Jesus sends his disciples out before they’re ready to do the work they don’t understand. A lot like us. Because that’s the work for us to do.
Proper 6A | Matthew 9:35-10:23
Some time ago. A few years before seminary, before I preached my first sermon or proclaimed my first gospel, I was getting up to read for the first time in church. The first time since I was a teenager, anyway. I hadn’t looked over the readings. In fact, my Dad, who was the priest and my advisor sprung it on me as the service was beginning.
I walked with as much confidence as I could muster, stood at the lectern and looked down at the bulletin with the garbled vision of the fearful. The words may as well have been numbers and the directions in a foreign language. The confidence of one who lived his entire life in church, who knew so much of the liturgy from memory was gone and I was a stranger in my own home.
My eyes found an anchor and I began to read, and as the introduction was vibrating off of my lips I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop it. Like waking from a dream to realize you’re behind the wheel, hurtling down the freeway at 70 miles per hour and you can’t simply stop with an “excuse me, I missed my exit” because you’re surrounded by cars, all barreling down with you. You can’t even slow down, you have to keep going.
Of course, I’d skipped ahead and assumed I’d need to sit down. But Dad simply told me to go back and read the first one next. I did and promptly left. Mortified. Embarrassed in a way only those who know failure can understand.
Discipleship isn’t easy, my brothers and sisters.
Last week, we talked about how Jesus reimagined discipleship and in the end, sent them out to the nations, having heard the challenge of continuing to follow Jesus without him there to lead them. It’s a powerful sending out with the reminder of his continued presence, even when he seems so far away. A teaching you and I need to hear over and over again.
But now we’re talking about discipleship before that. Before the other nations are involved. When it’s only about the Hebrew people. It’s only about those who already know about God–who need to hear how their God is manifest now. An idea that is a lot less exclusive than it might sound. It’s more like focusing your energy on a group most in need of hearing this good news.
And right now, this early in Jesus’s ministry, their focus is on Jesus. As disciples, that’s where their eyes go. They keep them on Jesus until Jesus tells them to put them on someone else. When he says look at them. They watch Jesus to know him. To become just like him. So they watch him. Until he tells them to watch someone else. Then it’s time to learn to see what Jesus sees.
And what they see is what Jesus sees: a people who are lost. Forgotten. Failed by their leaders. By their community. Because it hasn’t taught them how to find God in one another. How to feed each other. How to tend to each other’s wounds.
So Jesus tells them to pray for help. Ask God; what do you hear back? The trick, of course, is that God has already sent the help. The ones who notice the pain and suffering. Disciples training at the feet of their rabbi.
We are the answer to our prayers
As brief as the training may have been, it isn’t insignificant in Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount, three chapters of challenging teaching about the kin-dom of God, the upside down economy of God’s great dream for humanity and the disciples’ role in it was followed by two chapters of healings in which Jesus crosses the countryside healing everybody who comes to him. This is literally the manifestation of that dream. Jesus is showing them what it looks like This is his methodology: teach the kin-dom, then show it.
And he looks at these people, and he has his disciples look at these people, and he says it’s your turn.
He is sending them out to make the kin-dom, flip the economy, make the dream real.
You don’t think that work would be easy do you? He gives them the assurance, says to not worry about their stuff: just go and do it. They need you. The mission isn’t to have Jesus do it all, though we all know that would be way easier. The mission is to empower the people to bring peace, Shalom, to the world as children of God. That’s their work, they’ve seen what it looks like, and now Jesus has empowered them to do it! What is stopping them?
Well…not everybody wants to hear it. And we’re distracted by safety and fear and the comfort which comes from a change of clothes, a bed to sleep in, and enough money or plastic in our wallets to avoid starving. We have crutches we rely on, fear to dissuade us, anger and hostility to hold us back. And Jesus tells them to
Give it up and go.
This message is as challenging for us as ever. Maybe we have felt like sheep without a shepherd or we’re disciples wrestling with power we don’t believe is ours to possess; we’d still rather Jesus be about those healings, thank you very much. Or maybe we struggle to see how we are to be laborers in these fields in ways that are any different than what we do already. The teaching is there in verse 8:
You received without payment; give without payment.
The translation doesn’t do it justice. The word the evangelist uses, DOREAN means an undeserved gift–like the wild and reckless generosity expressed in Luke 15 with the parables of the lost. Jesus is telling those disciples, and every disciple since, that God has been so incredibly generous in a gift of grace, it is our work to be as wild and reckless with our generosity.
To be open to hospitality and extend our hospitality.
Trading in hostility for hospitality. This is the calling card of God from the day God called on Abram and Sarai and said listen, I’ve got some work for you to do. And she laughed at God and tried to cover it up, she was all no I didn’t! but God knew the score. It wasn’t an insult. It’s what happens when we receive a gift that ridiculous. We don’t politely thank the person and fill out a proper thank you card. We laugh because it is beyond expectations.
A story which juxtaposes with Sodom and Gomorrah, whose sin was to choose hostility over hospitality. Why Jesus brings that up to the disciples, saying that if they don’t receive hospitality,
it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
The mission is to share the good news, make Shalom, and heal the world. And our best tool for that is hospitality. Not bring hostility to another’s hostility or continue to bear another’s hostility (it’s OK to walk away) but to make hospitality out of the craziest of situations. Like when it’s not deserved.
Make it real.
I started with a story of my embarrassment because the things which stop us can be real but often they’re fictions.
A crippling embarrassment overwhelmed me about something which is really easy for me. I ran from my problem and hid in the bathroom through the gospel. But I came back in. And even when I’ve spilled a chalice on the altar, let a swear word slip through a microphone (that may have been the same day), I’ve never been so afraid again.
There’s a reason the traditional training of a priest in the 20th Century was to have us just do stuff on the fly. Read. Pray. Preach at a moment’s notice. To get comfortable with spontaneity. Not because it’s essential to the priesthood. But because it helps us let go the way Jesus asks all of us to. To let go of our fears and hangups and go out and make this junk real! To make Shalom and give the generous gift of grace to everybody (now it’s everybody, not just the lost children of Israel—everybody) Make it real!
We’re talking a lot about division today
and as long as we talk about our camps and force each other to make it be Us vs. Them, we are going to keep the hostility present. We’re going to fight and unfriend each other on Facebook. We’ll overlook the hostility from our camp and name the hostility from the other. Or worry so much about their hostility rather than build our hospitality.
But we’re also going to mistake a lack of fighting for peace. A lack of justice as peace. That the still waters of proclaiming an easy gospel with simple discipleship is the recipe for peace. It isn’t. Not as long as we refuse to name the victims of tragedy, like Philando Castille as anything other than a victim or potential suspect. Or whip up conspiracy theories rather than wrestle with the injustice found throughout the system. Far easier to pass the buck or name a scapegoat than do the heavy lifting of bringing shalom to our community and other communities like this one.
As long as one of our children suffers injustice our work isn’t done. There can be no Shalom. I want to be a child of God, so don’t mess this up for me! Or you! Or our neighbors. We’ve got work to do.
We’re called to make it real. Make that dream real. Pull that Kin-dom close and hold it like a lovey. Work for Shalom, not through cheap grace but wild and unrestrained hospitality. The kind so generous there can be no justification. A grace which embarrasses us with love in ways we could never hope to repay. Because that’s love. That’s grace.
Gift giving with a quid pro quo of respect politics is a lot like an eye for an eye. But real, generous hospitality? That’s grace. And a lot more like Jesus than we’re used to. Even from church.