the additional mission information in the bulletin.

I would like to highlight, however, the mission work in Eastern Europe. The Presbyterian Church in Canada supports: The Reformed Church in Hungary, The Hungarian Reformed Church and its Theological Seminary in Romania, and The Reformed Church of Sub-Carpathian Ukraine in Ukraine. The work here includes education, healthcare, work among the Roma people, formerly called Gypsies, and refugees. The national office of the Women’s Missionary Society is planning a Mission Exposure Tour to these countries in October and I hope to go on that tour. And I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you.

We, together with many other Presbyterians across Canada, support the mission work through our offerings. We may well ask why? What is it that drives us? Is it Scripture? When I read the Lectionary readings for this Sunday, I found myself drawn more and more to the passage in 1 Peter 2: 9,10. But the other readings lingered on in my mind.

We heard about the stoning of Stephen, one of the seven deacons, in the reading from Acts. Stephen is a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”, who did “great wonders and signs among the people”. But he got into trouble with the authorities. Preaching about the risen Christ costs him his life. Just before he dies he prays: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”. Is Stephen an encouraging example for us to engage in the mission work of the church?

The writer of Psalm 31 is in deep trouble. He has been faithful to the Lord, but people around him try to trick him, they even plot to take his life. He pleads with God to save him, but he is also willing to die for God and thus he says: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Was Stephen echoing these words? And Jesus when he spoke from the cross? Dying for God? Hardly an encouraging example either, I would say. Doing mission and risking one’s life?

Then in John 14 we heard about a place Jesus is going to prepare for his followers. And that place is none other than to be with God. Stephen knew he was going there, the psalmist longed to be there. Is an abiding place with God what we are hoping for, what gives us courage to be active in and support missions? Or is it still something else?

The author of the First Letter of Peter addresses the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, the five provinces of Asia Minor. The writer calls them “the exiles of the Dispersion, who have been chosen by God”. Why? Why does he call them exiles? They are gentile Christians, still living in their own country. But something has changed. They used to be part of the pagan culture; they were just like their neighbours, who now reject them and make life difficult for them. Thus, as one commentary suggests, they really feel like exiles. They no longer belong. They have emerged from the larger culture and become a minority group, strangers in their own land, which has become a strange land.

The big challenge for them is how to live as a Christian minority. How does one act and behave oneself? These were questions the gentile Christians struggled with. And these questions should concern us as well. Throughout this letter the writer gives the new believers advice on how to live and behave among their pagan neighbours. He tells them in chapter 1 to be holy in all their conduct and to love one another deeply from the heart.

In chapter 2: 9, 10, however, the author makes a profound statement. It must have shocked these exiles, who felt like aliens in their own country, when they heard these amazing words. Listen to his statement:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him, who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

He tells them what their true identity is, who they really are. They may feel like exiles, aliens, but they are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

Reflecting on these words, I wondered about the reaction of these early Christians. Were they surprised, did they doubt these words? Did they feel like saying, well, now, wait a minute … Maybe we better talk about this: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people???

We believe that God speaks to us through the scriptures. Thus, these words apply to us as well. So, how do we react? Do we accept these words? Do we really believe that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation? Yet, this is our new identity as well. We are God’s people, called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. I think it would be good for us to repeat these words over and over again, to make them our own.

Before we get too comfortable with our new identity, however, we must realize that claiming this identity includes accepting the responsibilities that come with it. We have been called out of darkness into God’s light. We have become God’s own people, says the writer, in order that we may proclaim God’s mighty acts. That is the vocation, the calling which comes with our identity.

Proclaiming God’s mighty deeds is what mission work is all about. God has accepted us, we are a forgiven people. Therefore, we are to share this message of love, forgiveness, hope and new beginnings in our community and with the wider world.

We do this through our daily living, through the many acts of kindness, the concern we feel, not only for those within St. Andrew’s, but for those outside as well. And our financial contributions to Presbyterian World Service & Development, to the mission work of our national and local church, and to the Women’s Missionary Society are all part of that.

The more we accept our new identity, the more it will inspire us to behave as God’s people seeking the welfare of those around us through prayer and action. May Christ Jesus, who showed us the Father, and the Holy Spirit, who encouraged Stephen and the writer of Psalm 31, give all of us the confidence to accept both our identity and vocation! Amen.