H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
August 24, 2003
THE CHURCH IN MISSION
Text: Mark 10:42-45; John 20:21-22
I am called to this place to help build a church, not a great church in the eyes of the
world -- which sometimes is our ambition -- but a true church in the eyes of God.
Some days I feel I can pull this off; other days Iím sure I cannot. Then I recognize
the vanity of both those feelings: The pride of thinking I can; and the despair of knowing
The church can never be the perfect embodiment of the kingdom of God, because the last
time I checked weíre all human in here. In my Louisville church one of our most beloved
members was a multiply handicapped man, John Day, who sold magazines and candy from his
bicycle cart. He also evangelized for our church, inviting people in the neighborhood to
come. One day he invited a man who angrily retorted that heíd not come to church;
"the church was full of hypocrites," he said. John replied, "Thereís
always room for one more." (The Bible says that sometimes the Spirit gives us just
the right word!)
When we are church it is by the grace of God, when the human-divine dance creates
something more beautiful than anything we could do on our own. What is the church
and when is it the church? Iíve been working on my definition since last weekís
TalkBack, and you have an updated definition in todayís Order of Worship. Look at number
six. Iíve added the sentence: "All four dimensions flow in and out of each other,
and all four happen, if they happen, by the grace of God in us."
Tillie Tice reminded us that all four dimensions of our calling - worship, education,
fellowship and mission - are bound up together. Last Sunday the P.G.A. winner Michael hit
the prettiest shot Iíve about ever seen on the very last hole, a seven iron to within
two inches to clinch the tournament. But the most beautiful thing heís ever done was a
few years back when he dove into the New Bern River and saved people who were drowning. It
was an act of worship which flowed out of the worship of God.
Ann Smith is missing worship these days because she is in the nursery holding our
babies in her arms. They find the grandmotherly love of God in her arms. Is that not an
act of worship? Would she be doing so if she had not been formed by worship over
the years? We thank Ann and others who are the hands and arms and legs of worship for our
littlest ones on Sunday.
The other change was prompted by a comment by Bob Poerschke to me last week. All four
New Testament words, he said, worship, education, fellowship and mission, come from
participial forms of verbs; they are acting verbs, not sitting nouns. So I changed the
headings to participial verbs: Instead of Worship, "Worshipping"; instead of
Education, "Teaching and Learning"; in place of Fellowship, "Being
Community"; and instead of Mission, "Missioning."
Thank you, Bob.
So now to the last word of that foursome: Missioning.
Some churches use the word "Missioners" for those it sends out to spread
the gospel and be the gospel. I like it better than "Missionary," which
has become stereotyped and whose main twentieth- century form is dying away so something
new can be born.
Some of the best and worst Christians Iíve seen have been missionaries. Some who used
their position to lord it over those in Third World countries. And others who gave
themselves so completely to the people theyíd been called to serve that by the end of
their lives they were far more Brazilian or African than American, and whose Christianity
had been profoundly changed by the culture and people they had adopted.
I have a few last words about the missioning church as the end of my
meditation, and then I will turn the time over to some of our members who were out "Missioning"
The true church of Jesus Christ, where it happens, is marked by what one philosopher
called "Sumptuous sacrifice," the generous, life- altering gift of
self to others, for others.
Iím talking here of what a guest theologian George Retzlaff called "prepositional
theology." Jesus gave himself for others, poured himself out for
others, lived and died for us. Jesus spoke of the Son of Man who would give his
life as a ransom for the many, not for a few, but for the many.
We are the church when we are a people for others, a church for the city of Charlotte,
all parts of it, and for Hurley, Virginia, and Ecuador and everywhere God is sending us
and calling us.
Last week I connected the word apostle to missioning. Apostle means "sent
one," and the church, where it is the church, is the apostoloi Dei, the sent
ones of God. As God sent me, Jesus said to his disciples, I now send you!
Iíve added one important New Testament word this week to the definition: diakonia.
Itís in your gospel lesson. Jesus called the disciples not to be lords over people but
to be servants, diakonia.
The true church is the servant church, not the conquering church. In our history
we have sometimes confused evangelism and conquest.
So we do our work of missioning today with a humility that we didnít have as the
church a hundred years ago when the modern missionary movement began.
The Silent Meditation quotes a theological document: Eight theologians from all over
the world joined together for eight weeks to talk about the shape of the church and its
mission in the twenty-first century. This was what they said: Christian Mission Is Not
First "Christian" Mission, But Godís Mission (Missio Dei).
Godís salvation is broader than Christian mission can comprehend, though Christian
mission is an indispensable part of how God is saving the world.
The Spirit is calling and sending more than us. And there is joy when we
join hands with those of different faiths whom God has called to be missioners of the love
and justice and mercy of God alongside us. Such is the importance of our Interfaith
Mission in Ecuador. Last year we joined with members of Temple Bethel and members of a
Unitarian Universal Church. This year we had members of Temple Bethel and Northside
Baptist Church in our group. Now thatís ecumenical!
How do we know when mission is real? Diakonia! Literally, it means
"to go through the dust," as a waiter waiting tables, as an orderly emptying
bedpans, all to serve others: Preaching, teaching, doctoring, painting, digging wells,
hammering nails, holding children.