Mission Improbable

Preached on 9 September 2018 at church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Proper 18 (thematic track)

Welcome back!
Welcome home.

Welcome back to church, whether it’s been a week or a season, or a decade.
Welcome back to the choir.  I think I speak for the whole congregation when I say we missed you; we’re glad you’re back.
Welcome back to a new program year, to Sunday School and Bible Study.

Welcome home to those who have been traveling.
Welcome home to those seeking a home.

Welcome to all who are seeking God’s grace; to all who are seeking God’s Word.
Welcome to all who seek God.

Last week, Wes and I took a few days of vacation and went up to Vancouver Island.  On the way home, when we crossed the border, there was something particularly sweet and touching when I heard the Border Agent say those words, “Welcome home,” as he sent us on our way.

This morning you heard different words of welcome in our opening liturgy.  I found this a while ago and thought it would be a good way to begin our new program year. It’s actually the end of the piece.  You’ll hear the beginning of it as our dismissal or sending at the end of the service.

It caught my attention because it encapsulates what we do here and this is a good time to do some reflection on our purpose, our mission and what we will do next.

As I said, this gathering and sending piece encapsulates something of what we do here each week.  We come, bringing ourselves, our whole selves, our joy and pain, our passion and energy, our fear and our longing.  We come bringing the cares and pain of the world.  All this we bring here to lay before and offer to God.

We come to be nourished and nurtured by God’s Holy Word, by the prayers, by the bread and wine of Holy Communion, by this community, it’s love and care and it’s holding us accountable.  We come to pray for the world, it’s pain and problems, and so to transform not only ourselves, but the world.

And we are sent back out to that world; back to the noise and the mess and confusion.  Back to the beauty and joy and majesty of God’s gracious gift in Creation.  We go out to share what we have received here; to never stop sharing.  The gifts God gives us never run out.

It is a bit vague though.  It takes some discernment to figure out specifically what’s next for us in this time and place.  And this is a good time in the life of the parish to do that work.  Now you may be thinking, but isn’t that what the profile committee just did?  Well, yes.

The profile committee is finishing up their work and preparing to turn the profile over to the search committee.  They have done a great job in describing where we are now and a bit of direction for the future.  It’s a snapshot in time; a great starting point for figuring out what’s next.  You see God’s call isn’t a “one and done” sort of thing.  Our call unfolds over our lifetime, and that is true for the life of a parish community as well.

The specifics of our mission change over time; and sometimes they can take dramatic turns.  It appears that was true for Jesus, as we see in today’s gospel, so why wouldn’t it be true for us?

In today’s gospel, we find Jesus way up north, on the coast, in Tyre.  He’s a long way from home and in gentile territory.  Syro-Phoenicia is right there.  Up until this point, he’s been staying pretty close to home in Galilee, crossing the lake several times, but primarily in Jewish territory.  Now he’s the outsider.  He’s trying to get away from the crowds, but it doesn’t work.

Here he is trying to have a quiet meal with his disciples when a woman shows up.  She’s a mother and she’s desperate.  Her daughter is possessed by a demon and she is absolutely positive that this man, Jesus, can help her.  I think anyone who has children can understand her desperation and that she will do anything get help for her child.

Jesus’ response is surprising, though.  He as much as calls her a dog, saying he didn’t come to save the likes of her but to save the children of Israel.  Huh.  But she is desperate.  She doesn’t meekly leave because she knows he can help.  But she doesn’t get into an argument saying she’s as good as they are.  No, it’s like she accepts his premise and then she points out that even the dogs get the crumbs.
“For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter,” he tells her.

Now a lot has been written and discussed and argued about this whole interaction.
How can Jesus be so mean?
Some claim he’s just “testing” her, or that it’s more light-hearted banter.  I doubt the mother thought it was light-hearted.  Others argue that Jesus is showing his humanity – he’s tired and cranky.

People go back and forth about whether the mother changed Jesus’ mind or if he intended to help her all along.  One could also ask if Jesus chose to help her or did God do it without his intervention and Jesus simply told her what had already happened.
When it comes down to it, though, any of those scenarios can speak to us and our own lives and mission.  We don’t have to get our knickers in a knot over it.  What does God’s Word say to us this time?

This story is seen as kind of a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.  Again, people ask what did Jesus know about his mission and when did he know it.  Does it matter?  His mission unfolds and expands as he goes along.  Here we see it expand well outside the bounds of the house of Israel and the territory of Israel – what might have been seen as a highly improbably mission.

Next, we see him go to the Decapolis where he heals a man who is deaf an unable to speak.  This, too is outside of Jewish territory.

Jesus’ mission expands throughout his ministry.  So does ours.  God’s call is continually unfolding before us.  Using the profile as our jumping off point, where is God calling us now?  What is our next “Mission Improbable?”

So, welcome.
Welcome to God’s mission.