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“Doing Mission gives us Vision and Passion,” Pentecost V – July 5th 2009, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, California

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Pentecost V – July 5th 2009

Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, California

Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 123, II Corinthians 1:2-10 Mark 6:1-13

Doing Mission gives us Vision and Passion

Yesterday Nora and I came to church and realized no one would be here, because it was the Fourth of July. Hope you had a good one! We listened to the Oakland Municipal band play a concert at Lake Merritt. When they played “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” women and children did a spontaneous Fourth of July parade around the bandstand. It was delightful. Then we explored the Oakland Gardens, which were wonderful. Oakland is quite a city! Just that Nora and I then walked around the whole lake, and did our feet hurt! I couldn’t watch the fireworks because I had to complete my sermon, so here it is.

On Thursday, June 25th, 2009, Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric, told Charlie Rose on TV that his corporation needed to have vision, mission, and passion to survive these times. Let me ask you, does Bethlehem have vision, a mission, and passion?

What is the contribution that we want to make to this, our neighborhood? Or what basic need shared by all the different neighborhoods we come from, do we want our church to address? What flag will we hoist up over our church steeple that people can rally around; a flag that designates our mission, so that we can all participate in it, support it, become involved in it, for the healing and renewal of our lives? Do we have a mission statement and can everyone say it and know the role they play in carrying it out?

I submit that we have the vision of the real presence of Christ in our midst and that we ourselves are being called by him and sent out two by two to bring our neighbors to repentance, to participate in his healing campaign, and to tell the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We might not be able to drive out demons, but we can overcome bad attitudes with good faith. The gospel fills us with a hope that cannot die, even if we ourselves are getting older, have many ailments, and also face dying. But that does not take away our joy, because Christ arose and so shall we, because Christ is in us.

The vision of the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes our last days as joyful as our first, because Jesus lives! Heavy hearts that do not have this faith make any ailments and all our troubles much harder to bear. But we go on our way rejoicing, because if we suffer in a mission like his, then we will be raised up to see the beautiful vision of an eternal life like his. We too will be raised up and our present suffering and dying is not a crushing experience, but the joy of knowing that we are so close to heaven’s door that we can knock on it, and oh the vision we’ll have when it opens!

So we pray that the Holy Spirit might stir us up and give us a glimpse of a little bit of heaven even here, and it is for real, because we are worshiping in the real presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. And Jesus sends us on God’s mission: we share our healing and wholeness, our joy and hope, our love and compassion with those to whom Jesus sends us, and sharing it with them is how we ourselves receive it. Jesus does not give it to us to keep for ourselves. It’s in mission that we receive the abundant life. We are called to the mission of giving it away and that is what brings a wonderful sense of meaning to our lives. The living Christ in our midst sends us on his mission, just like we heard in the gospel lesson.

We heard the word, let us live the word and participate in this mission of Jesus. He sends us out quite vulnerable because of our compassion, but steadfast because of the increasing strength of our faith and the courage we receive from Christ. [Mission also takes place, of course, right here in worship, when Christ sends the Word right into your hearts and marvelously changes them.] Some of us might think out what more can be done for education. Supporting education in our congregation and our community could be our mission. How inspiring it was last Sunday, when the Hagar Circle handed out scholarships to young people headed for college! How can this mission be developed? What more can we do? Audrey wants to start a children’s group from the school behind our church. Who will help and support her? What a wonderful mission opened for our church with our give-a-way Saturday. It was a flea market in which everything was free. Bethlehem helped so many people that day. How can that be developed? Our healing mission: we have always had healing services. How can we reach out with healing! We have nurses in our congregation and those who have the gift of healing. We could champion healing, but also the healing of the soul that the Holy Spirit provides. The leaders of our congregation are participating in the Anti-Racism Committee of our synod. Perhaps that could be our mission. Oakland is 45 to 50 percent Black and only 5 per cent of its police force is Black. What is wrong with this picture? We might possibly want to become much more involved in this anti-racism work. Mission requires that we not only share all that we have and share of ourselves with those in need, but also bring about social change.

Christ our Lord of Life stands between ourselves and our sickness and death, shielding us from destruction, and giving us a life that shares the new life of salvation. Our mission is a saving mission for the lost, the needy, those without meaning in their lives. Right now our environment needs saving as well. Our mission cannot be all things. Because we cannot do everything is no excuse for doing nothing. We have to figure out what Christ is sending us to do, to find out what the mission of this congregation is.

Ah, we can be getting old; we can be filled with aches and pains. Like one member told me: “I’m still kicking, but not too high!” Still the sparkle in her eyes told about the victory we Christians know over sickness and death. We are about the mission of Christ and the life of Christ gives life. From him we receive a hope that creates hope, a love stronger than death, and renewal comes down from heaven and fills us.

Our faith is stronger that addictions. Even drug dealers can be converted. People can even be rescued from prescription drugs. Some doctors are addicted to anesthetics. They are used to put a patient to sleep before an operation, but they love the euphoria they feel going to sleep. It is nothing compared to the euphoria we receive from the love of Christ. But that means being about our mission.

Jesus was able to change the hearts of tax collectors and prostitutes. That means Jesus can rescue those who have succumbed to greed on Wall Street and those involved in the sex industry of today. When they catch sight of the vision of Christ their hearts become marvelously changed. Jesus showed them real love, real care, real compassion, which drew them out of their distortions of life into their genuine life inside their whole and wonderful selves.

Why does Jesus have so much trouble changing my heart, changing the hearts of a congregation entrenched in our own survival? We have to be in mission to get our hearts changed. We have to be forgiving others in order to receive forgiveness ourselves. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” It is in doing the mission of Christ that the eyes of our hearts are opened, our ears start to hear crying needs, and we receive a marvelous change of our hearts.

