Easter 7 (A)
A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
The Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 8, 2005
Text: Acts 1:8
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I studied this week’s lessons, I found myself dwelling on one verse from our first reading – a word from Jesus in the last moments before he is raised into heaven before his disciples’ astonished eyes. Probably this verse grabbed me because many summers ago I chanted it dozens of times each week as a Bible camp counselor (it was our theme verse that year). At camp, we would use rhythm and actions to build Acts 1:8 as the circle of salvation grew wider and wider – Jerusalem! Judea! Samaria! All the ends of the earth! HUH! That is still how I hear this verse most of the time.
But this week I heard it differently. I began to imagine how it might have been heard by those eleven disciples of Jesus’, the ones who first heard these words of mission:
“You will receive power…” <cheers>
“…when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” <cheers continue, grow louder>
“And you will be my witnesses…” <cheers, clapping, some stomping>
“…in Jerusalem…” <loud whoops>
“…in all Judea…” <a little less whooping>
“…and Samaria…” <murmurs and grumbles now>
“…and to the ends of the earth.” <dead silence>
Jesus’ disciples, you might recall, were all faithful Jews, every last one of them. They would have been overjoyed to bring their news about Jesus to the holy city of Jerusalem, and most of them would gladly have been his witnesses in the Jewish province of Judea – the land they still thought of as Israel.
If only Jesus had stopped while he was ahead!
Instead, he went on: Samaria. Samaria. That unclean place, that hated neighbor, that land of traitors! They had been kin to the Jews; their ancestors had worshiped the same God, but Jews and Samaritans had long since gone their own ways, their blood ties making the religious hatred between them that much worse. These Samaritans – Jesus was sending his disciples to them?
And yet he’s not done – they will, in fact, bring his good news to all the very ends of the earth! As good as that sounds to you and me, people who find ourselves at the ends of the earth and then some, it must have been terribly uncomfortable for the disciples. “The ends of the earth”… Jesus might just as well have said: “To the heathen, godless Gentiles.” The Jews had long hoped for the Messiah to appear, to restore God’s people. Some even admitted that perhaps Messiah would embrace the whole world, drawing all the nations to the wonder of Israel’s God. But it’s very unlikely that any of the Eleven had any great desire to actually become a missionary to the pagan world! In my mind I can hear the stony silence as Jesus speaks his final words and then rises into the heavens. How can he send us there? To those people?
Jesus has an unpleasant habit of doing just that sort of thing. He seems to know all the right buttons to push if he wants to make us uncomfortable. We’re shuffling our feet this morning because we suspect that if Jesus sent out his first disciples to be his witnesses in places and to people they’d rather avoid, then perhaps he might also give us the same unwelcome task. “Let us tell the good news here, to people we like,” we beg. “Not there. Not to them. Someone else, Lord. Someone else.”
But Jesus does not let our murmuring and shuffling deter him any more than the disciples’ complaints turned his head. In fact, I suspect that the more we protest, the more firm Jesus becomes that this mission is just the right one for us. Listen to your heart, let it conjure up the person or place you least want to ever be a witness to…the odds are very good – excellent, in fact – that Jesus is sending you to be his witness to just that person or in just that place. Wherever your Samaria is, Jesus is almost certainly sending you there. And whoever your Samaritans are, you can be sure that Jesus has sent you personally right to their door. You will be his witnesses, he has said – it is your calling. And it’s a sure bet that the more your heart rebels at the idea of bringing Jesus’ story somewhere, that that is exactly where he is calling you to bring it.
Why does our Lord work this way? Why does he send us out to people we despise, in places that make the hair of our necks stand on end? Why does Jesus send us to our Samaria?
Of course there are as many reasons for sending as there are people who are sent, and the reason Jesus sends you to be his witness somewhere is always custom-fit for you. But Scripture offers us three good reasons why we are sent so far out of our comfort zone in order to bring the good news. Jesus sends us to our Samaritans because someone needs to go; in order to help them believe; and in order to teach us discipline. In other words, Jesus sends us to them for the sake of the Word, for the sake of our neighbors, and for our own sake.
The first reason Jesus sends us to those we would rather ignore is simple, really: Someone needs to do it. It’s for the sake of the Word that we are sent, because a word needs someone to speak it.
The apostle Paul put it this way: “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” It’s clear – the good message of Jesus needs to have messengers to tell it. Faith comes by hearing the good things that God has done, and that means someone needs to speak up. We’re sent, even to places that make us uncomfortable, because if the Word is to be proclaimed and faith stirred up, someone needs to go there.
The second reason Jesus sent his disciples to Samaria and us to our least favorite people and places is because our witness might be the very thing they need in order to finally believe. This is counterintuitive at first – after all, why would they listen to us? Our feelings about them are probably well known, and maybe even returned in kind. We might expect that our witness would fall on very deaf ears when we go to our enemies, to our rejects, to our Samaritans.
But our message is about how God has made peace with the world through Jesus, and there is no better witness we can offer anyone than by making our own peace with them in Jesus’ name. When we reach out beyond our comfort to someone we have formerly despised, offering them the priceless gift of Jesus’ story, whatever words we speak are magnified a hundredfold by the unspoken witness of our reconciliation. If God is able to touch our lives in such a remarkable way that we are moved to bring his love to even our enemies, perhaps God can also touch their own lives with the power of his love and forgiveness. To love a Samaritan in our lives and bring God’s love to her is perhaps the most powerful witness anyone can give to her, and so Jesus sends us far beyond our comfort for the sake of this person, our neighbor.
There is one more reason that Jesus chooses to send us where we least want to go. It is for our own good that he does so – it is because he loves us.
This is the day we honor our mothers for their part in making us the people we are. An important aspect of a mother’s work is the task of discipline – we must learn from our parents the difference between right and wrong, that there are consequences to our actions, and that we can’t always think about ourselves first and foremost. Discipline is, at first, something that mothers and fathers do to their children – it comes from the outside, descending like a swatting hand to our behinds. But to a loving parent, the goal is one day for their child to have discipline within himself, to be a disciplined person. Mom and Dad won’t always be around to correct us when we go astray, nor should they be. In order for us to be the people we were meant to be, we need to learn discipline.
It is the same with Jesus. He longs for us to learn the discipline of trusting him. He wants us to discover how good his Father’s will for us is, and how excellent it is to follow it. He wants us to be his disciples, the ones who are learning discipline from him, because to live a life of discipline is to live a life like Jesus’ own. On the Mount of Olives, when God was leading Jesus to a cross he dreaded, our Lord prayed that he might be spared this awful task…but even more he prayed that whatever God desired would be done, even if it cost Jesus his life. In the garden there, Jesus’ great drops of blood sweat upon the ground are the mark of his discipline. When we allow God’s will to rule in our lives, even when it means following a path we would rather not take, we become Jesus’ true disciples, sharing with him the discipline of a life lived in faith.
And so Jesus sends us, his disciples to the Samaritans of our lives. Stop for a moment, and listen to your heart. As I’ve spoken this morning, God has been stirring up in you a name, a face, a place, a situation…someone or somewhere that is the ends of the earth to you. Call to mind that Samaritan, and then pray with me:
O Lord, you have sent your good news into every corner of the earth. It has come to us, and you call us to bring it to our neighbors. Your Spirit has stirred up in us the calling to these people who are your children, these places that are your own, yet we wish not to go there. But we believe that you will give us the power of your Spirit to be your witnesses even so, and that by going to our Samaritans, we will serve your Word, our neighbors, and even ourselves. Grant us a faithful ministry to them, and let your Spirit move powerfully among us, for the sake of Jesus who sends us out. Amen.