Sermon 629+August 22, 2010

August 23, 2010

13th Week after Pentecost
748th Week as Priest
574th Week at St Dunstan’s
Welcome Night 2010

On a Mission from God.

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

A year ago, the Episcopal Church completed a strategic plan that called for a new focus on mission and ministry. Top of the list was this one:

The Church needs to see campus ministry and young adult ministry as the most important evangelism and mission area there is. It is where our culture is the most dynamic, most committed, most culturally diverse.

The Year of Mission is our theme and direction for this academic year at St. Dunstan’s. The original idea for a Year of Mission came from Dr. Norbert L.W. Wilson, one of our Faculty Advisors and a candidate for the ordained ministry of Deacons. Clearly, the work of campus ministry and young adult ministry is our top priority—and has been for the past 91 years!

Eleven years ago, when Leigh and I arrived at St. Dunstan’s for the start of the academic year, this Christian community identified an annual theme or spiritual direction for Auburn’s campus ministry—and we have continued to do this each year:

2000-2001      The Year of Restoration
2001-2002      The Year of Celebration
2002-2003      The Year of Spiritual Journey
2003-2004      The Year of Community
2004-2005      The Year of Growth
2005-2006      The Year of Fellowship
2006-2007      The Year of Agapé 
2007-2008      The Year of Renewal
2008-2009      The Year of the Word
2009-2010      The Year of Discovery, and now for
2010-2011       The Year of Mission

Lately, we have been brainstorming about mission work that we have done and hope to do as the Episcopal Church at Auburn University. Here are a few ideas that have surfaced:

Our Missionaries to China: Maegan Collier and Jaime Burchfield
Alabama Rural Ministries and “Bike Across Alabama”
The Veterans Home in Southside Opelika
The East Alabama Food Bank
Education for Ministry (EfM)
The Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
The Friends of Jimmy (12 Step)

But what I want to do tonight is to focus on your personal mission work. Think of it as being “On a Mission from God.” That’s a quote, by the way, from a 1980 movie titled The Blues Brothers, starring Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi, which, now that I think about it, came out well before almost all of you were born. Anyway, “On a Mission from God.” That’s our focus this year.

In tonight’s gospel lesson, Jesus gets in trouble with a synagogue leader for healing a crippled woman in the middle of his teaching lesson. Jesus laid his hands on her and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” In our own Anglican tradition, healing is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. But in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees outlawed such activity on the sabbath. The writer of Hebrews really had it right, however. Our God is not a rule book. He is a consuming fire. Jesus was telling them that the sabbath was made for us—as a gift, a blessing from God. Not to punish people with violations, restrictions, and penalties. Back in the day people would get stoned to death for picking up sticks, or cooking, or whatever. I think Jesus is telling us today something much more important, and much more personal. On your mission from God, whatever that is, people will doubt you from time to time. They will misinterpret or misunderstand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. They will not believe that you are on a mission from God, or that God’s is calling you in any way. But do not doubt yourself. Just continue to be faithful.

Furthermore, if God is your strong rock (as the psalmist tells us he is), and a castle to keep you safe, then don’t worry about approval or disapproval of your mission work. Just keep on doing it. And don’t worry about getting to heaven, or going to hell, for doing your mission work. Remember that Christ has already conquered sin and death. All sin and death. Your sin and death. Concern yourself instead with living a life that is worthy of Christ. Keep your eyes and your heart on the mission.

But because we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, we must also realize that God means serious business. God takes your life seriously—and what you do with it. Realize that God is asking you right now what the poet Mary Oliver asks:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Realize that your one wild and precious life is of infinite importance to God—even if you don’t think it is, even if you don’t care about your life, your purpose, your mission in life. God cares. And God will not leave you alone. He will keep coming after you, bringing you back home on his shoulders. And you will find no peace and no rest until you rest in God.

So we return to the concept of Sabbath and our deep need to rest in God. Jesus was not condemning the Sabbath or a day of rest. He was telling us to observe the day of rest, but don’t let it become a restriction. Do whatever has to be done that day. Bend or break the rules if necessary, but do Christ’s own work. That may mean feeding the hungry, or healing the sick, or any number of small, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.

But remember yourself, too—your soul and body. How can you function without rest, or sleep, or healthy food and drink, or exercise, or the continual process of learning, or the daily discipline of meaningful work? In 1930, the agrarian poet John Crowe Ransom wrote about work in a way that carries much meaning for us today. He said:

The first principle of a good labor is that it must be effective, but the second principle is that it must be enjoyed. Labor is one of the largest items in the human career; it is a modest demand to ask that it may partake of happiness.

It is God’s good pleasure that your mission in life would partake of happiness and purpose. But you must decide to choose and accept them—or not. It is our mission and our responsibility to get up—with God’s good help—and do what needs to be done.

So what exactly is your mission and your responsibility this academic year? First let’s realize that we may have one main mission or purpose in life, but we all have many responsibilities. That means we’ve all got to learn to multi-task. And it also means seeking balance for your life. It means setting priorities, using your time and talents and your resources wisely and well.

The members of 12 step programs know that you’re in big trouble if you let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. That’s when you have to stop—to HALT—and think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Just a week before Leigh and I left for South Africa, I was going to run home on a Sunday afternoon for about an hour. It was three o’clock and the Compass Bank clock read 102 degrees. I had just pulled out of the church driveway and was in front of 17-16, when a guy and a girl were crossing the street. (By the way, it seems that students and locals alike all disregard traffic laws. They jay-walk and pull across on-coming traffic to park, and don’t stop at yellow lights or stop signs—like we’re in an old Andy Griffith episode and we live in Mayberry.)

But back to the story: The two of them were crossing the street, when suddenly the girl collapsed in the middle of Magnolia Avenue, like she had been shot by a sniper. I stopped my car and asked, “Is she sick?” He ignored me and pulled her to her feet. “Do you want me to call for help?” “Naw,” said the guy. “She’s just drunk.”

On a Sunday afternoon. How can this happen? Sadly, I think this kind of thing happens over and over to people who have forgotten how important and precious and fragile life really is. They’ve lost their balance and their common sense and their mission in life. Or they just don’t care.

I don’t want you to be like this. Your life is of infinite importance to God, and it is of infinite importance to me as God’s servant and as your priest. You have a mission and it started on August the 18th. I want you to go to class every day, and study every day, and sit on the front row, and meet with your professors at least twice during the semester. I want you to be successful, and healthy, and happy in your work. I don’t want you to become hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. I want you to make the most of your one wild and precious life. I want you to come with me, with all of us, on a Mission from God. Amen.

1,501 words

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One Response to “Sermon 629+August 22, 2010”

  1. willow said

    Beautiful and inspiring. Many thanks.

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