The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 3/17/02
Text: Jonah 1:1-17; 2:10-3:3a; John 20:19-22
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Did you happen to see the tribute to John Belushi on television this past week? (Or TRY until the cable went out?) John was an incredible comic talent who created fascinating characters. What brings him to mind this morning is the delightfully wacky pair that he and Saturday Night Live partner Dan Ackroyd teamed up to create - Jake and Elwood, the Blues Brothers. These two genial bozos are sent out on an ill-fated fund-raising mission for their old parochial school by a fierce old nun. As they blunder through a series of larcenous schemes and make general movie mayhem, Jake and Elwood establish their credibility by quietly proclaiming to all their detractors, "We're on a mission from God."

Right! In the face of ludicrous and often illegal fund-raising attempts, Jake and Elwood's explanation for all their activities is hilariously absurd. A "mission from God?" No.  They are simply two losers trying to run a series of scams, and we laugh at them.

But what about this - the possibility of someone's being on a genuine mission from God? After all, one of the signs of "delusions of grandeur" on psychological tests is a positive answer to the question, "Do you believe you are a special agent of the Lord?" Hmm. Is that excessively exalted language for the activities of someone we might actually know?

  • Can someone like that checkout clerk at the grocery store be ... on a mission from God?
  • Is someone like that neighbor who feeds your cat when you are gone ... on a mission from God?
  • What about that annoying PTA organizer who keeps calling ... on a mission from God?
  • Is someone like that teenage daughter with her room filled with giggling girlfriends ... on a mission from God?
  • And how about someone with bills to pay, kids to shuttle, dinner to cook, a garage to clean out, and 10 pounds to lose ... on a mission from God?(1)
YES! All these people may very well be on a mission from God. Just as you and I are.

Truth be told, God chooses all sorts of folks to accomplish divine purposes in the world, even wildly improbable ones. Consider the sketch we read a moment ago which could have just as easily been written by the Saturday Night Live folks and starred a John Belushi or a Dan Ackroyd for the silliness of it. God comes to Jonah and tells him to go to Ninevah; Jonah disobeys - he runs off in the opposite direction. Then there is that storm at sea, the big fish, and history's first submarine ride. Finally, Jonah is barfed up on the beach. Picture it - seaweed hanging over his ear, his clothes in tatters from being half-digested, smelling like something no fish market could ever sell. A Ninevite is standing on the shore, surf-casting from the sand and enjoying a day off. Suddenly, here is Jonah walking up the beach saying REPENT. What would you have done? I think I'd repent! Do you think John Belushi could have done something with that? "I'm on a mission from God!"

Of course, you who are a part of the church of Jesus Christ are indeed on a mission from God. In Jesus' words in the gospel lesson, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." That sentence has been called the Charter of the Church.

Presbyterians understand that. We affirm the old truth that the church is to mission as fire is to burning - without mission, there is no church. One of the foundational chapters of our Book of Order is called "The Church and It's Mission."(2) In a few words, we hear our task:
"The Church is called to tell the good news of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord...The Church is called to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of him as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples. The Church is called to be Christ's faithful evangelist:

  1. Going into the world, making disciples of all nations...
  2. Demonstrating by the love of its members for one another and by the quality of its common life the new reality in Christ...
  3. Participating in God's activity in the world...
    1. Healing and reconciling and binding up wounds,
    2. Ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless,
    3. Engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice,
    4. Giving itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer,
    5. Sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world.
The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life..."
You see, we who are the church not only CAN say, we MUST say, "I'm on a mission from God!"

As many of you know, there is one person above all others in the Presbyterian Church who is a vital and vocal advocate for mission, our former Moderator, and speaker here in Warren for our 175th anniversary, Marj Carpenter. In her most recent book,(3) Marj says, "I admit I am sinfully proud of being Presbyterian. It's a sin to be proud but we don't waste that one much. When anybody asks what church we attend, we drop our heads and sheepishly say, 'Presbyterian.' But there are 90-million people out there in more than 120 countries who are very proud of being Presbyterian and Reformed, and we helped put them there."

She talks about speaking in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to a gathering of six small churches all started by the same Presbyterian pastor as he went through the area 250 years ago, back before we were even a nation. "Members of one of those congregations had been among the sixteen Presbyterians who signed the Declaration of Independence. We all know the only clergyperson to sign that wonderful document was one of ours, a Presbyterian: John Witherspoon." He was a professor at the College of New Jersey, which was ours, and it has turned into Princeton University today. We forget to be proud of the fact that Witherspoon taught the people who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Because of his influence on those writers, the government of the United States is patterned after the government of the Presbyterian Church.

