Preached at St. Margaret’s of Scotland Anglican Church, Barrie, Ontario. Sunday, 18 June, 2017
Lectionary: Genesis 18: 1-15, Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19; Romans 5: 1-8, and Matthew 9:35 -10:23
1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. (Matthew
Summer is right around the corner. Some of us played golf yesterday. Some of us may be at the cottage, or thinking about going soon. Others are travelling. You can feel the rhythm of our parish life starting to slow down.
However, the lectionary, our cycle of bible readings, is no respecter of summer holidays, and this Sunday it serves up a long reading from the part of Matthew’s gospel known as the Missionary Discourse. As usual we listen to the gospel to help us understand who Jesus is and what our relationship to him is, and this reading is pretty demanding, even if we are easing into the summer doldrums.
This Sunday’s gospel remind us about the hard work that Jesus has given us, and be assured, it is work. Today’s reading from Matthew reminds us that we’re not just followers of Jesus. Followers just go along for the ride. We may be disciples of disciples of Jesus, but disciples are students and at some point students leave school to become workers and do what they have been taught to do. Today’s reading reminds us that we are indeed workers, that we are called to do what Jesus does, to go out and be part of God’s work to save the world.
There is a curious pattern of mirroring in today’s gospel reading, as Jesus first does his work, and then gives that same work to the disciples. First Jesus heals and restores people, as he travels about, “curing every disease and every sickness” (Mt 9:35). He then gives his twelve disciples the same task: “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” (Mt 10:1).
Likewise Jesus preaches, going about “teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom” (Mt 9:35). He then sends the disciples out with the very same message when he tells them to “proclaim the good news, that the kingdom of heaven has come near" (10:7).
Healing and preaching. Just as Jesus has done, so the disciples are sent with the same task.
In his commentary on this passage, Colin Yuckman notes the importance of this mirroring of tasks. “In Matthew, Jesus' followers include the original audience as well as us. We are expected to resemble him in word and deed. To be sent by Jesus is, in some sense, to be sent as Jesus.”
Just as Jesus called his disciples to do this work, his work in the world, so we are called. St. Margaret’s and St. Giles, like every church and congregation before us, get this call by virtue of our baptism and our decision to follow Jesus as Lord.
It is sobering to think that we are called to be Jesus for the world, to be Jesus in the world. Sobering because we may not think we are up task, that we are incapable of doing this work because of our limits, our flaws, our lack of understanding of the bible, of theology, etc. But if we lack confidence, we can always be reassured by looking at Jesus’ disciples.
The twelve include Peter, who will deny Jesus, and Judas, who will betray him. They include very different people: Matthew is a tax collector who works for the Romans and Simon is a zealot who fights against them. As we know them from the many gospel stories, the disciples can be dimwitted, frightened, quarrelsome, and sometimes full of themselves. Jesus chooses to work with them nevertheless.
If today’s scripture readings teach us anything, it’s that it’s easy to underestimate what God can do through us and with us. Remember how Sara laughs out loud at the thought that God could give her a child at her old age. But remember that Sara’s bitter laughter of disbelief turns to laughter of joy as she realizes what God can do. If God can work with the first twelve disciples, if he can turn Sara’s scorn to joy, he can surely work with us.
“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” We may not be able to do these things literally, but there are many ways that we can join with Christ in this work. There are many ways of being sick, many ways of being dead, many who feel as outcast as lepers, many ways of being possessed.
We as a church are called to exist for these people. We as church are called to be a place of hope and healing for those who are hurting in body, mind and soul. We can come alongside those who are friendless, who feel worthless, who are ignored by others. In a thousand meaningful and challenging ways, today’s gospel lesson speaks to the pastoral work that we as clergy and laity share, to what we can do for those within, and without, these walls. Today’s gospel reading should live in and inform every parish mission statement.
Why does Jesus give us this work? Why does he ask us to go out and be his face and hands in the world? Matthew tells us that ”When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). Our God of power and majesty chooses to show compassion and tenderness to the world, and asks us to be part of his work.
It’s easy to imagine how cynically the world might react to this message. Our world today seems to be drifting more and more to an idea that strong men, rich, entitled, and ruthless, should be in charge. Power is measured in military strength, or in vast fortunes, it flatters the few at the top and increasingly ignores the many at the bottom. Our gospel message would inspire mocking laughter in so many places. The ending of our gospel reading warns us that this hostile reaction will happen. Jesus is clear to his disciples that this will be hard work. But I think the world hungers to know that God exists, that God is compassionate, and that God cares for them.
We know better because we know our God, and we know that God is faithful. God has given us this work, to help God to save the world, and we trust that because of this work there will come a day when mocking laughter will turn to joy, for "God has brought laughter for me, and everyone who hears will laugh with me.