1 Samuel 19:1 – 2, 9 – 15
Acts 14: 15 – 23
Mark 11: 7 – 10, 18 & Matthew 10: 16 – 20
Our theme today is Misunderstood Mission.
Have you ever done something for someone and been misunderstood? I think I shared with you once how I mowed a friend’s lawn when he was on holiday and he returned, furious with me for doing so.
The great reversal in Jesus’ fortunes: the ecstatic welcome during the Palm Sunday triumphal entry into Jerusalem that turned so quickly into brutal execution by crucifixion; illustrates a mission misunderstood if ever there was one.
The Gospel readings illustrate this:
- The crowds shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
- The chief priests and scribes who kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him
- And Jesus’ warning that when he sends us out we need to, as he put it, 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues
Opposition comes, not so much because mission is misunderstood, but because it is understood all too well. This Jesus you are telling me about is a threat to my kingdom. I don’t want to submit to God. Not many will say that outright. Some won’t even have a conscious knowledge that that is the problem, but their spirits will read the situation all too well.
That is why love is so important. Only love will give you the strength to embark upon and persevere in those circumstances and only love will break the barriers down in those whose self-centredness appears monolithic.
The awful truth is it is not just the scribes and chief priests of the world who are threatened, it is often we ourselves, our children, our friends. That is why we take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Nobody said it would be easy, but Jesus did say the Spirit of your Father would help you.
Some of you may have seen the film, Hacksaw Ridge which is part of our Lenten series of films.
I’d like to read you a little summary of the story. See if you can identify the misunderstood mission in this account:
War is a terrible reality. And for those who follow Jesus, armed conflict often creates a dreadful tension: is it possible to serve both God and my country?
Just War theory is territory few theologians venture into but some of the best in this area today are Anglicans. But not everyone supports a Just War theory.
The history of conscientious objectors is full of courageous people who have determined this tension cannot be resolved satisfactorily and therefore refuse to serve in the military, often at great cost to themselves. Within my own family the two men I am closest to are my brother and my son. My brother was sentenced to six years for being a conscientious objector. My son is a Major in the New Zealand Army. I love and am proud of them both and support them both in their stances.
During World War II, one man resolved his dilemma quite differently – though he would pay a high price for his convictions. His name was Desmond Doss. Raised in a Seventh-day Adventist family in Virginia, Desmond left school early to work as a joiner to help support his family during the Great Depression.
When the USA entered the war as a result of Pearl Harbour, Doss found himself in a real ethical dilemma. His commitment to non-violence was such that he knew he could no sooner kill someone than he could betray his faith. And yet, Desmond sensed a strong call from God to actively participate in the war effort by saving lives, rather than by taking them. Against his parents’ wishes, Desmond enlisted as a medic, on the understanding that he would not be compelled to carry any weapon in combat.
However, he soon discovered in training that there was enormous pressure exerted on him to comply with the standard requirements that even medics had to be prepared to kill an enemy soldier and needed to be armed in battle zones. Desmond quickly realised that his right not to take arms while saving lives was viewed as both a threat and a weakness by his fellow soldiers and superiors. As a result, he endured intimidation, beatings, abuse, and alienation. All this while he was still in training.
Several times Desmond had been offered a discharge and even endured a court-martial, but still he persisted – driven by a conviction that God was sending him to save lives.
Eventually, his superiors reluctantly gave in to his insistence that he not carry a weapon, or that he be required to serve on the Sabbath. Upon entering the Pacific theatre of war in Guam and the Philippines, Doss soon found himself aiding many wounded soldiers while under fire.
In spite of the resentment and cynicism of his fellow soldiers, Desmond soon earned grudging respect for his compassion, care, and commitment. However, an even more gruelling mission was to come.
As the American forces inched north toward Japan, gradually taking islands one by one, they found themselves facing the strategic island of Okinawa. Here is where some of the most brutal and bloody fighting of the war occurred. Fought over 82 days, the Battle of Okinawa resulted in nearly a quarter of a million deaths (both military and civilian) and many more injured.
Desmond’s infantry division was given the mission of climbing the Maeda Escarpment (nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge) and driving the Japanese off it. The top of the ridge was full of tunnels and gun placements. It was on this field of mayhem and killing that Doss went well beyond the call of duty, when after a swift counterattack by the Japanese, hundreds of men were left wounded as the retreat was ordered.
In a remarkable show of courage and determination, Desmond disobeyed orders and returned time and time to the top of the ridge, to rescue some 75 wounded men – one man at a time, dragging or carrying them and then letting them down the cliff to safety.
Miraculously he survived, though in the days following he was severely injured by shrapnel as he continued to treat others while under fire. His last act on the battlefield was to insist that another wounded man take his place on a stretcher. While waiting for aid, he was hit by a sniper’s bullet and crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to get treatment.
On 12th October 1945, President Harry Truman presented Corporal Desmond Doss with the Congressional Medal of Honor – the highest military award for bravery. Doss was the first conscientious objector to win this award.
What was it that drove Desmond to doggedly pursue the course he had chosen? What was it that caused him to put his life on the line again and again, for people who once had despised him?
Like Desmond we live and work alongside people who don’t share our mission. As a result, we can easily be misunderstood. Jesus indicates that opposition (and even persecution) tends to follow sharing the Good News of the Kingdom. In fact, he warns his disciples that this will occur.
Here are some questions which will appear in the sermon on the St Peter’s website so that you can give them more thought than we have time for now:
- Why do you think Christians who faithfully share the Good News are reviled or persecuted?
- What do you think Jesus meant by, Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves?
- Have you ever experienced opposition, great or small, when sharing your faith?
Let us pray:
Lord of life, we your people come to you acknowledging our need for your help. We have the greatest product to sell but we often fall short in fulfilling our job description. Forgive us, encourage us and strengthen us as your witnesses and co-workers. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.