First Congregational Church
June 9, 2020
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A wiley older lady handed her bank card to a bank teller and said, “I would like to withdraw $500.” The teller told her, “For withdrawals less than $5,000, please use the ATM.” The older lady then asked, “Why?” The teller irritably told her, “There are rules. Please leave if there is no other matter. There is a line behind you.” The teller returned the card to the older lady.
The older lady remained silent… but then she returned the card to the teller and said, “Please help me withdraw all the money I have.” The teller was astonished when the account balance came up on the computer screen. The teller leaned down and said to the older lady, “My apologies ma’am, you have $3.5 million in your account and our bank does not have so much cash currently. Could you make an appointment and come again tomorrow?”
The older lady then asked, “How much am I able to withdraw now?” The teller told her, “Any amount up to $300,000” The older lady then told the teller that she wanted to withdraw $300,000 from her account. The teller did so quickly and handed it to the older lady respectfully. The older lady kept $500 in her bag and asked the teller to deposit the balance of $299,500 back into her account.
Throughout the summer, the lectionary of prescribed Bible passages uses Matthew for the gospel readings. Last week, the passage was also from Matthew, but the end of Matthew - the very end when Jesus sent the guys out to make disciples and baptize people. That passage was used because it was Trinity Sunday, and that section of Matthew is one that mentions the persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today’s passage goes back before that time, after Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, after numerous accounts of healing, teaching and a few miracles like walking on water and raising a girl from the dead.
Matthew 9:35-10:8 - The Workers Are Few
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
1 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, John. I don’t know about anyone else, but I sort of remember the first part of this passage, from when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, and thinking, the harvest maybe plentiful and the workers few, but I sure don’t want to do anything like having to do work - for God! That would be like having to be all churchy and good and stuffy maybe, and I certainly would not want to be that boring or fuddy-duddy.
There’s a Lutheran pastor by the name of John Stevens from Oregon who does weekly blogs on Dollar Store Children Sermons. As he was talking about this passage, from his home, with hair that needs cutting a beard needing trimming, covered with with his favorite baseball cap and camp tee shirt, he mentioned Judas’ name being in this list of the original twelve disciples.
I don’t know if it would have struck the strings of my heart as it did this week, if it were any other time in history. But the mention of Judas’ name with all the others, is an interesting piece, particularly in this moment of reconsidering the names of people associated with monuments, military bases and athletic teams. Before anyone gets all hot about getting close to a political topic, just give me a minute.
The events of this passage probably took place 30 years after Christ’s birth - give or take five years either way. The writing of the book of Matthew probably took place 50 years later - give or take a few years either way. For those who are 50 years and older, when you think back that number of years, what things stick out in your mind? And what things, regardless of the event, are important now - from that time then - in how you operate today?
The point is that the writer of Matthew could have left out the name of Judas. Granted, the writer would have had to do a fair bit of change over all with that gospel, but for simplicity sake, the writer could have left Judas out of the picture, because just about everyone knows what a bad character he was. But his name was left in - in all four Gospels.
I know there are folks for whom it would be easy to take this piece of information and create it to be a justification for whatever political purpose. But know this - I think this inclusion of Judas’ name was about a spiritual purpose - God’s purpose - to remind us all that no matter what, God can use our lives - other people’s lives - even what society deems to be bad people’s lives - in ways we may have a hard time seeing, much less appreciating.
We don’t know a whole lot about Judas’ life, except that money seemed like a great reason to do something that he might not have done for any other reason. We all have things in our lives that we’ve done, that on any other given day or time, we wouldn’t have done. But it happened, and has been recorded on our hearts, and with our confession to God, God’s mercy and forgiveness have restored us - to do some harvesting labor that desperately needs to be done - regardless of how much we want to offer our harvest help - or not.
As I thought about how this passage pertains to us - on this day of June 14, 2020, it came out as this possibility - as today’s mission. So the re-read goes
Matthew 9:35-10:8 - The Workers Are Few
35 Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their churches, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw this crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were mostly happy, not really in want and used to having their own way, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to this crowd, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the place of satisfaction, therefore, to send out workers into his place called Benzie - or whatever county you live in.”
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
10 Jesus called his 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 disciples: Mary and Molly, Scott and Judy, John and Dennis, Kris and Jeanne, Tom and Paul, Julie and Bill, Sonia and Pam, Missi and Sherry and Kelly, Randy and Norma, Katherine/Catherine and Marjorie, Chris and Jim and Peggy, Robin and Pat, Donna and Signe, Jane and Andy, Marti and Mary Ann, Susie and Marilee, Leo and Phil and all the others, including Dinah, the one who betrayed him.
5 These people Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the strangers or enter any town that is unlike yours. 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 (heart, mind and soul), raise the dead (the life-less), attend to the wounds of those who have been ostracized, drive out fear. Freely you have received; freely give.
I’m guessing that some folks are thinking, “All right!” while others might be thinking, “Aw, nuts.” Some of us crave a mission, others of us have a pile of missions sitting on our desks or the desktops of our minds, and really don’t need one more thing to add to that pile. And yet, because of all that any one of us have received - freely - so ought we give - just as freely - even if we don’t know exactly how that can possibly happen.
Over there at desperatepreacher.com, and yes, it’s a real place, back in 2002, Eric in KS wrote, “In the Episcopal Church, third-year (senior) seminarians are required to take a four-day battery of tests called "The General Ordination Exams" between their fall and spring semesters. The year I took them, my class had sweatshirts made with this text on the back: " 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." Eric said, "I can't read this (Matthew) text without thinking of that.”
I’m thinking that we could have sweatshirts and tee shirts made that say, “proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick (heart, mind and soul), raise the dead (the life-less), attend to the wounds of those who have been ostracized, drive out fear. Freely you have received; freely give.” Except it should not be on the back of the shirts, but on the front, and upside-down, so that we could read it often - to remind ourselves of today’s mission.
There was a frail old man who went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year grandson. The old man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he took the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. We must do something about Grandfather, " said the son. I've had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.
So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometime he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence.
One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, "What are you making? " Just as sweetly, the boy responded, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food when I grow up. " The four-year-old smiled and went back to work. The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.
That evening the husband took Grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.
The point of this story is not about older parents being cared for at home. It’s about the openness of heart we have when people don’t measure up the way we think they should. It’s about forgetting that we all spill milk sometimes and sometimes we are the ones who wipe up the milk. The point is that raising the grandfather from the dead took relatively little real, physical work, after the great work of heart was done. We all have missions - today - to “see” another person that others might overlook, to raise from the dead by reaching out a hand, even if it is a virtual hand or extended over electronic devices, to embrace another human being by opening our heart to God’s call that has always been on our lives. Which seems like a really good place to pray.
Holy God of Life and Purpose, we are reminded today that although we may not always get things right, you have greater goods and higher purposes than the limits of our imaginations. Thank you, for forgiving our faults when we ask for your forgiveness, for your mercy and grace in overcoming those faults, and for the new life that comes from moving further into the mission you have for us as people of your heart. Help us, Powerful God, to be your missionaries when we feel mission less, weak, or tired. Remind us that we don’t do your mission alone, and that this mission of opening hearts is so much bigger than what we may think. Empower us to do what you have for us in this day and the days yet to come, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.