A sermon by Jim Somerville, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Richmond, Va.
September 8, 2013
Luke 10:1-11, 17-20
Today we come to the end of a year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA, which has been all about bringing the “Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.” When we started this trip a year ago I asked you to imagine that you were sitting not in a church sanctuary, but on an enormous bus that had just come to a stop at the corner of Monument Avenue and the Boulevard. And at the end of the service I invited you to get off the bus and onto the mission field. Actually, I insisted. I said, “When the youth group goes on a mission trip nobody gets to sit on the bus and read comic books. Everybody has to get off the bus and go to work.” In one way or another that’s what I’ve been saying to you for the past twelve months now: “Get off the bus!” I’ve been saying it from the pulpit; I’ve been saying it during the charge at the end of the service; I’ve been saying it on my blog almost every day.
Some of you are probably tired of hearing it.
But it worked! At least, something worked. It may have been my constant begging and pleading, or it may have simply been that you are, in your heart of hearts, missionaries—all of you. You got off the bus. You looked around for anything that didn’t look like heaven and then you rolled up your sleeves and went to work. And many times during this past year, in many different ways, heaven has come to earth. I have literally hundreds of pictures and stories to prove it. And I need to say publicly, and for the record, that I am as proud of you as any pastor could be of his people. Well done, good and faithful missionaries!
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned on this year-long, every-member mission trip, it’s this: bringing the Kingdom of heaven to Richmond, Virginia, is a big job. It is too big a job for one church to do alone. We need help. And when I went back and looked at the way Jesus sent his disciples on a mission trip I saw that it was never his plan for us to go it alone.
I have chosen as today’s Gospel reading selected passages from Luke, chapter 10, and you can be grateful because the lectionary readings for today from Luke 14 are some of the most challenging in the Bible. That’s where Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” That’s where he says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” And, finally, that’s where he says, “None of you can become my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.” Aren’t you grateful that God, in his providence, arranged for those readings to fall on One Sunday, when he knew I would be talking about something else, and wouldn’t have to preach on those very hard sayings of Jesus? Instead I want to go back to a passage I preached just a few weeks ago, where Jesus sent out the seventy on a mission trip, and what I want to focus on, particularly, is the fact that he sent them out “in pairs,” or as Mark puts it, “two by two.” Listen to these words from Luke 10:1-11:
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near” (NRSV).
In the chapter just before this one Jesus sent the Twelve disciples out on a similar mission—to cure the sick and proclaim the Kingdom. But in this chapter he sends out seventy others, and it’s Alan Culpepper who says this is a clue that the mission of Christ is not only the responsibility of the ordained, but of all of us who call ourselves his. Jesus sends 70 “other” disciples out on this mission and he sends them two by two. I can almost picture them, can’t you? Two of those anonymous disciples walking down some dusty road together with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are moving quickly, purposefully. They are on a mission. They don’t stop to visit with anyone along the way. But when they come to a town they walk up the first house they see and shout, “Peace to this house!” And if someone opens the door and takes them in that’s where they stay the whole time they are there, curing the sick and proclaiming the good news of the coming kingdom.
Once, when I was in DC, I asked my daughter Catherine to go around the neighborhood with me handing out flyers, and it was the funniest thing: as long as Catherine was with me I was fearless. I could talk to strangers, invite them to our Fall Festival, tell them how cute their babies were. I probably could have stood in front of an apartment building and shouted, “Peace to this house!” but when Catherine went into the Whole Foods store on P Street to buy a Snapple I clammed up. I suddenly became nervous and shy. I didn’t hand out a single flyer. I learned something about myself that day: I learned that as long as there is someone with me who knows me and loves me I can be fearless, because I don’t have to worry about what other people think. I knew that even if everybody else thought I was crazy Catherine would just smile and shake her head and say, “That’s my dad!” but at the end of the day she would go home with me.
So, I think about the way those two disciples together would have given each other confidence. Jesus had said he was sending them out as lambs in the midst of wolves but as long as there were two of them together I can imagine they felt pretty brave. And when they were cold and hungry they might have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, that’s just how it is!” And when they got to a new town one would say to the other, “You yell at the house this time; I did it last time.” And so it would go, with that kind of mutual encouragement and support, the kind we need, really, if we’re going to get the job done. So I’m thinking about the impossible task of bringing the Kingdom of heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and wondering how much more possible it would be if we partnered with other people, other churches, other agencies and institutions. I’m wondering what if, in this next year, we continue our mission trip, but we don’t try to do it alone. And I’m wondering what if, instead of calling it KOH2RVA we called it something else? Something like this:
[Youth come forward and spell out KOHX2 with gigantic letters]
KOH times 2. Think about that with me for a minute.
