Melissa Hinnen (center) enjoys dinner with some of the missionaries serving in Cambodia during a 2011 visit.
We’re on a Co-Mission From God
By Melissa Hinnen*
The mission statement of the United Methodist Church “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” echoes Matthew 28:16-20, often referred to as the Great Commission. This scripture is also often referred to in my place of work at the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries where one of our priorities is to send missionaries throughout the world.
People often seem surprised to find out that The United Methodist Church still sends out missionaries. It sounds so old fashioned. But in fact, we have more than 350 missionaries, and next month we will commission 50 young adult missionaries to be sent into the world. The missionary movement continues to be a strong and vibrant part of our church.
United Methodist missionaries are not only from North America serving in Africa or Asia, but more than half of our missionaries are from outside the United States serving in other countries including in the United States—even in places like Harrison, New Jersey and New York City. As my boss, Thomas Kemper, likes to say, ‘the 21st Century missionary goes from everywhere and to everywhere.’
The concept of missionaries is something that many people struggle with, particularly when we are engaged in more pluralistic circles of friendship or other relationships. We don’t want to offend Muslim or Jewish friends by trying to convert them to Christianity. And we don’t want to be thought naïve or self-righteous by atheist or agnostic friends. At the same time, we are called as United Methodists to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called as Christians to share the Good News of Christ. So how do we live out our faith authentically in ways that offer an invitation to grace that meets people where they are but doesn’t leave them there?
For so many centuries, this Gospel lesson has been twisted to justify colonization and other injustice done in the name of Jesus. The word discipleship has been confused with saving souls . . . but what Jesus instructs in this passage is to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded of you.”
And while this reading is often referred to as the Great Commission, Jesus did not call it that. What he does call “great” earlier in the book of Matthew is the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” Jesus instructed in Matthew 22: 37-40.
One commentary I read explains that…
Discipling means to do with others what Jesus has done with his own disciples, and with us . . . It’s about walking with people, in the power of the Spirit and the confidence of the kingdom of God, so they, and you, learn to live the way of Jesus, the way of God’s reign.
And, the commentary says, not just live it—participate in it, announce it to others, go where the Spirit sends you, and act fully as Christ’s representatives in the world. Put another way,” according to the commentary, “discipling others is inviting them to experience and respond to the fullness of the Triune God alive and active always, everywhere.
As I have gotten to know the United Methodist missionaries, I have come to understand that that is exactly what they are doing. The 21st century missionary lives and works within communities, incarnating the Good News of Jesus Christ in his or her role as teacher, farmer, doctor, pastor, environmentalist, and even airplane pilot. They are certainly not forcing their beliefs on others or making financial support contingent on a profession of faith. They are living out the great commandments—loving God and loving their neighbor and offering an invitation to others to do the same.
A couple of years ago, I visited our mission in Cambodia where we have a number of missionaries. It’s a country that 20 years ago did not have a Methodist presence. It is also a nation where more than 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30 and 50 percent are children due to the Khmer Rouge genocide, which took the lives of many of the educated adults. There is a sense of suspicion and anger because of past hurt during the war that poisoned the society. People in the Methodist Church are not always trusted, but somehow the church keeps growing.
The intensity of Christianity in this country that had endured unimaginable terror was hard for me to wrap my brain around. What is it that is changing their hearts? Why are young people going against their parents’ and even their friends’ wishes and joining this faith? Over and over I heard that Christianity provides a channel for forgiveness—a peace that passes all understanding. People had become so guarded with each other and many had done terrible things during the genocide. Through Christ, they found forgiveness of themselves and of their neighbors.
The missionaries in Cambodia are working themselves out of jobs as the Cambodian leadership is growing stronger and is beginning to disciple their own communities.
How amazing and beautiful is God’s love manifested out of the ashes of war and genocide?
This is RESURRECTION!
And when we are looking for it, we see that it is happening in our own lives, in our own families, and in our community. Out of pain and suffering can emerge something new and glorious! And we are invited to be part of bringing it forth!
How have you been transformed by your faith?
Where have you seen or experienced the healing power of God?
This invitation to be on a co-mission with Jesus is not only for disciples 2,000 years ago. It is not only for missionaries around the world. It is for you and me.
We are invited to teach others how to follow the teachings of Jesus.
We can model what it means to love God and love our neighbor.
We can be part of God’s transformation of the world simply through our LOVE and in the name of Jesus.
Recently, I was at the New York Annual Conference. One evening, as I walked into the auditorium, I heard some awesome singing. The diverse choir was made up of about 30 young adults who were joyfully singing God’s praises.
I found out that they were from Anchor House, a United Methodist organization “where men and women become ‘new creations’ after a life of addiction. They move back into society with a job, an apartment, and a faith that will anchor them from the storms of life.”
These young people have been discipled and now they are models of God’s transformative power that can be an invitation to grace for those who they touch. They are active participants in the co-mission with Jesus Christ.
Enuma Okoro writes,
We must acknowledge that God chooses to invite us, without merit, to participate in the new thing God is already doing through Christ. New creation, whether at the beginning of our sense of time or in the historical reality of the incarnation, is always a sign of God actively giving to the world.
How do we not share the experiences of God’s goodness?
How can you resist sharing the ways that Jesus has touched your life?
What is it that brings you back to your church community week after week?
How do you pass on that gift of grace that you have received to others?
How do we participate with God in our co-mission with Jesus?
When we pray with a friend or stranger in need, we are living out our faith with authentic love.
When we volunteer in the community—tutoring, cooking a meal at a shelter or for someone who is homebound, or cleaning up a city park—in the name of Jesus we offer an invitation of grace to our neighbors.
When we share the story of our faith journey, we are participating in God’s mission, discipling others into a life of fullness through Jesus Christ.
The Great Commission is a Spirit-led Co-Mission from God with Jesus Christ and with each other.
I challenge you to think about how you are called to join in that mission. I invite you to celebrate the places where you see the Spirit at work and where resurrection is happening. It’s all around us and we are invited to participate in it. Thanks be to God.
This is adapted from a sermon Melissa Hinnen preached at Park United Methodist Church in Weehawken, NJ on June 15, 2014.
*Melissa Hinnen in the Content and Public Information Officer for The General Board of Global Ministries.