July 8, 2018: "To Be Sent"
“To Be Sent”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK July 8, 2018
I want to think with you today about what it means for us to be sent into the world as Jesus’ disciples. In order to do this, we need to first understand how Jesus’ story unfolds in the gospel lesson we’ve just heard. It seems as though we are dealing with two different stories—Jesus being rejected and Jesus sending the twelve. Really, we are just dealing with a simple case of cause and effect. The rejection of Jesus in Nazareth is the cause and Jesus sending the twelve disciples is the effect.
Jesus says, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown,” and he really experienced that to the extreme. After teaching in the synagogue, the townspeople say to one another, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom…what deeds of power…is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” It initially sounds like the people are astonished—the golden boy has returned with knowledge and power. But really, they were offended by Jesus. They were first offended because he was a common carpenter. We romanticize Jesus’ profession—we like to imagine Jesus lovingly crafting chairs and tables, gently wiping the sawdust and sweat from his lovely, curly hair. But carpenters are laborers, and no matter how skilled they were, in first century Israel and Palestine they were at the bottom of the barrel. If you were a laborer, you were judged as too poor and too stupid to have any real place in society. How dare someone like this, someone dirty and common, how dare they stand and teach in the synagogue.
The crowd was also offended by Jesus because his family situation wasn’t entirely clear. They name him as Jesus, ‘the son of Mary.’ This is odd. It is odd because Jesus lived in a time and culture where children were always identified as the son or daughter of their father. A respectful way to name Jesus would have been, “Jesus, son of Joseph.” But there is no respect here. ‘Jesus, son of Mary’ is a not-so-veiled criticism—it was a polite way of calling Jesus an illegitimate child. Joseph is nowhere in the story, and the folks in Nazareth were probably still rattled by the whole virgin-birth thing. No father, no position or influence or respect.
Then the crowd turns the screw just a little further by mentioning Jesus’ siblings: James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and his sisters. This is a classic guilt trip. The crowd knows the siblings, so they have obviously made Nazareth their permanent home. But Jesus went off to preach and teach, leaving his poor mother and siblings to fend for themselves, whether or not that was actually the case. In the synagogue that day Jesus was a common, father-less carpenter who ran off and abandoned his mother. That is who Jesus is in the minds of the people in Nazareth.
All of this nastiness—the rumors, the lies, the myths, the judgment—all of it has a serious effect on Jesus. It is hard to imagine Jesus as human in any way, but Jesus was a man, vulnerable to being hurt and shamed. Jesus took to heart the things that were said about him in his hometown. The people of Nazareth despise who he is and what he does. They despise him for being a laborer, someone so common in their estimation. They despise him for being what they consider an illegitimate child. They despise him for leaving. The hatred and lack of faith is so strong in Nazareth that God’s power—the power that created order from chaos in the beginning of time—can do nothing.
This is just a prelude of what Jesus will face in his three or so years of ministry before going to the cross. Nazareth isn’t an isolated incident—he will face opposition and disdain and disbelief all over the region. He’ll be questioned about his motivations and he will be challenged by the very people who should welcome his message the most. So Jesus makes a choice, right there in the synagogue in Nazareth: he can’t, won’t, do it alone. He invites others into his work of bringing God’s abundant life to all the world because he knows that he needs help, he wants help. Jesus probably had the twelve kneel down in front of him so that he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. He tells the disciples exactly what to take and what to leave behind as they go out—take a staff and enough bread, but don’t take a bag or money. The disciples must travel light because there is a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover.
My friends, Jesus still faces the same opposition today, in the Nazareths of every day life. We don’t need to dig into how and why, but we do need to realize that Christ’s motives are still questioned, Christ’s message of peace and justice and love and equity is still opposed, and Christ’s ability to heal and restore is seriously limited by our, and the world’s, lack of faith. This very day, Jesus is inviting us to join him in his mission of spreading God’s love to the ends of the earth and beyond. The Lord needs you and me to take his message up and down the highways and byways of this world so that all people will experience his gift of abundant life. Jesus needs us, wants us, to be his messengers and we have to travel light just like the disciples. Here is what means for you and me today.
To be sent as Jesus’ disciples means that we show up. We are not to wait for those in need to knock on our doors or show up in our waiting rooms or call or text for help. Jesus’ disciples—you and me—take the lead from our Master who went to the lakeshore, the marketplace, the synagogue, and the sick house, searching for the lost and the weary. So much hope and healing is brought into the world if you just show up when someone’s world is falling apart.
