daily biblical sermons


HOW SHOULD CHRISTIAN MISSION BE UNDERSTOOD TODAY?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, World Mission Sunday (29th Sunday of the Year), October 22, 2017
Readings Recommended by the Ordo for World Mission Sunday Isaiah 60:1-6, Romans 10:9-18, Matthew 28:16-20


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).


Today is World Mission Sunday, a day on which we reflect on the mission of the Church and its meaning. Mission is of the essence of Christianity. The very reason why Christ came into the world was to save the world. "She [Mary] will bear a son, and you [Joseph] shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).


Christ himself has a mission from his Father to save all who believe in him. He then extends his own mission to his disciples, associating them with himself in his own saving mission. As Christ came into the world as our Savior and as he went about preaching the good news of salvation through faith in him, he trained and sent out his missionary disciples to preach the gospel of salvation and to call all people everywhere to genuine repentance for their sins and faith in him for their forgiveness, justification, and salvation.


The mission of the Church today continues the missionary work of Jesus and his disciples. The Church today continues to preach the gospel to the nations, to non-Christian peoples wherever they may be found. Our focus for mission is on non-Christian peoples who have never been evangelized or who are just beginning to be evangelized. So geography is still an important factor in deciding what is missionary work today. Hence Asia and Africa should be the central focus of the Church's missionary work today.


Missionaries are to respect the language and culture of the people they preach to, to the degree that this is possible, for any particular human culture is a human creation that contains error and sin as well as many good qualities. So the errors of human culture also need to be evangelized so that human cultures may be transformed by the gospel and by the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.


Missionaries believe the teaching of Scripture that people can only be saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


"Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (John 3:36). "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who has not the Son of God has not life" (1 John 5:11-12).


We obtain this salvation by genuinely repenting of our sins and believing in the Savior that God sent into the world to justify and save us, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).


Missionaries are motivated to preach this new way of salvation to the ends of the earth, because it is the way that God has given to man to be saved. "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:17-18). Genuine repentance and belief in Jesus Christ is the means that God gave to the human race to be saved. Christ therefore sent his missionary disciples out into the whole world to preach the gospel and to baptize all who would believe in Christ. He told them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).


We should therefore base ourselves on the Scriptures and make the means of salvation that God has given to the world known to all nations and peoples. It is clear that this is how Jesus wants the world to be saved. This is why he sent out his missionary disciples to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel to the whole creation, to everyone everywhere, to all peoples and nations.


It is therefore an error to say that there is no need to preach the gospel to non-Christians because they will be saved anyway. God's fullest revelation of himself is in Christ, and he wants everyone everywhere to have the opportunity to know him. He died and rose to save all who would genuinely repent and believe in him, and he wants everyone to be saved in this way. Why else would he send out his missionary disciples to preach the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15)? The mission of the Church is based on the fact that this is how God wants all people everywhere to be saved. Our part is to obey and carry out this mission.


No one can prevent us from hoping and praying that God will deal mercifully with those who have not yet heard of Christ, but, according to the Scriptures, their ultimate fate is not at all clear. It has not been clearly revealed to us in Scripture how they can be saved without knowing about and believing in Jesus Christ. It seems that God wants their salvation to be doubtful to us, perhaps to motivate us to missionary work. I think that it is not wise to speculate and theologize about matters that have not been clearly revealed to us in the Scriptures. The Church is not authorized to create new revelation on her own, but only to reflect on and expound matters that are clearly revealed in Scripture. I think it is best not to speculate about this question beyond what can be clearly established from the Scriptures.


And how is it that Christ saves by his death and resurrection all that genuinely repent of their sins and believe in him? It is because the Father sent Christ his Son as a sin offering for all human sins. Christ thus fulfills the sin offerings (sacrifices) that God revealed and gave to Israel in the Old Testament, where an animal was designated by a sinner as his representative and substitute, and then was killed by the sinner before the Lord in vicarious punishment for the sinner's sins, the animal bearing the punishment for the sinner's sins.


This, of course, is only symbolism, "for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Nonetheless God forgave the Israelites their sins when they genuinely repented and offered their animal sacrifices for their sins. He forgave them ahead of time because of the merits of Christ's future death on the cross that really did have the power to forgive human sins - all human sins.


Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross as our sin offering fulfilled the Jewish sacrifices for sins and really did make just reparation before the Father for them, atoning for all human sin.


Here, then, is where the mission of the Church comes in, for Christ's sacrifice works for all who believe in him, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).


It is the Church's mission to tell everyone everywhere about Christ and his saving death and resurrection so that they can believe in him, for "how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14-15 NRSV).


But once they have heard of him, they can then believe in him and confess him and so be saved, "because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved" (Romans 10:9-10 NRSV).


In this way, new believers in Christ will have their sins forgiven, and they will be declared and made righteous by God. Their faith in Christ will be reckoned to them as righteousness (Romans 4:5).


Now, as a member of the Church, the new believer will be able to participate in her full sacramental life and have the support of the community of believers in Christ. After baptism, particularly important for the new believer will be the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23) and the Eucharist, for the sacrament of reconciliation communicates to him in a powerful way the merits of Christ's death for the forgiveness of his postbaptismal sins, and the Eucharist makes present for him the very sacrifice of Christ himself on the cross that justifies, saves, and redeems him.


Since most of the world today is still non-Christian, Christian mission cannot reasonably be said to be over and finished. It has, in fact, hardly begun in most parts of the world today.

 

 

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