THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Will You Come and Follow Me?
Years ago a board game was introduced which was call “Oregon Trail.” Players drew cards which gave them events and situations which happened along the 2,170 mile trail during the decades from 1840 to 1870: broken wheels and axles, flooded rivers, extreme temperatures, drought, ambushes, cholera and scurvy, drowning, being run- over, being mauled by wild animals, other accidents, loss of horses, excess weight, loss of food and water.
The people didn’t know what they were getting into. They only knew that they had to do it, that going into the unknown was likely better than remaining in the known. Of the some 400,000 persons that traveled west, an estimated six percent never made it. They were buried in unmarked graves along or under the wagon track.
We have never done anything like that, but each of us embarked on radically new paths of living during our lifetimes: going away to college, getting the first job, getting married, changing employers or careers, finding a retirement location. None of them were as threatening or intense as the Oregon Trail experience, even though the changes may have felt that way. But we went ahead and we survived to tell the tales.
Last December America saluted John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, the oldest American to go in to space, and the last living original Project Mercury astronaut. Those seven were tapped to go where no human being had ever gone, to break the bonds of earth’s atmosphere. They had close calls, but they made it. The ultimate dangers were fully realized during Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle missions.
A new class of astronauts was announced recently. They will go to the International Space Station and maybe farther. In the 2015 movie, The Martian, Matt Damon plays a scientist who gets stranded on Mars during the first manned mission to the red planet. He uses his training, his wits, and a lot of perseverance to survive while his friends work to bring him back to Earth.
Imagine, however, if the mission had been to go to Mars with no intention of ever coming back. Imagine leaving behind everything and everyone you’ve ever known, much as the Oregon Trail pioneers did 175 years ago, to go to a planet where you’ll spend the rest of your life (and surely death) in a hostile environment with nothing but red rocks and dust to look at.
That idea has been proposed by a Dutch nonprofit organization called Mars One. The idea is to put four people on Mars as an initial colony in the year 2030, followed by new crews every two years. Mars will be their permanent home where they’ll live, work, and study the planet.
You would think it would be tough to get people to sign up for such a one-way mission, but when the search for astronauts began in 2013, more than 200,000 applicants expressed their desire to go where no one has gone and from where no one will return.
Mars One has culled the applicants down to 100 people, split evenly between male and female, and they range from doctors to unemployed people in their 20s. The most important qualification for candidates is their perceived ability to handle living on a big planet with just a few other people and their acceptance of the fact that they will never return to Earth. Mars One can teach them skills like engineering, farming and medicine, but it can’t teach determination, perseverance, and the ability to risk. As one the lucky 100 says, “I would probably die on Earth if I stayed here, too.” I doubt if any of us would sign up for Mars One, even in our reckless, carefree, younger days.
We should be careful saying, “No way.” Jesus offers us a very similar sort of one-way mission, not to leave this world behind, but rather to venture into it for the purpose of colonizing it as citizens of the kingdom of God. We don’t leave inner space, but infiltrate it fully. But like a one-way ticket to Mars, it’s also an extremely dangerous mission from which there may be no return. It’s a mission that could cost us everything.
Like SpaceX’s Elon Musk, Jesus is the visionary for this mission and demonstrates to his potential crew how it would work. Matthew reported that “Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” The crowds who came to Jesus were living in an unsustainable environment, “troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Israel’s rulers, both kings and religious leaders, had failed them, leaving them longing for a new spiritual home.
Jesus pointed to this new future home — a home that was breaking into the present even as he spoke his teaching on the kingdom of God. He called this home the rule of God on the earth. God would “harvest” the faithful and enroll them within the realm of God’s Rule. But while the “harvest” was plentiful and the people ripe for this new world to break in, the number of initial crew members available for the journey would be small. Jesus put out a call to “plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.” It was, and is, a prayer and a call that can lead to receiving a one-way ticket.
Matthew lists the “Kingdom Twelve,” a ragtag group including simple fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary, a loudmouth, and a shifty betrayer. Matthew uses the word “apostles” for them, meaning that they are sent, dispatched, commissioned, charged with the responsibility to share the same news Jesus has been spreading: God’s rule is near now!
Yes, they will need further training, and they will get it. Who of us ever knew everything we needed to know for job we were tasked to do. On-the-job training is the rule, not the exception. They are not free-lancers. They have a specific target: “the lost sheep, the people of Israel,” not Gentiles or Samaritans. Others will see to them later. And they have a specific mission: announce that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” They were to do that not only through words, but also through the specific actions that Jesus himself had demonstrated and given them authority to do themselves: curing the sick and casting out demons.
NASA plans, plans, and plans again for the sustainability of every mission they do. Jesus told the apostles up front that they will live off of whatever is provided for them. Unlike the Oregon Trail folks who took too much, they are to take nothing but the clothes on their backs. Being completely dependent on strangers is Jesus’ way of saying that they will be fully dependent on God to supply their needs. They will enter both welcoming and hostile environments and need to deal with both.
The sent ones will also need a realistic picture of their future: their mission will be dangerous. Accompanying Jesus will give them a taste of that danger. They will go as “sheep among wolves.” They will face hostility from both religious and civil authorities, alienation and separation from their families, and presumed guilt by being associated with Jesus. But they are not to fear because God will be with them.
You and I also have been called into this one-way mission. That’s what being the church of Jesus Christ is all about. Unfortunately it is too easy for us to see the church as a safe and secure place from which to see the world and its darkness from a distance. Jesus has given us the church as a training ground and launching pad for his mission in the world. We have to wrestle with the same questions as the first apostles did.
Who is our target? Who are the specific people in our community to whom Jesus is sending us? What are we willing to risk in order to reach them?
What is our goal? Are we proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom, both present and future, through both our words and our actions? Where are we working to confront evil in our community? How are we participating in the healing of the bodies and souls of our neighbors?
What is our sustainability plan? Are we hoarding resources as a means of sustaining the church as an institution, or are we depending on God for our daily bread while sharing our resources with others in need? Are we offering peace to our neighbors and to the strangers we encounter, or are we offering condemnation and fear?
What are we willing to risk? Are we willing to be at odds with the culture around us because of our faith in Christ? Are we willing to risk ridicule and persecution because we proclaim Christ and minister in ways that reflect his kingdom? Are we willing to stand for what is right, what is just, and what is true when the world seeks to conform us to its evil ways? Accepting the Jesus mission is a one-way ticket.
Jesus only promised his disciples a cross, which was and is the one-way journey from which the only return is resurrection. As Jesus put it, “Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them” (Matthew 10:38-39closeAn error occurred.).
There is no risk more worth it than the mission of the kingdom! Will you accept the one-way ticket Jesus offers? Will you come and follow him?