Sermon. June 28, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
There is a contrast between the reading from Matthew and the one from Acts that stands out to be addressed. In the Gospel passage Jesus clearly tells the first Twelve disciples, who he has just called and commissioned as apostles, to focus only on Israel and avoid Gentiles and Samaritans. In the Acts passage Paul is preaching in Gentile territory and finds a base from which to work at the home of Lydia, a Gentile woman.
What changed in the interim between these two passages is the Great Commission given by Risen Christ at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 28). This Great Commission called the church to Go to all nations, making disciples, and teaching the Jesus Way. The Great Commission is a call to radical inclusion.
By time Paul encounters Lydia, the apostles have been led by the Holy Spirit to embrace the path of radical inclusion. Gentiles – people of all nations – are to become partners in the Mission.
Lydia along with her household are baptized. She invites Paul to make her home his base of operations. Lydia becomes a Partner in Mission.
When Jesus called and commissioned the Twelve they become the first Partners in Mission. Yet their first mission venture is very focused. Why would Jesus specifically exclude Gentiles when much of the Book of Acts shows how the early church is led by the Holy Spirit to radical inclusion of Gentiles?
When you teach a young child to ride a bicycle it is helpful to start them on a bike equipped with training wheels. Jesus has the Twelve out on their first mission on training wheels.
Jesus calls them to be Partners in Mission, but keeps them close by. Make mistake, Jesus gives them a bold charge. They are to proclaim that God’s kingdom is near. They are to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons.
Jesus does however instruct them to go to people like themselves. The initial mission trip is to people of their own culture.
We look at Jesus’ charge to the Twelve and we are amazed at what he is asking them to do. Raise the dead. Cast out demons. It turns out however that what is really hard for the apostles is radically including people who are different than they are.
The Risen Christ commissions them. The Holy Spirit empowers them. Still they struggle to fully embrace Gentiles.
When the Twelve first become Partners in Mission Jesus keeps the training wheels on. The bold mission they enact is done within their cultural boundaries.
Only later is the call and commission expanded in ways that push them out of their cultural comfort zones. And like kids learning to ride a bike when the training wheels first come off, things are a little wobbly at first.
One way we can become Partners in Mission with Jesus is through Public Narrative. That is, through storytelling.
We tell stories to communicate our values and to motivate people to take action. A story structure has three elements: plot, character, and moral. Stories come alive when the character faces a challenge, makes a choice, and experiences an outcome.
Public narrative is a story framework comprised of a Story of Self, a Story of Us, and a Story of Now. Marshall Ganz who developed this framework states, “Through public narrative we move to action by mobilizing sources of motivation, constructing new shared individual and collective identities, and finding the courage to act.”
Public narrative essentially says, “Here is who I am, this is what we have in common, and here’s what we’re going to do about it.” Purpose, community, and urgency.
Story of Self.
Telling your Story of Self is a way to share who you are, the choices that have shaped your identity, and the values you hold. We construct our stories around choice points, moments when we faced a challenge, made a choice, experienced an outcome, and learned a lesson.
Ask yourself: when did I first care about being heard? When did I first experience injustice? When did I feel I had to act and what did I do?
Once you identify a specific choice point, dig deeper and ask yourself: what was the outcome of this choice and how did it feel? What did it teach me?
When we get in touch with our Story of Self, God’s kingdom comes near in our lives. We see this in the testimonials that were shared during our Pride Sunday service on June 21st. The testimonials were very short, focused Stories of Self. They show rather than tell what values moved the testifier to act and how they acted on those values.
Story of Us.
A Story of Us expresses the values and shared experience of the “us” that is evoked at the time. The goal is to create a sense of unity, togetherness, and focus on the shared values of your listeners.
We see our Story of Us coming together throughout the entire Pride Sunday service on June 21st. Our Story of Us is told through the testimonials, and messages of support from the New York Conference and the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition. Our Story of Us also comes through in the music, the readings and prayers, the flower arrangement, artwork, and rainbow lighting. We share a Story of Us through song and through the rainbow doors that proclaim, “God’s doors are open to all.”
Taken together our Pride Sunday is a coming out Story of Us that tells people: “We are Open and Affirming! We are spiritually alive in Jesus Christ, radically inclusive of all of God’s people, and led by the Holy Spirit to be a justice oriented church. We are Open and Affirming – this is who we are, what we are, and why we are.”
Our Story of Us expresses our shared experience of how God is calling us to radical inclusion as we welcome, embrace, and affirm the many diverse and beautiful ways that God creates each of us in God’s image. And that this radical inclusion is the essence of who we are, what we are, and why we are.
Story of Now.
A Story of Now make clear the urgent challenge our “us” faces and the threat to shared values that demand immediate action. Much of the focus of the people moving Open and Affirming forward right now is on youth.
Although there has been a sea change in how gay people are “accepted” in society in the past several decades, acceptance and affirmation are two different things. As an Open and Affirming congregation we affirm the blessing of each of God’s children just as God has made them.
And there are youth who experience rejection and hostility at school and within their families for being who God created them to be. This gives us an urgency to act, a Story of Now.
As we develop a public narrative with a Story of Self, Story of Us, and Story of Now we become Jesus’ Partners in Mission.
Our story merges with the gospel story and the apostles story. We become living messengers of God’s story. We are moved to act together as a spiritually alive, radically inclusive, and justice oriented Jesus community. We embrace and embody love in action.
And this is how a small church casts out the demons in society. Amen.