Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
Matthew 10: 24-33
Every once in a while, the lectionary drops us down in the middle of a conversation and we listen in without context. Most daily devotionals do the same thing. And we’re expected to understand and let what we’ve read inform our lives. About this time last year, we turned off our DVD player at the end of a movie. You know how you return to whatever show happens to be on the station you were last viewing? I happened to catch a short scene in a highly rated television drama and it grabbed me. What was that about?! I knew the basic idea behind the show, but had never watched it before. I was captivated. I wanted to know more. Unfortunately, the scene I saw was near the end of the third season. So before I could watch any more, we had to catch up. We spent all summer renting five episodes at a time so that when the fourth season started in the fall, we knew what was happening.
I have to tell you that I skipped ahead one week in the lectionary. What we missed are the three verses at the end of Matthew in which Jesus sends his disciples, and the Church, forward in mission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That was tacked on to the readings from John and Acts about the events after the resurrection and the Pentecost experience that birthed the Church. Matthew’s ending doesn’t belong at the end of John’s gospel or near the beginning of Luke’s story in Acts. It’s a lot like the mash up collages that get made at graduations—bits and pieces of your story gathered together by people who love you, moments that were captured, highlights and odd bits that are sometimes iconic and sometimes more meaningful to someone else. Each photo tells part of a story: that was the day I learned to ride bicycle, that’s my first dance, that’s where I won first prize. The photos help you remember.
It’s harder for the Church, almost 2,000 years later, to put together the context of the story, because we keep looking at the gospels as collages or highlight reels. This was the time Jesus walked on water. Here’s where he healed a man who was blind. This is the one where he argued with some Pharisees. Listen to this story that he told. Most TV shows will at least help you catch up before you plunge into this week’s episode, with the “Here’s what you missed,” segment at the beginning of an episode.
So we just got dropped in the 10th chapter of Matthew’s gospel right after Jesus has healed a man who was paralyzed, two men who were blind, one who was mute, a little girl who was dying, a woman who had been sick for years, besides teaching and visiting a tax collector. That was the 9th chapter. We pick up the story, just after Jesus told his disciples that now it was their turn. He divided them up into teams and gave them some instructions not unlike the words you hear at graduation, “Congratulations! You’ve learned some things, you’ve thought about some things. Now go and change the world!” Here’s what Jesus told his disciples, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” While they are looking dumbfounded, he tells them how to do this without cash in their pockets or a credit card, without hotel reservations, and without a network of contacts. Just their skills, their faith, and God’s Spirit. I can just hear one of the disciples say, “That’s too hard!”
And then Jesus tells them how hard it’s really going to be. They’re going to make some people mad and they’re going to disappoint others. Their decisions and opinions are going to cause division and conflict among even the people that they love. They were given instructions to break social taboos and to challenge oppressive systems. That’s hard. It’s just as hard today to bring healing to family systems, and neighborhoods, and political and economic systems. It’s hard to stand against violence and for peace. After I compared the Church to Hogwarts in a sermon, Karen Lomax shared that what impressed her about the first Harry Potter book was that one of the characters earned 50 points for his house because he had the courage to stand up to his friends when he thought they were wrong. It’s hard to say no to strangers, but so much harder to say no to people that you care about. Sometimes healing begins by saying no: no to oppression, no to abuse, no to destructive behaviors, no to our myriad of addictions, no to anything that harms others or ourselves.
And sometimes the hardest thing is to say yes to ideas that challenge the status quo or our worldview. Sometimes healing begins by learning how to create win-win outcomes over win-lose outcomes. Sometimes healing begins with a yes to self-care, yes to negotiation, yes to counseling or mediation, yes to compromise, yes to alternative solutions, yes to new ideas, yes to new life for others and yourself.
What Jesus is saying to his disciples, then and now, is that you can do hard things. You can! One of my students this year interned as a chaplain. She asked why the seminary didn’t teach her how to be a chaplain before sending her into a room. She had learned listening skills and had some opportunities to practice. She had learned theology, church history, Bible interpretation, and how to study. But no one had taught her how to do ministry. That’s because it’s something we all learn by doing, just like riding a bicycle, swimming, parenting, or working in any other profession. There is a lot of information that can be passed on, but we learn how to do the hardest things by doing them, and in the case of ministry and parenting and many other hard skills, by reflecting on our experiences so that we really do learn from the hard things we have to do. Jesus sends his disciples, you and me, out into the world to do hard things with the confidence that we can do them. We won’t make everyone happy, our choices may cause controversy or conflict, but if what we do is in the service of new and abundant life for others and for ourselves, Jesus promises that God will be with us—that we will be supported by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the going gets tough as you are doing hard things, God is your support, the ground under your feet. God’s community is a resting place, a refueling stop, a harbor in tough times. Church, the place where we practice being the Beloved Community, serves as our launch pad and refuge when we are called to do hard things. Whether we are just starting out on our own, are trying to regroup and start again, or are seasoned disciples, we all need encouragement and support when we attempt to do the next hard thing. So when the going gets tough, stop to let God tend your soul and find new strength and power. And remember, Jesus promised to be with us always, to the end of the age.”