Sermon – Continuing the Critical Presence Ministry of Jesus (Bob Shebeck, GM Staff)

Sermon – Continuing the Critical Presence Ministry of Jesus (Bob Shebeck, GM Staff)

Text: Luke 4:16-21
Title: Continuing the Critical Presence Ministry of Jesus


I want to thank you for this opportunity to share Good News about the work that Disciples are involved in around world through Global Ministries. This morning, I would like to use this passage in the Gospel of Luke to help us go deeper in our understanding of God’s mission in the world and to put a face on some specific examples of how we are walking with International Partners in their ministries of what we call “Critical Presence”.

What is Critical Presence?

What is Critical Presence? This way of living life and doing ministry is defined as: meeting God’s people and creation at the point of deepest need: spiritually, physically, emotionally or economically.  Critical Presence isn’t something new. It’s been around for over 2000 years. Critical Presence is rooted in the way Jesus himself viewed his mission in the world and how he talked about our mission in his footsteps. One of the foundational texts in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ conception of his mission is found right here in this Luke 4 passage.

In this text, we can see that Jesus understood that his mission was to be directed toward those who lived in precarious situations and who were in need of a liberating, life-giving, hope-instilling Critical Presence from God. As Jesus walked the roads of Palestine from village to village, he connected with the people he encountered at their point of deepest need and was, to each one, that Critical Presence they needed in their particular life circumstance at that time. Are you interested in meeting deep needs in your community and around the world? Do you want to continue the Critical Presence ministry of Jesus today?

I hope so! I know that many of you are already doing so. Let’s see what encouragement we can all find for our Critical Presence journey in this text.

Is it Your Custom?

In reading over this text, I noticed something for the first time which might be key for getting started on the Critical Presence journey with Jesus. Have you ever wondered how in the world Jesus found the Isaiah 61 passage as he enrolled that big bulky scroll in the synagogue? How did he find it in the midst of all those other Scripture verses? And how was he so convinced that he was actually living out this verse in his ministry at that very moment?

I think the key is that it was his “custom” to immerse himself in the reading of Scripture. With the community in the synagogue, with his Disciples as they walked the roads of Galilee, in his moments of solitude in private prayer, Jesus immersed himself in Scripture. Those words were a part of him. He knew where to find them. And more importantly, he knew that God was speaking to him through those words to define his purpose and mission in the world.

Is it your “custom” to immerse yourself in Scripture? Are you listening intently to it in the company of other brothers and sisters on Sunday morning? Are you discussing its practical implications for your life with others in your small group and in your family? Are you meditating on it regularly in your personal quite time? And what are you hearing? What Scripture is defining your Critical Presence ministry?  Can you grab your Bible, open it up and find the mission that God is accomplishing through you? through your congregation? through your Region? through Global Ministries? If it’s our “custom” to immerse ourselves in Scripture, you bet we can!

What is our Global Mission through Global Ministries?

For Disciples through Global Ministries, it’s this passage from the Gospel of Luke which we keep finding and opening up to define our mission together. In it we are discerning new ways to explore what Critical Presence means as we walk with International Partners in their liberating, life-giving, hope-instilling ministries. How are we doing it?

As Disciples, we are in partnership with over 270 churches, educational institutions, council of churches and ecumenical organizations in some 70 countries. At the moment, we have around 110 persons engaged in mission with partners in about 40 countries. These are Fully Supported Missionaries, Global Mission Interns, Short and Long-term Volunteers and Overseas Associates. We have each year 80 or so group mission trips through our People-to-People Pilgrimage program. All this is a part of continuing the Critical Presence ministry of Jesus. Let’s look at some specific examples of how this Luke 4 text defines our mission…

Good News to the Poor – Evangelism: CONASPEH in Haiti

In our text, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring Good News to the poor. How are we as Disciples sharing Good News with the poor? Evangelism is a priority of our global partners and they do it well.

Before the earthquake, our partners in Haiti often talked about their hopes for the poorest of the poor in their communities. Moving from “misery” to “dignified poverty” was the way they put it then. In their communities the symbol of hope was rebar reaching up to heaven on unfinished buildings… the hope of always adding another floor. And then the earthquake hit… And all the rebar came crashing down, but certainly not the hope.

Our main Disciples and UCC partner there in Haiti is CONASPEH, the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti, which is a movement of grassroots congregations… close to 7000 among the poorest of the poor. In 1986 when they started they were 50 congregations.  50 to 7000 in 24 years… They have something to teach us about sharing Good News with the poor.

The earthquake really hit the CONASPEH hard. The 6 story CONASPEH Center which housed a k-12 school, a seminary, a nursing school and a clinic, was totally flattened. 17 nursing students died in the tragedy including the foster son of the President of CONASPEH, Patrick Villier and his wife Francoise. Francoise reminded us of an important truth after the earthquake. She said, “CONASPEH is not a building. It’s people. It’s a way of life that transforms our society.”

