On Being Sent

Can I be honest for a second?  Trinity Sunday is a disaster.  It serves no greater purpose than to make life hard on the preacher, and to produce an annual threat of heresy to our congregations.  Every year, I throw up my hands and ask the Irish twins to take me away.

The Scriptures appointed for Trinity Sunday, especially the three Gospel lessons, do nothing to help.  References to the Trinity are either obviously later additions (see Matthew 28) or are clearly early and undeveloped Trinitarian references.  Above it all, they begat bad preaching.

For example, I suspect someone, somewhere in the world is going to use John 3:1-17 to preach on the errors of the filioque (literally, “and the Son”), by noting that in this text the Son is sent, while the Spirit is clearly pre-existent, which, while accurate, will do little to edify or inspire.  One could, without being obnoxious, riff on the larger idea of being sent.

There is, thankfully, a growing understanding of Mary Magdalene as the Apostle to the Apostles.  The first to witness the resurrected Jesus, it is Mary who is given the task of sharing the Good News with the eleven remaining disciples.  It is Mary who is sent by Jesus, or, in the Greek, apostolos.  That verb makes an appearance in the Gospel lesson for Sunday, in the more important verse than John 3:16.  John 3:17 notes that the Son is sent (apostolos) by the Father for the salvation of the world.  Later, after the resurrection, Jesus send (apostolos) ten of the remaining eleven disciples out into the world, just as he had been sent by the Father.  To empower them for that work, Jesus breaths the Holy Spirit upon them.

It is God: Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit who sends us into the world, empowered to spread the Good News of Salvation.  Without one part of the Godhead, our mission is diminished.  So, rather than bother with the messiness of the perichoretic dance, maybe this Trinity Sunday is a chance to remind our folks that we are empowered by the same Spirit that sustained the Son in the salvation of the world.

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Don’t try so hard, Patrick!

 

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Sent as Angels

I started this blog post last Wednesday, with every intent of trying to keep up some sort of blogging schedule during my last week of classes, but I failed miserably.  Thankfully, there are some similarities in the Gospel lessons for Propers 8 and 9 in Year C, so I can use the title and two sentences.

Last Sunday’s gospel lesson marks the turning point in Luke’s story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Having been transfigured on the mountain, Jesus is now on a downhill journey to the cross.  As he prepared for the long, arduous journey to Jerusalem, Jesus sent messengers ahead of him to prepare the way.  In Greek, they are sent (apostolos) as messengers (angelos).  They are sent as angels.

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In the New Testament, the work of the angels is to speak on behalf of God.  In Luke, they’ve been quite busy: announcing the birth of John the Baptist, declaring a pregnancy to the Virgin Mary, and announcing to the Shepherds good news of great joy, the birth of a Savior, Christ the Lord.  Now it is the job of the disciples to take on the role of the bearers of good news.

This week, we again hear the story of Jesus sending people on ahead of him.  This time, Luke tells us that it is “70 others” (heteros), or perhaps more literally, another 70 [messengers].  As Jesus continued his journey to the cross, he sent messengers (angelos) to every town he planned to visit.  They went ahead, prepared a place, and began to lay the ground work for his arrival.  They were sent to share the good news that the Kingdom of God had come near, but when they arrived at their destinations, they realized that their task was even greater than that.  They were able to share not only in his proclamation, but in his ministry of healing and exorcism.  They were sent as messengers, but arrived as angels through the power of the Spirit.

On Being Sent – Apostleship

There are a lot of important verses in the Bible: Genesis 1:1, Micah 6:8, John 3:16, Mark 16:15, and Romans 12:12 come immediately to mind.  Apart from some of the theologically significant ones like Genesis 1:1, John 19:30, and Acts 2:4, usually the most important verses in Scripture are lessons for the reader and their community on how to live the life of faith.  Through these verses, we are called to love, to serve, to preach, and to repent, but there is perhaps no more important call than the commandment to go.

On that first Easter night, after Jesus had appeared in the room through locked doors, he offered them Shalom, the Peace of God, and then instructed them, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  John uses two different words to convey the message of being sent: Jesus was sent “apostelos” by his Father and he is sending “pempo” his disciples.  Despite John’s use of these words interchangeably through his Gospel, I find it odd in this particular situation that he would use both words.  It just doesn’t make sense in the context of the sentence.

“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  We are sent by Jesus under the same commission that he was sent by his Father, that is, we are “apostelos,” or more familiarly, Apostles.  I ran across a blog post by Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor at Connexus Church in Toronto, Canada, entitled “Why we need more entrepreneurial church leaders, not more shepherds.”  In it, he argues that what the Church as lost is leadership that has at its very core an identity as Apostles, which he defines in the 21st century context as “spiritual entrepreneurs.”  He argues that there are five skills of the modern day Apostle that are crucial to the future of the Church.

  1. Willingness to Risk
  2. Experimentation
  3. Restless Discontent with the Status Quo
  4. Boldness
  5. Bias Toward Action

Nieuwholf give a nod to Apostleship as a gift, but as we read the Resurrection Day account in John 20, it become clear that one is not sent except with and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  These qualities, which I agree are extremely important and mostly missing in my context of The Episcopal Church, come from the deep peace of the Spirit of God.

There was a time when I thought of myself as an entrepreneur.  Back when I was Business Administration student at Millersville University, I took every entrepreneurship class I could find, but the Church is built for shepherds.  Rectors, mostly solo priests these days, are so busy with the hamster wheel of ministry that there is no time to think outside the box and certainly no incentive toward risk and experimentation.  Maybe that’s why I’m approaching my 7th year as an Associate.  There is time, and even some incentive, to think beyond the walls, to be sent forth with the power of the Spirit, to bring about change for the good of the Kingdom.  I’ve been feeling discontent as of late, and I think I understand why.  I’ve allowed myself to get comfortable, complacent even.  Perhaps it is time for a spiritual kick in the ass and an Apostleship booster shot.  Not just for me, of course, but if Jesus’ call is any indication, the whole Church should be looking for ways to be sent.