Sermon by Rev. Canon Patrick Augustine on Fifth Sunday after Pentecost at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin

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2 Samuel 5: 1-5, 9, 10, Psalm 48, 2 Cor. 12: 2-10, Mark 6:1-13
This has been a great weekend of the celebration of July Fourth, a powerful icon in the history of our nation. It is the anniversary of our nation’s birth, the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia saying:
“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
These words are the soul of the freedom we Americans enjoy. They touch us deeply and this celebration reminds us each year of the vision upon which this nation was founded. I am grateful to be an American as my family and I enjoy religious freedom as first generation immigrants from Pakistan. Freedom, peace, justice and equity are important and sacred concepts which we must not take for granted. There are many who live in places in which these freedoms are denied and where citizens are even victimized for their beliefs. In the country of my birth Christians are often persecuted and treated as second class citizens, and there is no guarantee of equal rights, justice or freedom.
Yesterday I received very disturbing news from Pakistan. In the village of Bahmani wala 100 Christian families have been living along with 600 Muslim families for generations, most working as laborers in the fields of Muslim landlords. On June 30 more than 600 Muslims attacked the homes of Christian families for a blasphemy accusation for which the punishment is death. Angry mobs destroyed Christian homes, robed them of their valuable belongings and tortured Christian men and women mercilessly. They set their houses on fire leaving them homeless. For a long time these Muslims have been marginalizing these Christians by boycotting them and denying them privileges. They did not allow them to purchase food items or other essentials for daily needs from the shops of Muslim business owners. Electricity and water for Christians’ homes were cut off. There is no assurance now or in the future that the Christians of Bahmani wala shall ever receive justice or fair treatment.
As we celebrate our unalienable rights of freedom and liberty in our country, I ask you to remember Christians in Pakistan in your prayers for God’s protection. Let us pray that God shall use us as a nation to be instruments of peace that we might work for freedom and prosperity for all with whom we dwell on this planet. Happy Fourth of July to all of us!
In today’s Gospel Jesus sends his disciples out into their community for the same kind of work he was doing --- teaching, healing and calling all who would listen to repent as the Kingdom of God has come near. At that point the disciples were witnessing the dynamic and transforming power of Jesus. They had watched him saying to a leper, “You are cleansed”; and to the blind man, “You can now see.” They had heard these words of Jesus, “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father” John 14:12. Here in this passage of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus called his twelve disciples and sent them two by two.
The Greek for “two by two” was “duo, duo.” The wisdom in this lay in the fact that having two witnesses met the legal requirement for authentic testimony (Deuteronomy 17: 6; 19: 15; Numbers 35:30). Moreover, this provided mutual encouragement and prayer for ministry. John the Baptist employed this same technique (Luke 7:18, 19), and so did the Early Church (Acts 13:2, 3; 15:39-41; 19:22). The idea of going two by two is completely Jewish. Here we learn that the mission of the church is a communal one; and there are no lone rangers in the body of Christ. This mission of Christ is passed on to us who are his disciples in the present day church.

There are two things we learn as Jesus sends out his disciples in the world as agents of the Gospel:
1. Mission is not Church-centered but world centered:

It means that the Church is not an end in itself, but it is God’s primary means of bringing Christ to the world. We may think mission should be for the sake of the Church. But the mission of God is wider than the Church. Scripture says the Gospel is to be preached to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and the arena in which that happens is the world. Hence the church should be understood as the instrument of mission. As Archbishop Temple said, the Church is the only institution in society that should exist for those outside of it.


2. Mission is service and presence, as well as proclamation:

Insofar as the Church reflects the nature of the Servant Christ the Church has credibility. Words will take you only so far in mission: then a “sermon” has to be preached with one’s feet. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The Gospel needs to be seen as well as heard.
In our own church several years ago we as a parish sponsored Hmong refugee families to settle in La Crosse. For the last six years you have helped to raise funds for the education of Sudanese children who have been uprooted from their homes because of thirty years of war in their country. A few months ago we raised funds to send a motorized wheelchair for a handicapped church worker in Pakistan. This mission outreach project started with the vision of our two sisters Marsha Blank and Edie MacDougal. Every Tuesday several members of our parish go to prepare meals for poor children at the Salvation Army center. Our parish ministry of hospitality reaches out to welcome and share meals on Thursdays, and Sunday morning Coffee hour is to create a place of welcome and inclusion for all God’s children. To pray and to stand in solidarity with the poor and persecuted is a missional act. The Gospel needs to be seen as well as heard—in loving action and in service grounded in the pattern of Christ Jesus. I ask you to remember that often the most effective servant-mission is simply being present. [1]
Christ manifests God’s power through weak people. We are the disciples; Jesus calls us to be his missionaries to proclaim and to live the Gospel in our communities. We need to claim this power of the Holy Spirit already given to us at our baptism. Each Christian is a disciple in progress who participates in a course of action from which no one graduates. It is our lifelong commitment as disciples to carry Jesus’ mission into our community. This is well said in the prayer of St. Theresa:

Christ has no body now but your

hands,

no feet on earth but yours



You are the eyes

Through which he looks

with compassion on the world

You are the feet with which

He walks to do good

Yours are the hands with which

He blesses the entire world


Yours are the hands

Yours are the feet

Yours are the eyes

You are His body.


We are the missionaries Christ depends to carry his mission to the world. Will you do this?




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[1] Synthesis, proper 10-year B, July 13, 1997

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