God gathers us and sends us on a mission*
Sermon preached at St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA
By The Rev. Tom Pumphrey, June 30, 2019
*similar to the sermon preached the night before, but not the same
Proper 8 (Year C), 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Galatians 5:1,13-25: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-62: When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Yesterday was the Feast day of St. Peter & St. Paul. At the 5:30 service, we gathered to celebrate the saints who faithfully led the church in its earliest days two thousand years ago. And we celebrated God’s grace to the saints who faithfully formed and led this parish thirty-eight years ago, many of whom are still active today. The Rev. Louis Tonsmeire was our celebrant. Louis was our founding priest, serving from 1981 to 1989. The first Eucharist of this parish was in Louis’ living room on June 29, 1981.

This parish grew and thrived as new people moved into this growing community. Hundreds of Baptisms, weddings and funerals were held. Bible Studies, Alpha courses, Discovery Weekends, picnics, dinners and service projects. Lay leaders and clergy helped us to grow and bring the message of Jesus Christ to more and more people. Like all churches, we went through conflict and hard times, ups and downs. And through it all, faithful souls like you all prayed and worked and celebrated and cared and learned and served and built up this community to serve our Lord and grow disciples of Jesus Christ. God gathered us together and sent us on a mission, and we are still on that mission today.

The Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul remembers two interesting men. Each of them leaves a story of rich and flawed humanity. Peter was the mercurial apostle who rebuked Jesus, and later denied Jesus three times. Paul persecuted the church, arresting Christians and bringing them to trial. But each man knew the grace of Jesus in his life—the road of repentance and the blessing of reconciliation with our Lord.

Jesus appeared to Peter when he rose from the dead, calling Peter three times to feed his sheep. Jesus appeared to Paul even while Paul was still persecuting the church. Jesus cried out to him, using Paul’s Jewish name, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Paul was healed of his blindness, he learned more of the source of this message and the source of his healing. Both men grew in God’s grace and began to spread the good news of Jesus.

Peter and Paul both were called by Jesus and sent on a mission to serve him in the world. Peter and Paul were instrumental in the outreach of the church to the Gentiles. Paul went on to start churches all over the Eastern Mediterranean. They left a legacy not just of institutions, but of Christian communities empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring God’s grace to the world. Peter and Paul knew the depths of their own humanity, and the greatness of God’s mercy and grace to forgive and restore and reconcile and renew.

We are heirs of that mission. Jesus gathered the church and sent it on its mission. The church since the time of these great saints continued to preach the message with power, transforming the western world and reaching around the globe. The church followed Jesus in his resolve for mission. Jesus, when the time was ripe, changed from his preaching and teaching ministry, and set his face to Jerusalem, to die for us and rise again. He would not be distracted by conflict with the Samaritans. And he called his disciples truly to put him first in priority in their lives. Jesus said to them and to us “no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I used to live near Amish country in Pennsylvania. When the Amish would plow a field, the farmer would stand on his plow behind a team of horses pulling. If he looked straight ahead, the plow would cut straight lines in the soil. But if he turned and looked away, his shoulders would follow, and the horses would veer off line, and the furrows would be confused and messy. Either they would have to be reworked, or the harvest would be impacted, and less food would be available. Jesus knew that image would be clear to his disciples that he had gathered together and sent on a mission.

God gathers us together for a purpose—God gathers us for a mission. When we stay true to that mission, a hurting and confused world will discover the same grace that renewed and restored Peter and Paul.

With patience and grace, we are called to share the good news of Jesus so that more may discover the new life Jesus gives. Paul writes in today’s lesson from Galatians about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit. Notice how many of the works of the flesh and fruit of the spirit are relational. Not just the traditional vices of fornication, idolatry, and drunkenness. Not just the traditional character virtues of peace and joy and self-control. Paul goes after enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, and factions. A life that follows the world’s self-centered values is not only self-destructive, but injures the community as well. But a life of the Spirit bears fruit in our life in Love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness. These are gifts given to us as we turn away from the selfish values of the world and seek faithfully to follow God who loves us. That’s the kind of renewal God yearns for the world to know. And God has gathered us together for the mission to share that renewal.

Let me share with you a few short stories about what this mission looks like here at St. Peter & St. Paul. We Episcopalians love our style of worship. We love our liturgy and sacraments. So we focus a lot of energy on Sunday mornings, and even Saturday nights! But still, God’s call to mission drives us further. A few people spoke with me from time to time about discovering the service of Morning Prayer from our Prayer Book. You don’t need a priest to have Morning Prayer, so lay leaders embraced their call to mission. They organized a group of lay leaders who were trained to lead Morning Prayer, and who committed to leading Morning Prayer every Monday Morning at 6:30AM, followed by a Bible Study on the reading from that day. Very soon, we had 10-12 people gathering every Monday morning to help focus their lives on Jesus through worship. You can join them too, to set your face toward your mission. You are empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead the Worship of God.

The vitality of our mission is not only seen in our worship. We are growing disciples of Jesus Christ in other ways as well. Fifteen of our teenagers and their adult leaders returned from their mission trip to Puerto Rico today. Matt Martin, our Youth Minister, has been developing a culture in our Youth Groups different from school culture. He invited teens to go deeper in studying scripture, and encountering each other in the Christian life, and growing closer to God together. This approach drew in more and more teens and raised new leaders—leaders like Allan Hegedus, our Youth Vestry Member, who has taken initiative not just in youth ministry, but in our communications ministry as well.

These youth parallel adults in developing small groups of prayer and study and Christian relationships. We have over 15 small groups of adults that meet on Sundays or weekdays or evenings, growing together and active in Discipleship for all ages.

These are some of the ways God gathers us together. But God also sends us out on a mission as well. For years now, several men and women and youth have gathered early on Friday mornings to cook breakfast for the Men’s Extension. The Extension is a residential drug and alcohol recovery program. One of the residents had been through several rehab programs and was on his last option. God’s grace made a difference in his life through the Extension. And he tells us that the people from St. Peter & St. Paul who came there made a huge difference. He said “you guys aren’t paid to be here like the other staff. You are here because you want to be here for me.” They came because they cared for these men. They shared the good news of Jesus with them, they prayed with them. They loved them with God’s transforming love, and God changed their lives. God gathered them, and God sent them on a mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve Christ in the world.

Two thousand years ago, God called Peter and Paul and sent them on a mission to lead the Christian Community. Thirty-eight years ago, God gathered together the community of St. Peter & St. Paul here. God gathered us together and sent us on a mission. God sends us on a mission today, growing disciples of Jesus Christ.

So, where will God send us in the next 38 years? How has God called you to participate in this miraculous work? How will you share the blessings God has given you with a new generation of people in this community? God has empowered you with his Holy Spirit to grow in worship and discipleship and service. God empowers you to bring these blessings to the world. God gathers us and sends on our mission: growing disciples of Jesus Christ.

And now, glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus our Lord.