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"Out of Fear into Joy" May 28, 2006
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, San Luis Obispo, CA
This sermon talks about how Jesus calls us each out into the world into a mission of Joy, and talks about letting go of the fear that holds us back.  It invites you to join me on my mission to Liberia.  Also based on:
The Gospel reading for the seventh Sunday in Easter, Year B
In the gospel reading today, Jesus is praying for the disciples.  This passage comes just before Judas shows up with the soldiers to take Jesus away. 

Iím going to read you that verse about joy again, but this time out of the amplified bible, which lists all the different shades of meaning that the original Greek text held. 
And now I am coming to You.  I say these things while I am still in the world so that My joy may be made full and complete and perfect in them Ė that they may experience My delight fulfilled in them, that My enjoyment may be perfected in their own souls, that they may have My gladness within them filling their hearts. (John 17:13)

Isnít that beautiful?  Before Jesus gives himself over to suffering and death he speaks of giving his joy to his disciples. 

Jesus calls us to be his disciples too.  To be people of God instead of people of the world.  To be filled with his joy, and to go out into the world in self-giving to love and serve as Jesus did. 

These are challenging scary words.  Often when we think of the Christian call, we think it is a call into suffering.  Our minds fill with the impossible image of ourselves, leaving our lives, going to live in a hut in some foreign land, or even suffering and dying as Jesus did.  Is Jesus asking us to do that? 

When we find Jesusí call out into the world to be scary itís because we are listening to fear instead of the words of love that Jesus speaks.  Throughout this season of Easter we have heard so many affirmations of love from Jesus in the Gospel.  We have heard how we are his lambs who he leads and cares for and keeps from harm, he has called us to abide in his love, he has promised to send us the spirit to live in us, to give us new life, he wants to make our joy to be like his joy.  And in the presence of our fear again and again he has said, ďPeace be with youĒ. 

So why are we still afraid?  It is so difficult to let go.  Impossible to think that letting go of things like control and comfort, could bring us into a joy beyond anything we can yet imagine. 

I am passionate about mission work.  We can know about Jesusí joy in our minds, we can accept Godís love in our hearts, but it is out in the world where we work out our faith.   Where we meet Christ face to face, where we become the hands and face of Christ in the world.  Where we accept our vulnerability and weakness, and see it transformed through Christ.  Where we meet suffering, and see the hope and joy that abides with it. 

Over the last year God has been teaching me about letting go.  Before last summer I had never done any kind of mission work before.  I had been praying for guidance for a couple years, and the more I did, the more I realized how miserable the life that I had built for myself was.  So grumbling at God, I quit my jobs, last September, not knowing what I was going to, but making myself available.  I ended up doing Hurricane Katrina relief work in Mississippi for six weeks last fall, I spent a month in El Salvador, and returned to Mississippi for another couple weeks this spring. 

It is so difficult to describe in words the transformation that occurred in me when I was in Mississippi.  Through my failures, my doubt, my despair at the apocalyptic scenes of destruction that surrounded me, God gently guided me to peace and even joy.  I struggled against it even, but slowly I was able to see the signs of hope around me.  The tiny green shoot pushing out of a mangled old live oak tree, people eating meals as a community, people worshiping and giving thanks at the ruins of their churches, the opportunity to pray with people, to be the helping hands that did what they could not do alone, to see the miracle of hope igniting in the face of someone who had lost hope, and the power of being part of that, and the wonder at finding God within me, when my own positive thinking and strength were completely used up, finding that wellspring of eternal joy I didnít even know existed.

I spent half of my time there at the Lutheran Episcopal Disaster Response Camp, Camp Coast Care.  They will be open for the next five to eight years, providing housing and meals for volunteers and equipping unskilled volunteers to go out and do demolition and re-construction work.  And the camp is just as full now as it was in October, because every person who leaves, goes home gets a bigger group of people and returns.  Two other people from St. Lukeís went with me this spring, and a couple from St. James was just there a few weeks ago.  And all of us are making plans to return.  When you go to the valley of the shadow of death, and you work side by side with Jesus to ignite a spark of hope, and watch that spark join the flame that pushes back the darkness, how can you ever be the same again?  How can you not seek to re-live that experience?

Mission work is going to places where there is suffering, whether that is around the corner or around the world; it is seeking to share in the experience of people who are different than us.  It is that which takes us out of our comfort zones.    It could be volunteering at peopleís kitchen, or the homeless shelter, or womenís shelter, getting involved with youth, caring for the sick, ministering to people in prison.  Mission work can be so many different things.  Look into your heart, and see what Jesus might be calling you to do.  Because he is calling you, out into his joy.

After struggling for some time with what God might be calling me to do, I have signed up with the national church to be a missionary.  In September I leave for Liberia, West Africa, and will be there for one year.  I will be working at an Episcopal college helping them with their agriculture programs, because agriculture is my background.  The civil war in Liberia ended in 2003, and it claimed 250,000 lives, more than 10% of their population.  80% of people live in poverty, over 70% are unemployed.  And I will be able to do nothing about all of that.  I go not so much to help as to experience their lives, experience the way they see God and the world, to witness their joy and be changed by it.

Missionaries of the church have to raise a majority of their own funds, and for the last couple months I have preached at all the different Episcopal churches in our county.  Fundraising has been a journey in itself, and today marks the official end of that journey.  Next week I will send the $10,000 that I needed to raise to the mission personnel office in New York, and the money that continues to come into the mission fund which St. Lukeís is collecting for me, will be used for supplies, livestock, seed, and other needs that arise in Liberia. 

I have been astounded by how many people are excited about becoming a part of this mission.  And through it I have learned something else about mission work.  Mission work isnít just about the missionary and the people she serves, it also belongs to the people who send her and support her in prayer.  I have already been tremendously strengthened and uplifted by the prayers of people who have joined me on this journey.  And I believe that, as God has blessed me with their presence, they will also be blessed by sharing in this journey.  

So I come to you today to ask to be your missionary.  A missionary of St. Stephenís.  To share this journey with you.  To share your love with the people I go to serve.

You can support me either financially or in prayer.  I have two sign up sheets by the door, one for each.  For financial sponsorship you can sponsor one day of the year for $30, and the sign up sheet has all the days of the year.  If you are interested in my mission, please put your name and contact information on one of the sheets because that is the only way I will be able to keep in touch with you.

I like that this is a healing service today.  It struck me during the last service, to pray for healing from fear.  So as we continue with this service of healing, I am going to be praying for healing from fear, for myself, for us as Christians, and for the world.

As you go out into the community into the world to live out your own faith journey, to be called beyond fear into the mission of joy to which Jesus is calling you, I hope that you will join me on this journey, open yourselves to it and be changed by it.
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