A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was cleaning out her attic when she found a project evaluation form from the 9the grade. It was from a group project she and I and another student did on the nervous system in biology class. When she sent me a text and a picture of this evaluation sheet from 15 years ago, first it simply brought me back to the nostalgia of 9th grade. But then it reminded me… just how much I hate group projects in school.
Nothing against my friend or this project. I’m sure it was a good project. In fact, I remember always being excited at the beginning of a group project, because it means you don’t have to do as much work. But so often, at the end of the project, I would often think to myself, “I wish I had just done this on my own.” I think it has something to do with having your name attached to something that isn’t completely your own work. When you work with someone in a group, you have to compromise. You do some of the work and they do some of the work…. and sometimes you don’t like your name to be associated with work that isn’t yours or that you don’t agree with. You want your name to be well represented.
There is something about putting your name on something or vouching for someone with your own name that is….risky. It puts your reputation in play. If you make a recommendation to someone for a doctor, or a mechanic, or a restaurant, you have given your name on that recommendation.
Recently, I was asked to interview for a volunteer board position for an organization. A friend of mine called me up and said they were looking for another board member and he would like me to interview for it. Now, truth be told, I was terrified. I knew that I didn’t have the same amount of life or work experience as the type of people on this board. I was nervous during the whole interview and apparently rightfully so. During the interview, they said, “You are young and are not the typical board member. But Jim recommended you. Why?” At that point, I wasn’t so nervous about representing myself well. I was nervous because Jim had recommended me. Jim had given his name on my behalf of this interview. I was nervous because I wanted to represent Jim and Jim’s recommendation well. Jim had risked his own name for me. There is something about putting your name on something or vouching for someone with your own name that is….risky.
Which is what makes what we just heard in the John’s gospel – this long, twisty, somewhat confusing prayer of Jesus – kind of incredible. It is easy to miss in Jesus’ long prayer, but it is right at the beginning of our text. Jesus is praying to God in front of all of his disciples, which is probably just as nerve-racking as praying in front of your family at Thanksgiving. But Jesus says this, “Lord, I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.” Jesus has made God’s name known to us…Jesus revealed God’s name to us…Jesus has given us God’s name. As we just talked about, to give over your name is to place your own reputation in the hands of another. God has risked God’s own name by placing it on us. We’ve been stamped, like a library book, that says “Property of God.” “Child of God.”
We are like God’s science project. God places God’s name on us, saying, “Yep, this is my work. I stand behind it. Whatever they do, they do in my name.” Which is great for us. And risky for God. Because sometimes we don’t represent God well. In fact, in 2007, a book was written called UnChristian. The book is about how young Americans generally think that Christians are…unchristian. That we are judgmental, hypocritical, too caught up in political fighting, and not always nice to people. Which…is true! I mean, sometimes we’re selfish. Sometimes we like to showoff. Sometimes, we’re just down right crabby and not very nice to people. And these are just the things I’ve seen in myself. Maybe they are true for you too. Which is also exactly why we begin our worship service where we do – with confession and forgiveness. We come to worship as Christians knowing that we have been unChristian. And we ask for forgiveness. And God continues to give it to us. Over and over again.
So it’s risky for God to give us God’s name. To put God’s trust in us. For God to vouch for us and call us people of God. God has entrusted us with God’s reputation. And there is great responsibility in that for us.
And then what does God do? God gives us God’s name and then sends us out into the world bearing God’s name. Jesus continues in his prayer to God, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (verse 18).
Today, we gather together after worship to discern how and where God is sending us into the world. To discern a mission statement that all of us can live into and embody. One that gives us direction and purpose for the future ministry God is inviting us into together. Frederick Buechner once said, ““The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” When we first met to talk about mission, we discovered that a deep gladness our two congregations share is food. We love to eat and we love to feed people. We can see this in our two biggest events of the year – Aurora’s Diner and Trinity Aebleskiver supper. Both are centered around feeding.
And so we wondered, if maybe God was calling us to feed people. Not only to feed people with real food that nourishes and sustains the body, but with spiritual food that nourishes the spirit and the mind. I mean, mission statement or not, we’ve already been doing this – feeding people. Making a meal for a funeral, proceeds from the Aurora diner being donated to the community, Trinity sending hymnals to Nicaragua, giving to the food shelf, purchasing farm animals for hungry families overseas, bringing a meal to new parents, teaching Sunday school, or playing music for worship. All this stuff feeds people. So part of our task today is to ask, “How is God continuing to our passion for food and feeding to meet the world’s deep need?” How do we go out into the world as people claimed and sent by God without damaging God’s reputation too much, and perhaps instead helping people to know the very real love and presence of God in their lives?
And as we seek to do this together, we don’t do it alone. At the end of our text, Jesus prays for us. He prays for you. Seriously. In verse 20, Jesus says, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus is praying not only for his disciples in front of him, but for all the people who will come to believe because of these disciples. That’s you. That’s me. That’s us.
So perhaps we all will leave here today terrified by the incredible responsibility that God has stamped God’s name on us, making us people who bear God’s name to a hungry world. And it’s heavy task. You can’t do it on your own. But maybe we can also be sent from here today by the Spirit of God. Washed in peace and joy because no matter what happens out there, no matter what we do, Jesus continues to pray for us and offer us each moment as just another opportunity to love one another. May this be so.
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking.