- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Rachael Wangen-Hoch at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Riverdale, Md.

A year ago, this congregation commissioned Pastor Doug and his wife, Monica, as missionaries to Madagascar. This is our image of mission: religious professionals sent overseas. But Pastor Doug would be the first to say everyone here is a missionary.
Our denomination has "mission congregations, " and a goal is to start 200 of these. Churches that are brand new. They don't have a building, but only a pastor. They'll go door to door to meet people. Even this church began that way.
But I have an objection. If a brand-new congregation is a "mission" church, what does that make an established congregation like us? A church that does not engage in mission? No. Here in Riverdale we are a mission congregation, filled with missionaries commissioned by Jesus Christ. That's what it means to be a part of the "priesthood of all believers."
In Luke, after Jesus sends out the 12 apostles, He commissions 70 other people. If the apostles are the religious professionals, the 70 are probably the rest of His followers, names lost to history. We are about 90 on an average Sunday —not so different, is it? We see in reading Luke that by Chapter 9, Jesus makes a major shift. For the first time, He tells the 12 to do what only He had done. He gave them "power and authority to cast out all demons," and "sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick."
We might expect that, of course, of His 12 apostles. But by Chapter 10, Jesus has turned to 70 who are not "religious professionals. " They might have been Jesus' entire following. It is true that by sending them out, Jesus could reach more people, but that is not the only reason.
In 12-step recovery programs, the final step is to carry the message to others with the same addiction. In other words, step 12 is becoming a missionary. This is part of their own growth and recovery. I propose that the same thing is happening with the disciples of Jesus. He sends us out so the world can hear about salvation, but also for our own good. When we share our faith in deed and word, we mature in faith and spirit. Jesus knows how easily we become observers; we applaud the work of religious professionals, but stay in the bleachers.
When you become a missionary, Jesus empowers you with the spirit. Even if people do not come to God by your effort, it is vital for your growth. Being a missionary stretches us beyond comfort. We learn the joy of God's power working through us. I believe this congregation has more than the average number of people feeling this call, so let me conclude with some very specific instruction that Jesus gives us.
This gospel [Luke 10:1-11, 16-20] is too rich for us to cover everything, but some I want to touch on. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. " We should never doubt the necessity of missionaries. Jesus asks us to pray for God to send laborers.
Whatever house you enter, Jesus says, declare "the kingdom of God has come near to you. " Missionaries declare what God is doing. They bring God's peace to whomever receives them. If people don't accept that peace, "it will return to you. " Some people will welcome you, others not. So don't be anxious about rejection, for God has responsibility in the end. "Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, " Jesus says, wipe the dust off your feet "in protest. " Yet say, "the kingdom of God has come near."
Rejection will not stop the movement of the kingdom of God. As we become a presence in our neighborhoods, some will want nothing to do with God's work. There will be those who embrace you, and those who reject you. Luke tells us, "the 70 returned with joy" at the power of Jesus' name. You, as a missionary, will be surprised at the joy.
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Larry Johnson at Covenant Bible Church in Oakton.

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