Sunday, June 29, 2014

Third after Pentecost, Proper 8A

Matthew 10: 40-42

Good morning, grace and peace.  It is wonderful to see you on this summer Sunday.

In the last few weeks in our Sunday lectionary we’ve been hearing and reading together the Tenth Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  What the 17th and 18th Century English Biblical Scholar Matthew Henry called Jesus’ “ordination sermon.”  Not that we’re supposed to think about the twelve disciples here as  ordained or about-to-be ordained clergy, but more we would think about how Jesus is ordering his church—we might say, “giving us, all of us, our marching orders.”   Perhaps it was this moment with Jesus and hearing these words that St. Peter was thinking about many years later when he wrote in the second chapter of the letter we now call First Peter “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his glorious light.”  Chosen, possessed, called.  The “ordination service” for a “royal priesthood.”

In any event, in the first part of Matthew 10 Jesus confers spiritual authority on his twelve disciples.   Have to remember back a couple of weeks.   In verse one of chapter ten, anyway, he gives them, “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.”  Wow.  They were to go out into the highways and byways, the towns and villages, seeking the “lost sheep of the house of Israel:” not simply to talk about the Gospel of the Kingdom, but to put it into action, effectively and with power.  And then a few verses on in this commissioning sermon Jesus tells them that this kind of power isn’t necessarily going to be received well.  On the contrary.  That it can and will incite anxiety, jealousy, even hatred.  Violence.  He warns them about the certainty of opposition and persecution.    As we read last week, he reminds them that all that opposition and persecution is not really just about them, but that it is a part of the deeper and we might even say the cosmic rebellion of evil against God.  The students are hit by the arrows aimed at the teacher.  That as his disciples suffer, they participate in the deepest way possible in his battle and then, finally, the victory of his Cross.  “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” he tells them in verse 22, “but he who endures to the end will be saved.”  The last sentence of the portion we read last Sunday, verse 39, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Serious business.

This ordination sermon, the marching orders and commissioning and commendation that Jesus gives his disciples as he sends them out into the field, coming to a rousing conclusion in these final three verses of chapter 10 this morning:  “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”   Encouragement perhaps after the words of warning.  These moments on the road, in these little villages and towns, as you offer what I have given to you to the poor, the broken, the lost, one by one, in quiet rural corners and dusty back alleys.  Seems like not much: marginal moments.  But really, this is cosmic, what you’re doing.  The whole arc of history bending to this hour.  Don’t underestimate for a minute what is going on here.  God working in and through and with you to set the world back into order, to renew and refresh, to cleanse, to heal.  Straightening things out.  Calling to repentance.  Proclaiming forgiveness.  Just think about that!  He says, I am with you every step of the way.  And then, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.”  This is what is happening.  As you are a prophet, speaking God’s Word, the one who hears you and welcomes you and  receives that Word, becomes one with you, as you are one with me, and I am one with the Father.  As you are righteous, walking with me, announcing the new work of the Kingdom, putting the love of God into action as I have commanded you, and as the healing you offer is received and welcomed, that one becomes one with you, as you are one with me, and I am one with the Father.  “And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”   It’s not the scale of the response that matters.  Don’t expect or even concern yourself with fireworks and drama.  Not about filled arenas and national cover stories.  Not about Sunday morning attendance statistics or pledge drives or capital campaigns.   A story those metrics can’t even begin to reflect.  So much bigger, wider, deeper than all that.   It’s how the Holy Spirit has worked in the sincerity of the heart.  Converting and renewing.  Exercising spiritual authority over the forces and the force that rebel against God, casting out demons, pronouncing forgiveness, healing, restoration in the love of the Father.

So marching orders this morning.  Giving shape and substance and direction to his church. 

And off they go.  The Twelve.  The Church.  Commissioned and launched into the fray.  About as unlikely a bunch as you could imagine.  This is the plan?  Shaking our heads a little bit as we look around in the pews.  You’d think the Creator and Master of the Universe could come up with something at least a little  better than this.  Peter, Andrew, James, John.  We picture them out on the distant margins.  Broke, uneducated, rustic, the lowest rung on the social ladder, flawed in just about every way.   And the whole arc of history bending to this hour . . . . 

I’m reminded in all of this actually of the really lively and interesting conversation we had this past Tuesday evening over at Chris and Beth Schunn’s house for our first summer “Cottage Meeting” to discuss the Summer Book, Dwight Zscheile’s “People of the Way.”  Talking about bout issues of control and trust in the life of the church.  About not trying to organize God’s life and work for him, not trying to force the Holy Spirit into boxes and top-down structures that we imagine we can manage and direct.  How the church always seems to want to make it about a program, a strategy, a plan.  Which is of course not a terrible thing—so much important Christian ministry and mission accomplished over generations and centuries through program and strategy and plan.  But it can also be quicksand.

 Thinking instead here.  About how vulnerable these disciples are when Jesus sends them out.  About how they need to dig deep into their own hearts to trust that Jesus is with them, that he has gone on ahead of them and is already there, working secretly in deep and powerful ways in the places they are going.  Unfamiliar places.  Unsafe places.   Obviously some fear.  Sailing out of a harbor and into the open sea without a map.  How they have no idea what to expect.  Maybe that’s where some of us are right now in our lives.  No longer connected to the familiar mooring.  And even as we think about the life of this congregation.  A moment when something new seems to be approaching, but we’re not exactly sure what.  Standing in the sandals of the Twelve on this day with Jesus.  Trusting somehow, somehow, that they will be able to exercise the spiritual gifts that he has given them when the time is right.  “I’ll tell you what to say when it’s time to speak.  I’ll tell you what to do when it’s time to act.  Don’t worry.”  Trusting that he is with them, even when they can’t see him.  That even when they can’t see any results, or that even when the results they see may be negative, even if they are rejected, persecuted, killed, for his sake, God will receive their faithful offering and in his own time and in his own way use it to accomplish his purposes. 

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.”

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