We have been there with our brothers and sisters through our giving. Over $500,000 from Week of Compassion and Global Ministries has gone to the CONASPEH’s plan for recovery and reconstruction. On November 20th the first reconstructed building on the CONASPEH property will be inaugurated. CONASPEH’s Critical Presence ministry of sharing the Good News with the poor continues on and we an important part of it.

Release to the Captives – Education: United Church of Christ, Gogoi Mozambique

In our text, we learn that part of Jesus’ mission was to proclaim release to the captives. How are we as Disciples releasing the captives? We’re certainly not doing any jail breaks, but we are walking with partners in educational ministries that liberate and empower individuals to break the chains of poverty.

On this particular Sunday, David Vargas and Cally Rogers-Witte, Co-executives of Global Ministries were traveling with Sandra Gourdet, our Africa area executive. They made their way across the border into rural Mozambique – it took three hours to go about 30 miles.  Their destination was a place pretty much “beyond the ends of the earth”, the old mission station of the American Board, called “Gogoi” – where only the chimney and a few bricks still stood from the original mission buildings. The church leaders had a plan to rebuild a school on the property and to find ways to encourage local families to send their children – especially their girls. 

As they walked around the village, our Global Ministries leaders expected a request for funding for this project, but they would be surprised. They feasted with their hosts. They met the regional officials who came to greet them as well as the district teacher and the highest military official. They took them to see the water well that the government put in for the village so that there would be water at the site of the school when it was built. The government official who was present promised roofing materials. The church leaders showed them the homemade bricks they were making little by little to build the school.

After the worship service all the leaders of the church gathered around a table and David, Cally and Sandra knew for sure that they were going to receive a funding request. Instead the church leaders said to them, quite seriously, “We ask you to pray with us about this vision that God has given us for this school we want to build.”  They didn’t ask for dollars, they asked that we pray with them… not “for” them, but “with” them. The distinction is important… Not as the one who has the money and the one who doesn’t, but as equal partners walking together in God’s mission. All they wanted was us to appreciate their desire to continue the liberating Critical Presence ministry of education begun there almost a hundred years ago by our ancestors and we are doing that today through prayer.

Sight to the Blind – Healthcare: Mungeli Christian Hospital in India

In the Luke 4 text, Jesus understood his mission as providing recovery of sight to the blind. How are we as Disciples giving sight to the blind… providing medical care to those who otherwise would not have any?

We were told that the Mungeli Christian hospital had one patient and a few staff when Anil and Teresa Henry first arrived over seven years ago to serve as medical missionaries in this rural area linked to the Church of North India. What we saw when we arrived in the hospital complex was a beehive of activity with staff, patients, and workers swarming harmoniously around the hospital grounds. Something had happened! Something had resurrected this church hospital and made it once again a place where the poor rural villager could find affordable medical care.

As we made rounds with Anil, we learned that a woman in labor had just arrived. One of Anil’s colleagues went off to check on her as we proceeded from bed to bed to learn the story of each person: a man with liver failure who had been on the verge of dying, yet who was showing signs of pulling through; two young people who fell off a roof and who were sent for X-rays to see if any bones had been broken; a young man with a spinal injury who came in paralyzed, but through therapy was slowly regaining movement in his limbs… and on and on. The Mungeli Christian hospital is indeed a beacon of Critical Presence providing healing and wholeness to people in this rural area in India and we are a part of it.

Freedom for the Oppressed – Advocacy: Mineral Wars in Eastern Congo

Finally, we are told that Jesus’ understood his mission as letting the oppressed go free. How are we as Disciples providing freedom for the oppressed? Our global partners tell us that global advocacy is the key to freedom with justice.

The Congo is the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today where nearly 6 million people have died since 1996, half of them children under 5 years old and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped all as a result of the scramble for Congo’s mineral wealth. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the most mineral resource rich country in the world; yet, 80% of the population survives on $.30 a day. The United Nations has said it is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. And do you know why? In large part because of this… our cell phones. 80% of the world’s cell phones contain a mineral called coltan that comes from the Eastern Congo where all this killing is taking place to control the mines.

The Disciples of Christ Community of the Congo have asked us to raise awareness about this situation and to seek justice with them. For the last three years we have been participating in Congo Week the third week in October to raise awareness about the situation in Eastern Congo and to advocate for justice in this conflict. Our General Minister and President and her husband go one step further. They are committed to tithing their amount of their cell phone bill to projects in the DRC. They realize that we all are complicit in this war by using a cell phone and they want to be a Critical Presence in freeing the innocent oppressed Congolese in that part of the world.


As we conclude this sermon, I want to affirm that all this global mission ministry is made possible because of congregations and regions, who give generously to Disciples Mission Fund and Week of Compassion. And so I want to say this morning “Thank You” for your outreach giving to our denomination. And I encourage you to continue to make that a priority in your budget and your special offerings so that we can continue the Critical Presence ministry of Jesus in our World. In fact I’m going to even close my Bible… if I had a scroll, I would roll it up like Jesus and say to you: This Luke 4 Scripture passage is being fulfilled right now around the world through the ministry of our Global Partners and Missionaries and you are a vital part of it!


Bob Shebeck serves as home-based staff in the role of Executive, Mission Interpretation and Constituency Relationships.