Exodus 19:2-8a Psalm 100 Romans 5:1-8 Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
I wanted to share some things I have learned during the Co-vid 19 pandemic. It is hard to tell when people are smiling when they are wearing a mask. I have learned to look at their eye and see the twinkle. I have found it difficult to hear people when I can’t see their lips. It makes it harder to hear them. And, masks are generally worn by us to hide something. To mask some dark secret that only God knows. Our masks for the virus, offer us an opportunity to show some personality – and that’s a fun thing.
What is it that we have learned in our faith journey? The season after Pentecost is not actually a season with a single common focus, but is simply the weeks between the Day of Pentecost and the First Sunday of Advent. These Sundays are sometimes called “Green Sundays” or “ordinary time.” Joan Chittister says that “ordinary time translates the life of Jesus into the very marrow of life itself.” These weeks hold the slower pace and peaceful quality of the summer months and move into the quicker pace and flurry of activity of the early fall. These are our “ordinary” days in which we live the Christian faith in our daily lives. The season after Pentecost continues through Christ the King Sunday on November 22nd, with Advent beginning on November 29th. Nora Gallagher says, “In Ordinary Time we are in our lives living out the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.” Living out the gift of the Holy Spirit….
The 100th Psalm proclaims God as our creator, we did not create ourselves. Some of us live as though we are the creator and center of our own little worlds. This often reflects possessiveness, and a loss of hope. When we realize that God created us and gives us all we have, we will want to give to others as God has given to us. Even if all is lost, we still have God and all that God gives to us.
In Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, we hear about faith and grace. He reminds us to rejoice in our suffering, because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us. For first-century Christians, suffering was the rule, not the exception. Paul tells us that these difficulties, these challenges, these obstacles will help us grow. We rejoice in suffering, not because we like it, but because we know God is using life’s difficulties to build our character. The problems we run into will develop our perseverance – which in turn will strengthen our character, deepen our trust in God and give us greater confidence about our future.
I think about the times I take God for granted, maybe you have experienced it. We just show up for our prayer time, our praise to God goes unvoiced. We are just easing along thinking we have it made. I know that God wants to be in relationship with us, so when we are taking God for granted, God will sometimes allow lightning to strike our lives – not that God is zapping us, but that God is wanting to draw us closer. Lightning may be illness, loss of a job, a loved one’s death, divorce. When lightning strikes, we are driven to our knees and see God’s hand and heart extended to us.
In the gospel reading, we overhear Jesus’ instructions to the twelve, along with Matthew’s first readers. We too find ourselves challenged to consider our own role in spreading the gospel, the good news in words and deeds. These words cause us to ponder the ways we seek to live out our sense of discipleship in our lives and to ponder how we witness to who Jesus is for us. Perhaps we are working through some particular issue as we seek to be faithful to God’s call in our lives. In our efforts, we may uncover aspects of discipleship other than those we see here. In the coming weeks, we will explore more about discipleship. It is helpful to remember that a disciple is defined as a “learner.” What are some ways you see others and yourself seeking to learn about the faith? What are some ways we can be better disciples?
Last Sunday, the Gospel talked about the Trinity- I have described it in the past as - God beyond us, God beside us and God within us from Frederick Buechner. In today’s reading from Matthew, we hear what is called the “Missionary Discourse.” The Missionary Discourse is presented as instructions that Jesus gives to the disciples as he sends them out in mission at one particular moment during his ministry. Some of what he says is difficult for us to understand.
Hear the reading from The Message: “Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light. “When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.
“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now.
“Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
“Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.
“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.
Sometimes, Christian commitment will separate us from friends and family. Jesus is not encouraging disobedience to parents or conflict at home. He is showing that his presence demands a decision. Because some will follow Jesus and some won’t, conflict happens. As we take up our cross and follow him, our different values, morals, goals, and purposes will set us apart from others. Christ calls us to a higher mission than to find comfort and tranquility in life. Love of family is a law of God, but even this love can be self-serving. Even this love can be used as an excuse not to serve God or to do God’s work. We are not encouraged to neglect our families, but to remember that our commitment to God should be our first priority.
When we cling to a certain life, a self-centered life it may cause us to lose the best from Christ in this world and the next. The more we love this life’s rewards (leisure, pleasure, power, popularity, financial security), the more we will discover how empty our lives really are. The best way to enjoy life is to loosen our grasp on earthly rewards so that we can be free to follow Christ. I am reminded of the experiments with monkeys in the 60’s. I guess it was part of the space program, but I remember reading about monkeys who would stick their hands (are they called hands) in containers and grasp a handful of nuts. Their hands were so full, they couldn’t get the hand out to eat any of the nuts. Don’t we do the same thing with aspects of our lives? Grabbing hold to things, people, power, promise and not listening to God. Jesus is saying we will experience all that life has to offer if we just let go – let go of our preconceived ideas, of our own agenda, of our sense of being in control.
So what does it mean to be a missionary, to follow Jesus, to learn from Jesus? Mission is a community issue, as the one who receives shares the reward of the one who carries the message. Mission includes not only proclamation and displays of God’s power but also caring for the needy among us. Mission includes spiritual transformation. The centrality of Jesus in the life of the disciples is the most vital characteristic of the mission, so that the disciples increasingly grow to be like Jesus. Everything prepares and equips Jesus’ disciples to undertake with boldness and effectiveness the mission with which Matthew ends his gospel with the Great Commission, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
How does all of this help us better live into the idea of God beyond us, God beside us and God within us? Working with the women in prison in the Kairos Prison Ministry taught me so much. The women get to know who Jesus is – God beside them. But they say sometimes they need Jesus “with skin on” and that is who we are. We here at Grace are “Jesus with skin on” for each other. We are Jesus - to be there when birth and death and all of life in between happens. We are Jesus - to be present for the joys and sorrows. We are Jesus - to be there to learn, and stretch, and grow and love and be all that God is calling us to be. We are called to go forth and be the hands and heart and feet of Jesus this day. Amen.