Almighty God, you tell us that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few
Lord of the harvest, give us ears to hear your will for our work in the harvest fields - Amen
Here’s a small task for you (pause)
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons
Anyone ready to sign up? – please raise your hands
Anyone already doing this? – please also raise your hands
By the end of this sermon – I hope that number will change
I don’t know about you but when I get home from work and Kelly asks me – So how was your day?
I haven’t yet responded with - “Well you know the usual - Cured the sick, raised the dead, cleansed the lepers, and oh yeah almost forgot cast out a few demons – and you Honey, How was your day?”
But maybe I should… maybe, just maybe I am involved with that - in my ministry
I understand that some of you might be thinking – he’s finally cracked – that vacation down in Florida was not a time of relaxation – but the sun fried his brain and he is seeing demons under every rock.
Well rest assured, it was relaxing and Florida didn’t fry my brain anymore then it already was
Maybe the images and the terms that Jesus used were fitting for the times but needing an update for us, so if you will permit a paraphrase consider this from the “message”
“Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”
Now much of that is a little easier for us to handle, but it is still a long and challenging list
So let’s look at the context of the passage a little more to understand what Jesus is telling the disciples and why?
If we look back in Matthew, starting in chapter 8
We see Jesus on a healing rampage
Consider this list:
there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” (8:2)
a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.”… only speak the word, and my servant will be healed (8:5b-6)
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick.(8:16)
The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine (8: 31-32)
Just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.(9:2)
Suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live (9:18)
Suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” (9:20-21)
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” (9:27-28)
After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. (9:32)
Nine stories – all within two chapters – 8 and 9
In each story, Jesus healed all that were brought to Him or came to Him
In each story – they came in the faith that Jesus could heal them
In all the stories, there is some narration to tell us that Jesus was both preaching and healing – that the healing was accompanied by a message to believe in
Which brings us to our opening set-up for today – notice the major turning point
35Then 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. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus after a “healing rampage” – Jesus sees the crowds and has compassion on them
Jesus declares that “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
And prays to “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
In compassion – after healing so many – Jesus prays for “deputies”
And just who were those deputies – or if you like disciples (students of the Rabi)
Well, they were twelve ordinary men
Four of them were fishermen
There was a tax collector – and one, a zealot, who would have hated that tax collector
There was doubting Thomas
Philip, who Jesus described as a very faithful Jew
There was Judas Iscariot – the one who later betrayed Jesus
Then Bartholomew, James the lest and Thaddaeus – three so ordinary that we know very little about them…
None of them were the religious elite
None of them were scholars
None of them were Pharisees
None of them were noble men of power
They were all ordinary
– and it is to this group that Jesus gives authority
“over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness”
Yesterday afternoon, I put on my running shoes – I pumped up the tires of Grace’s bike, got my ratchet set, a hockey stick and some duct tape (Red Green would be proud) all with the task of getting Grace, our five year old, to learn to ride her bike without training wheels.
Now Grace is a brave determined little girl, and a real speed demon on her bike with training wheels
But she needed a lot of encouragement and convincing that there was any need to remove her training wheels
I told her about her sister and brother and their time learning to ride
I built up her confidence by reminding her of her four 1st place gymnastic ribbons that she got earlier in the day (sorry about that blatant moment of parental pride)
I told her that I would be there right behind her the whole time
Most importantly I told her that I believed she could do it
…Finally she said “let’s do it”
Now in case you are wondering – the ratchet set was to remove the training wheels and the hockey stick and duct tape was so that I wouldn’t kill my back running leaning over – I taped the stick diagonally back and up – little tip that took till the third child to figure out
Now the deputies of Jesus are setting out on much the same situation
They have been with Jesus for some time
They have watched as Jesus preached and healed
And now for their first mission Jesus is sending them out with training wheels
Consider the strategy:
- Go nowhere among the Gentiles - Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers.
- and enter no town of the Samaritans - And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy.
- but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel - Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.
- Tell them that the kingdom is here
- A simple message of hope – a simple good news / gospel message
Sent out on their first mission with training wheels
Now you might be thinking to yourself wait a minute – that’s all fine and straight-forward regarding the who?
But what about the task that Jesus set before them
What about “Curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons”
Fair enough, but consider this in more contemporary language
Cure the sick.
Do not ignore the poisons that intoxicate us. Proclaim the power of God to heal us.
Raise the dead.
Do not leave us in our tombs. Proclaim the power of God to raise us up.
Cleanse the lepers.
Do not abandon the outcast in their misery. Proclaim the power of God to restore us to the community.
Cast out demons.
Do not accept the demonic powers of evil. Proclaim the power of God to cast them out.
A small point of clarification – I believe this translation into contemporary language is useful for the disciples as the reports of their efforts weren’t the same as Jesus
But for Jesus – I believe that the miracles of healing were in fact as dramatic as reported
Today at noon will be having a service of Holy Baptism and there all parents and Godparents will in fact be making promises, that use words not unlike this task-list that Jesus has set before us
Do you think if we used different language for the tasks of ministry, the tasks of discipleship, that we would actually be empowered to do them?
Do you think if we named the demons, in different language, of today’s vernacular, we could work to cast them out?
Called them; greed, lust, envy, distrust, unrighteous anger, materialism, consumerism, idolatry (the worship of things not edifying to God),
Or other demons of compulsive and destructive behaviours such as Alcoholism or selfishness – and the list can go on and on
I invite you to identify the demons at work in both your lives and the lives of those close to you
Do you think by naming the demons, we could work to cast them out?
I don’t know. But it might be worth a try.
Put in this light, could I hope that we can also see the work that we are already doing – both in our own lives and others
Now another short story
In the parking lot of the Hospital one day on the way to visit some parishioners
I was parked near the back and had to walking some distance
– coming towards me was this lady – a professional of some sorts by her clothes, wearing a suit and care was made to her appearance.
She was walking somewhat slowly and well looked a little down in the dumps.
When she saw me coming in her direction, noticing my all black attire and likely my clergy collar.
She straightened up, stood a little taller, walked a little more confidently
and as I approached her, she looked me in the eye and said “you’re a good person”
my reaction was strangely very purposeful, I smiled as caringly as possible back and simply said “thank you”
and then after I had passed by a few paces, I turned and called back – “God be with you today”.
Now, I really don’t know what I meant to her in that moment,
I don’t know what the transformation in her was about, in seeing a clergy person going into the hospital.
I had never seen her before or since.
But she gave me a gift of encouragement that I at that moment needed and think back on sometimes
as it was late on a beautiful Friday summer afternoon,
and I was wishing I could go home and be with my family.
But I think that my presence to her was also a gift,
she clearly brightened when she saw me…
I wonder maybe that what I provided for her was hope,
Hope in the goodness of God and in God’s agents, a priest – going into the hospital
And she felt the need to verbalize what she was feeling.
In that moment two complete strangers were connected by something more powerful then us.
Something that transcended that moment and the simple message said by each of us
I believe that Holy Spirit was present.
Now Evangelism is lot like that,
It is sharing by words and deeds a simple message of hope.
A message that you can’t keep to yourself.
This of course is only a small example of how simple and profound even little gestures can be
I am sure you can all come up with your own small yet mighty ‘meaningful moments’
where God’s love bubbled up ‘in you’ or ‘you’ were the recipient
This is where our Gospel passage brings us today – this is what Jesus’ compassion is all about
and Jesus’ formula is simple…
- With training wheels
- By ordinary people - each one of us
- To those we know in our own neighbourhood – our own backyard
- With compassion, not criticism nor condemnation
- With a simple message of that God is there with us – running behind (holding the hockey stick)
- In body - mind - and spirit
Now I ask you the same questions that I asked in the beginning – and I know this is not very Anglican thing to do but here goes…
Anyone ready to sign up? – please raise your hands
Anyone already doing this? – please also raise your hands
With our hands raised - To the Lord we pray - Almighty God, you tell us that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few
Lord of the harvest, send us out as laborers into your harvest - Amen