By the time our Rally Day rolls around, I will have adventured in four different countries while leading two mission trips, one week at Camp Allen, one week of Vacation Bible School, one pilgrimage to London and will have participated in a pilgrimage to Israel. Thus is the summer in the life of a Youth Minister.., interested in changing jobs yet? But really, I am fortunate in my vocation to get a taste of what it is like to physically take the Good News of Jesus to other locations, while still getting to come back to home sweet Houston, to my little house in Montrose, and to St. Mark’s.
One of my favorite responsibilities at St. Mark’s is planning and leading Mission Trips and Pilgrimages. How exciting it is to plan great adventures for students and adults alike. There are many not-so-glamorous details that go into preparing for a trip; details that Jesus surprisingly does not go into as. He instructs his disciples before they’re sent out on their mission in the passage just before our gospel reading for today. As we read chapter 10 in the Gospel of Matthew, we have the opportunity to listen in to what Jesus says to the twelve disciples and this allows us to live into it and reflect on our own discipleship.
Jesus doesn’t go into the forms that to be signed and notarized, money that must be raised, t-shirts that need to be designed and ordered, the plane tickets or vans to be reserved, safety, appropriate attire, where and how to exchange your money, immunizations, luggage weight limits, insurance, and release forms. Jesus, as usual, gives simple and direct instructions; Go to the lost sheep of Israel, proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. Jesus tells them who to go to and what to do.
One of the most important documents I pass out for Mission Trips is the packing list. I include all kinds of items like a small battery operated fan, motion sickness medicine, Pepto-Bismol, sunscreen, insect spray, snacks – just in case you get tired of rice and beans, Clorox wipes, ear plugs, a sleep mask and several other items I won’t bore you with today. A good portion of our team meetings are spent on this list, answering questions and clarifying. On the contrary, Jesus focuses on what not to bring. No money, no extra clothes or shoes, no walking stick… nothing. It seems to me that a mission team led by Jesus would come back sunburned with blisters on their feet wearing dirty t-shirts. Jesus promises that they will be received in Jesus’ name and even if they are not, that they can rest in the knowledge that nothing can kill their souls, and total allegiance to Jesus leads to life abundant and eternal.
These mission trips and pilgrimages provide opportunities for all participants to step out of their comfort zone, set their own eyes on a different part of God’s creation, and especially answer the call to represent Christ. Every trip includes those who go, those who receive them, and those who support them, both with funds and prayer. Even though we bring extra clothes and shoes, we are bringing the same gift brought by the apostles – the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near. Not all are sent to be wandering missionaries, depending on others for shelter and sustenance, but that doesn’t mean we are off the hook. The entire baptized are sent into the world to tell and embody the good news of Jesus Christ. All are sent to bear Christ to others with humility and vulnerability, being willing to risk rejection. We are the face and hands of Christ, loving and serving those who we may not even be able to talk to or communicate with.
Last week at Camp Allen, there was a camper whose family is visiting from China, and she speaks Mandarin almost exclusively. Her counselors were concerned that she was missing the point of many of the lessons during chapel, teaching time, and cabin devotions. By the end of the week, however, they began to recognize that Jesus transcends language barriers. It is not how beautifully or eloquently we are able to share the gospel, but the fact that people can feel the love of Christ in relationship that really matters.
Each time I go on a mission trip, retreat, or camp, I realize more and more that Christ is already there when we arrive. All we are called do is treat others with the love of Christ, planting the seed, so to speak, and watering it with our friendship in further encounters.
You do not have to travel to a far-away place. Every relationship you have or create is a place to share your faith. The mission field is wherever you live and work. God does not call everyone to preach, but He calls us all to love. Consciously try to represent Jesus in your daily encounters. When we allow ourselves to begin to treat others as Christ would, it begins to become a part of who we are. One of my counselors at camp last week got a letter from one of her Jr. High campers the week before. In it, this incoming 8th grader thanks her for doing all of the things counselors are just supposed to do… conversations during meals, keeping the cabin together during games, praying for them during devotions. This camper was so touched by these typical things that she eloquently describes how she sees coming to faith. “Looking for Jesus is more like “Where’s Waldo?” she said in her letter.”Because he’s never missing. He’s always there, he’s just unnoticed… He never leaves… Some people take longer to see him, but he’s still there. We aren’t finding something that we lost, but rather noticing [Jesus] in the chaos of life.” This counselor is fantastic, but wasn’t doing something necessarily out of the ordinary; she was treating her campers with love, speaking to them with kindness, and including them in all aspects of their common life. God uses us in our daily life through our typical actions when we are open to him.
