From July 14th to July 21st, three ELCA pastors are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in the African country of Tanzania. Beginning on a hot savannah, they will climb 19,340 feet
and end up on a snowy, ice covered summit. It is a very difficult climb that requires months of rigorous strength training and is reserved for expert climbers. They risk severe storms, rock avalanches, altitude sickness, and even death. The journey they are embarking on carries great risk, and although they are properly trained and equipped to succeed, there is always the risk of something going wrong. The mountain may even reject them.
Now why are these pastors risking their lives to climb this mountain? You may have heard recently that the ELCA has made a major commitment to ending malaria in Africa by providing mosquito nets, insecticides, medication, health care, and education. In 2010 there were over 216 million cases of malaria and the estimated death toll was close to one million.
This is one way, among many, that the ELCA is responding to God’s call to be sent into the world to spread God’s Word and God’s love to a broken world, to a world in great need of God. For these three pastors, this is one way in which they feel called and sent.
We are given and opportunity today to think about what being sent actually means for us
in our context, in our time, in our lives. What might being sent look like for us? Sometimes it is not always clear.
In today’s gospel Jesus sends his disciples out with a very clear mission—baptize, heal the sick, preach the Good News. And he gave very clear instructions about what to bring, where to stay, and even what to do when their message isn’t received—shake the dust from your feet and move on.
A common reaction to this sending is “Jesus can’t possibly be speaking to me; evangelization is definitely not for me.” I don’t climb mountains to end malaria
and I certainly don’t carry a walking stick, wear a tunic, cast out demons or heal the sick.
And sometimes we dismiss this sending as a nice story; a recounting of the first days of
Christianity and what Jesus commissioned his disciples to do before he left this earth.
We think that back then it was important to spread Christianity, to be sent. But today it is
different, Jesus must not be speaking to us in this way.
Part of the problem is that we don’t think about or even really know what it means to be sent at all. Sometimes we think being sent means that we need to go on mission trips to Africa, or hand out Bibles in Times Square, or encourage friends, family, and neighbors to attend church with us.
And because we often associate being sent out with the aforementioned, and see the risks involved, and the commitment, and the social taboos, we usually stop there—for most of us this type of evangelization is not for us—so we think that being sent out is not for us at all. After all, we have busy lives and families, jobs and responsibilities.
Evangelization is only for some, like pastors climbing mountains,
like apostles with walking sticks and the power to cast out demons and heal the sick.
But Jesus is in fact speaking to you and me, today, sending us out to witness to the love
and grace of God by the very way we live. Being people of the Word, being people of the Gospel means that we are sent. The Word of God is our guide, and as baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are sent out each and every day, to live out our baptism, our baptism that reminds us that we have been washed in water, reborn, given a new life and a new calling, sent out to love one another.
Being called and sent will look differently for everyone. For some it meant taking just a walking stick, only one tunic, being both accepted and rejected, casting out demons and healing the sick. For some it means climbing 19,340 feet to fight malaria. And it will look differently for you and me.
But we all need to reflect on what being called and sent means for us today.
It all is risky. It all takes courage. It all takes faith and trust. But we are sent people, together, guided by the Holy Spirit, held in the loving hands of a God who loves us enough that he would die for us.
There is a beautiful hymn that sums up what all of us are called and sent to do each and every day:
We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God. We are called to be hope for the hopeless so hatred and blindness will be no more. We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.