I Am Sending You

+ A sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6A/Lectionary 11A) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on June 14, 2020 +

Texts: Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23

Video: LINK

There’s no denying that the past couple weeks have been tough for many of us.
We’ve watched as protests decrying the murder of George Floyd have rippled out from Minneapolis reaching Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and the District of Columbia.
We’ve seen our friends, family members, and neighbors here in Bellevue, Seattle, and across the state raise their voices to demand justice—maybe we’ve even joined ourselves.
We’ve seen the people take to the streets in all 50 states and in many foreign countries from Germany to New Zealand calling for the end of systemic racism and tangible changes to our society.
And while this is certainly not the first time protests have erupted following a police killing of an unarmed Black man, many long-time activists are admitting that things seem different this time, that they see some hope for change in what’s happening right now.

For whatever reason, this time the movement seems more widespread.
And even people who are not out in the streets protesting seem to be educating themselves, giving to bail and legal funds, and trying to do the work.
For the first time ever, thirteen of the top fifteen non-fiction books on the New York Times bestseller list are books dealing with race in our country.
And if social media can be any indication, mine has been flooded with the work my friends are doing.

But as we’ve started to wade into this work, we start to realize how much work there is to do, don’t we?
We see how deeply racism is built into our country and our society.
We see how much work we have to do within ourselves.
How much work it will take to enact real and permanent change.
How reading a few books will only start the journey towards anti-racism.
How two weeks of protesting can never erase 400 years of slavery and oppression.
How we can’t possibly do this work alone.
And then all that realizing can be daunting in itself.

As we settle back into Ordinary Time, this Time after Pentecost, and re-root ourselves in Matthew’s gospel for most of the next few months, maybe it would be helpful to get some context of where we are picking up.
Starting back in chapter 5, Jesus spent 3 chapters preaching on the side of a hill describing to his followers what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. A new reality where the poor, the mourning, the meek, the peacemakers, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, those who are despised and rejected by the world are declared blessed and precious in God’s Kingdom.
How this new Reign of God looks so fundamentally different than what we are used to because people are truly valued, possessions are not horded but used for the common good, and God’s love and justice are the backbone of society.
Then, after his sermon, Jesus spends the next two chapters of the gospel going out to proclaim the nearness of this new Kingdom through word and deed; helping the people experience it through that good news, through healings, and through repudiations of evil.

And while the text doesn’t say it explicitly, it sure seems to me that as he started doing the work, Jesus realized how much work there is to do!
He saw the enormous and gut-wrenching needs that surrounded him—his people living under oppression, brutally suppressed by overwhelming military forces, barely able to scratch out a living.
Jesus realized he couldn’t do all the work alone but needed some coworkers.
“The harvest is plentiful,” he said, “but the laborers are few.”
So he gathered twelve of his followers and commissioned them as apostles, those who are sent out with Christ’s authority and who are called to do Christ’s work.
He sends them to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and can be experienced right now, to make that experience possible through healing the sick, bringing life where death is reigning, standing up against the empire, and resisting all the forces of evil.

JESUS MAFA. The mission to the world, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48314. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact)

And while many of the names of these first twelve apostles may be familiar to us, while their legacies adorn cathedrals and icons, cities and hospitals and books of the Bible, remember that these are by no means professionals.
It’s a rather strange bunch of mostly ordinary people, actually.
A few fisherfolk, a tax collector named Matthew who’s hated by his community for conspiring with the Romans, a zealot named Simon who’s conspiring revolution against that same empire.
Peter will go on to deny Jesus and Judas will betray him.
None have any noted gifts of oratory or statesmanship, no known history of protests or notable qualifications other than following Jesus.
And yet it’s this strange and motley crew that Jesus commissions to be his apostles, his ambassadors, his co-workers in making the Kingdom of Heaven a reality on earth as it is in heaven.
To make the nearness of that Kingdom take root and flourish all around us.

Now, especially on the heels of last week’s Great Commission, it goes without saying that this mission is for us too.
That Christ is calling us to be his apostles to our land, to our people.
Us—you and me—exactly as we are.
Not the professional politicians or even just the professional clergy.
We don’t need to be strategists or wield prominent positions or really have much experience beyond following where Jesus is leading us.
But it’s you and me, it’s the entire Church of Christ that Jesus is calling and commissioning as his apostles.
We are being called, my friends, to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven through our words and through our actions.
We are tasked with making this all real and credible to a world that has grown weary of the empty promises and saccharine hopes the Church has offered for so long.
We are commanded to get to work and make the changes needed so that the Kingdom of Heaven can take root and flourish here among us.

Whew. Ok, let’s take a breath.
Is that daunting enough for you?
Well, just wait, there’s more.

