Sunday the 18th of June 2017
Matthew 9:35-10: 23
A few weeks ago I was in Melbourne with the rest of the pastors from the Vic/Tas district. The theme verse that we were looking at and pondering on was from 1 Corinthians 11: 23 in which Paul says: “23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:…” We looked at the way in which our congregations are handing on the faith to the next generations and what this looks like, particularly at a time when so many are leaving the church once they leave home. One of the things that stood out to me as I was thinking about this was that everything that we have in our faith, is handed on to us from those before us. From the very beginning Jesus handed on to the first disciples his teaching, which they then handed on to others, including the Apostle Paul, and it is still being handed on and taught today.
From now until the beginning of December our Gospel readings are going to be coming from Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew’s Gospel the theme of Jesus teaching and what it means for those who hear his teaching and follow Jesus, is of great significance. Many biblical scholars agree that Matthew recorded this Gospel for a church that at the time was being severely persecuted. Working out what it meant for them to follow Jesus in the midst of persecution was an important question; the Apostle Matthew recorded this very Gospel to help them. The question that these Christians were struggling with is not too far removed from our own situation that we face in our world. The environment that we live in, as Christians, is becoming more and more hostile towards Jesus and his followers. Our culture is trying hard to make it difficult for Christians to have a voice, and when Christians do speak up there are usually negative consequences to this. All Christian Churches are struggling with how to be a church in a hostile culture.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear of Jesus sending his twelve disciples out into hostile territory with the message of Jesus and the coming of his Kingdom. Jesus teaches them, by his words and his example and then he sends them to do the same. He hands on to them, so that they hand on to others.
It is amazing to think about who Jesus sent out. He chose twelve ordinary disciples. He does not send out the spiritually elite, or those that are of high social standing in society. He sends out normal mixed up people. There is Peter, who will deny Jesus three times; there is Judas who will betray him; there is Matthew who was a tax collector for Rome, who would have been despised and considered a traitor. And along with Matthew you have Simon the Zealot, who was strongly opposed to Roman occupation and would fight against it. These two could not have been more opposite in their views. The point is that these people were a real mixture of personalities and beliefs, and yet these are the ones whom Jesus chose to send out to do his work of teaching, proclaiming and healing.
And notice what it says in verse five: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:…” The mission that these twelve were sent out to do was not one that they were to do on their own. They were sent as a group, but also they were sent with instructions. In fact, specific instructions; they were told where to go, whom to visit, what to say and what to do. We are left with the distinct impression that these twelve were being sent to participate in the ongoing mission of Jesus in this world.
It is very easy for us in this world of specialisation to think that mission is for those who are qualified, those who are called specifically, but the point is that Jesus calls all his disciples, all of his followers, no matter what character flaws, what personality struggles we all have, to participate in what he is doing. So much of the burden comes to us when we think that we have to do everything on our own.
One of the most powerful teachings of Luther, in my opinion, is what he teaches us about vocation, or our calling in this life. Luther says that we are called to serve and love God to whoever and wherever he has placed us. We are called to serve God by ministering to our spouses, our children, our friends, those we meet in our ordinary work places, whatever that work may be. God will bring people into your life wherever you are; we just need to be willing to respond and love and serve God by loving and serving them. What this means is handing on to them, what has been handed on to us: that is, the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. As Jesus says in 10:8: “Freely you have received; freely give.” God has worked in our lives, we have received from him grace and salvation, now we hand it on to others.
One of the things that Jesus made clear to these disciples, was that to follow him was not going to be easy. When they went, some people would respond well; they would respond in peace and welcome them and the Gospel. But others would not. Others would not accept. Jesus makes it clear that it is highly risky in this life to follow him. In fact, he is brutally honest with them when he says: 16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” He describes how others will not respond well, even family members will be in conflict over Jesus. Sometimes there will be persecution because they do not want to hear the Gospel.
But even in the midst of all of this, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry, because the Holy Spirit will give them the right words to say at the time. God has got things in his hand; he is at work in amongst the difficulties that we face. There are times that I really struggle with in my walk with the Lord in letting him work the way he wants to. Often I try to do things, or analyse things or try to manipulate things to go the way I think they should. So when Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will give me the right words at the right time, I often struggle with this, because I want things done my way in my time. But as the Lord teaches me again and again as I watch him at work in the lives of his children in this parish, he knows what he is doing. Even as your pastor I participate in what Jesus is doing among you, he is working and I work with him in his way and in his time. Often it is in those visits where I am lost for words, and suddenly I say things that build people up and strengthen them in faith, but as I reflect on the visit I think to myself: where did those words come from? The Holy Spirit is at work. The same is true for all of us and he uses us to reach out to others by often giving us the right words at the right time to hand on to those who need hear them.
It is easy to focus on the negatives, to see that society is changing so fast and is going in a very dangerous direction. It is easy to see that our churches are empty, that people are walking away from the Lord. It is easy for us to become discouraged. But our call from the Lord is to be willing to go where he sends us and give to others what our Lord has given to us, regardless of how they respond. In the bible studies I led this past week I highlighted that Jesus’ sending begins with his compassion for the lost sheep. Jesus sends out of compassion. I believe there is a challenge for us here. In the climate that we live in it is easy to become fearful, angry, bitter, negative and cynical. When we feel this way we can’t reach out to others easily, can we? It is difficult to have compassion at times. However, this is where you and I need to remember that Jesus reaches out to us with his compassion, we then, in response reach out to others with this same compassion shown to us.
The sending of the twelve ordinary people to preach and teach and bring healing to the lost sheep, begins with Jesus and ends with Jesus’ return. It does for us also. He sends us to reach others around us, we don’t do this alone, but he sends us together with our fellow Christians, but also with the promise that the Holy Spirit will give us the words that are needed at the right time. You and I just need to be open and willing to be used by him and participate with him in what he is doing.