Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mission Field Musing

Lectionary Readings for Sunday June 23

"O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." BCP

The Gospel Reading for this week takes a very interesting turn in what most people have come to expect from Jesus. Here's the story from the New Revise Standard Version

Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
 There is just one point I want to draw your attention to in this passage.

The instruction Jesus gave to the man is a command to acknowledge publicly "how much God has done". In healing ministry terminology, this is a command to Glorify God, for what God has done. Give public testimony to the people who already know how far away and far gone he was. Instead of the comfort of staying close to the one who liberated him from his bondage, he was to stay in his own community.

Throughout my years in ministry this story has come up again and again as a place of personal challenge as well as confirmation of my own place in ministry.

Let me explain..

Since I took my first staff position within a congregation, I've been involved in providing support, emotional, spiritual as well as financial, to others who've responded to God's call to "go and make disciples". While thoroughly enjoying that position, I've also periodically dealt with a sense of being engaged in something "less than" fully faithful. In my head I understand that the Spirit of God is at work through my ministry, bringing comfort, encouragement and support as well as challenging members of the body to hear and respond to the needs of neighbors within our midst. I've reminded people that peace, justice and reconciliation occurs in local as well as global contexts. But, I have also felt some deep desire to be "sent" to a place of "unreached people".  I was like the man who begged to be with Jesus. While I prayed to be shown other places, the Spirit reminded me that my field was already in front of me. Even now, at this time in my life, I can still revert to the prayer asking to be shown to another place, rather than to continue in ministry where I've landed.

The work of telling people you already know how much God has done for you is just as difficult as it is to walk into a new environment. Maybe even harder. The foreign mission field offers everything new which is an excitement in and of itself. It is challenging to learn the culture and language of the people. Anonymity makes proclamation an easy task. Credibility and incredulity both are set at zero. However, I think it is far more difficult to continue in the same place, particularly if your past contains a checkered history.

Come to think of it, we don't read about Paul being successful at proclaiming about Jesus as the Son of God, and his Lord within Tarsus, his home town. Paul surely spent those many years in between his conversion on the road to Damascus and his first mission trip practicing day in and day out living life in relationship with the people of God in his own town before it became clear to Paul that he was being prepared to serve as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

From what I've heard from many missionaries after their return from the field, only the most mature members in the Body of Christ are capable of enduring the extra trials of foreign missions.

Here is my take on the whole of the story in the Gospel of Luke. Being made into a new creation, through the healing power of God places a new obligation on each person. We are not "saved" and invited into a cozy retreat or a bouyant adventure without obligation. We are made new creations and expected to put our weight into the work of increasing the Kingdom of God. That man had to prove and reprove day after day that God had fully transformed him into a new man. He needed to continue to grow in wisdom and maturity with God dwelling within the now vacated spaces where "demons" dwelt.His testimony was his every day living without the  "Legion of demons" that controlled him.

It is my opinion that some of us become so indebted to God for the transformation in our lives that we must strive to share in daily practice a living testimony to God's transforming power. Eventually, some of us become so completely regenerate that God does indeed move within us to also carry the Gospel into new places. But not until we have practiced telling others our transforming story enough times to gain credibility among those who knew us before the spirit transformed us from the inside out. All of us are called to preach that sermon with our actions, even if words fail to form on our lips in eloquent speech.

May your demons be conquered and your life transformed.

Tell the story of God's work in your life where you've been led, called, planted or drawn. 

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