Reading Matthew 9:35-10:8 (NRSV)
Last Sunday afternoon, we had a very important Church Meeting. It was held over Zoom – not ideal, but we felt that was better than delaying it indefinitely. The main item was the Deacons’ Report on the conflict management review. There was prolonged discussion during which different views were eloquently and passionately expressed, but it was heartening that all recommendations were overwhelmingly adopted. I said it was a very important Church Meeting. I venture to say that we’ll look back on it as a water-shed meeting. It is now time to redirect our energy to the future.
The covering letter that accompanied the Deacons’ Report said this at the end.
“Long-term planning has, by necessity, been a lower priority for us over the last 18 months but this cannot continue. Our future direction and spiritual growth are not within the scope of this review but it is important and needs to be addressed. We will therefore be recommending to the 7 June church meeting that, as part of our review of ministry and staffing needs, we engage an external person with appropriate expertise to help us decide what concrete actions we need to take to realise our church goals of exploring together what it means to follow Jesus today, build an inclusive, caring community, and sharing God’s love and justice in words and actions.”
That recommendation was overwhelmingly accepted.
The Deacons, Belinda and I meet again tomorrow night, and what was expressed in that quote is a high priority for us. We have work to do to implement the other recommendations, but we are all keen to move onto the review of ministry and staffing.
What will that look like as we emerge from Coronavirus restrictions? Will it be simply a return to “business as usual” or are there things that we should do differently? What lessons have we learnt about priorities, direction, ministry, and mission through these last 6 months?
These are big questions and that’s why we need a process of review and discernment. I’m not wanting to pre-empt that process I’m not going make specific ministry proposals in this sermon. We need to discuss and collaborate on that together. But from today’s passage, I want to suggest some basic, underlying mission principles for all of us to keep in mind as we move forward into a future that will have many opportunities as well as challenges.
- Jesus’ Mission
Firstly, and most important of all, our mission must be an extension of the mission of Jesus.
9:35 says: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.”
Jesus’ mission was one of teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing.
That’s what he was doing at this time as he travelled extensively though Galilee. His disciples accompanied him, learning as they went.
In 10:1, Jesus gives them authority to heal and bring wholeness to the sick and diseased and in 10:8 he tells them to go and do it, as he has been doing it.
In 10:7 Jesus tells them: “Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ “ That’s what Jesus had been proclaiming.
The other aspect of Jesus’ ministry mentioned in 9:35 is teaching. On this occasion Jesus doesn’t tell them to do that. But he does before his ascension. At the end of Matthew, Jesus says:
“All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”(Matthew 28:18-20)
So the disciples’ mission, and ours, is to be an extension of Jesus’ mission. We are to carry on his work in the world, in his name, through the Spirit, to the glory of God.
Secondly, our mission is to be characterised by compassion.
9:36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them.”
One dictionary I looked up said that the Greek word connotes a twisting pain in the entrails, a writhing, intense emotion.
In 1 John 3:17, we have the expression “bowels of compassion” in the KJV.
The Greek word is commonly used to translate the Hebrew word for womb, and points to the pangs the womb undergoes during the agony of childbirth.
That’s how Jesus felt when he saw the crowds. He had compassion because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (9:36). They were lost, unprotected, not provided for. They were in desperate need, physically and spiritually.
Have you seen the crowds? Maybe on TV or social media if not in person. Crowds have been discouraged or banned as a result of Coronavirus, but have you seen the crowds that have gathered anyway?
* Crowds of people in India and Bangladesh walking for days from cities where they no longer have jobs, trying to get home to their villages.
* Crowds in many countries, including ours, lining up for food or unemployment or welfare payments.
* Crowds of people in the US, England, Germany, NZ, Australia and elsewhere marching to protest the death of George Floyd and other black people and to declare “Black Lives Matter”.
* Crowds of people in Canberra and throughout Australia protesting about aboriginal deaths in custody and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
We can debate whether they or we should be gathering in such ways in the face of Coronavirus restrictions. But first, see the crowds, and feel their pain; their desperation; their exasperation.
Does it twist your guts with compassion as it does for Jesus?
Our mission is to be characterised by compassion and motivated by compassion.
A third characteristic of Jesus’ mission here is urgency. Jesus travelling to all the towns and villages in Galilee points to a sense of urgency. The urgency is partly driven by the pressing needs of the people. But also because the Kingdom of God is at hand (or the Kingdom of Heaven as Matthew calls it).
