Proper 8, Year A, Church of St. James the Less, Madison

“Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40).

In the movie Silence, two Jesuit priests make their way from distant Portugal to Japan to seek out their teacher, another missionary who’s been arrested by the authorities. It’s the 17th century, and Christians are being persecuted by the Japanese government worried about foreign influence. The two men make contact with the persecuted church and minister to Christian villagers who welcome and conceal them while they search.

Eventually the Jesuits are discovered and arrested by the authorities who attempt to “turn” them. No one really wants them in Japan, they’re told by their inquisitor. All they’re doing is misleading simple people, who don’t really understand the Christian faith, and leading them into danger. Even their former teacher says that they should never have come. No one in Japan needs to be “saved”.

The movie came out last year, but the seeds of doubt sown by the inquisitors in the film have been around for a lot longer. Is it really necessary to bring a message about Jesus Christ to the other side of the world to people who don’t even know they need saving? Surely a loving God can handle that without our help. Does the church really have a mission, a charge given by God that we must carry out?

We don’t need to think about going to the ends of the earth to wonder about the church’s mission. What about the church gathered here at St. James’, Madison? Is there a charge laid upon us that takes us beyond ourselves to others, a missionary charge, or is the church really about those who are already there? We hesitate to think that we might have anything that others beyond us might want, need, or require. Is the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection really that crucial?

The answer to these questions is, of course, “yes”, in spite of whatever doubts others might sow. I hasten to add that a loving God can certainly handle anything without our help, especially when it comes to salvation. Still, the Good News about Jesus is crucial, something everyone should hear. The church has a mission that takes us beyond ourselves, not only to the far side of the world but into the neighborhood right outside our doors. Saint James’ Church is a part of that movement. The church truly is the only institution in the world, as Archbishop Temple once said, that exists for those who are not (yet) its members.

Our Gospel readings for the past two Sundays have been drawn from the story of the first missionary journey of the Twelve, sent by Jesus on a “mission trip” to teach, and heal the sick. They are sent to proclaim the Good News of the coming of the kingdom. Over the past two weeks we’ve heard about the call of the disciples to share in Jesus’ own work; we’ve heard as well that Jesus’ followers will face the same difficulties that he himself faced.

Our Gospel today reminds us that we have to be sent, and we have to get moving, in order to be received and welcomed. As Jesus ends his instruction he reminds the Twelve that people will welcome them. There’s no doubt about that, no matter what an inquisitor might say. People will receive the Good News, and they will be blessed by it. Yet if the disciples don’t get moving and start responding to the call, no one will ever get the chance to receive them in the name of Christ.

“Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40). We should keep in mind that Jesus has been sent by God, and that we (just like the Twelve) have been sent by Jesus. This chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel lays out the importance of the church that is sent to proclaim Good News. No one should get a swelled head here, because this charge isn’t a source of self-satisfaction but rather a call to action. Much is required of those who have been given such a call.

You see, the work we do at St. James’ Church has significance. We’re participating in an act of sending that began with Jesus’ own mission that he shared with others. People are receiving the Good News through the mission begun many years before; they are answering the call even as we received it. We’re part of a great and expanding mission, through time and space. God has called us and sent us out to proclaim Good News, not only to the four corners of the earth but right here at home, right now.

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee