“Straight Talk from Jesus”

Matthew 9:35-10:23

18 June 2017, Pentecost +2

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 9:35-10:23

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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 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. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 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. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

 

Prayer.

 

I’m going out on a limb here.

So, I’m asking for a little bit of leeway.

I’m going to speak about the unspeakable from the pulpit.

Hang on to your rotten vegetables until the end,

Then, if you want to throw them at me,

Go ahead.

 

Have you ever had a bad church experience?

I know some of you have.

I’m guessing some of you haven’t.

Let’s see, by a shake of your heads.

Yes? No?

 

When I’m talking about a bad church experience,

I’m talking about fighting and arguing,

Ultimatums and demands,

Broken trust and fractured relationships,

Scandals, accusations, and innuendoes,

And, let me include the all too frequent, the

Mass exodus for the doors.

 

If you haven’t experienced a bad church experience,

You are blessed.

I pray that you never do.

I pray that you, and every member of any flock I’m privileged to shepherd,

Only experience our community of faith

As a people of grace,

Filled with God’s love,

Following in the footsteps of Jesus.

 

Reality check.

Most church buildings in America,

Especially in the North East,

Are mostly three-quarters empty on Sunday mornings.

Pews and chairs are filled with ghosts and memories

Of former members and friends

Who have made the intentional decision

That sleeping in, catching a lazy breakfast, and reading the Sunday paper

Is more important that attending worship.

 

The desire to offer praise and thanksgiving to God still exists.

But it is smothered with post-traumatic stress

And memories of bad church experiences,

Broken relationships,

And betrayed trusts.

 

We live in an era of hyper-competition in the workplace,

Partisan politics ripping apart our social fabric,

And we are sinking in a quagmire of technology driven social media distraction.

Why would anyone want the additional headache of taking part

In a worshipping community that might burn you all over again?

Go to church, get burned once, okay.

Maybe I’ll give it another chance.

Burn me twice;

I’m done.

Our young adult children see this, and they’re done, too.

I get it.

I really do.

 

In a similar tone as that of Jesus speaking this morning,

I’d like to refer to non-attending members and former friends from church as

“The lost sheep of the house of Jesus.”

Let me bring this closer to home, if I might be so bold,

And at risk of that rotten tomato clutched in your hand.

I’ll refer to them as

“The lost sheep of the East Rochester / West Walworth: Zion

United Methodist Church.”

 

Bad church experiences aren’t anything new.

I’ve lived through and survived a few myself.

I’ve seen enough in local churches throughout the region

To write a best seller.

Division has taken place

Locally, in parishes, and

Globally, in denominational schisms,

Since the very beginning of Christendom.

 

Some Biblical scholars suggest that Matthew’s early Church community

Must have gone through some really tough periods

Based upon its tenor and tone.

When one compares today’s Gospel lesson with its parallel from Luke 10

(the sending out of 70 disciples),

The contrast is striking.

Luke is graceful and sows hospitality.

Matthew is harsh and pragmatic.

Luke is pastoral and flowing.

Matthew is industrial and steampunk.

 

In the last paragraph from today’s Gospel,

Jesus tells his disciples they are

Going like sheep into the midst of wolves.

They are going to be arrested, flogged, and interrogated.

They will be betrayed by family members, even unto death.

These words betray the tone of Gospel authors and editors

Who have survived, barely,

A bad church experience.

 

“The world is hard, sonny boy.

You’ve got to be hard, too;

Or else it will eat you alive.“

That’s the Gospel of Matthew’s approach.

 

If you want Gospel smack,

Turn to Matthew.

Here, you’ll get straight talk about unspeakable topics

Right from the mouth of Jesus.

This is exactly what we experience today.

 

Cut to the chase.

