“The Whole Mission”
October 7, 2007 - World Communion Sunday
As they roll down the streets of Chicago in a battered second-hand police car, Jake and Elwood Blues find themselves frequently on the run from real police. Sitting there in the Bluesmobile, Elwood delivers what may be the most memorable line from “The Blues Brothers.” “They can’t catch us. We’re on a mission from God.” In our text, Jesus sat in a synagogue and said much the same thing, “I am on a mission from God.”
In a way you could say that Jesus and Jake and Elwood embraced their missions also in similar context. Jesus was in His little backwater hometown of Nazareth and the Blues were in a seedy Catholic orphanage in Chicago. In both cases it was where they grew up.
Jake and Elwood’s mission was to save their old orphanage by raising $5,000 to pay the back property tax before it’s closed down by the city. Jesus’ mission was to save the world. The brothers went after their mission by getting their old blues band back together for a concert. Jesus began His work by calling together a band of disciples and starting what we call “the Church.”
The Blues accepted their commission from Sister Mary Stigmata, a fierce old nun they named “The Penguin.” Here in Luke 4 verses 18-19, Jesus finds His mission written in the words of the prophet Isaiah chapter 60 verses 1-2. Though it was His hometown, Jesus was regarded in that synagogue service as a visiting rabbi and was offered the opportunity to read and comment on the Scripture. When, as it says in verse 17, He was handed the whole large scroll of Isaiah, He deliberately rolled through it to near the end to begin with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…”
The real clincher came in what Jesus said when He sat down. That was how they did it then. You read Scripture standing up, but sat down to comment on it, to preach. And instead of preaching or teaching, talking learnedly about what the verses might have meant for Isaiah, Jesus simply said as we read in verse 21, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He took the prophet’s words and made them an announcement of His own mission. He claimed to be, in Himself, what Isaiah was talking about.
What was Isaiah talking about? What did Jesus accept as His own mission? The prophet spoke of proclaim “good news to the poor.” In Isaiah’s words, He claimed to be sent by the Spirit of God to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind.” By reading the prophet, Jesus said He had come “to set the oppressed free,” and “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
So what does all that mean? What was Jesus’ mission? One strong thread of Christian thought, particularly among us as Protestants has been that Jesus was talking about a spiritual mission. Unlike those black-suited musicians in the movie, who had to produce a very solid, very physical amount of cash in order to save a specific piece of real property, Jesus, we say, was engaged in a spiritual activity. He did not come to raise actual money to give to the poor or build a hospital where the blind might be physically healed. He came to “proclaim good news to the poor” in spirit. He was sent to “proclaim freedom” for those in spiritual prisons of bondage to sin. He wanted to heal spiritual blindness, to release those oppressed by their own sinfulness, by proclaiming the Lord’s favor in gracious forgiveness for all who believe. In other words, He came, as we so often say, to offer us salvation through a personal, spiritual relationship with Him.
On the other hand, you could make a very good case for taking Jesus and Isaiah more literally. As you read on in the Gospels, you find Jesus concerned with the poor enough to give them literal, tangible food in the form of bread and fish. You find Him opening the actual eyes of literally blind people. You hear teaching His disciples to visit people who are actually incarcerated in jails. He’s concerned about oppressed portions of society like Samaritans and women and people whose sins make them outcasts. Jesus’ mission is not only spiritual but a vital and strong assault on all the physical and social ills of the world.
In the Evangelical Covenant Church, we believe that our mission is a continuation of that same mission of Jesus. In the third of our Covenant Affirmations, we commit ourselves to “the whole mission of the Church,” because we believe Jesus’ own work was a whole mission aimed at saving and redeeming whole people, body and soul, spirit and flesh. And we believe that we are meant to keep on doing what Jesus’ came to do.
Part of the zany fun of “The Blues Brothers,” is how nearly the whole city of Chicago is caught up in their crazy “mission from God.” Like Jesus said about Himself, everyone was either for or against them. As they gathered their band, they were gathering followers who took on the same passion and zeal that the brothers themselves had for bringing off the concert to save the orphanage. Like Jesus seeking out Peter, James and John at their fishing boats or calling Matthew away from his tax collection drummer, Jake persuasively recruits a keyboard player, a trumpet player, guitar players and saxophonists, drawing them all into the mission.
