Readings Luke 9:46-10:12 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
We are beginning a new series, Why we do what we do… which provides us an opportunity to explore the building blocks of our Sunday service (the call to worship, communion, singing, a sermon, etc) and ask why… ask what are the reasons, stories, and purposes that motivate these common aspects of our worshipping life together.
Today we begin that series, but not with the beginning of our service, indeed we are going to be working backwards. And we’re working backwards, not just because it’s a neat gimmick, but because to start with the sending and the blessing is reflective of purpose of gathering and identity of the Christian community - we are a sent people, the church is missionary.
The service ends with sending because that reminds us that this time is not the end, not the Christian life in completion… this time is for the rest of the time. This service is to refresh, revive, and refocus us to go out in service of the world. We worship to shape our witness.
We live now in the era of the gym. I think of the old squash courts next to Glen St Theatre. When I was younger these were squash courts (8 courts with maybe a couple of pieces of exercise equipment) and yet, over the last decade and a half, the sqaush courts got squashed… there were fewer and fewer as the gym equipment and group work out space encroached and expanded until the old squash courts became Energize, a gym (with one squash court left). This is reflective of a broader cultural change. For many preceding generations exercise was activity based… you played sports or were active through employment, chores, handiwork, and other such activities. Exercise (such as weights or cardio) was generally engaged to enhance ones proficiency in those activities/sports. Alternatively, the general impulse behind exercise for aesthetic gain was in order to impress another person. We live now in a time of exercise for the sake of exercise, exercise without an end, but which often exists within a closed circle where the focus is on how it makes us feel and look to ourselves. Now, I’m not condemning this or saying this shift is a bad thing (it's good to feel healthy and good about ones self) it is to notice the trend and to draw our attention to how, analogously, sometimes a similar thing happens in the church. Where the worship service ceases to be about preparing us for activity and engagement out in the world, and rather becomes about itself. Where worship becomes a closed circle, something we do for ourselves with no opening toward others. Where we try and get really good at worship without thinking what is this activity performed for.
This is why we are beginning with the sending and blessing. It is the reminder that the worship service does not exist in a closed loop. At the end of the service we are sent out, at the end of our service we go forth. The sending serves as a reminder that we are not an island. It reminds us that the end of worship lies beyond itself, in love and service of the world.
Let us briefly consider the shape of our worship service. We are called to worship, brought in from our life amongst our neighbours as those following after Christ witnessing to his completed work. We then spend time in worship to build one another up in love, to confess where we have fallen short and hear Christ's word of grace to us. We spend time in the Word and hear it proclaimed, we respond through praise and prayer (and sometimes communion) and then we are blessed and sent… and that progression is intentional, because all that leads up is there to prepare us to be sent again… the Sunday service is a pit stop in the Christian's week.
Today’s gospel reading gave us a broad picture about what it means to be sent. We are sent with the reminder that greatness is found in welcoming those who often forgotten, those who cannot pay back our welcome with money or clout. We are sent in the reminder that those who cast out demons (those who resist and fight against the injustices of the world) in a name other than Christ’s are not against us but for us. We are sent and reminded that if we do not receive welcome it is entirely the wrong reaction to wish that town/person obliterated. We are sent out vulnerable but asked to be crafty, wise to the ways of the world. We are sent out to rely on the hospitality of others (but encouraged not to be exploited). We are sent out and told not to exploit the hospitality of others but to live well with our neighbours developing long-lasting relationships of trust and mutual care. And we are sent with the reminder that we are not sent alone.
Importantly, sending is not detached from the blessing, but also blessing is not independent of sending. We are not sent alone, and so at the end of the service we receive the blessing and reminder that we are blessed by God, that we go with God (even as God goes before us). And yet, because the blessing is tied to the sending it reminds us that the blessings are not ours and ours alone, they are not meant to land and rest on us. We are blessed to be a blessing, we are blessed so that we can share in Christ's work (a work that is always for the world). This is in keeping with the broader conception of the gifts we receive from the Spirit… these gifts are not to be kept under a bushel, but shared. The blessing, like the gifts of the Spirit, is not static, but moves between and beyond us as we go out to love and serve the world.
And so, this is why we do what we do… this is why, at the end of this service we hear a blessing and sending. It is a reminder of the fundamental character of the Church, of the Christian community… we are - like Christ - sent into the world to love and serve the world, to witness to the good news, to be ambassadors of reconciliation, to share in Christ's redeeming work of justice… we are a people on a mission… but we are not on it alone… for as we are sent we are blessed, we are reminded that the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is with us.
The time we spend together on a Sunday morning is important, it is special, it is holy… and it is not the whole story. Indeed rather than being viewed as the culmination, climax, or crescendo of the Christian life, it is foundation, the launch pad, the fuelling station where we are refined by and reminded of the power, presence, and promise of God, so that we might feel ready to once again step out in Faith to follow after Christ who is found out ahead of us, tending to the world's wounds.
Image: Corn Harvest in Provence. Vincent van Gogh, 1888
Please enjoy a collection of sermons preached in recent months at the Kirk. If you have questions about the sermons, or attending a service reach out using the Contact Page.