Jesus tells his apostles that they are to go without provisions, without money, without protection.
He tells them that they are to be radically dependent on the people they are working with—in such deep relationship with them that they need each other to survive.
And Jesus doesn’t deny that this is risky work.
As we know, this is the work that would get Jesus and most of these 12 apostles executed by the powers of this world for threatening their dominance.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves,” Jesus says.
And you will be handed over to those in power because my Kingdom is a threat to the corrupt powers of this world.
But the truth is, my friends, following Jesus is risky work—it always has been.
Being Jesus’ disciple is a difficult calling.
It ruffles feathers, it confronts authority, it demands real and authentic change within ourselves and throughout the world.

“Make no mistake,” theologian Debbie Thomas writes, “this is a confrontational Gospel. It’s hard. It’s demanding. It’s offensive. In it, Jesus asks us to surrender absolutely everything for the sake of making God credible to a world that’s convulsing in pain—and he does so without reservation or apology. His harsh-sounding instructions suggest that there will be times when our faith requires us to violate cultural norms, fight uphill battles, and speak dangerous truths to power.”[1]

“If our overriding priority as Christians is to secure our own comfort,” she continues, “then we cannot follow Jesus. Discipleship will disorient and disrupt us. It will make us the neighborhood weirdos. It will shake things up in our families, churches, and communities. It will expose evils in the status quo we cling to. It will humble us to our knees.”[2]

But even with all these challenging demands and daunting expectations, there is also a word of promise in today’s gospel.
Did you hear it?
Jesus promises that when you go out proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom, even when you are dragged before the rulers and authorities who would try to silence you, you are never alone.
That the Spirit of God will work through you, giving voice to proclaim and energy to enact the Kingdom of Heaven.
That the Spirit of the Living God will fall on you, giving you strength and uniting your efforts with all God’s people who are working to change the world until that promised day when the Kingdom is realized.
Because the work is not only on my shoulders, nor does it rest squarely on yours.
While each of us has our own work to do, we are sent out with far more companions than Peter or James or John had; we go out with the whole company of apostles.
We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses who are all demanding change and justice.
Each one of us and all of us collectively empowered and commissioned and anointed by Christ to do this work in Jesus’ name.

As I said on Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit fell anew on us and sent us into mission, our church is being sent out right now, my friends.
We are being called to do the work and unite our efforts to bring the change this world so sorely needs.
But as Jesus is showing us, it’s not up to us to set the direction.
All too often, the dominant culture in this country will show up with our own priorities and our own agenda and silence the voices of color who have been demanding change for decades.
But as Jesus told his first apostles, so he tells us that we are to let go of what is holding us back, to leave behind our own priorities, to abandon our defensiveness, to divest of our prejudices and listen to our Black Siblings, Indigenous Siblings, and our Siblings of Color.
To be in deep and authentic relationship with them until we are radically dependent on each other to truly make a difference.
To lend our voices as we are invited and amplify the voices that are speaking up right now
And while we acknowledge that working to end systemic racism in this country will not in itself bring the fullness of God’s reign on earth, it will surely get us closer to that promised day.
While we know Christ’s calling to be his apostles, the calling we accepted in our baptisms, will never end until our baptismal journey is complete, we recognize that as long as our siblings of color are being oppressed and murdered, none of us can fully experience God’s Kingdom.
While we know that there is a lot more work to be done to make our planet reflect God’s beautiful intentions for us, right now we are listening to our siblings who are crying out and telling us that after four centuries of slavery and oppression, they are done dying on the altar of white supremacy and it’s far past time for us to take action.

Christ Teaching the Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56625. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ethiopian_-_Right_Diptych_Panel_with_Virgin_and_Child_Flanked_by_Archangels_-_Walters_363_-_Open.jpg.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome that our communal sufferings produce “endurance, and endurance 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.”
Right now, in the middle of this movement, I think we could all use some hope to come from the sufferings of our community.
Hope that Jesus means what he says, that God’s Kingdom is at hand and will supplant the empires of this world.
That God’s reign will outlast the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and even the American Empire.
That its gospel message will drive out the evils of racism and white supremacy.
That things will finally change.

Today, Jesus is calling us to be ambassadors of that hope, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven is near and is taking root all around us.
But to be ambassadors of that hope, we have to be part of the sufferings—to fully identify with those who are weeping and shouting and dying.
It means reckoning with ourselves, with the systems we unwittingly participate in, and moving into action.
And again, in the words of Debbie Thomas, “It means deciding, as grateful followers of a brown man who died at the hands of brutal law enforcement two thousand years ago, that we will not tolerate the demon of racism in our midst for one more generation.”[3]

How will we act, dear Church?
How will we make sure that this time is different?
How will we proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven is near?
Because Christ is sending us to do just that.

[1] Thomas, Debbie. “I Am Sending You,” Journeys with Jesus, June 7, 2020. https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2661-i-am-sending-you
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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