When I was a young person, the church I attended at the time had a sign that proclaimed to every car leaving the parking lot, “You are now entering the mission field.” I like that sign. It’s always good to be reminded why we’re here. We’re not put on this earth to look only/mainly after our own needs, as important as they may seem at times to be. We’re put on this earth to serve a purpose larger than any one of us ourselves. We’re here to be oriented by God outward…to be used by God to serve our neighbor and bring God’s love in Christ to others. It is therefore good, right, and salutary to be reminded that “the mission field” doesn’t only extend from one far-flung corner of the world to another (e.g., “From Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand” [Lutheran Worship, 322]). It extends even to my next-door neighbor’s house. It encompasses the water cooler or Keurig pot where folks at work tend to gather. It includes the soccer field, the library, or the cafeteria where we might gather with other students like ourselves Monday to Friday. Still, on this third of our five-week Epiphany focus on the gifts for the mission of God, I wonder if you’d accompany me in going that old sign one better.
Maybe, in a way we tend to overlook, the mission field extends even to the familiar turf of our own church property and our own homes, too! Jesus wants his kingdom to come to all people, even and especially those who may look and think and act in ways we find unfamiliar…people who live far away. But God’s mission to the world includes those who come and go from our church on a regular basis: to Resurrection Lutheran School and Preschool and Music School; to all who come and go through our church sanctuary and Family Life Center doors on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings. MOST importantly (dare I say it?) God’s mission field even includes you and me and the people we love! Sure, we have been abundantly blessed in having been brought close to Jesus and to our own dear Father in heaven by the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 1:21–24)! Yes, we have received the gift of God’s Spirit in Holy Baptism, though we’ve done nothing to deserve it. Yet we are never so close to Jesus that we no longer need the encounter with God’s Word that confronts us with who we are, according to our sins, and turns our attention to the only place where true strength and wisdom are found: the cross of Jesus. St. Paul writes words that always surprise and continue to run counter to our default way of thinking: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” As familiar as those words might become, they will always bear repeating. The love of God for the world is for all. But it is also (and always) for “me,” too!
So when we talk about the mission field, let’s see ourselves first, the members of our family second, and the people who come and go on our church property (including the members of our church family) in that mission field, too! Then let’s go in peace into the wider mission field, confident that it is not any heroic effort on our part, but our Spirit-empowered boasting in the cross of Jesus that will be used by God to bring life and hope to a world in need. What an awesome thing to be used by God for the mission of God. What a privilege to serve one another and the world…together!