Summary: Through missions 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.
Today we are going to talk about missions and why missions matter. But before I get into the importance of missions, I feel like I need to make a bit of a distinction between the kind of missions which I will be describing today, and a very specific kind of missions that might also be called "evangelism." In a sense, the church as the "Body of Christ" in the world today creating opportunities for people to encounter Christ as we discussed it last week, is an evangelistic mission. We are serving in the name of Christ with the specific purpose of leading them to a saving relationship with Christ. But there is a broader type of mission in which we serve in Christ's name simply because we are called to serve -- to "care for the orphan and the widow," the poor, the sick, the "least of these." That is the kind of missions we will be talking about today -- simply serving the needs of the world and the people in it in the name of Christ.
So why are missions important to me? To express my answer to that question, I want to share 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 mission trips, and all have been amazing experiences, but none more than that 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 have 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 to you 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. Similarly, 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!