June 2, 2019
By Karin Peter
Years ago Ray and I were traveling in the area with Amson Mallick and Massia Raika, two ministers from Orissa India. We, along with my son Dustin who was a difficult teenager at the time, were invited to Easter dinner at Sandy Slovers house after church. Massia and Amson were aware that I was having problems with Dustin, but even I was unprepared for what took place as we all gathered in Sandy’s house.
When Dustin came in, Massia and Amson, who Dustin had only just met, invited Dustin to come sit between them. And when he was seated, they began: “Brother Dustin,” they said, “your mother is quite concerned about you…you are disrespecting her, you are not growing to be a man of honor.
So, my brother, we (Amson and Massia) have decided we will take you back to India with us. There you will work with is, taking Jesus to the tribal people in the jungles. There, you cannot get into trouble, so you will work with us and become a man of honor.”
My son, all bravado gone, turned to me and said, “Mom, can they do that?”
I, as stunned as he, replied, ”Why, yes. Yes they can.” 😊
His question, “Can they do that!?” Was a question of authority.
Do they have the authority to do that?
Authority. We have a weird, convoluted relationship with authority in Community of Christ. From the Restoration tradition we inherited “the authority of priesthood” that we, for a long time took to mean, only WE were authorized by God to act in God’s name. But that, we now realize, is more akin to “WE TOO, are authorized to act in God’s name.” (FYI- if you haven’t heard, we’ve repented of that).
We (surely not you folks here) have a love/hate relationship with the authority of the institutional church- World Church. When they provide resources we like, or help we need, we are on board, but when policies or decisions are made we do not agree with, we question or react against institutional authority.
So, what do we mean by authority in the context of a scripture passage that commissions disciples to act, to proclaim, to bear witness? To be commissioned is to be given authority to act on someone’s behalf, or in someone’s name. In this case, as Christians, when we accept the responsibility to act with the authority of Jesus, we accept the responsibility to act LIKE Jesus. To follow the example of the one in whose name we serve.
The concluding scenes of Luke’s gospel find Jesus gathered with the disciples. (Luke 24:44-53) He is getting ready to leave them (my Arkansas friends would say he was fixin’ to go). In preparation to leave them, he commissions the disciples, he gives them authority to act in his name, to tell their own authentic story of what has transpired, and to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, which is God’s invitation to wholeness and the restoration.
…Oh and one more thing, we don’t want anyone feeling alone in this work…so hang tight and wait for the promised assistance, (what we refer to as the Holy Spirit…but her appearance comes next week.)
And so this commissioning text finds us preparing to act with authority, to act in Jesus name, to act as Jesus did. To not just tell the story, but with the help of the spirit, we are to live the story through lives of compassion, invitation, hospitality and generosity…
A while back, JoAnn Fisher and I were visiting scattered church members in Missoula MT where we no longer have a congregation. We visited, took communion, and prayed for their concerns. Our last visit was scheduled with someone we had never met. He had contacted the Mission Center office to request a visit. Gary made it clear he wasn’t interested in the church, but he was interested in church history so if we had any resources we could bring, he would like us to come.
Gary and his wife are in their late seventies. Gary grew up in the church, attended camps and reunions, but stopped going as a young person, and, in his words, never was much of a church goer. In fact, until he received notice that we would be in the area, he did not even know he was still a member! But, we showed up, history books in hand, and Gary and his wife invited us in. We sat at the table and accepted the offered coffee and cookies, as Gary told us about his family connections to the church, and his interest in church history. But, he said several times, he has never been much of a church goer.
By the end of our visit, we had listened to his story, shared an interest in history, discovered he knew many of the folks we had been visiting, and we learned a lot about Montana and the history of the church in Montana.
As we left Gary even invited us to stay with them anytime we were in the area and needed a bed. Then he took out his wallet and handed me a substantial bit of money- “Take this, he said, you two are out on your own, take this to help you.” We kept saying no, we couldn’t take his money, and he kept insisting until it dawned on me…Gary, who had not been to church in 60 years, was, in his own way, making an offering. So we accepted the gift as long as he was okay with us giving it to the mission center for visiting ministry.
As JoAnn and I left we didn’t have the heart to tell him that for someone who was not much of a church goer he was sure living out the ministry and message of Jesus–invitation, hospitality, generosity…We may have been the ones ordained…the ones with ecclesiastical authority, but Gary was very much the Christ-follower…his actions were the actions modeled by Jesus. Gary- the Accidental Disciple. 🙂
Gary’s story challenges me to evaluate my Jesus-following, and perhaps it does you as well. Do we act, and speak, and love like Jesus? I mean, really? Are we welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, caring for others, and generously sharing our resources? Because that’s what following Jesus looks like….to love, invite, welcome, share.
This morning as a community we gather at the Table of Grace where we receive the bread and wine, representing the risen Christ. Who loves us, who invites all to the table, who shares healing, reconciling peace.
It is around this table that we are prepared through the practice of repentance and forgiveness, to embark anew on this heart-felt journey of spirit-graced, imperfect, fall-down-pick-yourself-back-up-kind-of-Jesus-following that is at the heart of discipleship. So when we leave here, we go as ones commissioned to love, invite, welcome, and share in the name of Jesus. I mean…Who has authority to do that? You do. Amen.