Ready or Not…Here We Come 

Matthew 9:35 – 10:23

35Then 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. 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.”

10Then 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.

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Ready or Not…Here We Come  Mat 9:35-10:23  Pentecost 2, June 18, 2017

 

Most of us at one time or another have found ourselves in places and positions where we don’t feel qualified. I vividly remember feeling this way when my father died suddenly of a heart attack, and me had my brother were instantly catapulted into managing a mixed farm in our early 20’s. Something similar happened here at GVLC at about that same time when I was elected as vice chairman of the parish. I was told that the role was a minor one, but necessary for due process. What I wasn’t told was that the president would resign shortly after that because of church conflict, and I would then take on a role that was not nearly so minor.

 

I’m sure each of you can tell similar stories. I can’t think of any parent who would admit to being totally and completely prepared for the role of parenting (especially with their first child). Which widow/widower would admit to being fully prepared to begin life without their spouse? Often in life we proceed with a bit of hesitancy, and shout out the hide-and-go-seek slogan, “ready or not…here I come”.

 

I rather expect Jesus’ disciples must have felt something like this. In looking at their job description, how could they not. There’s another old adage that goes something like; “two things I know with relative certainty, there is a God in the universe…and I am not Him”.  In looking at Jesus’ job description, and that given to these first disciples, it would seem their duties were not so dissimilar to that of their master and Lord. It’s one thing to think oneself not equipped to operate a small mixed farm, or preside at church council meeting, but to; Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” that sounds a bit beyond the average Christian’s pay grade.

 

As we read through the Acts of the Apostles however, this is exactly what we find at least some of these disciples doing. Consider a couple of the descriptions of the ministry of Peter: they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.” Acts 5:15b, 16

And again as he called forth a lady named Tabitha from the dead; But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.” Acts 9:40

 

There are similar accounts of the apostle Paul doing much the same, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.  Not only did he (or rather Jesus working through him…its always important to make that distinction) perform these “extraordinary miracles”, he, as did Peter, also raised people from the dead (Acts 20 and the account of the man who Paul raised from the dead after he fell asleep during one of his sermons and proceeded to fall off a three-story building…there has to be a lesson in there somewhere).

 

Throughout history we hear of similar accounts of such things happening at the hands of the saints of God (one of the criterion in the Roman Catholic Church for canonization (being declared a saint) is that that person must have performed a  bona fide miracle).  The role of signs and wonders has been debated much regarding the Church of today. Some say that such miracles were limited to the apostolic age. Others would disagree. It would seem to me that miracles like raising people from the dead were not all that common throughout the history described in the Bible. In the roughly 4000 plus years (depending on how one dates the creation account) the Bible covers, we find only 10 such accounts (with 4 happening during the earthly ministry of Jesus, and two at the time of the disciples). There certainly may have been more that are not recorded in the Bible, but based on the biblical evidence, we probably shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see too many people raised from the dead in lives of discipleship (one of my more interesting times on the board of CLBI surrounded this very topic).

 

However one understands the particulars of the ministry of signs and wonders in our day, one would think a ministry that could “deliver such goods” as listed above would be readily received by all. The reading from today would suggest otherwise. Rather than giving the disciples a royal welcome as they came into town, often they could not even find a hospitable place to stay. Since they had limited resources at their disposal, failing to receive basic hospitality from others could well result in some long, cold and hungry nights. Factor in the rejection and even persecution from the very ones they came to heal, deliver, and raise from the dead (let alone rejection in their own families), we discover that the life of those first disciples was one not for the “faint of heart”.

 

Although most Christians in Canada have enjoyed relative bliss and ease for the much (if not all) of the 150-year history of this country, that seems to be changing now, and changing rapidly. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear of a Christian who is not “dragged before governors or kings” (or some modern equivalent) for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although the modern disciple may “fly under the culture radar” with sticking primarily to acts of mercy and kindness (and we should and must be doing these), any mention of God’s law, sin, judgement, or the singularity of Jesus as the one who alone forgives sins and grants salvation … then the cultural radar is bound to find us and take us to task. Currently the Christian (and the Christian message) is only tolerated when his/her proclamation corresponds to that of secular culture (which is become increasingly uncommon). In reading today’s text from Matthew, we discover that this is not unique to our day

 

There is however, always the promise. The early disciples were given the guarantee of the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit would come to their aid when they were brought before the authorities, and enable them to speak when they neither had the wisdom, training, or courage to do so. The promise that the Holy Spirit would give us such words is not an excuse for pastors (or laity) not to study and prepare for Sunday sermons or Christian witness, but rather an assurance that everything does not depend on us. We read the Scriptures, study them, and pray in order that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance that what is needful, when it is needful.

 

And so we leave this “sanctuary” today. Disciples of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  Our times are in His hands, and we have the sure and true promise that He will be with us until the end of the age, both to speak, and live out His Gospel. May God go with you and I as we do exactly that. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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