Mission Awareness Sunday – May 15, 2011

The following sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s by Dineke Kraay for Mission Awareness Sunday. She adapted it from a sermon written by the Rev. Heather Jones.

“Ambassadors and Assignments” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

You may wonder why I began the sermon with this particular greeting. This phrase is not mine. My father, who was a minister in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, always began his sermons by saying: Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I think that we all know, deep down in our hearts, that this is what we really and truly are.

But, how did we become Christ’s beloved congregation? When Jesus was on earth, he called twelve people to be his disciples. They stayed with him during the years of his public ministry. Before Jesus went up to be with God, he commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, he had taught them, saying: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the earth. (Matthew 28:18-20b.)

The disciples directed their mission efforts first to their fellow Jews. Gradually, they began to reach out to the Jewish communities outside their own country. However, they did not seem to see the need to reach out to the Gentiles. Peter was reluctant to go and visit the Roman centurion in Philippi.  And Christ himself had to convince Saul that he had been chosen to bring the good news to the gentiles, the non-Jews. Yet, it took some time before the twelve apostles accepted Paul’s ministry to the gentiles.

But the Gospel News began to spread through the missionary activities of the apostles. Christian churches were established, first in Asia Minor, then in Rome and then further in all the lands conquered by the Romans.  And as the centuries went by, the gospel was preached all over the world.

The Roman Catholic Church sent out missionary priests as far away as China. And in the early 1600s, the mission work among the Huron people in our country began. The Huron carol: ‘T was in the moon of wintertime, reminds of that early mission work in Canada.

In the late 1800s, the Protestants churches became involved in mission work, sending missionaries all over the world. They did wonderful work building churches, schools and hospitals. Some worked diligently for many years to translate the Bible into native languages. Others worked in the field of agriculture to improve native nutrition.

But mission work did not come to an end, when St. Andrew’s became a Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The mission work continued. Through our gifts to Presbyterian Sharing, the Presbyterian World Service & Development and the Women’s Missionary Society we support the mission work of our national church. The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a small denomination. Yet, its mission work is quite comprehensive. We are involved in International Ministries and Canada Ministries.

Internationally, missionaries are working in: Guatemala, Granada, Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, Taiwan and India. Canada ministries involves creating new ministries, renewing ministries, sustaining ministries, supporting specialized ministries such as Inner-City Ministries and Native Ministries. And our national church supports Chaplaincies @ at least 10 universities.

If I have confused you by now, take heart. At the table in the narthex are copies of the booklet Stories of Mission. (Show booklet) They are free. So take one on your way out If the pile is gone by the time you are ready to pick one up, let me know. I will contact the office of the WMS in Toronto, and ask them to mail me more booklets.

Another way to become informed about the mission work of our church is to read the mission magazine, called Glad Tidings. There are a few copies of this magazine on the table as well and they are also free. The WMS office could only provide me with a few copies. When they are gone, that’s it. But why not subscribe to Glad Tidings? A yearly subscription will cost you only $14.00. Do talk to Yoka de Bruijn and she will happily sign you up.

You could also join the Hildur Hermanson WMS. We meet every third Monday evening of the month for study and fellowship from September till June @ 7.30 in the library. You can all join us. Although we are called a women’s society, men are most welcome to become a members.

The most expensive way of learning about the mission work of our church is to go on a Mission Exposure Tour. These tours are a joint effort by the PCC and the W.M.S. An exposure tour is not an action tour. Participants are not going to a mission field to build a school or to dig a well. They go to observe the work missionaries are engaged in on our behalf.

We just heard Helen Foss read to us from the second letter to the Corinthians, where is says: 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.

It is not customary in the church to use the term ambassadors. How should we then interpret these words for us in our time, in our secular 21st century? Let us reflect a bit on this. What are the characteristics of an ambassador?

A definition which first comes to mind is that an ambassador is a diplomat, living abroad in an embassy. Such a person has been asked by a government to go and live in a foreign country and be its representative. An ambassador is thus someone who has been sent to represent the government.

The text states that we are ambassadors for Christ. Just as an ambassador represents a government, we have been asked to represent the government of the Kingdom of God. And it is God who reigns in that Kingdom. Who do we then represent? We represent God.

Representing God? When that thought takes hold of us, we become both awestruck and afraid. And we are quick to respond by asking: How can I do this? What does it involve? Do I have to become a missionary? Must I leave my comfortable home, my job, my lifestyle? Go to a mission field? Me?

Those questions show how frightened we are to be sent out. That is quite understandable, but is it the right answer? Is that what God expects? I don’t think so.

How should we then reply? We could say that we give weekly or monthly to the mission work of the church. Or that we serve on the session or on a committee. That should count for something!

The scripture passage states that God has reconciled the world onto himself. Our gracious Lord has forgiven humankind. God was “not counting their trespasses against them.” Then the writer pleads with us to become reconciled to God.

But then what? Where does this lead to? Those questions lead us to a difficult part of our text, where it says that God … has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 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.

Entrusting the message of reconciliation to us? Yes, that message is entrusted to us. But what are we supposed to do with it?

It is entrusted to us, but it is not ours to keep or to hoard. We may not stockpile it. It ought to be shared. And in sharing we will become more and more like the people God wants us to be: kind, caring, compassionate, sympathetic, loving and concerned. God trusts us with that special ministry. What an honour, what a privilege!

God says to us: I trust you; I trust that you are willing and capable to share my grace and love with my world. We may agree with God that we are willing. But capable, that is something else. Of that we are not so sure.

In fact, we may not feel capable at all! We feel like trying to get out of this. Like saying: Please, God, don’t single me out, no, not me. But God does not give up on us. God knows we cannot do this alone. God promises to help us to carry out this ministry. We do not have to do this all by ourselves. In love and grace God sends the Holy Spirit to enable us to share message of reconciliation.

How do we go about it? Will it be difficult? Must one be a saint to do this?

I don’t think so. It is not too difficult. When we encounter other people while riding the bus, in the office, at school, when shopping, or going out for a walk, we should always realize that God sees them as human beings to be loved, to be valued, to be treasured and to be ministered to.

And so we must imitate God. We are to be mindful of our fellow human beings, regardless of nationality, race or colour. We must meet them in love and compassion. We become God-fearing people to whom the ministry of reconciliation has been entrusted. We humbly accept this position.

To be appointed as an ambassador is a great honour, graciously given to us by God. But how do we become humble? We find the answer to this question in the Old Testament, in the prophet Micah. He writes: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8b)

Walk then humbly with God! May the Holy Spirit work in our hearts, making us willing to reach out in loving kindness to all our neighbours, to those that are close by and to those that live far away! To those known to us as friends, but also to those known as enemies! Amen.