daily biblical sermons


WHAT IS THE HEART OF CHRISTIAN MISSION?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, 15th Sunday of the Year, July 15, 2018
Amos 7:12-15, Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:7-13


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"And he [Jesus] called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, ‘Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave that place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.' So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them" (Mark 6:7-13).


Today's gospel reading is about mission, Christian mission, which is the noble task of preaching the kingdom of God and the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. These missionaries were to travel light, not taking any money or food with them. Not only could they not help the people they preached to with money or food, but they themselves were to accept the people's hospitality and be fed and lodged by them. They were simply to preach that people should repent, for the kingdom of God was at hand, cast out evil spirits, and pray over the sick that they might recover.


Even later in St. Paul's day, missionary preachers like him operated in a very similar way, traveling light and focusing on preaching salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, because of what he did for us on the cross. Their preaching included arguing from the Old Testament that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and Son of God and telling the people to repent of their sins and believe in him for their forgiveness and justification. Not only does it seem that St. Paul did not financially help the people to whom he preached, but he even went around to all the cities he preached to and took up a collection of money from them to help the poor in Jerusalem.


Of course, Christian missionaries today, like all Christians, should help those in need, as their means may permit (Matthew 25:31-46), but the heart of missionary work should be to faithfully preach the gospel and celebrate the sacraments.


During the New Testament period, miraculous cures and exorcisms were very important as verifiable, visible, physical demonstrations that Jesus and his apostles were sanctioned and sent by God. This was very important in the beginning to arouse faith in the people to whom the apostles preached. These miraculous cures, however, soon receded in frequency and importance as the Church got established, but even in the beginning of the Church, important as they were, they were always only ancillary aids to the central missionary task of preaching the gospel.


Furthermore, Jesus tells his disciples that not everyone and not even every village will accept them and their message. In that case, he tells them to leave that place and shake its dust off their feet and go elsewhere where the people are more interested and more receptive. Their time and effort can be better spent elsewhere: "If any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them" (Mark 6:11).


They were to preach, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 10:7). "So they went out and preached that people should repent" (Mark 6:12 NKJV). People were to repent and believe, for the kingdom of God was at hand.


Today modern missionaries, at least in Africa where I worked as a missionary, build "missions," which include a house for the priests, a church, and almost always a dispensary plus houses for the local and foreign nurses and aides, and usually two primary schools, one for boys and one for girls, plus houses for the local teachers. In addition, there are also many outstations which the priest drives to each day in order to celebrate Mass, preach the gospel, and hear confessions. In this way the people are helped in many basic ways and usually join the Church.


But in all this, we need to remember the New Testament Church's focus on preaching the gospel as the heart of missionary work, and not get distracted by too many other good things that we might do. We remember that the apostles refused to wait on tables in the distribution of food to the poor. So they appointed seven men to do this ministry for them, while they devoted themselves to preaching the gospel and leading the public prayers (Acts 6:1-6).


Today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians helps us focus on what Jesus and the apostles focused on in their missionary work. What St. Paul preaches in today's second reading is what we should also preach. We should preach that the kingdom of God is among us in Jesus Christ. It is a kingdom in which we are reborn and made new by the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, a redemption that is now available to us through our faith in Jesus Christ, for God has chosen us "in him [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ephesians 1:4). "In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us" (Ephesians 1:7).


We should preach that it is Christ's blood shed on the cross that redeems us. We are redeemed in Christ and by Christ, because of the reparation he has made for our sins by his death on the cross, where he vicariously suffered our punishment for our sins for us, thereby paying our debt that we had with God for our sins. Our debt with God was the punishment that we owed him for our sins - eternal punishment - which we could not pay. So God, in his mercy, paid it for us by sending us his Son, Jesus, to suffer our punishment for our sins for us on the cross.


We should preach that all those who believe in Christ will have his suffering and death for their sins reckoned to their personal account as paying their debt with God for their sins. God therefore acquits of their sins all who believe in his Son Jesus and who trust in him for their salvation. God also declares them righteous, with the very righteousness of Christ himself reckoned to them so that they might shine with Christ's own righteousness before God. This is how God redeems and justifies us.


Genuine repentance for our sins is also to be preached as part of saving faith, for only those who genuinely repent of their sins and have a firm purpose of amending their life have saving faith and can be forgiven by God.


It is the blood of Christ shed on the cross in vicarious suffering and death to make reparation for our sins that saves us who repent and put our faith for our salvation in him. This is what St. Paul means when he says, "In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Ephesians 1:7).


St. John says the same, "The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7b).


St. John repeats this again in the book of Revelation, "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Revelation 1:5b).


It is Christ's blood shed for our sins that makes us new, "holy and blameless before him" (Ephesians 1:4), when we repent and put our faith in him.


St. Paul continues, in his letter to the Colossians, to explain this redemption: "And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him" (Colossians 1:21-22).


In other words, God has reconciled us to himself in the body of Christ's flesh by his death to make us holy and blameless. Our reconciliation with God comes through Christ's death.


St. Paul says this again in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21: "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).


In other words, God reconciles the world to himself through Christ. Because of Christ's death, God does not count our sins against us, for Christ's death pays for them. And God gives us this message of reconciliation so that we might call others to come with faith to Christ to be reconciled with God through his death for our sins, for God put our sins on him and punished them in him so that we might become righteous with the righteousness of God himself.


God did all this by sending us his Son in human flesh so that he (God) could condemn our sins in his (Christ's) flesh to set us free from them, as St. Paul says, "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh [of Christ]" (Romans 8:3).


All of the above is the basic kerygma or outline of New Testament preaching. We who believe in Christ experience all this. This saving reality that we experience in Christ, through faith, because of what he did for us on the cross is the kingdom of God that we preach.


To preach this message of redemption and reconciliation with God by Christ's blood, through our repentance and faith in him and to celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments is the heart of missionary work.

 

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