"After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go." (Luke 10:1)
I can think of no other time when I have been more grateful to have partners in mission and ministry than I am today.
This is how it is where I live and serve. Unlike in many other contexts, we do not have what one would call a strong ministerium. Ecumenical relationships are few and where they do exist they are tentative. And yet, over the last couple of years, forces larger than us appear to be working to bring us together in new ways. This is how it has been:
In the wake of Ferguson, Missouri, it seemed especially important for us to be talking about race, and yet, I serve an essentially all white congregation. So at a volunteer chaplains' lunch at our local hospital, I spoke with Joe Mitchell, pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church --- a congregation which is primarily African American about our struggle to hold this conversation. He invited our participation in the newly started Beloved Community Dinners. The primary purpose of these monthly gatherings is to promote conversation across our racial differences.
Several months later the nation stood in shock when a young man opened fire in a church during their Wednesday night Bible Study in Charleston, killing nine. The young man happened to be a confirmed member of the denomination I call home. I called Joe Mitchell again. We agreed we needed to worship and pray together and so we did, inviting our communities to join us.
In the wake of the Orlando Pulse Night Club massacre two weeks ago, Joe called me. Again he suggested the need for worship and prayer.
Over the last several months other colleagues have been working to try to gather area clergy for a monthly breakfast with decidedly mixed results. Usually no more than three or four of us sit down together. All I have been able to determine is that we are all just too busy and perhaps it is so that gatherings such as these can seem like a waste of time. Even so, by now I had an email list and so after talking with Pastor Mitchell, on Tuesday afternoon I sent out an urgent email to everyone on the list, suggesting a breakfast gathering the next morning. Six of us showed up and over scrambled eggs and coffee we agreed that we would put together a response which would include interfaith worship. You can read our letter to the editor here.
By Monday of this week, the group had more than doubled in size and it continues to grow. Next Wednesday night we will gather together for prayer and song and reflection and candle lighting.
And so I have found myself thinking about partners in mission and ministry in a very concrete way over these last couple of weeks. Here is what I have observed so far:
- When the need is urgent, and it surely is, people respond. Even if we are too busy.
- When we can discern a common mission --- even across our many differences --- people respond to the call to come together.
- This is hard work. We don't all speak a common language --- not even those of us who call ourselves Christian --- even though for the most part we come from decidedly mainline churches. Perhaps because we do not know each other well and because the stakes are so high, we find ourselves needing to work hard to listen well enough that we understand each other..
There is so very much before us in today's Gospel lesson from Luke, but given my recent experience of 'partners in mission,' I am settling in with Jesus having sent the disciples out in pairs. Without a doubt, this partnering was done for their own protection and for companionship. And yet, in these last days I am starting to wonder about how those partners were not only gift but were also challenge to one another. Indeed, without a doubt, it was their mutual need and their common mission which held them together. Even so, I imagine along the way there were animated conversations shared:
- About which house seemed most likely to provide for their needs and which one or ones they ought to just bypass;
- About who was going to heal the sick this time and who would offer simple words of peace;
- About when and where it was appropriate to wipe the feet off in protest.
I, for one, have never known the truth of this more than I do today as by now more than a dozen of us from varied faith traditions have covenanted to not only worship and pray and remember together, but also to bear a common witness to the world about the intrinsic worth of all people. I am filled with anticipation as I consider these growing partnerships and what these dear people are teaching me about myself, about the world, and about where and how we can do and be together as we are "sent out like lambs into the midst of it." I do not know where we will be taken in the weeks and months to come, but I am so very grateful that in keeping with the model offered in today's Gospel, I am being sent out with others with this powerful message of peace and promise.
- This Gospel reading from Luke is a rich and multi-faceted one which continues to speak powerfully in a variety of contexts and circumstances. It is this passage which Church Innovations uses to teach its disruptive missional practice: Dwelling in the Word. You may want to check it out.
- I am so very blessed to be able to say that I could easily come up with countless stories illustrating the importance of partners in mission and ministry. I have offered but one above. What comes to your mind when you think about who Jesus has sent to walk alongside you?
- Usually when I first hear this passage, I think of the gift of companionship and even a kind of protection such partners offer. This time I had reason to recognize that such partnerships can also challenge us and that may seem to make the work more difficult at first. Can you think of a time when such a partner's challenge was vital to you and your shared mission?