First Congregational Church
June 18, 2017
Fathers Day, Second Sunday after Pentecost
“One of the Fine Lines of Faith”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Father Michael, of St Mary's church began his sermon with this story: 'I was on a plane last week, from Edinburgh to London, when we ran into some very severe weather which resulted in turbulence. As it got worse, the passengers became more and more alarmed, and even the airline stewards began to look concerned. Finally, one of them noticed that I had 'Reverend' in front of my name on the passenger list, so she approached me, and said, 'Sir, this is really frightening. Do you suppose you could, I don't know.........do something religious?’ 'So I took up a collection,' retold Father Michael with a grin.
This morning’s lectionary scripture passage comes from the gospel of Matthew, after he had reported on Jesus taking a snooze on a boat during a storm and several instances of Jesus healing people, including the reviving of a dead girl.
Near the end of the passage, it will mention leprosy. Back in Jesus’ day, leprosy was a word that covered a multitude of skin maladies, rather than just the terrible disease we associate with history. The passage will also use the words “disciples” and “apostles.” Disciples have the connotation of students or apprentices. The word apostle means “sent.”
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
Thank you, Cheryl. Of all the passages in the four Gospels, I wonder if this one seems to be the most irrelevant. Disciples don’t heal these days, doctors and nurses and a host of other medically trained personnel are the main healers. The harvest being plentiful and workers being few was mainly a mission cry prior to the mid 20th century, used as encouragement to go out a convert “heathens” to Christianity. Modern mission programs no longer use that sort of language, and instead focus on coming alongside people, helping and teaching and bringing Christ by example and love. Even the last chapter of this same Gospel reverses Jesus’ instruction not to go among the Gentiles or Samaritans. Jesus’ last words were “go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus doesn’t prohibit mission work in certain areas; common sense and laws do that.
And yet, later last evening, Jessie Grant’s Facebook posting came up. I’ve printed it for you all, because it is a picture of what is still happening in the world, especially in places far from Benzie County. Despite our modernity and the advancement of humanity, there is still a need for people to take Jesus’ love into the world.
But a good many of us live in Benzie County, where most folks have heard about Jesus and have experienced Jesus through the citizens here - for good or ill. On top of that, I don’t know that God is calling too many of us to go to such places as Peru or the depths of rain forests - at least for long-term missions.
So I admit that I surely didn’t see much of great challenge in this passage - until my guy, Steven Garnaas-Holmes, shed a little light from a different angle. His devotional from Tuesday said, “Maybe the harvest is not bringing people to Christ but gathering the fruits of the Spirit God has sown in you for the sake of the world. Maybe it's not an act of taking, but receiving.”
Then his devotional from Thursday said, “We are not given a mandate to judge or an obligation to convert. We are not required to argue religion. We are given power to heal. We need not muster up the strength. We are given authority. Christ is in us to heal.”
I’ve got to say that the idea of gathering and genuinely embracing our different fruits of the Spirit is a really cool idea. If we started allowing love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to take the reigns of our lives, what would that look like - in our own lives, in the life of our families, in the life of this nation and in the life of this world? We all like to think that we do that already, but we also know that we all have some ways to go in making those fruits a little more prominent.
We know that allowing love, joy, peace and all the way through to self-control would be good for us, but wouldn’t it be more fun to watch a baseball game? Or watch kids in a park? Or any other ‘good’ thing we can think of to avoid being the apostles - sent out - that Christ needs of us to be?
Jesus said, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” He said a lot of things, some of which we can see clearly contradict themselves. But we also have that thing - in our heart of hearts - whatever you might call it - that knows what is right. Like it or not, we know that helping those with afflictions is the right thing to do. Helping those with no hope - as those like the dead - is the right thing to do. Helping those who don’t look so good on the outside is the right thing to do. Helping everyone find peace - within their own being - is the right thing to do - because Jesus said so.
Sometimes being healers of those sorts aren’t really all that hard. Calvin Seminary guy, Scott Hoezee wrote “whenever and wherever a college student refuses to participate in some binge-drinking party, whenever and wherever someone refuses to cut corners on his (or her) taxes, whenever and wherever a kindly old woman (or man) brings light into a neighbor’s darkness by speaking a word of peace, whenever and wherever a man or woman sits down to tutor a homeless child, and whenever and wherever all such things are done because all these people believe there is a cosmic Lord named Jesus, then there–right there and right here and right now–the kingdom of God is present because the effective will of Jesus is calling the shots.”
Yeah, but I still don’t wanna. I wanna go to the beach and forget the rest of the world! I wanna watch the last of the US Golf Open in peace and quiet! I wanna go fishing and catch a 25 inch walleye!
Mind you, I’m not insinuating that any of those things are wrong in any way. Sometimes they are truly needful. But so is healing needful - of all the different sorts that there are - not only because it is the right thing to do - but because those sorts of ministry, healing, gifts, fruits - have been given to you - freely.
Over and over and over again, people we’ve known and complete strangers have controlled themselves in order to be kind to us, to be gentle with us. Time and time again, other people have patiently loved us, genuinely wished us joy and peace of heart.
We have been recipients of others’ goodness and faithfulness, and those gifts were given to us freely. It would go without saying that God also grants us those same gifts, through nothing we may or may not have done.
Like Simon and Andrew, James and John, Jesus has always seen in us the possibility to be brothers and sisters to each other. Not when we feel like it, not when we are supposed to act like it, but all the time. Like Philip and Bartholomew, James and Thaddaeus, Jesus has included each one of us, to stand alongside all the famous headliners of faith. Like Matthew the tax collector and Thomas, Simon the Zealot and even Judas Iscariot, Jesus sees through our reputations and claims to fame to see us for who we really are - as beloved of God.
Centuries ago - and for centuries, missionaries would travel halfway around the world to bring Jesus to those who didn’t know Christ. I wonder if our mission trips today are far shorter and much more personal: the single step toward those who are unlike us, whom we don’t know well, who just might be needing a little God loving more than any of us could know. So shall we pray.
Patient, loving, beloved God, we are well aware that we are not always your best ambassadors. Sometimes our words are more harsh than we intended or our intentions are not as good as we’d like to think. So we ask for your forgiveness. And we ask for your help to lead us and guide us in the ways that bring the gifts of your Spirit to those who need them - regardless of where they are. Thank you for your forgiveness and for bestowing the fruit of the Spirit to us - even when we were least deserving of them. For each and every blessing that comes from being one of your beloveds, all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.