Facing a task unfinished


A very personal reflection on this morning’s service from John Dempster:

Chris Watt caught the theme of this morning’s service in his talk to the children. He described a World Cup Football manager, training up his team over many matches and many years, only to see them walk off the pitch when the referee blew his whistle to start their first match in Brazil. He described the director of a musical – Chris himself is directing Hilton Primary School’s end-of-term show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which is playing this week – who trains and prepares cast, scenery and music, only to watch his team melt away after a successful dress rehearsal. In both situations the message would be ‘Come back guys! We haven’t even finished what we came to do. Everything up until now has just been preparation.’

The Gospel Lectionary passage this morning was Matthew 28:16-20, where Jesus told his disciples that their task was to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ A church which spends all its time doing church stuff in a building and then goes home, is missing the point, Chris implied. This same theme was emphasised by Jonathan Fraser in his passionate, eloquent sermon. The term ‘missional church’ has been in vogue in recent years, Jonathan told us. But he said, the word ‘missional’ is redundant. There is no other kind of church. Any church which is not engaging in mission is not truly a church, more perhaps (and this is my phrase rather than Jonathan’s) a religious club.

Here are the verses from Matthew 28: Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age

Jonathan is aware that exhortations to mission sometimes make churches aware of their shortcomings, so while emphasising that the task is still outstanding, he mentioned the good work done by Hilton Church in the context of mission. He knows of 15 countries where folk from the church have served in recent years, quite apart from people involved in mission in Scotland and indeed in Hilton.

We heard from three of the people in question: Laura Keen told us about her forthcoming placement with Latin Link in Guatemala, which she knows will challenge her ‘mentally, physically and spiritually.’; Jamie Grant spoke about his years in Poland (1990-1997) where he worked with a Student Christian Association leading people through friendship and concerts and Bible study groups to reach out in faith to Jesus, and then to grow in faith; Ian Good spoke about the challenges of working with a Christian project in Bolivia working with children, helping them in nutritional, practical and recreational ways, and introducing them to Christian values.

In his sermon, Jonathan outlined the need in the world, both spiritual and practical. He reminded us of the many from Scotland who, in past years and centuries, have obeyed Jesus and gone into all the world with the liberating, saving good news of Jesus Christ. The work is not yet finished – we are challenged to go, and to pray.

Jonathan pointed out that when the disciples saw Jesus (v16) ‘some doubted’, and yet Jesus’ challenge came to them all. Some of us may have doubts and uncertainty, but the challenge and the opportunity comes to us too. The fact that we are conscious of weakness (as Laura is facing her Guatemala trip) is no barrier, for we go in the name of, and with the delegated authority of Jesus. Jesus assures the disciples of that authority, he assigns them a task, and he promises them his continued presence to ‘the end of the age,’ a promise which still stands true today.

Jamie told us he went to Poland because God wanted him to go. ‘If you sense the call of God, you’ve just got to go,’ he said. Jonathan reminded us that to say ‘No Lord,’ is a contradiction in terms. Perhaps some of us this morning heard an inner prompt which we believe is from God, calling us to go out into the world faithful to the Jesus who came into the world for us.

If I’m completely honest, which is what I try to be in these very personal reflections, I find sermons on the Great Commission (and I have heard many over the years) a little bit disturbing. It’s not just that I feel most affinity with the disciples who doubted (I am often more conscious of the unanswered questions rather than the things I’m convinced of); nor that I don’t think I have ever led anyone to faith in Christ; it’s  more that fundamentally I don’t see myself falling into the traditional model of ‘witnessing Christian.’

Where do people like me fit in? Jonathan mentioned that the challenge of the Church to act as agents of the kingdom, building the kingdom of heaven on earth in partnership with Christ.  I see myself seeking to build the kingdom by living out the values of the kingdom in everyday life – as husband, father, neighbour, colleague. I see my attempt to reflect the values of the kingdom in the way I approach my job, and in the way I use the gifts I have been given – notably the use of words to awaken and stimulate though. I’m not an evangelist, I’m not very good at building friendships, I am not very good at prayer – ‘Please hold on to me, Father’ is at the heart of my praying. But I believe that God uses me, as I am, to be a bearer of light.’

I wonder if  ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ is a command to the church as a whole, rather than to individual Christians? We are not all heads, arms, tongues, ears – we work together as a body, each of us fulfifilling the role we have been given. Or perhaps our definition of ‘missional’ should include everything we do to hold high, in honesty and integrity, the light of God in our world.

Our task, whatever it is, is God-given, Christ-given. We go in the name of Christ into the heart of our families, into the heart of Hilton, into the heart of Guatemala being the people we are called to be, reflecting the face of Christ through the particular lenses in our personality which bring that face into focus.

So we all hear a call, or a renewed call from God. ‘If you sense a call of God, you’ve just got to go.’ If you sense such a call today, share this with Jonathan or Duncan or one of the elders.

Perhaps someone wonders if because of something that has happened, or something they have done, their work is finished, or their role in the great task is over. Perhaps once again today, the whisper of God assures anyone in this position ‘It’s all right! I love you! I still have work for you to do.’

When I was listening to the sermon this morning, I remembered Bishop Frank Houghton’s great hymn Facing a task unfinished. You can read it here


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