Proper 6 – 6/14/2020 – St. Paul’s
You know how it goes. The church tries to reach out to people, to attract them to the church and its ministry. We usually try to attract them by touting all the benefits of being a member of our congregation.
Are you concerned about the faith development of your children? Our church has a great program of children’s Christian education. Come join us.
Are you fearful about the state of the world, worried and confused? Our church takes seriously the intellectual challenges of modern people. Come, think with us!
Clueless about the Bible and confused about Christian beliefs? We can put you in a great Bible study group that will bring you up to speed on scripture.
Some years ago I remember seeing a billboard outside the town we were living in that read, WE’VE GOT WHAT YOU WANT. COME GET IT.
Come get it? The church is where you come seeking, wanting, shopping for something you want. The church exists to meet your needs, answer your questions, solve your problems, and respond to your wants. Trouble is, there’s very little in scripture that supports this supermarket image of the church. What if the church isn’t the means whereby you get what you want out of God but rather the place where God gets what God wants out of you? What if Christian discipleship isn’t the way God meets your needs but rather you are the way that God meets the world’s needs?
Which brings us to this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew’s account of Jesus’s sending of the disciples. Jesus has been traveling about doing what he does so well: teaching . . . announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing (Matt 9:35 CEB).Then Jesus does something a bit unusual. He looks at the throngs of people and has compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (9:36 CEB). I say that’s a bit unusual because
Jesus is the good shepherd who’s been healing and helping them. But there’s something about Jesus that wants help. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest (9:38 CEB), he tells his followers. Whatever good that Jesus Christ, Son of God, savior of the world, wants to do among us, he chooses not to do it alone.
So Jesus calls twelve disciples and bestows on them the same healing, helping power that he has been exercising. Matthew lists their names here. Nothing indicates that they’re a particularly gifted lot, nor is there anything in their names that suggests they have any training or qualification for the momentous work Jesus commissions them to do. The disciples are just ordinary folk whom Jesus has given authority to do good for others in need.
Jesus is deeply moved, and so he tells his disciples, Go. Go and proclaim the good news of the kingdom. Go and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Go and touch. Go and heal. Go and resurrect. Go and make peace.
Can you guess where I’m going with this sermon? I believe our Gospel today isn’t just a historical look back at the work of Jesus and his disciples. I think this is a story about you!
For reasons known only to Jesus, he has called you to be his contemporary disciple, his missionary, a sign of the outbreak of God’s kingdom right here, right now. You are his appointed means of overcoming what’s wrong with the world.
Keep in mind what Jesus is asking of each one of us: After explaining to the disciples what their task is, he offers them some appalling operating instructions: You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts. Take no bag, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff. And (saving the zinger for last): I’m sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. You will be dragged before governors. You will be handed over to councils and flogged. You will be hated by all because of my name.
Are you uncomfortable/scared yet?……..Think about this…..Let’s see if I have this straight:
Prioritize those who have nothing. Go to those who have no one to advocate for them, no one to hear them, no one to attend to their needs. Go to the harassed, the mistreated, the oppressed, and the exhausted. Knock on their doors, and place yourselves at their service. Humbly accept their hospitality. Learn the art of dependence. Do not live and minister above or apart from the people you wish to help — live among them. Engage them. And do so deeply.
Choose poverty, simplicity, and vulnerability. Carry no weapons. Stockpile no resources. Have no back-up. Abandon your egotism. Do not parade in like a savior, basking in pomp and circumstance. And saying…Guess what I am going to do for you? Lead instead with quietness, gentleness, curiosity, and humility. Insofar as it depends on you, keep, make, and share the peace. Remember that power has been given to you for one reason, and one reason only: so that you can give it away.
Don’t be foolish. Be wise. Be attentive. Listen. Know the complexities of the world in which you move. Make every effort to understand what’s happening beneath the surfaces. Be pure of heart, but don’t revel in ignorance, flatten reality, or mistake naïveté for faith.
When you’ve done all of the above — in other words, when you get all of this just right — expect life to get pretty grim. Know that lots of folks will distrust you. Understand that many well-meaning people will yell and scream at you. Expect to get rejected, called out, wounded, beaten. Don’t be surprised when your life gets uncomfortable. This is what success looks like.
Do not despair. You are not alone. The Spirit of God is with you, and the Spirit will give you the words you need and the courage you lack. Remember, grace abounds, so don’t lose heart. The one who endures to the end will be saved.
Are you scared/uncomfortable now? Make no mistake: this is a confrontational Gospel. It’s hard. It’s demanding. It’s offensive. In it, Jesus asks us to surrender absolutely everything for the sake of making God credible to a world that’s convulsing in pain — and he does so without reservation or apology. His harsh-sounding instructions suggest that there will be times when our faith requires us to violate cultural norms, fight uphill battles, and speak dangerous truths to power.
