Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sent Out In Jesus’ Name

“Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”
––Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verse 20 of Eugene Peterson's The Message

What you do for God, you do every day. Every time you step out of your door and into the grocery store, the office, the classroom, the doctor’s office, the employee break room, the teacher’s lounge, the senior center. While you’re waiting in line at the pharmacy, the DMV, the movie theater. When you pick up the phone and call your sister, your mother, your child. When the phone rings and it’s your best friend, a bill collector or some campaign volunteer.

Every minute, every day, you’re on the spot with and for Jesus. Some days, you’re peaceful and punctual, witty and wise, world’s best ad for the Christian life. Other days, you’re snappy and stressed, worn-out and worried, wishing you’d stayed in bed, covers pulled overhead, embarrassed to call yourself Christian.

We can’t avoid being sent out in Jesus’ name. Even hermits have visitors, and the world around us is full of people, full of hurt, full of despair, and full of opportunity for God to appear on doorsteps with more life changing tools than the Fuller brush man.

How then do we venture out? Back then, Jesus sent out seventy using the buddy system. “Be careful, this is hazardous work,” he said. By all means, take a friend, especially when you’re not sure where you’re going, or how you’ll be received. Fill up your gas tank, check your tires and fluid levels, get a GPS if being lost bothers you, but try to leave the baggage behind. Unload some of your suitcases first, examine your past, keep what’s good and toss the worn-out shirts, tapes and attitudes that don’t fit anymore. If you don’t have enough Good News in your own life, it’s hard to share it with others.

When you’re ready, hit the freeway, the frontage roads, the city streets, the suburban subdivisions. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, warts and all, scars and all, quirks and all, opinions and all, with thoughts about God and Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all, that aren’t perfectly formed or expressed.

Spend time with people who are drawn to you, curious about your life, wondering how it is that you have hope and a certain inner peace when the externals of your life are just as mixed up and frightening as anyone else’s. Get to know these people over coffee, over sack lunches, over yoga poses or college classes.

Listen to their words and to the hopes and fears behind and below the words. Listen to the things they cannot say aloud or even to themselves, see how they are hungry for something that can satisfy the gnawing in their souls? Invite them into your story, into your faith, into prayer, into the church.

If they decline, accept the no gracefully. God isn’t through with them, or with you. Relax; you didn’t fail a test. The friendship is still worth cultivating. Knowing someone at a deep level is always worth it, even if, or maybe especially if, you can navigate your differences with respect and acceptance.

Don’t waste your time with people who want to quarrel with you, prove you wrong, who seem invested in tearing apart your faith out of their own self-righteousness, fear or past hurts. This isn’t a race to win souls, there’s no blue ribbon, no heavenly trophy for the person who lands the most challenging and cantankerous converts.

You don’t need to drag yourself through the dirt, in fact clap it off your shoes and move on. Take it from Jesus. Being the person God intends you to be is hard enough without being torn down by difficult people or know-it-alls.

And here’s the thing, every time you’re out there in the world, every time you’re brave enough to risk sharing who you really are, and who God is in your life, you’re the one who grows in faith, who comes to know ever more deeply God’s presence in your life and God’s welcome authority over you.

That, as Jesus says, is the agenda for rejoicing. That is the motivation to keep at it, to keep plugging away, to face those fears of being pushy or too Christian, of being ridiculed, or rejected. When we are treated and received well by others, that’s a bonus. When other people’s lives are impacted by our words, actions and lives, that’s a bonus too.

But the real payoff is God, God with us, God in us. That is why we are sent out in Jesus’ name.

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