Sermon: Frank Moritz-Jauk
Dear congregation, the first reading we have heard today was a text from the Old Testament, from the book of Isaiah, which I would like to use as the basis of my sermon. Although this text, which is more or less narrating the prophet Isaiah’s calling, actually has many different levels and messages. What is said here concerns the greatest, most sublime, and most impenetrable aspect of faith itself: God in his majesty, as ruler on a high and sublime throne. At the same time it says something about how complete forgiveness of sins, complete salvation, is also possible in the Old Testament. And finally the text describes the process of mission and sending which we have again sung about in the song „I the Lord of Sea and Sky“.
Exactly this calling and sending shall be the topic of today’s sermon. I want to connect to the miracle of speech and the miracle of listening, which I described at Pentecost, last Sunday. This faculty of speech, which we have gained through our experiences with God and the work of the Holy Spirit, enables us, to let ourselves be sent. Where to? To pass on the faith in Jesus Christ. Mission. I would like to try today to give the term mission, which has become somewhat cliche and overused, a more positive, relaxed and fruitful momentum.
For that the church „lets itself be sent into the world, to testify the liberating love of Christ, which it lives from through words and acts, is the crucial characteristic of the church in the methodist understanding.“ Such and similar phrases can be found by all, who make the effort to read the paragraph about „the service of Christians“ in our church order.
What stops us? Why do we struggle so much with this topic? What boundaries do we meet when we pass on the gospel in our daily lifes and work environment? What boundaries do we encounter and what boundaries have we, maybe unintentionally, drawn ourselves? Which ones of those boundaries do we need, which ones should we respect, overstep or even remove?
With these questions we have outlined the topic and I will start with a wretched look at the past and with that at the history of the church: Probably we struggle with the word mission today because we associate it with the historical crime of forced proselytizing. Whether on the African or American continent – everyone knows about the forms of violence that came with the expansion of Christianity. Power, exploitation, destruction, the supremacy of the white race and whatever else we can think of in that regard. Of course all of that is true and we as churches have become guilty of such wrongful actions against people.
But what should give us plenty to think about is the fact that by now it is the people in these countries on these continents who have found vividly expressed faith. Who we owe liberation theology. Or a gospel choir.
Why the gospel was able to spread in these countries, where the conditions must have been absolutely adverse and would have led to a denial, a hate for everything Christian, can in my opinion only be understood, if mission is not reduced to human actions. We people are often carriers of the mission, but really it is the genuine interest of God to reveal himself to the world.
Once we return to this very fundamental message of the gospel heard today, we gain a different view of the concern of passing on the gospel: God does not send his son to judge the world, but to save it. (Joh 3,17) God reveals himself to the people in Christ. Through Jesus the world shall experience how God is.
Let us have a look at the boundaries that we experience when we pass on the gospel and what boundaries we can find. As a start I would like to name the following boundaries:
A boundary, which I especially experience with our children and youth, is the thinking influenced by natural sciences, which they are taught at school and the image of the world it creates in the mind. Only what can be proven is real. Everything has to be explicable. Truth and reality assessments remain trapped within the boundaries of logic. Typical statement: „Prove to me, that a God exists, show him to me, so that I can see him.“
Another boundary are the negative socialisation experiences that people have encountered in churches or congregations. The parental coercion to pray, to confess or to attend the church service. The experience of exclusion when certain forms of piety are not adhered to and so on. This leads to such people to put their Christian time (of suffering) behind them. Thus to „free“ themselves from these negative experiences and not wanting to get in touch with the „church“ again.
Yet another, often experienced boundary is the question of theodicy: „How can a loving God let so much suffering in the world happen?“ Or also experienced: „How can I feel related to a faith and a community / church, that voted for and thereby supported Donald Trump?“
Then there is the boundary of wealth: „If I can afford everything, if I have everything I need to live, what do I need God for? After all I have an insurance and private pension fund?“ And as the last boundary perhaps the question: Where outside the church are the spaces, where we can talk about the off-limits topic of God? How can we talk about a question, which nobody has asked? I think these are about the boundaries that we find, that we have to deal with. Let’s move on to the self-imposed boundaries.
The self-imposed boundaries include in my opinion a lack of empathy, a lack of love, the missing readiness to reach out to those at the margins of our society. How did Wesley put it: „The lack of empathy of the rich for the poor, also the lack of sensitivity concerning the situation of the poor, is because, they, the rich, visit the poor so rarely.“ Could this also be true for us? I am afraid I have to put up with this question. At least it leads us to the perhaps unintentionally established boundaries.
The boundaries that have been drawn unintentionally could include our time management. What do I make time for? What focus do I have in my work? What do I use my energy for? It could be very good, or it could fail. That’s why I am including it in the boundaries that we are maybe not actually aware of. But of course it is like this: If I do one thing, I can’t do the other. I am not judging that now. That is not my role and everyone has to do that for themselves – I am just saying, how we handle our own time can result in an unintentional boundary. And interestingly how we handle our own time also belongs to the boundaries that are needed.
Because for me it is part of successful time management, that there is free time, time without work, after-work hours, breaks. Especially a topic like mission, or, to call it differently, the passing on of faith, could also imply a permanent „it is never enough“. That is my very personal criticism concerning our founder Wesley, that he pushed people so much. Restless he was himself and restlessness he preached. I belong to the group of the after-work hours advocates and people who let others catch their breath.
As the last point I would like to talk about the boundaries that should be overstepped. Here I include the boundary of not wanting to be in touch with the socially disadvantaged. Whether that is because it is smelly in their apartments, or because we are afraid of being inundated with requests and problems, or because we have to look into the face of poverty. I think it is a boundary which we draw aware or unaware, which we should overstep though. Okay, it is a boundary that I can see within myself and I hope that God guides me and helps me to overstep it.
Let’s go back to the start. To the text of Isaiah. To the topic of calling and sending. Fundamentally, we are all called to carry the gospel, the joyful message of the redemption and the offer of a relationship with Jesus into the world. We are all sent.
What has stopped us and stops us and maybe shouldn’t stop us, I tried to explain with the discussion of the different boundaries. It is good to consider, what stops us, to get clarity. At the same time one aspect has not yet been discussed enough when talking about calling and sending: It is God who sends. What does the text say: „Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?“ And Isaiah’s answer is: „Here am I, send me!“
It is absolutely clear who sends, who the sender is. There is nothing unknown or obsure here: God calls and sends people, to announce his joyful message. Before I said that it is in God’s nature, his own interest, to reveal himself to the world in Jesus Christ. That, dear congregation, is in my opinion the point which we should look at more strongly, so that we lose our fear of mission. It is in God’s interest to show himself to the world and make himself understood. Thereby all help is expressed that is needed and that we can make use of. Yes that we should make use of!
The song that we have sung has already carried it forward, this „Send me, God!” „If you lead me“ that we sang: I will go, if you guide me. If you walk with me. Nobody said that the proclamation is our duty alone as individuals. Nobody. God walks with us, he bestows us with words and actions, from him comes revelation. It is his plan and his way. It is God, who enables us to speak.
I know that may sound lofty now or may not be so easy in some cases, but my concern was to give the term mission a more relaxed, fruitful momentum. At least to try that. If we see God more as partner, as a friend by our side, who supports us in the proclamation because it is his interest, then we have hope that we can see mission not as a headache or bothersome duty. Then it may also be more joyous to talk about the great deeds of God, which he performed not only at Pentecost, but also in our lives. Then we can say: „Yes God, I am here. Send me! I will go, if you guide me.“