If our overriding priority as Christians is to secure our own comfort, then we cannot follow Jesus. Discipleship will disorient and disrupt us. It will make us the neighborhood weirdos. It will shake things up in our families, churches, and communities. It will expose evils in the status quo we cling to. It will humble us to our knees.
I’m sorry if you came today thinking that Jesus was mainly about meeting your needs, soothing your aches and pains, answering your questions. Sure, sometimes those good things occur through encounters with Jesus. But Jesus’s typical way of doing good for you is by commissioning you to do good for someone else.
Jesus knows you have desires and needs. But sometimes your greatest needs aren’t the ones you know. For instance, maybe you think you need less stress in your life, while Jesus believes that what you need most is something good to do with your life! You come to church hoping to receive some gift from Jesus only to have him give you some assignment!
To repeat what I said earlier: What if the church isn’t the means whereby you get what you want out of God but rather the place where God gets what God wants out of you? What if Christian discipleship isn’t the way God meets your needs but rather you are the way God meets the world’s needs?
I think the church makes a big mistake when it presents the gospel as the solution to all your problems, the way to get more of whatever it is that you think you just must have in order for your life to go a bit easier. Note that in today’s Gospel lesson Jesus doesn’t greet his first disciples with, What can I do for you? Tell me where it hurts. Rather he says to them, I’m sending you! Go! Do the same things in the world that I do!
As our reading from the epistle to the Romans so eloquently puts it: Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. So often we Christians try to skip straight to hope and hunker down in its promise. Yes, the Church is called to profess hope. But hope is not the same thing as clueless optimism or premature consolation. Hope has no meaning if it’s not undergirded by justice. Notice the trajectory: suffering, endurance, character, and THEN hope. The fact that our salvation is free does not mean it comes cheap.
On the basis of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson I would say that being a Christian isn’t when you’re able to squint your eyes and say, I believe, I believe all of it, even the part about the miracles. Or, I’ve been searching for more meaning in my life and now I’ve found what I’m looking for.
A Christian is someone who has been found by Jesus, who has been assigned a job by Jesus, who realizes that their greatest need is not to have their wants met, their aches and pains soothed, but rather to join in Jesus’s mission into the world.
To make God believable here and now…to make God’s Kingdom present here and now is to stand in the hot white center of the world’s pain. Not just to glance in the general direction of suffering and injustice, and then sidle away, but to dwell there. To identify ourselves wholly with those who are aching, weeping, and dying. As one theologian has said this past week…..In the case of America’s longstanding racial crisis, making Christ credible means moving beyond denial, beyond willful ignorance, and beyond the Band-aid approach of thoughts and prayers. It means deciding, as grateful followers of a brown man who died at the hands of brutal law enforcement two thousand years ago, that we will not tolerate the demon of racism in our midst for one more generation.
In mission thought today, it’s sometimes stressed that mission is not so much what we do but first of all what God does. Notice in today’s Gospel that Jesus first preaches, heals, and casts out demons. Then he turns to ordinary people and says, in effect, I’ve enjoyed embodying the outbreak of God’s kingdom. Now you try it!
As someone has said, the church doesn’t have a mission but rather God’s mission has a church. Though God Almighty could accomplish this mission alone, God in Christ invites us to come alongside him and participate in mission with a simple, Come and follow me.
I hope this time of worship has been edifying for you, possibly comforting and encouraging, a source of strength and hope. But even more than any of that, I hope this has been a time when you’ve gotten a new sense of the good work that God has called you to do in the coming of God’s kingdom. There are people near you,, living at your home, in your neighborhood or working beside you, who need the preaching, teaching, healing, and helping that Jesus has commissioned you to do.
So . . . go forth from here and join with Jesus in his movement, ministry, mission.
You are sent in Christ’s name. Amen.
Let us pray:
when we encounter you in all of your truthful, dynamic glory,
we realize that you gather us for worship in the church
only to send us forth into the world.
As we pray, sing your praises, and reflect upon your word,
infuse us with your dynamic Holy Spirit
that we might gain new energy and commitment to join with you
in your world-changing, life-giving mission.
Reveal to us opportunities to witness, work, help, and heal
so that we might be moved from being your adoring admirers
to your faithful followers.
We go as individuals
to serve as God calls us
into a world in need of his co-workers.
We go as a community
to serve as God calls us
as living witnesses to the kingdom values of right relations.
We go as the people of God
to be stewards of his generous giving, and to reflect his triune love
in all we do and say.
Prayer of Dedication/Offering
Freely, O God we have received.
Now freely we give.
We pray you bless our offering
and keep your household, the Church,
in your steadfast faith and love,
that through Your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness
and minister your justice with compassion;
for the sake of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with You and
the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God knit us together in the womb,
and knows each and every part of us.
God calls us by name and breathes life into our fragile bodies.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Know how much you are loved, and needed.
We go to bless and forgive others
because we Go with the grace, peace, forgiving love of God
and the Blessing of God Almighty…..,