Introductory Sermon 12th January 2014

Sermon for the Baptism of Christ, 12th January 2014
An overview of the Five Marks of Mission
(Readings: Acts 10:34-43 and Matthew 3:13-17)

This morning we begin a series of sermons on the Five Marks of Mission.  And it seems highly appropriate to begin thinking about mission together on the day we celebrate the Baptism of Christ.

Because these two great pillars of the Christian faith – Mission and Baptism – are fundamental to us as disciples, and they are both things we have in common with Christ.

We share Christ’s baptism, and we share his mission.

God’s mission is enacted in the sending of Christ; Christ’s mission is to redeem and save the world; and the Church’s mission, our mission, is to serve Christ in his mission to the world, however we might be called to do so.

There’s another summary of this on the Anglican Communion website: ‘Mission goes out from God.  Mission is God’s way of loving and saving the world.  The initiative in mission is his.  We are called to serve his mission [living out our baptismal calling], living out and proclaiming the Good News [of the Kingdom].

Now I use this quote from the Anglican Communion website because it was the Anglican Church which developed the Five Marks of Mission, and if you want to learn a bit more about how, when and why this happened, then keep an eye on the noticeboard at the back of church and on the website, where we’ll be posting some details to accompany this sermon series.

Over the coming weeks we’ll look at each of the marks of mission in turn, with today providing an overview, something of an appetiser!

The first mark of mission is the most important one: to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. 

No surprises here.  This is the natural starting point because it is Jesus’ own summary of his mission to the world:

Mark 1:14-15 Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Luke 7:22 And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.

In our first reading today, from Acts, Peter tells his audience ‘Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil for God was with him’, and the passage ended with Jesus’ command that we pass on this message of salvation, the Good News, as the early Church did after Jesus’ death.

So the first mark of mission is to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, as Jesus himself did.

And the second mark of mission flows quite logically from the first:  having told people the Good News of the Kingdom, we are called to teach, baptise and nurture those who respond – to teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

Back to baptism again, as the key starting point of a life of discipleship, as the sign and seal of Christ on our lives.  The second mark of mission is to teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

The third mark of mission is to respond to human need by loving service.  In the gospels, we see Christ, on countless occasions, feeding people, healing people, sharing pain and suffering, and teaching about a life of serving others.  Mark of Mission number three is to respond to human need by loving service.  So

  1. Proclaim the Good News
  2. Encourage and baptise new believers
  3. Love and serve those in need

Number four – nearly there – takes this call to be alongside others a step further, beyond our immediate human needs, into issues of social justice.

And number four is a reminder that these are Anglican marks of mission, for the worldwide church.

Mark of Mission number four is to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

So many times we hear that Christianity shouldn’t be about politics.  But Christ calls us to be active in situations of injustice – to speak out for the oppressed, the underdog.  He came to turn the established order upside-down.

We live in relative peace and tranquillity, but our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world find themselves facing conflict, injustice and persecution, on a day to day basis in some places.

Number four is to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

And finally (phew!) number five is the ‘green’ mark of mission: it’s to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.  This mark of mission reiterates the messages of Harvest and Rogation: that God has provided everything we need for life here on Earth, and we are the stewards of this great gift.

So there we have it – the five marks of mission.  In short

  1. Proclaim the Good News
  2. Encourage and baptise new believers
  3. Love and serve those in need
  4. Seek peace and stand up for those who are treated unfairly
  5. Safeguard the planet, God’s created world.

And how might we use the Five Marks of Mission?  Well, given that we are all called to share in God’s mission to the world, as we explore the Marks of Mission together, we’ll be asking this question:  Do we see mission as the bedrock of all we are, do and say as the people of God?

So do we see mission as the bedrock of all we are, do and say as the people of God in this place?  Do we live out our baptismal calling to share in Christ’s mission?  What does mission look like for us, as individuals, as Church, here and now in (place)?

Mission starts in our own relationship with Christ.  The closer we are to Christ, the more we share in his life and he in ours.  The closer we move to Christ, the more we share his divinity as well as his humanity.

We share in Christ’s mission and we share in his baptism. 

Our gospel reading was Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, and in v 14 John the Baptist says to Jesus ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’  Jesus and John meet, who should be baptising who is turned upside down, and as John ministers to the Messiah, he baptises one far greater than himself.

And we, too, meet Christ in our own baptism.  The Spirit alights upon us, the sign and seal of God, anointing us as his people, preparing us for lives of service in his name. 

Christ meets us in our baptism – and then sends us to the world.  In the coming weeks, we’ll reflect together on this sending to the world, as the five marks of mission help us to explore how we  allow our lives to be shaped and directed by the baptismal calling to share in God’s mission, here and now, in this place.

Amen.