Very often when there is a death in our community people will ask me what they should say to the grieving family. From my experience, the simple truth is that there are no words to make everything better because nothing can be better when someone dies. What matters most is not what we say, but what we do, how we show up and minister through physical presence. It’s not just in situations of death, either—it works when someone is sick or has lost a job or is facing one of life’s many transitions. If you want to see God’s light break into a terrible situation just show up armed with a loving hug, sympathetic tears, and a bowl of potato salad.
To be sent as Jesus’ disciples means that we work for Christ’s agenda and not our own. To do this, we must be free from the things that weigh us down. Christ tells the disciples to leave the stuff at home so they can freely go about their work. He talks about food, clothing, money, and bags, but he’s not just talking about physical things. Christ knows that the disciples have baggage that cannot be seen. Stuff is heavy, physically and spiritually. To work for Christ’s agenda we have to be free.
This is probably the greatest problem facing modern Christians and the Church…we have too much baggage. Years of fast-paced change, scandals, abuse by the clergy and church leaders, bad Biblical interpretation, judgment and hate, you name it—all of these things make us cling to what we know and what we think is right. The problem is that most of the time, the things we cling to have nothing to do with Jesus. And in fact, these things hurt people and the Church that Jesus loves so dearly. That is why repentance and forgiveness is so important to Christ’s people, why we confess our sins and hear God’s pardon every Sunday. This sets us free to work for Christ’s mission and not the one we think the world needs.
To be sent as Jesus’ disciples means that we speak the truth and we speak it with love.
You may have read in the bulletin last week that the General Assembly of the PC(USA)—about 550 pastors and elders from churches all over the US—sent a rebuke to President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for their most recent misuse of the Bible. Now before you say, “Don’t get political,” remember that church people have been offering correctives to the government since the time of Jesus and the PC(USA) has offered a rebuke about something to every administration since Woodrow Wilson. A rebuke is a way for the Church to speak up about things that we think are wrong in society. The General Assembly reminded the current administration that the Bible can say pretty much whatever you want it to say if you are willing to look hard enough and take things out of context. The rebuke also reminded the President and the Attorney General that the Bible has never been and should never be the sole influencer of law in the United States.
The Bible means a lot to Christians—we’ve literally fought wars over this book. When someone, anyone, uses it improperly whether they are a President or a pastor or just an everyday citizen, the Church has to speak up. But we do it truthfully and with love. We didn’t deny the President and the Attorney General’s humanity; we didn’t send them away from the communion table or the font; we didn’t say they are outside the embrace of grace and forgiveness. But we spoke up about what we know is true. The Church has a mandate from Jesus to speak only those things that are true; he also commands us to do it with love.
Finally, to be sent as Jesus’ disciples means that we must have faith and trust in God. Jesus tells the disciples to shake the dust from their feet in any situation where his message is not welcomed. This is a terribly liberating thing. This is an invitation from the Lord for us to do our very best and then leave the rest to God. No one, not even God, can control a person’s response, to the Gospel or to anything. The calling of the disciple is to be faithful, not successful.
This might be the hardest part of being a follower of Jesus. It is not our job to be God, but simply to let God be. In the course of their ministry, Christ’s first disciples did this rather well. Mark says that they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. That is not work that can be done by human hands alone. This work is done when we step up so God can shine through. Jesus asked nothing more than this from his first disciples and he asks for nothing more from us. Don’t try to be God, let God be—and let God make marvelous things out of your beautiful offerings.
Show up. Do the things of Jesus. Speak the truth with love. And let God do the rest. This is what it means to be sent as Christ’s disciples into a world. The world is simultaneously beautiful and extremely messy, always has been and always will be. There will be opposition, there will be disdain, and people will take offense to the message we bring. There will also be receptive hearts and minds, transformation, reconciliation, and peace. We do not take Christ’s message into the world by ourselves—we have one another and we have the Lord Jesus Christ pushing us on towards glory. Every moment of every day we have a chance to work with God as God renews all things. How marvelous it is that we have an opportunity to take part in that work. So will you accept Christ’s invitation today? Will you go, leaving behind all the stuff that weighs you down? Will you seek out the lost and lonely? Will you work for a more peaceful and just world? Will you follow Jesus, stand up for what is right, and let the light of God shine through you? Will you speak and seek the truth? For Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the sake of all of God’s creation, I pray that you will. We must. Amen.