2nd Sunday After Pentecost, Year A
God, I humbly come before you asking for the courage to speak your word to the people, even when it might be uncomfortable. I ask that you put your word in the hearts of those who hear me – the word that they need to hear, which may not be the words that I speak. May we all be moved to action as your disciples. Amen
A quick review of the previous chapters of Matthew shows us that Jesus has been very busy. He has preached about everything from divorce to giving to the needy, from anger to loving your enemies. He has taught the disciples how to pray. Jesus has healed many people. He has restored life to a little girl. And he has proclaimed the kingdom of heaven – an upside-down world where the poor are blessed and the meek inherit the earth. In our reading today, we hear the driving force behind his ministry. When Jesus sees the crowds that gather, he sees a people without a shepherd, and he has great compassion for them. There is so much more work and He needs helpers. So, he summons his disciples and sends them out to do the same work that he has been doing. He asks them to share his ministry of compassion.
Our text gives us the names of the disciples that Jesus chose. This was a mixed group of imperfect people – one would deny Jesus, one would betray him, one worked for the Roman occupiers and one actively worked against the Romans. Jesus did not select 12 men who would have easily gotten along. He did not recruit a picture-perfect group. Yet, Jesus entrusts those ordinary people to do his work in the world. And it was not a watered-down version of the ministry Jesus was doing, but the exact same work. The students are to mirror their teacher even though they only began following Jesus a short time earlier. That summons is also for us – we are Jesus Disciples too. We are summoned and sent out. Jesus know that, like the twelve apostles, we are flawed people. But we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. We are called to have compassion for the people. We are called even when we don’t have it all figured out.
Yet, I ponder about what it means to be sent in the middle of 2020. I hear your concerns about the uncertainty of these days. Dealing with a pandemic isn’t our only worry but also the resulting economic turmoil and now there is unrest spilling into the world related to the long history of racial injustice. What action is our gospel calling us to today? I struggle with that. What do I do personally? What do I, as your Deacon, say to you? My role as a Deacon is to equip you to walk the bridge between the church and the world; between us as an organized group of believers and you in your ministry in the Monday through Friday everyday world. My call is to help you take up your invitation from Jesus to go and serve the world. I have felt moved by our recent headlines. For the past 2 weeks, our nation has watched as the frustration over the treatment of our brothers and sisters of color has spread across the land. The reaction over the death of George Floyd, one in a long list of controversial deaths, erupted in the middle of the “Luther-lands” of the United States. How do people of faith respond? How do we act as Jesus and have compassion for people who, as our text says, “are harassed and helpless”?
I’m not sure what I can do to equip you to be God’s disciples in the world – especially when what I really want to tell you is ‘stay home, stay healthy, watch out for one another until we can better control this deadly virus.’ But there are ways we can and should respond. Bishop Kristen is calling the Northwest Intermountain Synod to work together for racial justice. Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, wrote a thoughtful Op Ed in the Washington Post on May 31. He tells us to Choose Love. As Curry says: “When I think about what love looks like, I see us channeling our holy rage into concrete, productive and powerful action.”
What does it look like to act as a child of God? Matthew tells us that it is showing compassion. Curry says the same with different words: It is choosing the path of Love. Being a disciple means not being silent in the face of violence and injustice. Offering healing for the world involves not just prayer, but action. Choosing the path of Love means that I must be willing to learn and unlearn the difficult truth that I am privileged because I happened to be born with a fair complexion. My life, your life, may often be very hard – but my life is never hard because of the color of my skin. Out of love for all of God’s children, I vow to take the scary steps to learn what that means. I will read books that will guide me and I will listen to new speakers, especially those of the black community. I will ask God to open my eyes and my heart to stand with my sisters and brothers of color. I will work to actively be anti-racist and I will urge you to join me in that hard journey.
I am going to start with a book by ELCA Pastor Lenny Duncan entitled: Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US. That’s us folks – the ELCA. We, the people of Lord of Life, come from the whitest denomination in the US. How do we address that? Pastor Kirsten and I have planned for months to start that work this fall, and now it seems especially timely. I will listen and I will learn, and I challenge you to do the same. Choosing love might mean standing on a street corner holding a sign declaring “Black Lives Matter”. Or it might mean helping a friend understand that that statement doesn’t stand in contradiction to All Lives Matter. People of color have not had an equal share – it is time to remember that their lives ALSO matter. Even Jesus left the 99 sheep to go search for the 1 that was lost. The lost sheep matters!
I’m sure you can think of your own ways to choose the path of love. There are needs that can be addressed right where you are. It can be voting with the entire community in mind, or writing letters to elected officials to hold them accountable for responsible leadership, or seeking needed reforms. Choosing love is being thoughtful in our interactions on social media. It is listening to differing points of view. It is showing kindness to one another. We can be compassionate Disciples, even from home. Our Gospel text has an optional continuation, verses 9 to 23. Let me read just a couple of verses from that portion: Jesus says, “see, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” And later “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.”
That is a difficult text to hear. Yet, it may be important to remember that Jesus’ ministry was not easy. The 12 disciples faced difficulties. And we may also be harassed for choosing love. You may not want to hear my words about becoming actively anti-racist. Your friends and family may not be happy when you choose to speak up. Yet, I am convinced that as the church we are called to stand with all the children of God, regardless of their skin color, their sexual orientation, or their perceived list of sins. I am calling us to all choose to spread the love of God. Theologian Frederick Buechner says: “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
Jesus had compassion on the people. Jesus has called us to share that compassion. Right now, the church building is closed, but we are still the church, the body of Christ, called into this world. As Jesus sends us out, we must choose love. As the Jay Beech song says: “The church is the people, living out their lives, called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.” Let’s be that church in the world! Let us choose love.