Missions Sunday 2006: “Sharing the Story”
A sermon for Mission Sunday by Father Luke A. Veronis
There is a famous story which tells how our Lord Jesus Christ returned to glory following His Passion and Resurrection, still bearing the marks of His suffering. One of the angels looked at the Lord and said, “You must have suffered terribly down there. Does the world know what you did for it? Do they all understand how great your love is for them?”
“No,” Jesus responded, “Not yet. Only a handful of people, my followers in Palestine, know about my divine love and works of salvation.”
The angel seemed perplexed, “Well, what have you done to ensure that all people throughout the world will hear about You?”
Christ confidently responded “I commanded my disciples, Peter and Paul, James and John, and the others to make it their business to share the Good News. And these will tell others, who will still tell others, until the farthest person of the widest circle throughout the world will hear my story.”
The angel looked especially doubtful now, for he knew well what poor creatures humans were. “Yes,” he said, “but what if Peter and Paul, James and John, and the others forget? What if they grow weary of the telling? What if they ignore their responsibility? What if, away down in the 21st century, your followers fail to share the story of your love for the world? What then? Haven’t you made any back-up plans?”
To which Jesus responded, “No. I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them!”
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Our Lord is counting on us! To tell the story. To share His love. To offer a witness of the transforming power that comes through believing and following Jesus Christ. Our Lord is counting on us, the Church, to be His hands and feet, to be His instruments in passing on the Good News to the world!
And yet, what if they forget? What if they grow weary in the telling? What if they ignore their responsibility?
This is the challenge we hear on Missions Sunday, which is celebrated today throughout all the Orthodox Churches in America. Our Lord has not only given us a command, but moreso a privilege. He has honored us with the responsibility of acting as His ambassadors throughout the world to tell his story and to share His love. Imagine, we each play an integral role in His plan of salvation for all people.
Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, “If a parish has no awareness and consciousness of being “sent” by God to speak His words, to do His work, and to accomplish His will in this world, then it is not an Orthodox Christian Parish!” We are not living up to our Orthodox Christian identity if we don’t fulfill this calling to “go forth” and become Christ’s witnesses in the world around us.
When Jesus gave His disciples the new commandment “to love one another as I have loved you,” His followers never limited this love to a closed circle. “The other is my salvation,” saints in future generations would say, and they understood “the other” as all people everywhere.
Unfortunately, too many of us today try to limit this universal love of God to solely a local level. “Charity begins at home” some claim. “We have to take care of our own. There are plenty of needs here. We can’t solve the problems of the world.”
And yet, Jesus says, “I haven’t made other plans. I’m counting on you.”
We should never limit our Christian witness to an either-or decision. When people remain indifferent to the needs of the world, and allow their parochial worldview to question the necessity of supporting the global work and mission of the Church, they reject Christ’s universal love and vision. Divine love knows no boundaries and can never set any limits.
Christ calls us to “tell others, who will still tell others, until the farthest person of the widest circle throughout the world will hear His story.”
Since the divine love of God knows no boundaries, His people and the Church must make every effort to participate in witnessing God’s love at a local, national, and global level, all simultaneously. It must never be an either-or proposition. This universal and holistic vision acts as the antithesis of the egocentric temptation we all face in our lives, as well as the cure to the parochial, often ethnocentric or “spiritual ghetto” heresy our parishes too often lead.
What happens in Albania, Africa, Asia or South America concerns Christ, and thus, should concern us. An authentic Orthodox ethos, on an individual as well as a parish level, entails living our faith to its fullness, and an essential part of this faith is offering a witness of God’s love to the individuals we meet each day, to our local community wherever we live, to our country at large, as well as to the ends of the earth. It’s not either-or, but a simultaneous effort!
One way for us “to tell his story to others, who will still tell others, until the farthest person of the widest circle throughout the world will hear” is by supporting and participating with the Orthodox Christian Mission Center. The OCMC in Florida acts as one of the central vehicles of our Orthodox Churches in America in bringing God’s love to peoples throughout the world. By becoming partners in this universal work of the OCMC - through our prayers, through our support and partnership with the missionaries around the world, through financial donations, through taking part in one of their short-term mission teams, or even by becoming a long-term missionary ourselves, we participate in that honor of sharing His story to others, “who will then share it with others, until the farthest person of the widest circle throughout the world will hear.”
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The angel looked especially doubtful now, for he knew well what poor creatures humans were. “Yes, but what if they grow weary of the telling? What if they ignore their responsibility? What if, away down in the 21st century, your followers fail to share the story of your love for the world? What then? Haven’t you made any back-up plans?”
To which the Lord responded, “No. I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them!”
Luke Veronis is presently offering courses in missiology at Holy Cross
Greek Orthodox School of Theology and St. Vladimir's Seminary. He is
also serving the Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in
Webster, MA. He and his wife Faith have served as missionaries in
Albania for more than 10 years, and in Africa for a year and a half. He
is the author of "Missionaries, Monks and Martyrs: Making Disciples of
All Nations." Fr. Luke graduated from Penn State University, Holy Cross
Theological School and Fuller Theological Seminary's School of World