Mission Sunday, 2017

Celebration of the 50th anniversary of profession of Prior Joel Macul, OSB
and 25th anniversary of ordination of Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB

Zechariah 8:20–23; Romans 10:9–18; Mt 28:16–20

Many years ago when I was living at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Nairobi, the monk living next to me was from Uganda. We got along rather well and one day he said rather insistently, “Being a missionary means leaving your village.” By this time, I was well aware of what leaving one’s village could mean for an African. “Village” did not just mean the place where you grew up. To be a missionary meant you had to leave the whole mindset of the village, the close relationships, yes, but also the village mentality, that these few houses and these people constituted the real world. To leave the village, meant leaving behind that community as the sole referent point in your life, the only way of thinking, and being willing to find life and the meaning of life in someone else’s village, community, world, way of thinking. Brother knew that to leave one’s village meant a death to all you may have found precious. But that was the beginning of being a missionary. Admitting that the world view and the relationships you liked had to be set aside and you had to move on and out into what might very well be a totally different world. If you didn’t leave your village, if you did not want to leave your village, you could not be a missionary.

To leave home, to be sent away from home and love it is part of the picture of being a missionary. On this Mission Sunday, the Word we have heard offers us at least three other images of what mission and missionary mean. In those days, the Lord says to Zechariah, people of every nationality will take hold of every Jew by the sleeve and say “Let us go with you for we have heard that God is with you.” … Someone comes up to you grabs you by the sleeve of your jacket and says I’m coming with you. I see God in your face and hear him in your words….But the someone who comes up to you, is not from your village. No, he can barely speak your language; his skin may be that of an Hispanic, Afro-American, Asian, Native American; she is different, she may come from across the border. But he has watched you, he has felt your faith and heard how you have spoken gently and encouragingly to others; he or she has heard you say that Jesus has been the road you follow. he has been your Way. And Jesus’ way has meant seeing the divine and the holy in each person. This stranger has seen how you have gone out of your way to look after someone else, been patient with another’s hurt. In a word, this stranger tugging at your sleeve has found your way of life attractive. Something about the way you talk, the way you are with people has moved this person pulling at you. You and your way, the way of Jesus that you live, has become visible to someone and they want you to bring them into that same relationship with Jesus. This person has experienced God through you.

If the vision of Zechariah is clear, it means that God’s community, God’s family is not just from my village, or my country. The vision of God for us humans is a humanity that multi-cultural, multi-lingual on a journey toward the one Father of all and in whom we become one. But for this vision of God to happen, I must be ready to acknowledge someone pulling at my sleeve and saying, lead me to the God who has loved you and walks with you. ….Has it ever happened to you that someone has taken hold of your sleeve and said show me the hope that you carry, the source of your generosity? If that has happened and you have brought that person along, then you are part of God’s mission and you are a missionary. Or have you ever pulled at someone else’s sleeve and said to another, your faith, your love, your words have moved me and confirmed in me the mercy of God? Have you let someone else lead you into the mystery of God and his Son? Yes, pulling at someone’s sleeve because you find their heart attractive, that is part of mission.

Now let us pick up an image from Paul. Let us go down from the sleeve to the feet. Paul quotes a line from Isaiah: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news! But before we come to the beautiful feet we have to pass through the heart. It is the heart that will give direction to the feet. The feet will go where the heart will tell them. Our lives will walk along a path that the heart speaks to them. But the heart can only give directions to the feet, to the direction of our lives, if the heart has heard a good word. The heart must hear about the word of Christ. Someone needs to open their mouth and speak about the treasure that is Christ. The heart must speak what it believes, what it knows to be true. The heart must speak the story of Jesus and God’s faithfulness is bringing him from death to life. When someone speaks that story of God’s fidelity into our heart and then we move with our feet in that same direction of fidelity and love, then our feet become beautiful. The feet are carrying the message of a heart that knows what is good and true for it. When I carry the message of truth and goodness in my heart and my feet are guided by the word of Christ, I shall surely be cutting a path that leads to peace. The Good News being carried by my feet is one of healing for humanity. It is a message that comes from the Lord of all. If I call his name and listen to his response, then my heart is shaped again in his image and my feet, my life will find its fulfillment in a peace that makes no distinction of persons, as Paul insists. That too is a being a missionary: someone who speaks words of peace, someone who can walk in God’s wholeness, his shalom, even in a broken world, strident world.

An image from Jesus. He is about to send out these messengers with beautiful feet. Notice the command: to make disciples of all nations. God’s vision is universal. I have to be able to see the horizon God sees, not necessarily my own. Making disciples happens in a baptism in the name of Father, Son and Spirit. Mission is inviting others into a Trinitarian relationship. Disciples are about naming, naming the people who make up humanity. But that name is three fold. It is not the name that villagers would give. It is naming others by the name of the living God. In the naming of others, the missionary is claiming them as members of a God who is community. We treasure our names, we are careful about our names. They are our identity. But now our identity is found in the name of Father, Son and Spirit. We are baptized into the communion of the Triune God, a communion that is marked by faithful love, a love into which we are definitively drawn by the Son and a love that is constantly nurtured by the Spirit. Invoking God’s name over others so that when they rise out of the waters, they rise into a new community of the divine and human: building up that community is being part of God’s mission.

On this mission Sunday we are also gathered to give thanks to God for the lives of two of us who have in the mysterious course of our lives left our villages, wonderful villages. We left them and went to other nations and tongues. Whether we went with beautiful feet, I cannot judge. But I can say that we went with a hope that the love of the Father for all people would become real for others. We went with the hope that when we left and moved on, as we must, we might hear the simple words: “You taught us another way to live and be. Thank you!” Surely if that happened, then in some small way the tug on our sleeve changed us as much as it changed the ones pulling on that sleeve. For we were both the ones sent and the ones who received. And so, as St. Benedict says, Our hearts expanded. And to give all of us new, expanded hearts is what our God’s mission is all about.

Prior Joel Macul, OSB