What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors, and we actually invited them? What would happen if we truly believed that we bear the presence of Christ to every person we encounter, in every home, workplace, or neighborhood we enter? What would happen if we saw every conversation as an opportunity to speak words of grace, every interaction as an opportunity to embody Christ’s love for the neighbor?
Here at St. Mark’s we talk about practicing radical welcome: Like Abraham welcoming the three angels who appeared as men. Even though they were unknown to him, he gave them water to wash their feet, a place to rest, and prepared bread, a calf, curds and milk to feed them. Then he learned they came to tell Sarah she would have a baby, even though she and her husband were already very old. Abraham welcomed them in the name of God and received an unexpected blessing.
This practice of hospitality, the norm in Jesus’ time, is common in the near east and in poor communities around the world today. Like the widow putting her last two coins in the offering, they give generously out of what little they have. In the ancient world, identity was tied to family and community. It was understood that in showing hospitality, one welcomed not just an individual, but implicitly, the community who sent the person and all that they represent. Therefore, welcoming a disciple of Jesus would mean receiving the very presence of Jesus himself and of the one who sent him, God the Father. Just as Jesus’ disciples were sent out, we, as representatives of Christ, can rest in the knowledge that nothing can kill our souls, and total allegiance to Jesus leads to life abundant and eternal.
In Matthew, Chapter 10, Jesus is addressing the disciples, but he also outlines the responsibilities of those who may welcome Jesus’ disciples into their villages and homes. Furthermore, this reading is addressed to us in regard to the manner in which they will treat those whom God sends to them.
Hospitality is risky business. An open heart and an open home or church is a target for unpleasant experiences. But, it can also be the recipient of unexpected surprises, just as Abraham and Sarah received the news that they’re most fervent prayer would be answered. Their story reminds us of Paul’s verse in Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
As we consider our lives as a community of the faithful, this passage can offer inspiration to support Jesus’ charge to love our neighbors as ourselves. A simple act of kindness, which may seem as inconsequential as dropping a small pebble in a pond, may have an exponential effect, just as that small pebble will create ever-larger ripples.
Many of us have been Christians for many years, or have been raised in the church. We may not remember or even have a specific conversion moment when we received Jesus into our lives, but seeing that in someone else gives new life to our faith.
In January, I had the opportunity to serve as the spiritual director on a medical mission trip to Guatemala. I was struck by the excitement of one of the surgeons. He was young in his faith, and approached each prayer with intention and was always looking to ask others, more mature in their faith, questions, and to share his own experience with Jesus. I was personally revitalized by this new friendship, and by his willingness to share his story with others.
God desires to use us, to partner with us, because he loves us. My godfather is an Anglican priest who describes the love God has for each of us in this way. If God had a wallet, he would be taking it out and excitedly showing photos of you, his child that he loved so much, to the angels. He told that story when I was a child, so in today’s updated version God would be taking out his phone or his Wad to show those photos. God wants to utilize and celebrate each of our unique gifts to bring about his kingdom.
As we each discern how God will use us in our own lives and in our corporate life as the community of St. Mark’s, consider this, are you called to be sent out, to support, or to welcome? Maybe it is a combination of all three. The guarantee is that Christ longs to for us to partner in the bringing about of God’s kingdom. We simply need to step up and take our place in the story of the faithful. Imagine God’s kingdom, enact God’s love, and do everything in your power to bring God’s grace into every day, into every choice you make, for the good of the world God loves beyond imagining.
Kim Thompson, Director of Children’s, Youth, & Young Adult Formation