Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]
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 laborers 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 judgment 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.]
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
I grew up playing sports. My favorite was soccer. From my sophmore year on in High School I showed up to each practice and each game, with the same cleats—my Copa Mundial’s (or as I named them ‘mia Culpas’ because I was really sorry for what I was going to do to the other team when I had them on)- they were my lucky cleats. Heaven forbid if I something happened to me favorite cleats! Looking back, I wore them because I thought they made me faster and made me play better. The beginning of my senior year I blew the cleat out from wearing them for so many years. So I just ran out and bought whatever I could find in time for my next practice. That next practice I partially torn my ACL. So I ordered my old cleats online and played my senior year with a partially torn ACL, in my mind because of not having my lucky cleats for one practice.
What is it about naming our lucky objects that make them so special? What’s at the core?
Two things really stand out to me in this text: the power of naming and remembering, and when we are named the power that comes with that naming.
First, naming and remembering. Twelve apostles about whom we know next to nothing, twelve among far more who bore witness to Jesus. Yet we remember these twelve because Matthew says their names. Since 2014, when Michael Brown’s death at the hands of white police officers provoked an outcry for reform, the levels of similar deaths have stayed constant, hovering between 1000-1200 every year. No decline. None. So lately, like Matthew, we have been naming and remembering children of God like: George Floyd, Sean Monterrosa, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner. We don’t know much about most of these folks. They are certainly not alone. But saying their names keeps their memory before us.
Which brings to the second thing: naming and claiming. Jesus appoints 12 people to go into the world, to all of the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus is giving them a very important task, and it is the same task that Jesus gives to all of us. Go find the lost sheep; go proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. Our scripture drops us into a conversation that Jesus is having with his followers.
I try to imagine myself there with the others. I can see it now, just excited–hanging on Jesus’ every word.
- Jesus says I’m sending y’all out to go find lost sheep. “Right on,” the imaginary me would say.
- Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. “I’m ready to harvest Jesus, I had friends who had farms! I’ve picked vegetables and bailed hay before…I’m ready!”
- Jesus says I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. “…Wait a second, that doesn’t sound safe. Lambs in the midst of wolves. I’ll make sure to pack a stick to keep me safe.”
- Then Jesus says I don’t want you to bring anything, don’t carry a purse, don’t carry a bag, and don’t even wear any sandals. “No sandals, Jesus? But I’ve got my Copas that I like to wear.” But Jesus says, “No, don’t bring anything!”
What is Jesus really asking of his followers? What is Jesus really asking of us?
Let’s think about the things that Jesus asks his followers to leave behind. A purse, a bag, and sandals. What do we use these things for? I’ve seen a fair share of survivalist shows on TV. People are allowed to bring next to nothing with them. But one thing remains the same no matter the show, they are all allowed to carry a bag. In these bags, people carry tools for making fire, or food that they are saving for later.
In these bags, you can carry all of the things that might make you self-sustainable. The contestants on television are able to stay in the wilderness for weeks on end because of what’s in their bags. So why is Jesus asking his followers to leave their bags behind?Jesus doesn’t want us to be self-sustainable.
Now I’m not referring to “green” movements or eco justice. Rather, I am referring to the way that we are called to live with one another. Jesus doesn’t want us to be self-sustainable; he wants us to trust and rely on one another, to be sustained by others instead of ourselves.
So again I ask the question: What do we need to bring with us to do ministry?
Jesus tells his disciples that when they go into these towns and get invited into these homes, first they are to bring tidings of peace for their household.
Then they should remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever the host provides, not moving from house to house.
I think what’s missing but is implied in these instructions is, “get to know the people.” Jesus asks that we leave it all behind, our bags, our personal baggage, to strip it all away and to really make ourselves vulnerable. It is out of that vulnerability that we are able to meet people and really get to know them. In getting to know people then we can name them so they are never forgotten.
You see, when Jesus is talking about going out for a harvest, we don’t need the traditional tools that we normally would use. No, for the harvest into which we are being sent, we are the tools.
What are we to bring with us, if not our bags and sandals? Jesus says, Just bring yourself. You have everything you need to do this work because it was given to you by the Holy Spirit. You have your life, and you have your story. Christians can be the best story tellers in the whole world because we have been telling the same story for two thousand years. We go and we tell others about Jesus, but not just that… we go out and we tell others what Jesus has done for us. How Jesus has changed our lives.
This is what Jesus is asking of the followers that we see in our scripture today, and it is what Jesus is asking of us all. That when we go out to the harvest, we bring nothing but our most honest and vulnerable selves to get to know people and to share the story. This is the mission to which God calls us all. Tell the story, and more importantly live out the story that you are telling.
Yes the world looks a whole lot different today, but Jesus’ charge to all of us remains the same. It was never the things that we bring with us that show people who Jesus is, or what the kingdom of God is like. It has only ever been us, living our stories—living testimony to the work that God is up to in the world.
We too are called to see the need of the world, its hungers and confusion, and like Jesus, we’re called to be moved with compassion and to respond with tender care. And we are called not to sit still but to be on the move, open to those we meet along the way.
Creating disciples means opening Christians to the possibility that the power of Christ can work through them with transforming power. It is the church’s biggest failure that when it tries to “train up” likely candidates for discipleship.
Jesus didn’t give his disciples simple, safe tasks when he commissioned them into his ministry. His raw recruits, still smelling of fish and suspicion, we’re called to:
- cure the sick
- raise the dead
- cleanse the lepers
- cast out demons.
We are named, claimed, and commissioned for “greater works” so let us roll up our sleeves ministering in the hedges and highways for social and deliberate change.
I want to finish today with a quick but powerful story. Bruce Larsen, a Presbyterian minister, has written a book entitled Ask Me to Dance, and in it he included the story of a member of his congregation who had come from another country.
Pastor Larsen said of this person, “Her faith sparkled and the living water of the spirit flowed out of her soul to all around her.”
He invited her to go with him to a seminar on the topic of evangelism. The leaders had prepared tables filled with all sorts of pamphlets and strategies and demographic studies, all aimed at reaching the un-churched in their area. At some point during the program the leaders turned to this woman and asked her to share some of the reasons that made the church so important and so vital in her home country. At first she was a bit intimidated by the crowds, but then she had this to say: Well, we never gave pamphlets to people because we never had any. We just showed people by our life and example what it is like to be a Christian, and when they can see for themselves, then they want to be a Christian, too. Chosen by God to be a community of faith, they were then sent out to bring the message to others.
It happens again and again. The call of God starts with individuals but always leads to a call to community, and then, just when it hits you just right and you hear those words of affirmation, members are asked to go forth to bring the Good News to others.
In this day and time we are the laborers called to go into the harvest field. Is it scary to contemplate? Only if we let it be. We have listened to the words of the Gospel and heard of God’s mighty acts of healing and forgiveness and restoration. As we gather together in community we are fed and strengthened and nourished by the God’s Word and the Lord’s body and blood, we are clothed with power from on high. We need nothing else. We have been chosen and we are being sent. It is time to go.