Summary: Because of the sacrifice that Christ has made for us, we can do no less than to sacrifice for others through mission.
As Christians, a lot is expected of us. Our identity is grounded in our belief, our faith in God the Creator, his saving Son Jesus Christ, and the empowering Holy Spirit. But being a Christian requires more than simple affirmation. We have to conduct our lives according to those beliefs. We must take time to exercise our faith as we worship God, pray, and study Scripture. But being a Christian also requires that we manifest our faith outwardly as we seek to continue Christ’s work in the world. Today we are going to talk about one very specific, but important way that we live out our faith in the world, and that is through missions.
In order to get us thinking about such mission, I want to share with you why missions are important to me. I’m going to do this by sharing with you a portion of a sermon I preached at Wesley United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, in February of 2006, just one month after returning from a mission trip to Uganda. I have been on many, many mission trips, and all have been amazing experiences, but none more than my time in Uganda. And I think I expressed myself best when the memories of that trip were still fresh on my mind. Here's what I had to say:
"We often talk about 'mountain top' experiences; those times when we feel ourselves somehow closer to God and we are inspired to devote more of our lives to God and to our Christian journey. I have certainly had my fair share of 'mountain top' experiences, which have spurred me on to a greater devotional life, to a passion for teaching youth, and even into ministry. I now rank my trip to Uganda among those 'mountain top' experiences, but this one was vastly different. It is here that I really have trouble expressing what was so profound about my trip to Uganda. In coming down from the 'mountain' of my other experiences, I felt comfort and even 'warm fuzziness.' With Uganda, I came away with a feeling of deep pain and even heartbreak; yet I also felt closer to God than ever before. There is a song by the Christian band, FFH, in which the chorus goes, 'Where you are is where I want to be, in your arms you will comfort me.' These are the words that were in my head throughout much of my time in Uganda. There is so much that is not in Uganda, but God is there. There was never a moment in Uganda that God seemed to be absent; God is as much a part of the lives of the people in Uganda as God is a part of our lives. Perhaps even moreso because there is an openness in the lives of those people that seems often to be quashed by the 'busyness' of our lives."
I share that with you to say this about why missions matter to me. I truly and deeply believe that it is through missions that we share the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus in some of the most real and tangible ways, and in so doing, we ourselves also experience Christ in new and profound ways. This is why James says to his readers, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Here's how it works: when we are truly doing missions and serving the needs of the people in this world as Christ has called us to do, then we are making some sacrifices, perhaps even many sacrifices -- sacrifices of our time, our resources, even our comfort and security. And it is through such mission experiences where we humble ourselves and make so many sacrifices that we come to a fuller understanding of the sacrifice Christ has made for us! Christ didn't make salvation possible by sitting on his golden throne, throwing back some potato chips, and surfing the 'net. Christ brought salvation to this world by hanging on a cross and dying in shame. In the same way, it's hard for us to understand the power of Christ's salvation in our own lives when we live day-in and day-out in the middle-class comforts of a first-world country.
Jesus teaches that God's reign is characterized in the present, not by powerful works and miracles, but by deeds of love, mercy, and compassion, especially toward those most in need. If we cannot share freely and fully as Christ did, or if we do not make ourselves available to do so, this indicates that our relationship with God and the world is not as healthy and whole as Jesus' triumph on the cross makes possible. It means we don't understand the magnitude of love God showed to us as Christ died on the cross! Loving those for whom Jesus gave his life, particularly those who are undervalued, is a primary expression of our love of God and of our experience of God's love for us. We have to give something of ourselves, something of our wealth, our comfort, our sweat and tears, just the way Christ did. And then I believe, I know, we will experience more fully the power of Christ's death and resurrection; the significance of the sacrifice that he made for each of us!