Entering the Mission Field: Vision
This is the second, and final week, of our short 2 week message series, titled Entering the Mission Field. Last week Deacon Doug Martin told us about the joys and the trials of his journey as he now prepares to enter the mission field as a married Catholic priest here in our diocese and our parish. It has not come easily, or cheaply, for Deacon Doug and his family.
Maybe sometimes we wish things came easily or cheaply. We’ve all been fascinated by that old story about Manhattan Island being bought for $29 worth of trinkets and beads which in today’s money is about $950.00 for the entirety of Manhattan. And some of us have fantasized about winning millions with a $2 lottery ticket. But in the real world, we know — or at least we say we know — that life isn’t bought on the cheap. A life, that is a real life, costs a lot.
That’s what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel. “Doing anything valuable or important,” he says, “whether it’s building a great tower or confronting a powerful enemy, costs a lot, and you had better be committed to it. And the person who doesn’t face up to that, is doomed to failure.” Those are Jesus’ words.
How perfectly obvious. Yet, when it comes to so many of the really important things in our lives, such as — nurturing our children, keeping our marriages whole and growing, making our community strong and healthy, feeding our minds, feeding our souls, nurturing our relationship with God — we try, so often, to do it on the cheap. These things require commitment, dedication, and hard work, so much so that they sometimes feel like crosses to bear.
It’s not that we don’t love our children or spouses or Jesus, but our commitment to them can feel like crosses at times. If we don’t intentionally pick up that cross and carry it, for a while that may work, but eventually our lack of commitment and dedication catches up with us, things start to fall apart, and we’re surprised and wonder why.
At the center of every HEALTHY human being is a solid core of unequivocal commitments: Things which must be done, and other things which must never be done. And inside each of those commitments is the will and the determination to be true to them, whatever the cost. That’s what the center of a healthy human being looks like. So Jesus’ question to us is: What does our core look like? Is it strong, clear, and true?
Or is it mush, a moving target, with no fixed anchor? The answer is probably a bit of both.
Jesus is inviting us to reach beyond that, to get our commitments straight and clear, and to build inside us the will to be faithful and true, whatever the cost. This is the only way of building the kind of lives that God wants for us, lives that are big, full, and rich in the things that count, that is, — rich in the only thing we can carry with us into eternity, which is our relationship with God.
Let’s take a minute and look at what this idea of carrying our cross of sincere commitment has to do with our church life as well. Jesus tells us we are to bring the lost sheep, those who are not church members, to him which is not easy.
He tells us today “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” So if we are uncomfortable seeking the lost for Christ, it is a cross which Jesus commands us to carry. Note, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not ask this of us; it is a command. We are told by the Lord that we are to go out, seek the lost and make disciples. So we are told that we are all sent to be evangelists.
All of us, you and I, are called and sent to be evangelists. I don’t find being an evangelist an easy thing to do. That is, for me going out and talking to people about Jesus outside of the church grounds is not an easy thing for me to do. It can certainly be a cross for me. How about you?
We like to feel comfortable in our church pews and maybe think that this worship gathering is the end of our commitment for the week. However, gathering here for Mass is only the beginning. Mass is only the beginning of our commitment to God. Consider this. The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members. We may find that a hard fact to accept, but it is a fact. We do not commit to God and to the church just for ourselves. We commit to God and church to seek the lost and bring them into Jesus’ fold because he told us to.
That is why our vision for our parish is to be a place where it becomes impossible not to share Jesus with the world because we are called to make disciples, and we are sent out into the mission field right here in Fort Walton Beach.
For many of us, this is the cross Jesus tells us to pick up and carry. How do we do that? How do simple folks like you and me become evangelists? How do we share Jesus with the world?
Well the greatest communication success story in human history is how the gospel message of Jesus spread across the Mediterranean world. Followers of Jesus grew from a few hundred on the day of Pentecost to more than six million people by the end of the second century. That’s an amazing number, considering the only media were word-of-mouth encounters and hand-written letters–their delivery schedule giving new meaning to the term snail mail. It’s tempting to assume that the growth of the church at this time was due to the effective preaching of Peter, Paul, and a few other gifted communicators.
But that is not correct. That is like saying spreading the gospel today is the job of the bishops and priests alone.
While the efforts of Peter and Paul were important, more important was the attitude of ordinary Christians, who recognized that sharing the message of Jesus was everyone’s mission. The gospel spread like wildfire from household to household and from province to province—as men and women personally spoke about the gospel to friends, relatives, acquaintances, colleagues, masters, slaves, students, teachers, customers, shop owners, and fellow soldiers in their everyday networks.
Many Catholics miss this fact, ignoring our most significant mission field, which is our network of immediate relationships.
Just before Jesus departed the earth, he gave the following marching orders to his disciples. Jesus said: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
In this short strategic plan to take the gospel to the human race, Jesus made it clear that His plan includes the entire planet. But, taking the gospel to the world began with the people in closest proximity to His followers. These are people in your network of influence. And this is what we often refer to as our invest and invite strategy.
It goes like this, as individuals, we intentionally invest in relationships with people around us. In our neighborhood, in our school, our community, at the office, on the soccer field.
We invest in people around us who do not know Christ and His Church, or maybe they just fell away. And then, when the appropriate time comes, we invite them to join us here at our church. Invest and invite.
It’s an easy enough thing to do, but there are two main reasons why we don’t. One reason is that we forget how good the good news really is that God loves us. It’s good news that you don’t have to clean up your act or be some kind of perfect person before you can step into a relationship with God and experience His grace His love, His favor.
The second reason, that we don’t invest and invite, is because we are embarrassed. We’re reluctant. We’re uncomfortable about introducing the subject, and we do not want to be rejected.
It’s true, not every person we invest in will welcome our investment or accept our invitation. Remember this. It is about the investment into a relationship and the invitation. Focus on those two things, not whether or not they accept the invitation. Invest and Invite.
Believe that the Holy Spirit will move through you, and believe God promises to be with you whenever you intentionally try to connect others to his Son Jesus. If you truly believe this, we will be a place where it becomes impossible not to share Jesus with the world.
There is someone you know who needs to hear about the message of God’s love for them. Why not this week invest in them, in some way? Reach out, send an email, a text, make a phone call, or stop by their desk.
Go a little bit out of your way, extend yourself, spend time with them and, if appropriate, when appropriate, invite them to church.
You are an evangelist. Welcome to the mission field! This September celebrate Jesus’ Good News by sharing it. If that’s a cross, pick it up and carry it. Jesus never tells us the work will be easy, but at each step of the way, the Lord promises us the Holy Spirit, that he will give us both the tools we need and the strength to use them. That is God’s promise, and God always keeps his word. Welcome to the mission field. Invest and invite.