Numbers 6:24-26 (VT #826), Jeremiah 29:4-11 (VT #783), Isaiah 52:7 (VT #781), Luke 4:16-19, 21 (VT #292), Matthew 28:16, 18-20 (VT #451)
This is the last sermon in this series on what I’ve learned about the Christian life, through our worship together. We started seven weeks ago with our gathering, then we moved through the different parts of our service—singing, praying, preaching, sharing, and now, sending. Each of those parts of worship shapes our lives beyond what we do here, when we gather for worship. In other words, we gather to be sent, and we are sent in order to be regathered.
All of what we do here, every week, reforms our lives, even if we don’t notice the subtleties of our changes, the shifts that go on inside of us as we worship, as we listen for God’s word, as we sing and share.
Worship is a rhythm, a rhythm to sustain us for the long haul, and to strengthen us in our purpose. That’s what we’ll be paying attention to today, with this theme of sending, this moment of benediction at the end of our service.
I feel like all of these sermons are kind of pointing out the obvious. So, for this sermon, I will remind you of another obvious fact: in a half hour or so we’ll go home. We don’t stay here. We don’t live here. Our worship service will conclude at some point, there will be an ending, and we chat for a while, to catch up on life, then we go home and get ready for our week.
But we don’t just leave—and here’s the point I want to make, a subtle point that I think makes all difference. We don’t just leave, when our worship service is finished. Instead, we are sent, we are commissioned, we receive a blessing, we are given a task, a mission, a ministry. We don’t just leave, we are sent. We wait for the benediction; we wait until we are sent. We commission each other, with God’s power, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to bear witness, in order to live out the gospel, to share the peace of Christ.
That’s what it means to be the church. That’s what it means to be God’s people.
Yes, God offers us comfort. Yes, God embraces us with love. Yes, God nurtures us with the goodness of this world. God cares about us. And God sends us to share all of this comfort and love and care with our neighbors.
That’s why, at the end of our worship service, there is a benediction, spoken over all of us. We are blessed in order to be a blessing for others.
The Bible passages we heard today guide us in this commissioning. They are words to hold onto as we are sent, as we return to our homes and school and work, our neighborhoods and communities.
In Jeremiah we read God’s commissioning of the people of God in Babylonian exile. Babylon has taken over their land, and that empire has forced them to leave their homes. But God gives them a purpose during their exile. God blesses them with purpose, even while they suffer from deportation.
Their purpose is peace, to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29). Seek the peace of your neighbors, God tells the people. Become witnesses of God’s peace.
We hear a similar word of commissioning in the passage from Isaiah: “How beautiful…are the feet of the messengers who proclaim peace” (Isaiah 52:7). The people of God are peacemakers on the move, they are ambassadors of peace. Beauty has to do, not with appearances, but with spreading God’s peace. The beauty of peace.
God’s work of peace doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict. That’s what we see in the life of Jesus, the one who embodies God’s peace. He takes a stand against the violence of this world. At the beginning of his ministry, as we heard in our passage from Luke 4, Jesus announces that he’s been sent by God, that he has been commissioned by God to proclaim good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. As followers of Jesus, we’ve been given a share in that ministry. He has shared with us his own commissioning.
That’s the last work of Matthews Gospel, the passage we heard from chapter 28. Jesus tells his disciples, his followers, his friends to continue the life he has shared with them, to extend his ministry.
“Go,” Jesus says, “do everything I have told you. [For] I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.” These final words from Jesus are a sending, a benediction. I will be with you, he says.
God gathers us in order to send us into the world with a purpose: That, as we go about our business, we might share in the ministry of Jesus, that we might bear witness to his gospel of peace, of redemption, that we do our part in what God remakes the world with justice and righteousness.
The central metaphor in the Bible to describe the church is as a human body, that we are the body of Christ. If we, together, are like a body, then I think our weekly rhythm of worship as a kind of breathing. Here, we take in the Spirit of God, we share in the breath of the Holy Spirit. Worship is how we catch our breath. This time here, together, is a moment to catch our breath.
Worship is not an escape from the world. We don’t gather together in order to leave this world behind. Instead worship is how we receive again what we need for our lives as God’s people. Worship is how we open our lives, our lungs, to receive the Spirit of God. We commune with God in order to offer God’s hope to the world. And we remind ourselves of our purpose, that we are God’s people of peace, that we have been made ministers of God’s peace, as follower of Jesus, commissioned to be a blessings in our communities.
Here, during worship, we take a breath, so that our lives can speak God’s word of hope for the rest of the week, until we meet again, until next week when we gather for another breath.