Marj notes that we have almost forgotten that England's King George III called the entire American Revolution a Presbyterian insurrection, and it was. It was Presbyterians here in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in Virginia and West Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, North and South Carolina and Georgia, and on up the coast into New York and New England who planned and fought that revolution.

We have also forgotten how many presidents of the United States have been Presbyterian. The Episcopal Church has us by one, but between these two, we have had over half the presidents of the United States. That makes us heavily responsible for what has and has not happened here.

We can be proud of James Knox Polk, a direct descendant of Scotland's John Knox, and of Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison and Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. We might even stretch it a bit and claim Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln never joined any congregation, but he attended Presbyterian churches. There are three Lincoln pews in this country. One is at First Presbyterian Church in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he attended worship the morning before he gave the Gettysburg Address in the cemetery that afternoon. One is at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, where he attended while he worked in the state capital. The third is at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., where he attended when he was president -- even the last Sunday of his life. Marj notes that she had the opportunity to speak at that church during the year she was Moderator, and says she deliberately went early to sit in the Lincoln pew and to say a prayer.

Marj continues, "I am even proud of the fact that Presbyterians meddle in everything. Who but Presbyterians would want to know whats on the moon? Every single trip into space by U.S. astronauts, except two, has had a Presbyterian on board. There wasnt a Presbyterian on the one that was aborted, and there wasnt a Presbyterian on the one that took nine times to get off the ground. They needed a Presbyterian that day. But there have been many wonderful Presbyterians in space -- like John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin and Sally Ride, whose sister is a Presbyterian clergywoman."

"Im proud of the fact that Presbyterian men and women have had a lot to do with business in this country. A few years back we lost two of our best when Sam Walton, president of Wal-Mart, died in Arkansas and Tom Watson, president of IBM, died in New York City. Both were Presbyterian elders who gave heavily to mission, and we miss them. They join that long list of Presbyterians -- names like Carnegie, all those libraries, and Wanamaker, that wonderful store in Philadelphia, and Flagler, all those hotels and churches in Florida, and Mellon in Pittsburgh, and so many others..."

"Presbyterians in the Civil War helped up North with the underground railroad, and there was a time that the Presbyterians down South walked with the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. They were the only ones who went with them. They needed to do that."

Mission around the world? Pick a place. You would be hard pressed not to find a Presbyterian presence, and Marj Carpenter could probably tell you a story about it. God bless 'er.

"I'm on a mission from God." Yes, I am. And you are. And you and you and you and you. It comes with the territory. It is a very Presbyterian statement. If you are a part of the church, you are on a mission from God. Remember, Jesus did not command the world to go to church; Jesus commanded his church to go to the world. Did you hear that? Jesus did not command the world to go to church; Jesus commanded his church to go to the world.

"I'm on a mission from God." What will that mission look like? It will be different for each one of us. For some, it means helping youngsters with their school work in our Hope Tutoring Center; for others, serving food in the Sharing Place or growing it for sale at the Farmers' Market; for others teaching Sunday School or leading a youth group; still others, singing in a choir or playing bells; for a certain hardy bunch it will involve a trip to Mexico this summer; and for lots of others, it will involve paying the bills for that trip. We walk these hallowed halls at 3rd and Market during Mission Month and see display after display of opportunities to be involved. Around here, it is easy to find a place to say, "I'm on a mission from God."

In my files this week I came across an old sermon by Billy Graham's late brother-in-law, Clayton Bell, who was pastor of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas.(4) It contained a fascinating poem written by a receptionist at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. It offers a wonderful insight:
I dont know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That maybe we are stationed where God wants us to be:
That the little place Im filling is the reason for my birth,
And just to do the work I do, He sent me down to earth.

If God had wanted otherwise, I reckon Hed have made
Me just a little different, of worse or better grade,
And since God knows and understands all things of land and sea,
I fancy that He placed me here, just where He wanted me.

Sometimes I get to thinking, as my labors I review,
That I should like a higher place, with greater things to do;
But I come to the conclusion, when the envying is stilled,
That the post to which God sent me is the post He wanted filled.

So I plod along and struggle, in the hope when day is through,
That I am really necessary to the things God wants to do;
And there isnt any service which I should ever scorn,
For it may be just the reason God allowed me to be born."
"I'm on a mission from God." And so are you.


1. "A Say-so Spirituality," Homiletics, April 6, 1997

2. G-3.0000

3. Marj Carpenter, And a Little Bit Farther: More Stories of Mission "to the Ends of the Earth", (Louisville, KY : Geneva Press, 1998)

4. B. Clayton Bell, "Common Tools and Uncommon Tasks," Clergy Journal, July/August, 1999, pp. 19-22

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