As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. —John 17: 18
Last week’s text was from the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” In my sermon I spoke about the way Jesus calls us into the church, gathering many very different people together into a congregation. Our text today is also from the Gospel of John. Jesus is praying to God the Father, and he says, “Just as you have sent me, I send them.” So, the church is not only gathered, it is sent.”
That is what I want to talk about today, what it means for us as church to be sent. One of the words we use to describe the church means “the sent.” We call the church “apostolic,” because we share the faith of the apostles, who were Jesus’s his earliest followers. An apostle was a disciple of Jesus who knew him while he was alive. The Greek word from which we get “apostle” simply means “one who is sent.”
The church is sent, but sent by whom? By Jesus. As he tells his Father, “As you have sent me into of the world, so I sent them into the world.”
Think of the church as being like a sports team. Jesus gathers us together to be part of his team, the church, and then he sends us into the game, which is the world.
The image isn’t biblical, but I think it works because a team needs to have diversity within unity; it needs cooperation among the players, and it needs spirit to guide and strengthen it, just as the church needs the divine Spirit.
Let’s take football as our example. On a football team you have many people carrying out different functions. There’s a kicker, a quarterback, the line, the receivers, and then on defense, you have the linebackers and safeties. Everybody has a job to do.
All the jobs are important. The team cannot thrive without everybody cooperating. And the jobs are not interchangeable. The kicker can’t do the tackle’s job of keeping the opposing line off the quarterback, and the tackle can’t kick, but one isn’t more important than the other. It’s a team.
In much the same way the church is sent into the world by Jesus to do our part, whatever that might be, to use our particular gift – our role or skill for God’s good purposes.
One person might be a teacher or a student, another a business person, another a physician or electrician. Each brings to his or her work the values of the church, which is the community that Jesus sends into the world. So, all the members of the team will be honest, fair, and kind, striving to show God’s love and mercy in their work.
God sends each of us out to do our special calling. The word vocation is rooted in the verb to call. Each of us has a calling. How do we know what it is? One definition I really like its from Frederick Buechner. He writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
But vocation doesn’t refer to just your occupation, although it does include that, but is about how you respond to God’s call with your whole life.
One could be sent into the world to be a volunteer, to work in a soup kitchen, or a homeless shelter. Or you might be sent to tutor someone in English, or to give blood, or deliver meals for Meals on Wheels. Or someone might be sent to serve their community on a committee, or work in a community garden.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any jobs within the church, and I have done that for a reason. I’m talking about our being sent out into the world. And one of the important things that being sent reminds us, is that God doesn’t gather us as the church for the church’s own sake, but so the church can be for the world around it.
Your calling in the world may be to take care of a family member or to help a neighbor. There are many ways to which we can be sent from Jesus’s team. Just as God the Father sent Jesus into the world to show us his love and mercy and grace, so Jesus sends us into the world, to be his witnesses.
So, we don’t just come to church because we like each other, although we do, we are not a club; we are the church – gathered…and sent. Amen.
(I preached this virtual sermon on May 16, 2021, at the United Congregational Church of Little Compton, RI. To see a video of the whole service go here. Photo: Berry Pond, Pittsfield State Forest. R. L. Floyd)