Jesus is still recruiting us to His mission. In the Covenant Church we accept that what we call the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” Is our mission. We believe that the second of the Great Commandments in Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is also our mission.
Our Lord Jesus Christ healed the sick and forgave their sins. He taught them the Word of God and He filled their stomachs with bread. He opened their hearts to God’s Holy Spirit and He opened their eyes to the light of the sun. He showed God’s grace to those who had no problems but pride and sin, and He showed respect and love and mercy to those who were way out on the edges of good society.
We could express the two aspects of Jesus’ mission as evangelism and compassion. Like Jesus we offer the same good news that in His cross, death and resurrection God gives grace and forgiveness to every sinner who asks for it. And, like Jesus, we reach out in tangible, visible love and help for all who are poor or sick or oppressed in this world. That was His mission and it’s our mission. It’s what we mean by the whole mission. We cannot, like the church sometimes has, do only half of it.
Doing only half the mission is much of what divides evangelical from liberal churches in our time. Preaching forgiveness for sin becomes the sole passion of evangelicals and freeing people from social ills and oppression becomes the only purpose of liberals. But the only way to truly follow Jesus is to do both, to the whole thing.
John Stott said that the church which only does one half of Jesus’ mission is like a bird trying to fly on only one wing. Billy Graham quoted Charles Spurgeon saying, “If you want to give a tract to a hungry man, wrap it in a sandwich.” Ron Sider will be speaking up in Salem this afternoon. I’ve heard him speak before, and he almost always begins his call to social action by strongly affirming our call to evangelism. They must be kept together, one whole and complete mission.
So the only real question remaining for us is whether and how you and I will be engaged in Jesus’ mission, the whole mission of loving people with the grace of forgiveness for their sins and with the grit of hard work for their welfare. It’s not an easy mission. We will be opposed. Jake and Elwood met plenty of opposition. Along the way they managed to antagonize country western singers, neo-Nazis and every law enforcement agency in the Chicago area. Jesus met opposition right there in His own community. Read on down and you discover that after an initially favorable reception, His old friends drove Him out of town. It will happen to us.
Some like the liberal community here in Eugene who just want us to feed people, give them money, and vote for social reform won’t like it when you start talking about Jesus. Some Christians who want us to talk lots and lots about Jesus won’t like it when others like Ron Sider start talking about social reform and politics and how much you and I have in relation to the rest of the world.
It’s got to hang together. The whole mission. That’s what Jesus did and it’s what you and I are meant to do. Our pietist forebear, August Hermann Francke, said that our very purpose as Christians is to be for “God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.”
We can start very simply. In addition to praying for older people like Don and Jane, we can visit them or take them a meal. Along with setting up youth groups where we form relationships and share the Gospel with kids, we can offer a little time to tutor or volunteer at their school. We can walk out of a worship service or home fellowship group where we are glorifying God together and go like we did this past summer during Dirty Hands Week to prepare food or plant flowers or fix a house.
Each of us accomplishes the mission in our own place and in our own way. Talk to a co-worker about your faith in Christ, and offer to watch her kids during a family emergency. Teach a class of children about Jesus on Sunday morning and help them pack boxes of Christmas gifts for children overseas. Trim the shrubs here at church so that folks will have a good impression of God’s house, then trim the shrubs next door so they will have a good impression of God’s people.
Some of us may be more focused in one way than the other. Lord forgive me, I’m a preacher. Lord bless you, you may be a cook or a cleaner or a healer. We each have our gifts, our peculiar callings. But the whole mission belongs to all of us. We are each and everyone called to evangelism and compassion, to love God and love our neighbors with the good news that is both gifts for this world and life and gifts for God’s kingdom and the life eternal. Jesus came to bring both. We are here to offer both. Let’s fulfill our mission, our whole mission.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj