A sermon by Fr. Justin Clemente given to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) Hagerstown, MD, February 20, 2022, World Mission Sunday.
We come this Sunday in the season of Epiphany, a season of Jesus being revealed to the world, to World Mission Sunday. And I want us to understand this: as we consider this theme, what we’re not doing is giving a once-a-year nod to the mission or missions that happen somewhere else. If you’ve been around New Creation for a minute or two, you know that’s not us.
What we are saying sand celebrating is that mission is primary to who the church is. As has been said, “the church exists for mission as a fire exists by burning.” And that’s because mission does not start with us. Mission begins with God. God is a missionary God. He comes seeking a lost world. Jesus says it so powerfully and clearly in his commission to his Apostles: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Do you hear the unbreakable links there? Jesus is the sent One, who then sends his church. The church doesn’t have missions. It has one mission from the Father. Friends, Jesus gave the church her mission and he never changed it, retracted, or reoriented it. What is that mission? “Go forth and make disciples, teaching…and baptizing” immersing the nations in the Name of the Trinity. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Here, and all over the world, we are sent in Jesus’ name. We should continue to believe that. We should believe that is good to be sent. In our time together today, we’re going to concentrate our thought around just one verse from Romans 10. Look at verse 15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Here, God’s word tells us that gospel feet are three things: beautiful, blooming, and necessary.
Beautiful (v. 15)
So first: feet that carry the gospel of Christ are, in fact, beautiful. I want celebrate that and affirm that with you here this morning. We live in a time when it is increasingly shameful to even suggest that people need Good News. But that of course does not mean the need stops. Whenever and wherever we take the opportunity to lovingly and truthfully proclaim what Jesus has done for us and others, that is beautiful.
Understand though, the feet are beautiful because they proclaim or preach Good News. I want to give you some advice this morning on how to share the faith. When God opens a door to share Jesus, do just that! Point them to Jesus, not “what it means to you” or what it means to you “personally” or what you “feel.” You’re not the gospel. Your experience is not the gospel. People need to wrestle with and hear the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. They need to hear, as Jude, says, of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) They need to hear a proclamation. You’re the messenger, but you’re not the message. Being clear on this will keep you out of some sticky spots. You didn’t invent this gospel and you didn’t think it up. It’s Jesus’ gospel. Let him speak.
Tim Keller is wise here, I think, to say that when people object to this or that aspect of Christian teaching or the commandments of God, we ought to the point them back to the claims of Christ. It’s not that we want to hide what we believe. If someone wants to have a respectful conversation on what Christians believe about sexuality, then let’s have that conversation. BUT, we should also say, in some way, if you think that’s something, wait ‘til you find out what we believe about Jesus’ death and resurrection! And, if you haven’t yet wrestled with that, then your hang ups on this or that aspect of Christian teaching is the least of your problems. Bottom line: you are to be a witness – so point them away from you and back to Jesus.
Blooming (Healthy & Invigorated, v. 15)
But if we turn the word for beautiful in another direction, if we look at it from another angle, what we find is that can also mean literally, “blooming.” That is to say, “healthy and invigorated” – “at the prime of life.”
There’s a dynamic here, I think. It’s this: the Gospel gives life to people AND to the church. A gospel focused church is the bride of Christ in her prime. At her very best. She is being and doing what she was designed for by God. Keeping the gospel in the center and upfront is a healthy diet for us, too. The moment we stop evangelizing and discipling in our homes and in our communities, we are on our way to decay and death. In this way, a young church can very quickly turn anemic and unhealthy and an old church can remain vibrant for centuries.
Two Wednesdays ago, we had a woman – I’ll call her Ruth – come to church looking for help. Our group was down at Walnut Towers and because we’ve been there just about every week for a year and half, the gentlemen who was with her knew that she needed to talk to us about her problem.
What was her problem? She believed she was demonized and wanted deliverance. Thankfully, Dave was leading Midday Prayer service that day, so after the dismissal we were able to sit down with her, hear her story, and pray for reconciliation to the Lord, forgiveness, and deliverance. About forty-five minutes later, Ruth left grateful, at ease, and assured of her freedom in Christ.
I turned to Dave and said, “Well, the Lord threw you in the deep end today!” I was glad he was there, otherwise I would have felt the same way. But do you know what we both felt most deeply in that encounter? Joy and excitement. Joy and excitement to participate in the Lord’s work. Nothing invigorates the church like true, authentic Gospel mission.
Necessary (vs. 15, 17)
Lastly, gospel feet are necessary. In the providence and sovereignty of God, the divine Gospel comes through human hands. As author Michael Middendorf says, “[The message] comes to us, and it does so incarnationally by those whom God has sent.” (Romans 9-16, pg. 1007)
Look at verse 17: “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The revealed means by which God saves people is none other than hearing, believing, and calling upon the Lord. Read verse 14 backwards: people must hear, and by hearing believe, and by believing, call upon Jesus.
The first thing to notice here is that this is universally true. Look back at verses 11 and 13 – “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This for the entire world. No one saves themselves, and everyone who calls shall be saved.
Let me give two real life examples. First, how do you think the church at Rome was established? It happened most likely through the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost. Real live gospel feet took it all the way from Jerusalem to Rome and proclaimed it to people there. In the midst of pluralistic Greco-Roman culture, this is how the church at Rome began. Faithful gospel proclamation of a universal message for all people.
Another much more recent example comes to us from the jungles of the Amazon and Huaorani tribe in Ecuador. One of their leaders, Gikita Waewae (read: Why-why), tells their story. Before his death on February 11, 1997, he was for decades an elder in the Huaroani church. Before that, though, being part of what had been an incredibly violent people, he personally took part in the killing of five of the missionaries who brought him the Good News in the 1950s, among them Jim Elliott and Nick Saint. Because the Huaroani oriented their lives around revenge, Gikita assumed that Steve Saint, Nick’s son, would come for revenge. When he didn’t, this changed everything. Many of the Huaorani were baptized in 1958, and began to flourish rather than destroy themselves by violence. Before he died, Gikita spoke these words to Steve Saint: “being old, I, too, am soon going to die. Going to live, then, in God’s place. I will wrap my arms around your father, whom I speared first. There we will live happily together.”
From Rome to the jungles of the Amazon and everywhere in between, none can save themselves and all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Friends, unless the body of Christ believes this essential truth, it will never reach people. It might talk about reaching them. It might support missionaries who do, but it’s feet will never bloom. And it will never actually get them dirty in the work of evangelism and discipleship. That’s what this year is all about for us!
Invitation (vs. Inactivity or Manipulation)
The last thing to note is that although gospel feet are necessary, they do not ultimately do the saving. God does that. It is the word of Christ that creates and nourishes faith. Our role is to be faithful and therefore our posture can be one of invitation. Not inactivity on the one hand or manipulation on the other hand, but gracious invitation.
Skipping down to verse 21, Paul, in speaking of the Jewish rejection of Jesus quotes again from Isaiah and says, “All day long [God has] held out [his] hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Friends, if that does not point us to the outstretched arms of Christ upon the cross, I don’t know what Old Testament scripture does.
And God’s posture is to be ours. Do you know what the pre-requisite for evangelism is? Actually loving people. One of the sorriest things about the stark polarization of our nation is that it is bleeding into the bloodstream of Christians. If we buy into that, we will find ourselves unable to love sinners, because we will have already passed judgment upon them. And we will have forgotten that our feet are to be gospel feet.
Therefore, to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be glory, praise, and honor now and forevermore. Amen.