GOSPEL: Matthew 9:35—10:8 [9-23]
The mission of Jesus’ followers is to continue the mission of Jesus himself. Here, he instructs his first disciples as to how they might proclaim the gospel through their words and deeds.
35Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”]
Nowhere in the Bible does God call people to work in the kingdom and it makes their life easier. It almost always makes their life harder, more complicated, downright dangerous. I get asked a lot what made me want to be a pastor, how did I know? My first response is always this was not my idea.
While we blessedly live in a country where we are free to worship and express our identity as baptized members of God’s family, I have learned that this gig may cost my my life. At least, maybe the life I thought I would lead, or the life the world thinks I should lead, or the opportunities I could have had. The money I could have made, the places I could have gone – if it was all up to me. But like I said, this wasn’t my idea.
When Jesus calls his first disciples, he doesn’t have them take an aptitude test, or give them part time options, or even warn them ahead of time what they are getting themselves into. Until now. They have followed him, heard him preach, watched him closely as he healed and performed miracles for just a few chapters. And here in Matthew’s 10th chapter, he gives them authority, and sends them out. Surprise! Its your turn! And he gives them some advice for the road, what to do along the way.
In other gospels recounting of the sending, Jesus sends his disciples in pairs. This is not work you can do alone, you need support, and a partner in this. We are not called to lone ranger ministry, there is a reason we gather, form relationships and partnerships.
He sends them first to the lost sheep of Israel, to the jewish people. He also sends out all men, but by the end of the story, it is women who are sent to preach the good news of the resurrection. By the end of Matthew Jesus’ ministry and witness and mission expands from the lost sheep of Israel to ALL nations, but for this first mission, go where you know. Go to the people you know, the communities you know. Give them good news, use the Spirit’s healing power, and give new life where death has set up shop. But even then, Jesus warns, they might not accept you. They might not care, or listen, or or want the new life or peace you offer.
And that’s fine. Jesus says something very interesting – let your peace return to you. Don’t leave your peace of mind behind in situations that are beyond your control. Give it over to God. And in fact shake the dust off your feet from that place, and go to the next. Don’t bring your baggage from one failed trip to the next mission. The next place God is calling you into. That’s a hard one. One of my mentors told me that the hardest part of the this calling is learning when to give it to Jesus.
When to let God and let God. To take your peace back, so you can sleep at night and trust that whatever seeds you planted, and whatever God has planned is now out of your control. We may be called to give up our life – but we are not called to give up our peace.
Sometimes we are called to step away from situations for our own peace. God is calling us elsewhere. Did you take your peace back? Or did you just leave, and leave behind your peace. And sometimes we are called to stay in it, even when its tough, even when its not what you thought you wanted or where you thought you’d be. But when you do move on, move through, or start the next chapter – start with clean shoes at least.
The challenges the disciples face will seem impossible – some may lose their life – but because of their faithfulness to Jesus words many more have gained life. Forget what I just said, the work does not just seem impossible, it is impossible. Without the holy spirit, calling and sending and empowering – we cannot do this ourselves.
This weekends synod assembly was a gathering of the church to be sent. Reminding us that we are better together, but we also are sent out in mission, and when we are sent out we are not alone. We gathered with colleagues from near and far. Our voting members actually ended up randomly sitting with the voting members of First Downtown, so we all got a table together. Old friends and new friends – my daughter and her young friends running amok carefully and being watched over by a never ending stream of church aunts and uncles.
We are better together – particularly when we face challenges and crises. When we have to solve problems and when we have to sing – we are better together. Jesus’ followers are sent out with no material goods. No bag, no staff, no money. No snacks for the roadtrip. A tangible lesson that we rely not only on the power of God for our work, but on the support of friends, and the kindness of strangers.