June 18, 2017 2nd Sunday in Pentecost & Father’s Day
Genesis 18:1-15 Romans 5:1-8 Matthew 9:35-10:23
Jesus had a tough job.
I don’t mean the whole salvation of the world thing. Don’t get me wrong, dying on the cross so that once-and-for-all we would get it through our thick heads that we didn’t need to keep on with the sacrificing of lambs was no picnic. Let’s face it: Jesus endured about twelve hours of dreadful fear and suffering to get to the point of our salvation. But actually, as hard as that was, it was part of the completion of the job that he knew he had come into the world to do. He knew that on the other side was the resurrection, which sealed the deal of God’s love, the acceptance and redemption of our sin, and the coming of His Kingdom.
No, I am talking about the really hard job that Jesus had to do day in and day out. He had to take a bunch of mismatched, spiritually frustrating students, and turn them into disciples, who would eventually continue his and his Father’s work of building the Kingdom of God.
You know, very early on both the eastern and the western church decided to canonize and make the first disciples, who we now classify as the apostles, into saints. I understand why they did that, because any motivational system, which is trying to teach us how to reach our potential, tells us to find someone to model ourselves after. The idea is that if I say, “I’m going to try to be like Elizabeth the First, or Eleanor Roosevelt, or Mary Magdalene,” that I will try to emulate the best of that person, and make and find myself to be a better person in that process. But at the same time I think that the concept of saint unfortunately evolved into someone who was classified as perfect. And perfect the disciples were not.
Yet, as Wesleyans (Oh, and by the way yesterday was John Wesley’s birthday) we are supposed to be striving for spiritual perfection. Which can be extremely frustrating because quite frankly I feel like I take nearly as many steps backwards as I do forwards on that journey. But that’s okay – because God isn’t finished with me yet. But the disciples weren’t saints – they were at once incredibly obtuse and brilliant students who made mistakes. Right up to the resurrection they made mistakes and after the resurrection they made mistakes. And yet at some point Jesus decided to trust them to go out into the world without him, heal those who needed healing, and preach his message of love, tolerance, and the coming of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus knew that he wouldn’t be around forever, even though his disciples were probably counting that he would be, so he decides to send them out alone to try out their techniques. The scripture from Matthew that we read today is the first set of instructions from Jesus to His disciples on how to go out in the world and evangelize; a list of instructions, which might seem strange to us in our time.
First, he tells them to only go to areas where Jewish people live. That sounds exclusive – but if you think about it, Jesus was really expounding a new way to think about our relationship to and with God. Since the disciples were Jewish, Jesus probably felt that the disciples would be better received in Jewish households, and be more comfortable there, than in Gentile households. Jesus’ ideas would eventually catch on with the Gentile community but at this moment they were just too different, and the disciples need to practice with the familiar.
Then he tells them not to accept payment for their ministry. At that time there were a lot of charlatan holy men wandering from town to town who would convince people that they were super holy, and pursued them to pay them for a miracle cure. Jesus wanted his disciples to show people that God’s love requires no payment – just faith.
It doesn’t seem logical to not travel with a bag, extra tunics and sandals, or a staff – but Jesus wanted his disciple to show that they were only concerned with living in the moment for God, in the belief that the kingdom could come at any moment. Remember Jesus warns us to not get too attached to earthly treasures, and his disciples had to practice what they preached.
However, the disciples could accept food and hospitality for their preaching, which fits in with Jesus’ relational message. Of course some disciples might be invited into a house to stay, and if the house was kind and loving they should bless it, but if the house was not kind and loving then they should simply leave and not worry about it again. The common expression of the day that Jesus used was, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. This means not to worry about something anymore, because there is nothing you can do about it, so you don’t need to take on any responsibility for it.
Finally, Jesus warns his disciples that often their message will not be accepted or understood by others, but not to worry because the Holy Spirit will tell them how they should speak. They were instructed to live with and in their faith.
Apparently the disciples did very well in their solo ministries and brought to a lot of people Jesus’ message. But they didn’t do it because they were perfect. They did it because they were like the people they talked to, and the people could relate to them.
Like those first disciples we are supposed to evangelize. That doesn’t mean knocking on doors and saying with a fake smile, “Hi, I’ve come to bring you the word of God.” (How many of you have experienced that? Not always a comfortable experience.) That doesn’t mean standing on street corners and haranguing people. (How many of you have experienced that? I experienced one of those at a bus stop and I thought that a very unchristian fight was going to break out.) That doesn’t mean walking up to complete strangers and offering to pray for them. (How many of you have experienced that? That one was really uncomfortable for me because the person asked for money. See – 2,000 years later, it’s still happening.)
What evangelism means is sharing how Jesus helps us, as imperfect people, to be better people in our lives. It means us saying that Jesus is the main person who we model ourselves after, and how that helps us to mature and be stronger and more connected to our faith and to God. That is all the disciples really did: They sat down and told people what it meant for them to be followers of Christ.
Now that is a nice concept but how do we get to the point where we are comfortable talking about that message? Because we don’t want to be knocking on doors with fake smiles, haranguing people on street corners, or soliciting strangers with prayers. We don’t want to be the people who make other people feel uncomfortable as Christians.
So now we come to the title of this sermon: Begin with Prayer. Prayer runs through the Gospels. Jesus used to take time to pray before he would teach. He would pray before he healed. He would pray before he preached. The disciples spent ten days in Jerusalem praying before Pentecost came. They got themselves ready for the Holy Spirit to be in their lives. And they prayed before they set out on their solo missions.
We need to start by praying, which gets us centered with ourselves and God, and opens our lives to the Holy Spirit, so that the Holy Spirit can work with us. Prayer is not difficult. You can pray any time and anywhere. I challenge you all and myself to become prayer junkies. I’m not quite there yet but I’m working on it.
You can pray when you get up in the morning, plan your day, and ask God to help you through specific tasks. You can pray before you eat, thanking God for your blessings and then slip in a request that you need. You can pray while you’re driving. (I don’t know about you, I talk to myself all the time while I drive – I might as well let God into the conversation.) You can read the Bible and then journal your thoughts by saying, “Dear God,” instead of, “Dear Diary.”
It doesn’t matter how you do it – just talk to God. Talk to Him like you talk to a friend. Thank Him for what He’s given you. Let him know how you’re feeling. Ask Him for the help that you need. Tell Him about your concerns. Let Him know about your other friends who are in trouble and in need of help. And then take a few minutes to be silent and be open to what He might say to you. Maybe He won’t say it right away – but if you open yourself up to be receptive to Him, then when He does say something you’ll be ready to hear it.
You know, Jesus still has a really hard job to do. He is still working on taking us, a bunch of mismatched, spiritually frustrating students, and turning us into disciples, who are continuing his and his Father’s work of building His Kingdom. But he wants to do that job. Let’s help him do it, by being in prayer and connecting to him. Let’s get our connection that teaches us how to live with God, and speak about God.
Speak to God knowing that prayer produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us now and forever.