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Pentecost 2A Sermon
Matthew 9:35-10:23
14, 2020


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Matthew 9:35-10:23

Then Jesus 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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’
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. These 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; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When 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; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Many congregations, especially the ones that were founded during the baby boom years of 1946-64, have plaques or books filled with names of their charter members on display. These were the folks that first met the organizing pastor and pledged themselves to help the congregation grow and succeed in that neighborhood. They gave generously of their time, finances and sweat, and their names are committed to the records of the church. My home congregation had a red book with names in it kept under glass in the lobby area outside the sanctuary. Our congregation has a list of folks called, “The Pioneers,” because the original list of 48 adults and children somehow got lost. Among these names are Andersons, Blackwoods, Filings, Hesses, Karls, Lefflers Mayers, Taylors and even Wolfes. There are certainly few people left who might remember any of the people that go along with these names, let alone their parts in the founding of this congregation. And maybe that is for the best. We like to picture them as working hard, sacrificing and dedicating themselves fully not only to completing a building, but providing for ministries in the community.
But what were they all like? They certainly weren’t all perfect, all of one mind and accord. Did the Hesses and Taylors go to battle over different ideas about the look of the church sanctuary? Did the Blackwoods push for a strong Sunday school while the Filings wanted to put more effort into the missionary society? And could anyone get along with those Wolfes?? I seriously doubt it!! These were people called by the Holy Spirit to begin a new Christian Family out in the country between Columbus and Worthington. Yes, I said country, for that is what this area was in the early 1920s.

Embedded in the Gospel text for today is the charter list of disciples for the entirety of the Christian church. Because of the paternalistic society of the day, all that are listed are men, even though we know that there were women like a few named Mary, and Martha, and Salome and others that were among the earliest followers of Jesus. Our list includes 12 charter members of Jesus’ church. Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, another James, Thaddeus, Simon the Cananaean and of course that infamous Judas Iscariot. Except for that last one, we paint a picture of them following Jesus, listening intently to his every word, trying to understand what it all means and how they fit into it all. Then in the days following the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I picture the 12 working together diligently to share the good news of Jesus without argument or discord.

But that certainly was not the case, was it? We were told that the disciples disagreed and argued when Jesus was alive, what is to say that they didn’t after his passing? They argued over who was to be greatest. They competed to be able to sit at Jesus’ right hand in his glory. There are two sets of brothers who certainly competed with each other in the same occupation, fishing. And Matthew the tax collector worked for the Roman forces while Simon the Cananaean – sometimes know as Simon the Zealot – was part of a group of Judeans preparing for the battle between the forces of light and darkness by training and arming themselves for a military conflict against the occupying forces. Don’t you think there were occasional fireworks when these two were around?

I guess what I am trying to do is to paint a picture of the early disciples as human beings, trying to do their best to be faithful followers of Jesus and get a new church off the ground – just like those names found in red books under glass or on plaques in countless congregations in our country and around the world. We see so many of these early witnesses as beyond reproach, never facing adversity, and when they did, they simply put their heads together to quickly overcome. Knowing what I know about adversity and human beings and the presence of evil in the world to counter-attack Jesus’ mission of love and grace, I doubt that was the case. Even if we add in another great apostle, Paul, we see that he and Peter had a serious difference in opinion on the mission to the Gentiles in the first century. Even after Peter received a glorious vision from God calling him to no longer view Gentiles as unclean or profane, he still had a difficult time translating that teaching experience into practice. He and Paul finally agreed to support and pray for each other, but that it would be best if Peter stayed around Jerusalem while Paul went to Asia.

The gist of my message today is three-fold. First, these men (and the women who are not named) were not perfect people, they disagreed and argued over how best to serve God and share the good news, but they were called by the Holy Spirit warts and all! These were the people that God wanted to lead the early Christian church, and we celebrate their names today. Secondly, our congregations were begun by disciples about whom the same thing can be said. They were imperfect with different ideals and styles, gifts and preferences. They argued and disagreed, and yet, the Holy Spirit never abandoned them in their discipleship. In spite of their sinfulness, the church was faithful in those early years. And finally, the work of being a disciple is far from over. We are modern day disciples who disagree and argue, and yet are called to proclaim in words and deeds a faith that the Kingdom of heaven is near. That is what Jesus meant when he told the disciples that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers were few. It didn’t end when these 12 men “made the team.” That was just the beginning. They are even referred to as apostles here – which is a word that means, “those who are sent.” Jesus looked at the crowds, those who gathered in the streets regularly to shop at the market, or to proclaim one ideology or another, or to listen to people speaking for or against the governments of their day. He looked at them and had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. And he sends forth these early believers to them so that they might know and experience the love of God in the midst of their anger, confusion, suffering and ongoing conflict of everyday life.

Friends, the harvest is still plentiful. Jesus still has compassion on those who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Who are they? If you have watched television these last couple of weeks you have seen crowds who are demonstrating with various degrees of peace or violence. People shouting for one thing or another – defunding of police, reforming of police, support of police, resignations of government officials, an end to systemic racism, the list goes on. There are so many different groups and causes and each one has a different agenda or angle that they promote. All in all, I hope that we are on the same page for what we really want – for the grace, mercy and peace of God to be experienced by ALL as the kingdom of heaven comes near and settles over us, so that those evil divisions may be done away with, and we can work toward belonging to God and to each other on more deeper levels. Our call as Christians is to see all of these people – even those with whom we may disagree – as people who are eager and ready for the Kingdom of God. We are called not to dismiss the crowds, but to love them and encourage them as best we can. We are called to be with all who feel harassed and helpless and tell them that God loves them and so do we. They are beloved children of God, people who we are called to love and work alongside even in our disagreements just like the original disciples did, and just like so many in the early years of our congregations did.

The work is not over. The harvest is plentiful. Even as businesses begin to re-open and people begin to be around other people, we know it is not over. Treating each other with love and compassion, even if it the simple act of wearing a mask while in public, is a witness to the kingdom of heaven coming near to all who desire a shepherd to lead us. God is good! Paul reminded us that while we – yes, WE, not THEY – were still sinners, Christ died for US!! Christ has promised to overcome our differences and ideologies and break into our lives with the kingdom of heaven. May our continued work as apostles – people sent by God – be blessed as we work the harvest by loving our neighbors. Amen.