Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ, who sends us out to share God’s love with the world. Amen.
As we’ve moved into summer, we’ve made a transition from the Narrative Lectionary to the Revised Common Lectionary. Perhaps a bit awkwardly, this puts us back in the Gospel of Matthew for the summer. We’ll visit some texts that we’ve heard before, and perhaps also fill in the gaps that we missed when we were exploring Matthew earlier this year.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve heard some stories about Jesus preparing his disciples for ministry. Last week, we heard how Jesus chose the twelve disciples – Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the rest – and sent them out to the surrounding towns and villages to share the gospel of God’s love. Now, you may have noticed that all the disciples named in the Twelve were all men. But Jesus actually had more than 12 disciples, and we know that many of them were women – disciples like Mary and Martha, Salome, Joanna, and Mary Magdalene.
So the disciples have had this gift of time with Jesus – time to spend learning from him, watching him, asking him questions, and growing in faith under his guidance. But now it’s time for them to go out on their own for a while. It’s time for them to put what they’ve learned into practice, and to share this amazing message of God’s love with others. And as they’re preparing to go out on their own, Jesus has some guidance for them.
First of all, Jesus cautions the disciples to prepare for hardships on the road ahead. This is no picnic in the park. There will be resistance. There will be doors slammed in their face. There will be times when they question why God has called them to do this.
But Jesus reminds his disciples that even in the midst of these challenges and hardships, God will be with them. Jesus reminds them that God who cares for all creatures – even little sparrows! – cares for them too, and will watch over them and go with them. And what’s more, Jesus reminds them that God’s Spirit will be with them too, guiding them, upholding their faith, and giving them words to say in whatever they are facing.
I think this is a beautiful reminder for us too – that in the midst of the challenges and uncertainties of life, God promises to walk with us wherever we go. And God’s Spirit – the Spirit of Life, whose symbol, the dove, is the symbol of our Shared Ministry – is with us too, stirring within us, guiding us, and helping us to listen to God’s voice, wherever we go.
As I hear this story today, it feels like we are perhaps in a similar season in our relationship as pastor and parish as Jesus and his disciples are in this story. Over the next three months, I will do my best to prepare you for this next season in your life as a Shared Ministry. We’ve had this beautiful gift of three and a half years together: to grow in relationship with one another; to explore God’s Word together; to wonder where God is leading us. We’ve navigated a pandemic together. Our two congregations have come together as a Parish, and have discerned a new identity as Spirit of Life Ministry. We’ve explored new ways of being church together; we’ve developed an online ministry through our website and live-streamed worship and social media. As the pandemic has receded, we’ve gained new energy, and we’ve even welcomed new faces into our communities. And in all these things, God’s Spirit – the Spirit of Life – has been leading us and guiding us.
We have the gift of a little more time together, though I know that it will go by fast.
As we look towards a transition, you will not be alone. You will form a call committee – this time, not just as two congregations, but as Spirit of Life Ministry! You’ll most likely have an interim pastor for a little while, who will help you to ask questions like “Who are we? What is our purpose? And where are we headed?” And Bishop Jason will be there to support you as you navigate this new season together.
When our Parish Council met in June, we started doing a little visioning together. We took a look at our mission statement as Spirit of Life Ministry – the mission statement that appears on our website: “We are two congregations in shared ministry, sharing the message of God’s abundant and unconditional love for each and every human being.” Now to be clear, this mission statement did not come about as a result of some democratic process or visioning workshop. Rather, I wrote it, as we were composing the website. You may decide to change it in the future. But as the group reflected on this mission statement, they felt that it fit. They felt that it really got to the heart of who we are and what we are about – two congregations, sharing God’s abundant and unconditional love with every human being.
This mission statement is not rocket science. It doesn’t require any fancy gadgets or rare expertise. You have everything you need to live this mission statement. You have everything you need to share God’s love with others.
As some of you know, earlier this month I officiated a number of funerals. Each funeral was different, but I kept coming back to one particular theme: God’s promise, made at baptism to the person whose memory we were honouring. For me, that promise sounds like this: “You are my beloved child. I have created you in my image. I have called you as my own. I love you beyond measure. And I will never let you go.”
This is the promise that God makes us in baptism, and it’s God’s promise for each and every one of us. And I truly believe that it is God’s desire for each and every human being to hear this promise of God’s abundant and unconditional love. To hear that they are God’s beloved child, created in God’s image, called to be God’s own. That they are loved beyond measure, and that God will never let them go.
This is how God’s promise sounds to me. You may find other ways of expressing it. Maybe through words, maybe through actions: a warm welcome, a handshake or a hug, a hot cup of coffee, and a spot at the table. Maybe you’ll speak it, maybe you’ll sing it, maybe it will be in the way you listen. There are a thousand ways to share this message of God’s abundant and unconditional love for every human being. And you have everything you need to share that message in your own unique and wonderful way.