With the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom has come near and it’s time for people to be ushered into the Kingdom and into relationship with God, under the reign of God.
Here is where the imagery changes from sheep to a grain field ready for harvest. It’s a picture of urgency because the harvest is ready and mustn’t be lost.
We live in that in-between epoch when the Kingdom has come but not yet in all its consummated fullness. And so there is an urgency to our mission as well. All around are people in great need who need to know the Good News before it is too late.
The fourth thing that must accompany mission is pretty obvious – prayer.
Jesus tells his disciples to pray (9:38) to the Lord of the harvest to supply the workers for the harvest. Every aspect and stage of mission must be bathed in prayer, because ultimately it is not our harvest but the Lord’s harvest.
As we move forward in mission as a Church, prayer is indispensable. But that’s not all.
There’s one final characteristic of mission, and that’s going.
At the beginning of chapter 10, after having told the disciples to pray for workers, Jesus sends them out.
The point is often made, but Michael Green expresses it well in his commentary on Matthew (in “The Bible Speaks Today” series).
“It is one thing (and relatively comfortable) to pray that the Lord of the harvest will do something about it. It is quite another thing (and rather forbidding) to hear him say to us, ‘Go.’ We must be prepared to share in answering our own prayers.”
Mark and Luke record them being sent out two by two. That phrase is not used here, but note that Matthew groups the disciples in pairs. Mission is a partnership activity.
They are told to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and not the Gentiles or Samaritans. This was where they were to start, but as I mentioned earlier, Jesus later gave them a broader commission, which remains the Church’s commission, to make disciples of all nations. God’s church is a going church.
This passage is a timely reminder to us, and a challenge. It’s a call to mission for each of us as individual disciples and as a Church.
It’s a call to mission that carries on Jesus’ mission; that is characterised by compassion and a sense of urgency; where there is prayer and going.
So friends, see the crowds; hear the call.
Our next hymn poetically expresses Jesus’ call to mission with him – “Sing Hey for the Carpenter”.
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 as paraphrased by Jim Taylor in his book Everyday Psalms (Wood Lake Books)
God Keeps a Promise
The little girl’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Nana!” she said, pointing, “Nana!” And she climbed down from her chair and ran to her grandmother, who had just come in.
1 Granny listens to me. I tell her my stories, and she believes me.
2 When others blame me, Granny doesn’t jump to conclusions.
She doesn’t get upset; she doesn’t always support someone else. She really listens to me.
12 How do I thank her?
13 By running to her with my arms stretched out whenever I see her.
14 No matter who is there, I run to her.
15 Granny says I’m precious.
16 Everyone else expects me to do things their way.
But Granny doesn’t expect me to be anyone but myself. I would do anything to make my granny happy.
17 I help her set the table, without being asked. I help her crack eggs for the pan; I like making beds with her.
18 Even when she has company visiting, I fling my arms around her neck and hug her.
19 I love going to Granny’s house. I hope God is like Granny.
Prayers of Intercession
Born into poverty in an occupied land.
Living alongside the marginalised and the oppressed.
Dying between criminals to the jeers of the crowd.
Open our eyes,
that we who seek to follow you may recognise your face in the faces of those who are reviled.
Open our ears,
that we who seek to hear your word, may recognise your love in the stories which are often drowned out.
Open our hearts,
that we who seek your way of life may be bold in witnessing to your longing for justice and peace. Amen.
Prayer from Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum https://www.commongrace.org.au/asylum_prayer_resources
Creator God, you are the giver of life.
Saviour Jesus, you have shown us what it is to love.
Guiding Spirit, you awaken us to justice.
Show us how to build a just future, where all people have equal opportunity to belong and to flourish in your vitality and love.
We ask for mercy for people in limbo on temporary visas, for safety for those seeking permanent protection, for reunion for families who are separated by borders, and for relief for those losing hope within our detention systems.
We pray for First Nations Peoples fighting for justice on their own Lands, for survivors of domestic violence and for creation groaning under climate disruption.
Help us to live out your inclusive love. Help us to live into your Kingdom where all people have equal opportunity to belong and flourish. Work through us, towards a just future.
“Prayer for a Just Future” by Common Grace’s Justice for People Seeking Asylum Team
Benediction Romans 15:5-6 (MSG)
May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!