McFarland

Second Sunday of Pentecost June 13/14, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8

Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Prayer of the Day:

God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy, we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

The Son of God, Our Christ – ELW #584

Will You Come and Follow Me – ELW #798

Rise Up, O Saints of God! – ELW #669

We All Are One in Mission – ELW #576

Reflection on Matthew 9:35-10:8

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

My son turned three years old a few months ago, and he’s in this really fun developmental stage where he wants to help…with everything.  Emptying the dishwasher is now a thirty-minute adventure, but it’s good.  With his eagerness to help, and the time commitment that his helping requires, I’ve finally figured out that if I just tell him to do something, we are somewhat successful.  But if I show him how to do it first, it’s amazing what he can do.

This teaching pedagogy works wonders in my house.  Ask any educator in our congregation and my guess is that many of them employ this same method.  And today we learn that even Jesus uses this trick.  Our Gospel writer, Matthew, tells us that Jesus traveled around proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and sickness.  Then he calls twelve people to be his inner circle and sends them out with a to-do list, including proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near and curing the sick.  So Jesus proclaims and cures, calls followers, and sends them out to proclaim and cure.

This teaching technique is perfect for our time in the church year: The Season of Pentecost.  During this season we explore how we are called to live and act as disciples; we discuss what it means to be the Church in the world.  We spend half of the church year exploring the life of Christ and now we have 20+ weeks of exploring what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Today is the Second Sunday after Pentecost – our first foray into this exploration – and we are given this story from Matthew.

Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near and they are to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.  While this is an impressive to-do list – and it’s all about promoting life – I don’t think Jesus meant it to be an exhaustive list but rather seen as expansive.

Curing the sick includes the work of doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, medications, and practices that help people feel well again.  It includes organizations that work toward reestablishing the health of whole communities of people.

Raising the dead doesn’t necessarily mean Lazarus moments – which would be cool – but includes journeying with a friend through the depths of their grief, a pain so sharp that it makes their throat constrict and their mouth run dry, and staying there with them until they feel alive again.

Cleansing the leper is a call to stand with those who either claim a label – or who have one thrust upon them – a label that others see as making them less worthy of their humanity.  We are to reach out and embrace those who are told they are untouchable.

Casting out demons invites us to comfort those haunted by the fears that their previous poor choices define who they are now and to reject the voices that say they aren’t worthy or deserving of love, kindness, or respect.

See?  This is quite the to-do list for the disciples.

But let’s take a quick pause because there’s a lot going on right now.  It might be helpful to get situated with our context.  It is the Season of Pentecost and we’re exploring what it means to be the Church and how we are to live as disciples.  And during this season we are given a text where disciples are sent to be part of God’s mission of working toward wholeness, curating and nurturing that which is life-giving, fostering connections and community, and fighting for the dignity of others.  When God invites us into this work, we experience that the kingdom has, in fact, come near.  That’s a lot to hold right there, but there’s more.

Our cultural context, today, includes a global pandemic, which has shrouded us in fear and grief, but we’re also in the midst of intense emotional responses to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others.  And we – as a church – we are preparing to commemorate the Emanuel Nine, victims of the sin of hatred and white supremacy.

And this exploration of our current context doesn’t even include the personal struggles many of us are experiencing that are only known in smaller circles.  So whether we are reading authors who have different life experiences than us, going into the abyss of grief with someone, or tending to aching hearts and bodies – Jesus sends us out to engage in God’s work that gives and affirms life.  And this call feels heavy.  Our context is heavy.  This is incredibly hard work and many of us are at a loss for where to even start.

But there are three pieces of really good news in this hard work.  First – Jesus thinks we can do it, otherwise he wouldn’t send us out in the first place.  Jesus does not set us up for failure.  We may make mistakes, sure, but Jesus believes that we can succeed in this work that promotes and fosters the fullness of life.  And the call to discipleship is open and expansive.  It’s not like there’s a limiting, bullet-point guide of how to be a disciple.  We can be creative in the work we do, and use our different gifts and passions to share the love of God.

Second – Jesus called twelve people to be his followers.  Like those first twelve, we are not doing this work alone.  Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom is not a solo mission.  And, the grace of this for me, is that none of these disciples were qualified, dependable, or all that helpful.  One author pointed out that “the ‘first’ apostle Peter will deny the Lord three times and the last apostle Judas will betray him to death, while two apostles in between held opposite positions on the Roman occupation (tax collector Matthew worked for them, while Simon the […] ‘zealot’ worked against them).”[1]  This is a hot mess of goofballs and yet they are still the ones Jesus chose to be his followers.  Perfection is not a prerequisite to discipleship, which is the only reason I’m allowed in.

And the final bit of good news is the most powerful.  When the task of discipleship – when the call to eliminate what prevents people from being well, to remove what prevents people from experiencing a fullness of life, to wash away what prevents people from feeling connected and cared for, and to banish what prevents people from feeling loved and human – when this seems too much, as it often does, the good news is that God promises to always be with us.

This promise was revealed to Joseph as the baby grew in Mary’s womb, and this promise was reaffirmed at the end of our Gospel when Jesus promised to be with us always, to the end of the age.  And because this was reiterated after the resurrection it means that when we feel overwhelmed by the task at hand, we can remember that it’s not our job to save the world…Jesus already took care of that.

Jesus doesn’t send us out to fail – he believes in us and knows we can do this important work.  Jesus doesn’t send us out alone – he offers a whole host of coworkers to join in this life-affirming mission.  And Jesus promises to never leave us, no matter what may unfold in the world.

So to all my fellow overwhelmed, unprepared, imperfect coworkers, join me in basking in the promise that Jesus is with us, Jesus loves us, and Jesus is sending us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Colin Yuckman, “Preach This Week, June 14, 2020, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23],” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4480 (accessed June 8, 2020).

Let Us Pray

God of life, you send us out with the mission to share your love with our families, neighbors, workplaces, social circles, and wider-communities.  Grant us courage to take that first step, especially when we are uncertain where to go and overwhelmed by the task.  Reveal to us the opportunities where we can learn, act, and reflect your grace in the world.  Be with all who are scared, suffering, confused, or lonely today.  Thank you for never wavering in your determination to be with us, no matter what may be happening in the world around us.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.