Summary: For Reformation Sunday: Luther’s reform taught us that the church has an apostolic gift, whereby each of us -- the priesthood of all believers -- can break new ground for the Kingdom. Sometimes, however, we send back the gift!
Have you ever had the experience of sending a gift, only to have it returned? What does it feel like? Somebody’s birthday is coming up – and you’ve found just the perfect gift. You wrap it up, you package it securely, and you trot off to the post office. She’s going to love this!
Three days later your doorbell rings, and you find this soggy, sodden, sorry mess on your step. Your package, your beautiful package, has been returned. The gift you shopped for, spent good money on, wrapped with care and sealed with a kiss – all for naught. Here on the doorstep. Never got to the recipient. How does that make you feel?
Now we are familiar with gifts that are not received quite like we think they ought to be. We can deal with that, but I’m talking about gifts not received at all. Three weeks ago I told you a little story about my taking a book to a friend, a book that I thought would help him wrestle with a problem in his life. I told you I caught a clue when he glanced at it, pitched it over on a shelf, and sort of went on about other things. I can deal with that, and I did deal with it. I told you that a couple of weeks later, when I saw that the gift lay on that shelf unwrapped, not having been moved one inch from where he first put it – I told you how I dealt with that. I took the gift back. I brought the book home. I gave it to somebody else. We can deal with gifts that are received, but not quite. But how does it feel to give a gift, only to have it returned?
We can deal with giving gifts and having them received with a blah! When my brother and I were growing up – and I’m six years older than he is, so I had already been through this – you know you get to that stage when the family stops giving you toys and sporting equipment and good stuff, and they give you things that are good for you? Socks. Pajamas. Underwear. Why should anybody have to get underwear for a birthday gift? I remember the year my brother turned twelve. He opened his first package, looking for a chemistry set. It was a couple of shirts. He managed a weak smile, and put it down, grabbed another package. This one looked like a basketball – hey, that would be neat. It was a globe. Educational stuff. “A globe. Uh-huh.” Soon he discovered that this was the year of trousers, not trains, of books and not bats. But he accepted all the useful stuff; his smile was weak, but he accepted it. He had to. And we were all satisfied. Our gifts had been accepted – with a blah -- but they had been accepted.
But what about a gift that is returned? What about a gift that just didn’t make it to the recipient? How do we feel about that? Not so good.
So I must ask, “Is God sending His church a gift, but it is being returned?” Is it possible that the giver of every good and perfect gift has sent His people at Takoma a gift that has bounced back, soggy and battered, bruised and returned? If so, how does God feel about that? What would the return of one of His great gifts do to the heart of God?
There is something called the apostolic gift. It is the gift of sending. Apostolic means breaking new ground, doing new things, opening new work, extending into uncharted territory. Apostolic means sending somebody out to do something new. I think the sending gift, the apostolic gift, is the greatest of God’s gifts to His church. But it is one that is often misunderstood and therefore is often returned, unopened and unappreciated. So I want to work with you this morning on the gift of sending.
Let me do a little history lesson with you, just as I did last week.
The earliest church was unashamedly apostolic. From Jerusalem the pioneer believers fanned out all across the world they knew, taking the good news to unimaginable places. Not only did Paul roam the Mediterranean coast, on into Greece, and thence to Rome. But Mark went down to Egypt and into northern Africa. Thomas found his way across to India. There were Silas and Barnabas and Philip and all of them, restless, eager, driven out of their comfort zones as the Holy Spirit showed them new horizons, new places to claim for Christ. This early church had received the gift of sending. It was unashamedly apostolic.
But you know, the very success of the sending gift began to take its toll on the Christian church. One after another, new territories came under the sway of Christ, and that’s fine. But after several hundred years of this, the church got settled. It got fat and lazy. It became invested in its own privileges. It began to build an elaborate structure. It got rigid and tight. And most of all, the church began to reject the gift of sending.