Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Who are we? Where do we go?

Erik Sandstrom – Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

As we look into the ministry of Christ, we see a common theme. That theme has to do with who Jesus would associate with. Most us know that Jesus would share life with the “least of these” and outcasts, including tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, blasphemers, and many, many more. Jesus loved those on the margins.

Now, take a second and look around your life and ponder: with whom do we interact who is on the margins in day to day life?

We, the people of St. Marks and the world around us, interact daily with the homeless, addicts, immigrants and refugees, those who identify as LGBTQIA, and disabled people, just to name a few. We consistently interact with people who are viewed as being outside of societal norms and outside of the centers of power.

A couple weeks ago, as I was walking into the grocery store, there was a man sitting on a step with a bicycle. This gentleman kindly asked me for a cigarette. Since I had just run out and was walking to the store to pick up another pack, I simply asked him if he could wait while I go buy a pack, to which he responded; “yes sir, I can wait.” Little did I know that I was about to share a little bit of life with this gentleman.

When I returned with my new pack to share with him, he thanked me. I expected that to be the end of our conversation. As I handed him the cigarettes that I had promised, I asked him his name and how he was doing. His response was simple and profound. He introduced himself, we will call him “Kevin,” and said that he had just finished a 3 year stint in the federal penitentiary. He confessed that he was having a rough time getting back on his feet and that he was looking for work.

I spent the next hour talking with Kevin. Kevin; while in the grips of active addiction, decided to turn to burglary to provide for him and to purchase his drug of choice. While in prison he read Scripture and got his act together, ready to face the world once again.

As our conversation went on, he started sharing more and more about his life, in a vulnerable way. I heard about heartbreak, lost time, how addiction has ruined his life, and how he was recovering. Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Kevin if he would like some prayer for the journey he was embarking on in his new life.
Kevin then invited me to sit on the steps with him and I prayed for his safety and peace during the difficult times ahead.

At the end of the prayer, Kevin was in tears. I asked him what was wrong. Kevin’s response was, “Erik, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart; for seeing me as a Human Being and for not being afraid of my past.”

As Kevin and I parted ways, I was reminded of a verse that had shaped my life 3 years ago, 1 Timothy 1:12-14:

“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, he judged me faithful, and appointed me to His service. Even though I once was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But, I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with faith and love that are In Christ Jesus.”

So, as I left, I reassured Kevin that God is a graceful and merciful protector who does not care about your past because you have been forgiven, and who will walk with you as Jesus has said in Mathew “until the end of days.”

On my walk home I asked myself, is this what Jesus meant by “Go therefore and make disciples?” Is this what commissioned ministry truly is, to be sent out into the world to serve Gods purpose in the world by meeting people right where they are?

I started wondering how could I, a recovering drug addict who has done things that I have a hard time forgiving myself for, could be commissioned to share life with others in the name of our loving savior, Jesus Christ.

Then I remembered the two Greatest Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and soul, and to Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We may have times in our lives that make us feel terrible and unusable for ministry, such as mental difficulties, past traumas, being fallible, not being “religious” enough. Self doubt can easily destroy our thoughts.

But in our passage for today we are reminded that we are all commissioned to share life and to love our neighbors the way Christ loves us.

One of the many misconceptions about commissioning we have is that we need to be sent to a faraway place, or we have to be in the heart of a traumatic event, or that we have to be ordained. The truth is that being commissioned looks differently to all, but the main thing we are commissioned to do is to be with people in the love of Christ. And we must remember that Christ Jesus will be with us until the end of our time. There is NOTHING that we have done that is not covered by the beautiful, magnificent, and incomparable grace that we have received.

So I ask you: why is it that we hide our calling in life, the calling to show love to all? Is it that we are afraid to step into the unknown? Are we afraid to step outside of our comfortable social circles? Are we afraid to leave the comfortable paradises we have built for ourselves?

On my first day here at St. Mark’s, not knowing what the dress code was at that point, I showed up wearing shorts that prominently showed my tattoo, which is in Hebrew. When I met Bart, the first thing he asked me was, “what does your tattoo say?” to which I responded, “It’s Micah 6:8. “What is it that the Lord requires of you, but to do Justice, Love Mercy, and to walk Humbly with the Lord your God.” With a big smile, Bart looked at me and said, “This is our church’s favorite verse. It’s like our motto here. It’s even on our coffee mugs! Here, take this one!” For the past 11 months, THIS mug sits in my cupboard and I use it for my morning tea.

It intrigued me deeply that this church lived into the philosophy that I aspire to live out which is; loving my neighbors as who they are and loving them no matter where they have come crom.

Over my year here at St. Mark’s, I have witnessed how this congregation lives this out in so many different ways, from having a committee specifically designated for social justice issues, to having wonderful community engagement ideas and pursuing them to fulfillment. I have witnessed the love we show our neighbors at 4th Wednesday Suppers, our food pantry for those who are experiencing food emergencies, our hosting of social justice forums, and showing radical hospitality to those on the margins in need of a place to stay.

My personal belief is that no matter who you are, no matter what has happened in your past, you are my neighbor and I will love you for who you are. Because Christ has loved me and has forgiven me of my ignorance by showing me abundant grace. Because of this, I too will always show you abundant grace and love in return.

Remember that Christ loves you all, and so do I! To you, the community of St. Marks, I would like to personally thank you for supporting me in my endeavors. Standing by my side as I came up with new ideas, such as the Black Lives Matter sign, the free community pantry we now have on 3rd street. The 4th Saturday Movie Nights, To marching with me at Dakota Access Pipeline protests, Marching together at the National Women’s March, To the very fun “Blessing of the Bikes” at Cyclovia, and so much more! You have been a blessing to me in ways I didn’t know were possible. When people ask me about St. Marks, my response has been and will be, “St. Marks is/was the church and church community I never knew that I needed in this season of life.

So I say to you: go now into this world, love abundantly, walk humbly, and show grace to all, no matter who they are or what their past is. May you be the hands and feet of Christ Jesus, as we all have been commissioned to do, confident that God’s presence goes with you until the end of days.

May it be so…