In the past year I’ve been trying to post something on my blog almost every day as a way of sharing the stories of our members who have been busy bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and inspiring the ones who hadn’t yet found their way. But can I tell you something? Blogging every day is harder than it looks! You have to think of something to write, you have to write it, you have to edit it, you have to find a picture to go with it, you have to publish it, and then you have to promote it on Facebook (at least I do). It often takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half just to get something up there, even something that’s not very good. And so I’ve decided to start a new blog called KOH2RVA and invite other people to contribute to it. I’m hoping that anyone who is bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, would be inspired to write up a few paragraphs, attach a picture, and send it to me so I can post it on the new blog. And then, sometime in the spring and perhaps again in the fall I’m going to invite all those people to a city-wide conference called KOH2RVA right here at First Baptist, and we’re going to see what we can do to start a missions collaborative that will make a visible impact on our city.
That’s what I’m going to do. That’s how I’m going to go forward on mission. But what about you? What are you going to do? I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve been thinking about Karen Grizzard. Karen is a member of our church who had a hard time getting off the bus. I’ve mentioned her before. But when that tragic shooting occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, in December of last year she decided that she was going to do something for an elementary school. And so she took a gift basket to Kim Lee, principal of Glen Lea Elementary here in our city. She told Kim she didn’t know what she could do, but she promised to pray for her, for the school, and for the students, and to come back at least once a month. It was during one of those monthly visits that Kim suggested she try reading to some of the second graders. What happened after that could be written up as a love story in which Karen fell in love with those students and they fell in love with her. She sent me monthly reports, with pictures of the class, in which there was always one little girl in pigtails hugging Karen around the waist. She told me in a recent email, “My favorite story is when I was waiting outside the classroom to read and several kids came out to go down the hall. A boy wrapped his arms around my waist and said, ‘Don’t start reading until I get back!’ Those kids and their smiles will remain in my heart forever.” And that’s when I made the connection between what Karen was doing and what these 70 disciples did in Luke 10, because Luke says that when they returned from their mission trip they returned with joy. And that’s what I saw in Karen—joy—joy she might never have found if she hadn’t gotten off the bus.
Do you think she’s going to give that up just because we’ve come to the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip? Not on your life. But here’s how I might want to challenge Karen going forward. In this next year what if you didn’t go to Glen Lea alone? What if you found someone who could share the joy with you? It would be good if it were another member of First Baptist Church, but it would be even better if it were a member of another Baptist Church; even better if it were a member of a church that isn’t Baptist; even better if it were a member of a mosque, or a synagogue, or a Hindu temple; even better if it were someone who doesn’t consider herself religious at all. And here’s why: because almost everybody can see value in reading books to second graders, especially those who might be struggling with their reading. Almost anybody might agree to go with Karen if she invited them, but at some point they might ask how she got started, and then she would have to tell the truth.
It’s not just because there was a tragic shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut: it’s because of Jesus. It’s because she goes to a church where the preacher keeps talking about how Jesus wants God’s kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. And how, when she started looking around for something that didn’t look like heaven she saw what happened in Newtown and decided she wanted to do whatever she could to keep that from happening here. So she went to Glen Lea to pour out her prayers and pour out her love and to see if she could do anything that would bring heaven a little closer to those precious children. And that’s when her partner in mission might say, “Tell me a little more about this Jesus, the one who wants to bring heaven to earth for second graders at Glen Lea Elementary School.”
Do you see? In the year ahead we might not only bring heaven to earth, we might bring people to Jesus. They might be surprised to learn that he cares so much about second-graders, and homeless people, and senior adults who need a hot, nutritious meal, and those who need decent, affordable housing. They might be surprised to learn that he cares so much about them. And so I’d like to challenge all of you who have been busy bringing heaven to earth to keep on doing it, but also to see if you can find some help this time. And don’t only look inside the church to find a partner—look outside the church as well. And don’t feel like you have to limit your focus to Richmond, Virginia, because one of the other things I’ve learned this year is that you can bring heaven to earth anywhere, and that there are people who watch our webcast and our broadcast who would love to have my permission to bring the KOH to Mechanicsville and Midlothian, to Ashland and Petersburg, to Charlottesville and Deltaville, to Dallas and Dubai. Well, bring it I say. You have my permission.
I don’t think Jesus will mind.
Jim Somerville is pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.