(I Corinthians 3.1-4; Matthew 28.16-end)
Through this summer our sermons here are focussing on mission. Some might cringe to hear that, but Christian mission isn’t the preserve of particular personalities, or of just a limited part of the Church. Mission, being sent, is part of the definition of being Christian; because our existence is predicated on the coming among us of Jesus, the Christ. To quote him from John’s gospel: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ That we are here at all is founded on God who is not a tight huddle of three persons, but who goes out so that his endemic love can spill out into the infinity of his creation, even to us. So to call yourself a Christian is unavoidably to describe yourself as part of God’s mission to the world. Mission isn’t a dirty word: it is the work of Christ.
The Church of England’s 5 Marks of Mission form a scheme to describe mission in a rounded way - a multi-faceted description of us followers of Jesus. The five marks are therefore five different but overlapping challenges to us as we measure ourselves against them. My colleague Robert listed the five last Sunday, and my focus this morning is Mark 2. For those who like me aren’t great at remembering lists and don’t always think in schemes, that second mark is ‘To teach, baptise and nurture new believers’.
The first mark was ‘Tell’. The apostle Paul was a great teller of the good news of Jesus – going on to new cities all around the Mediterranean, as interested in getting his message to the majority who weren’t Jews as he was to his own people; and when he moved on, he was leaving behind groups of new believers convinced by his message and meeting together. But his missionary work was not done in those places once he left. Quite a few of these new Christians wanted his advice down the following years, and consulted him as best they could – hence so many of the writings with Paul’s name on them form one side of a correspondence of which we’re missing the other half, and we have to infer from his replies the questions and the issues which have been put to Paul.
Paul knew his missionary work didn’t finish when he left a city like Corinth; he realised, as he makes plain in his first subsequent letter to that church, that he had left behind a group of pretty immature believers – ‘infants in Christ’. He had given them baby food, and he could tell that they were still acting like babies. New believers need teaching and nurturing.
So do old believers. We may have gone to church for decades, studied the Bible, done a degree in theology, been ordained – none of these things means we have individually grown into the full stature of Christ. The mission of Christ always calls us further, to go on to understand more, and to help others to delve deeper too.
Paul points out to his readers that he knows they are infants in Christ because they are jealous, quarrel, and behave factionally. All of these things focus inwards, on the group.
In the past people used to refer patronisingly to ‘the mission field’. Well, the mission field may be out there in places that are strange to us, but it’s most certainly also in here, in our hearts and in this place, as we make behaviour part of Christ’s constant invitation to relationship. Others may grow, if we ourselves grow. To be Christ-like isn’t about the group within, but instead to be missional – to be going out, to attend to the world beyond.
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers. How does our behaviour – as individuals, and as a church community – help others to grow in Christ, to take their own steps forward in membership, to feel embraced and cared for? How are we ourselves growing? These things aren’t adjuncts to our mission; they are at its core.