This is the mission and these are the rules,

Jesus instructs his identified twelve student interns:

WHO? – go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, who are the unclean and kicked-to-the-curb Jews who have had a bad church experience (10:5-6)

WHAT? – proclaim Good News that God’s kingdom is near, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons (10:7-8)

HOW? – on the authority of Jesus (10:1)

HOW? – God will provide for your every need; therefore, take no money, don’t pack a bag, and there’s no need to bring food (10:8b-10). The Holy Spirit will also speak through you at your interrogation (10:19-20)

WHERE? – don’t go to the Gentiles or Samaritans (Hindsight informs us that the commission to go to all nations would come later) (10:5)

 

The mission is one and the same

As what Jesus had been modeling in the first two verses:

“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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:35-36

 

Jesus grants authority to his newly called disciples

To engage in the same mission that he was already doing:

Reaching out to the harassed and helpless,

Reaching out to those who are wondering without direction,

Reaching out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

WHY? – because he had compassion for them (10:36)

 

Connect the dots with me

As we try to apply the Gospel to our lives today.

 

I believe Jesus straight up gives us a mandate

To reach out to those who have left the church because of a bad experience.

The harvest is plentiful, Jesus tells us,

And the laborers are few. (9:37)

Indeed, three-quarters of our church have left,

Leaving only a quarter of us left behind

To bring in the harvest.

Am I right, or am I right?

 

The greatest harvest isn’t found

By cold calling,

Preaching from street corners,

Or by following mega-church evangelism programs;

Most of which give church growth advice

To NOT go after those who have previously left our ranks.

 

Jesus, however, teaches otherwise.

He tells us that

The greatest harvest is found

By seeking out those who have left,

Who might be wondering aimlessly without a shepherd,

Who still have that burning desire to return to God praise and thanksgiving.

 

The greatest harvest is found

With those who have broken from the Body of Christ,

With those who have left the church broken.

There are a lot of people who have left us in the past,

Many times fleeing from a bad church experience,

Leaving us both hurt and injured.

They probably walked away and thought they were done with God

and all His Jesus freaks.

We’ve probably tried to put that bad memory behind us

And just move on.

 

Just as God isn’t done with us,

God isn’t done with former member and friends, either.

There isn’t anything that can separate anyone from the love of God.

(Have you ever heard that before?)

 

Today, God comes a knocking,

And He needs our hands and feet to do his work.

The Great Commission

To make disciples of all the world

Doesn’t get done

With you or me sitting passively on the sidelines.

The Great Commission

To make disciples of all the world

Gets done when we suck up our wounded pride

And go in search of the one who walked away and who are now lost.

 

What this requires is a whole bunch of humility and repentance on our part.

Jesus is asking us to go to people who have

Intentionally made a decision to leave the Body of Christ.

He is asking us to reach out to people who have been hurt and wounded

By organized religion.

Cure them, he says.

Clean ‘em up.

Raise them from the dead.

Cast out the demons from their midst.

Don’t worry about the devils that won’t receive you.

Move on.

It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for those demons. (10:15)

 

I know this is hard.

It evokes the thought of the “wounded healer.”

You and I have our own wounds from organized religion;

Even though we’ve stuck with it

And, to date, we have been able to ride out the storm.

We have our own PTSD to contend with.

And here,

Jesus wants us to go back

To the lost sheep of East Rochester / West Walworth

United Methodist Church.

 

Some are gone,

Moved away or pushing up poseys.

But many are not.

They’re still living right here

In our community.

 

Hum.

Yeah.

Humility and repentance will be required.

Sounds to me

Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet

And it’s time for me to

Suck it up, buttercup.

How about you?

 

It is important to recognize

The role compassion plays in the life of Jesus

And the role he wants it to play in our life and outreach.

He is motivated by compassion ;

Compassion for the harassed and helpless,

And for those who follow him

Who will be abused because of their faith.

Of course, Christ’s compassion is exemplified by the cross and death,

By the empty tomb and his ascension.

 

Our God, whose words and actions

Model a new kind of leadership for his followers

Informs us that

When we reach out to the lost sheep of our parish,

When we engage in this incredibly difficult and humbling task of healing,

We do so with the compassionate heart of Jesus,

We do so with the power of the Holy Spirit,

We do so treading on sacred ground.  

 

Do we have the courage to do it?

I don’t know.

It gives me a lump in my throat.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,

I remind myself.

 

I will vow to try.

I will vow to try to replace the ghosts and memories

Filling these empty chairs / pews

With living, redeemed, and restored disciples of Jesus Christ.

Together, let us reach out to the lost sheep of East Rochester / Zion,

Knowing, full well,

It might be a rough ride for some of us.

I’m in.

How about you?

Amen.