Our lessons today are filled with those who resist the mission of Christ. Jesus goes to his hometown, Nazareth. “He didn’t leave and say, I cannot do anything; I’m just a carpenter.” Like we say, “I can’t do anything. I’m not a pastor!” Jesus stood up with authority and sent many on their missions. But the town’s people said, “Just who does he think he is?” They wanted to bring him down to size. “He’s nothing but a carpenter and he thinks he’s a rabbi! He does not know his place. How dare him educate himself beyond us!” Jesus grew head and shoulders over his family and overtook the town’s people stuck in their rut. Jesus had an authority they could not understand.

When they called him “the son of Mary,” you know, they were not giving him a compliment, but an insult. Someone was referred to by the name of his father in those days. To call him the son of Mary questioned the legitimacy of his birth. Their rejection of him made it impossible for him to do many healings or works of power among them.

A little congregation like ours has to pray for the Holy Spirit to stand us up like Ezekiel and stir us up into our mission. We have to repent as a congregation so that Christ does not shake the dust off his sandals against us, because we can be filled with resistance and want to do our own thing rather than the mission of Christ. I am preaching to myself here as well.

Remember how the Gospel helps us. It’s not the case that we cannot do anything because we are so small, or we have so little money, or we have had a series of unhelpful pastors. That has certainly weakened us. But the good news is that God can work with strength in our weakness. His grace is sufficient for mission, when we remain faithful. Look at the faith of the woman he healed from her blood-flow, which lasted so many years and no doctor could help her. Or look at Jairus, pleading for his daughter: “I believe; help my unbelief!” he cried. We can sit inside a self-complacency and even get into a rut, while the living Christ is jumping up and down, reading the riot act, trying to get it through our thick skulls, that people are dying out there who need the good news of Christ gracious forgiveness. We are called to care.

I often have felt like a weak pastor. What kind of a leader can the eleventh kiddo of a family of sixteen be, who was completely controlled by his father, except for a secret life. It took a great while for me to mature in Christ. I can’t speak about filling churches in my ministry. But I realized that the grace I received had to be shared. Christ operates in our weakness. Christ writes straight on crooked lines. A fellow pastor told me, “If Christ could use a donkey, then he can use you.” He used a stronger word for “donkey.”

Back in Coney Island, New York, Nora and I began to feel like our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals were selfish, so we cooked in the social hall and invited the homeless, the mentally challenged, and our congregation to eat with us. I drove a church bus in those days and when I was picking up all the people I stopped where the prostitutes stood and invited them to eat with us as well. Surprisingly they came for the home cooked meal.

One day I was getting ready to do a marriage and one of the prostitutes came into my office. She had a broken arm, which she held on her head to deal with the pain. She had been working in one of the stairwells of one of the buildings and when the fellow found out that she had HIV, he threw her down the stairs. She cried and whimpered that she had already lost her three children and now she had to deal with this. What an abject heap of hopeless misery she presented!

I had only a half hour before the wedding service, but I loaded her in my car, took her to one of the better hospitals, and demanded that they take care of her. They refused and the fact that a $12 porno magazine fell out of her blouse, did not help any.

I told them that I was a pastor and if I found out that they had not helped her, they would be in real trouble.

When I came back to the church, they were on the telephone demanding that I take her back. I was performing a wedding ceremony, I told them, and to come get her was quite impossible. “You know your duty!” I shouted at them over the phone.

A year or so later, I had decided to leave that parish and come to Berkeley to start graduate school. I felt very dejected and felt pretty much like a failure. While I was packing the things in my office into boxes, this lovely woman walked in, smartly dressed, handbag slung over her shoulder, smiling at me. She wanted to thank me for helping her. She had straightened out her life, gotten a job, gotten her children back, and life had become a wonderful thing for her.

I suddenly recognized her. She was the prostitute that I had taken to the hospital. She had bottomed out and changed; now she was living a new life. She pressed my hand and thanked me again and left.

I broke down and cried tears of joy and have done so many times recalling the power of God’s love to change hearts and lives and fill our old sinful hearts with a passion for the wonderful mission of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Written by peterkrey

July 6, 2009 at 2:34 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

4 Responses

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  1. Hi peter I would like to hear from you,I have been very sick with heart disease and I do not know how long I have to live.My condition is very serious. sincerely in Christ Jesus Bonnie

    • dear Bonnie,

      I am so sorry to hear about the distressing news of your heart condition. I will pray for you and for the doctors to help you. Remember that you are in God’s hands and God can mend a heart where doctors think it impossible. I know your trust in God is strong so you have nothing to fear.

      Pastor Peter


      July 25, 2009 at 11:19 pm

  2. Dear Peter Thank for your encouragement. I have growned a lot in Christ the last 6 months.I am know manifesting true regeneration in christ Jesus.I ask the Good Lord to give me a internal change and he is answering my prayer,bless his holy name. God is giving me his grace to endure everything with abundant joy. With sincere Love in Christ Jesus Bonnie

  3. New Jerusalem Church
    Greetings to you in the Mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    We have touched with you in this way in the Holy Spirit.

    These are the last days because Jesus Christ is coming soon.
    Dear Sir, We want your kind fellowship and your Holy prayers in Jesus Name.
    We are praying from a long time for House and Church building
    Please pray for the Souls in India and house and prayer Hall in PONNUR .
    Your Brother in His service,
    Bro. Jesus Padam kancharla.
    Bhavnagar colony,ponnur 522124 ,Guntur dt,AP, India.
    Cell no -9494539574

    Bro. Jesus Padam kancharla.

    December 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm

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