Sermon for Mission Festival, November 25, 2012
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 9:35-38
Sermon Theme: Out of Our Comfort Zone
(Sources: Ballistic Christianity by Ray Pritchard; my Column in the East Bernard Express for November 22 and sources referenced in that column; original ideas; Jesus Deaf Youth Ministry, Mark Seeger; Texas Partners in Mission newsletter; Texas District LCMS bulletin inserts)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Preparing a sermon for Mission Festival is a very difficult challenge, because “Missions” is a very broad field and covers many areas of concern. Today I tried to meet that challenge.
Shortly after the tsunami disaster that devastated the coastline of the Indian Ocean, one Seminary professor sent out an email that contained what he called a “dangerous” prayer. It was only one sentence long, and it goes like this: “Lord, do things we’re not used to.” That prayer is simple, clear, concise, and definitely dangerous.
To ask God to blast us out of our comfort zone to do things that may make us uncomfortable is necessary when you get to working for Missions, and I don’t mean by that that you have to go to dangerous places like Afghanistan. No, how about rallying around the flag pole at school to pray? Or joining the organization of Christian Athletes at school – that could take courage. Or working with LINC in Houston or helping at the Krause Center in Katy?
Jesus specialized in making people feel uncomfortable, pushed them way out of their comfort zone. He told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and then come follow him.
Pastor Ray Pritchard noted a number of other examples of this.
When God wanted to change the world, he told Noah to do something he had never done before – build an ark – to prepare for something he’d never seen before – rain. When the Lord needed someone to hide the spies in Jericho, he found a prostitute named Rahab. When God needed someone to defeat Goliath, he chose a little shepherd boy named David. When Christ wanted some men in his inner circle, he chose fisherman and tax collectors, a loud mouth named Peter and two brothers called the “sons of thunder.”
And you know what else? He told them to drop everything and follow Him! Talk about doing things you’re not used to!
Most of us want progress, but none of us want change. If Missions is going to be a priority, we’re going to have to get over that.
In our text, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” As I said at the beginning, the Mission field is an enormous field. Jesus commands us to Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them. But he also talks in our text about healing people of their diseases and afflictions, and He also fed the 5,000. As missionaries, we don’t go into underdeveloped countries and hand out Bibles and let them starve to death.
The population of the world is 6.8 billion people. Of that 6.8 billion, 925 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. According to the Hunger Project, that is more than the populations of the USA, Canada and the European Union combined. Hunger is the worst in Asia and the Pacific, 578 million; Sub-Saharan Africa, 239 million; Latin America and the Caribbean, 53 million; and Developed Countries, 19 million. Sixty percent of the world’s hungry are women.
The United States is among the world’s top ten percent of most affluent. While most of those 925 million people living in poverty do not have running water for drinking or bathing, the number of people without flushing toilets in the United States is 0 percent. We have plenty of soap, shampoo and toothpaste; those 925 million do not. My wife and I spend more money per month on expensive cat food than the starving people of the world do in a year.
But Mission work should begin where we are planted. Texas Partners in Mission, the major project of the LCMS Texas District certainly takes folks who help beyond their comfort zone. Under this umbrella, we have LINC Houston, LINC North Texas, LINC San Antonio. We also have POBLO Texas, a mission to Middle Eastern immigrants and WOBLO, a ministry of women to reach Muslim women for Christ. And also SoulThirst, FiveTwo, Cristo El Salvador Network, OnThisRock Network, ACTS network, and the Summit Network. Time does not permit us to talk about all of these.
It should be noted that since 2004, 72 new missions have started in the Texas District. Thirty-three of these missions use English as their first language. Thirty-nine of these missions do NOT use English as their first language.
Our mission offerings to the Texas District help to fund 100 ministries and agencies each week. 9,000 people hear the gospel each week through those ministries and agencies in the Texas District. Our mission money also supports international missions in more than 90 countries. Our mission money also helps support college students and the elderly. Our giving helps to plant new churches, and it is a fact that the Texas District leads the Synod in church planting (that is, establishing new churches). Our mission work in Texas alone uses over thirty-five languages, including Ethiopian, Korean, and Spanish.
Mission work is a huge challenge for our Synod, for the Texas District, and for us, and it can certainly take us beyond our comfort level. The extent of it boggles our minds, so let’s begin close to home.
Not too long ago, I received a letter from Rev. Mark Seeger who heads up the “Jesus Deaf Youth Ministry” in Texas. He asked us as a congregation if we would consider adopting Jesus Deaf Youth Ministry as one of our mission projects. He says that Jesus Deaf Youth Ministry is by far the largest and most vibrant deaf youth ministry in the United States. Every year they have more than 200 deaf youth attend their activities and Bible studies. The deaf youth come from more than 80 towns and cities in Texas. There is no district subsidy and no congregation that underwrites the Deaf Youth Ministry, so this is one reason they are asking us to adopt them.
To do so might take us out of our comfort zone, yet with one of our children in the congregation deaf, we might want to step out in faith. But whether we choose to adopt this mission or not, I suggest that we do things we’re not used to. For example, as a congregation, let us learn the deaf sign language by watching video lessons. Then each of us can communicate with Dylan by signing to him. He cannot “talk” to us, but we can sign to him, and we must, even if it takes us out of our comfort zone.
Our text says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The verse says, “When He SAW them.” I think our biggest reason for not stepping out of our comfort zone in mission work is we do not SEE the mission needs around us. With God’s help, let us SEE and attend to the mission needs all around us, and not be afraid to step out of our comfort zone. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.