By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 28, 2020
Matthew 10:40–42 (ESV)
40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Over the past weeks, we have had to readjust our lives. We have had to hit the reset button on society in some ways. We were and still are attempting to determine what is essential and preference. We have gone through these processes because we are at risk. There is a contagion in the world that can cause illness and we are told that the more we are out in the world the potential risk of contracting the disease increases.
We all have opinions about everything going on around us. For some of us life has not changed that much. For me, I am considered an essential worker, so I continued to work every day. To be honest I have worked more during this time. But aspects of my life did change. Albert’s school was closed, sporting events were canceled, as well as social gatherings including meeting for worship. Because of the changes that we have had to do, I have thought about the events in the New Testament in different ways.
Jesus gave the disciples the authority over all diseases and ailments, and power of demonic forces. He sent these disciples out to the surrounding communities with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the passion in their hearts. He sent them to the communities that knew them, the communities that knew who they were and what they had been doing. He sent them to the very communities that could discredit everything they said.
I do not think we fully grasp what it is Jesus did at this moment. It would be easy to go to a town in a different state and put on a show. It would be easy to go where no one knew who you were and begin to speak. It is hard to go home and live down everything you have done in the past and begin to teach your former classmates about the changes you have experienced in your life. It is difficult to go to that person you have known, and possibly hurt, and teach about redemption.
I want us to think about that for a moment. The disciples were going out into the communities that surrounded their own village. These communities were not like our city, but it would be as if you were going to every family within a mile of your house. And if that community did not receive you, then you would go to the next mile radius. Consider your neighbors, and your relationship with them. Consider the people around you in this Meetinghouse, and the people in their neighborhoods.
I have thought about this over the past few days. I have considered how my neighbors might receive me. And to be honest, I do not know if they even know I live in the house. They might see me drive away in the morning, and I might wave to them as I drive by in the evening. If Jesus were to send me to my own neighborhood, I would struggle. I have been a pastor for nearly seventeen years, and I would still struggle.
It is depressing to think about it, because our society does not promote this sort of thing. We drive to work, we drive to church, we drive to shopping centers, and we do not even think about it. Our lives are spread out, stretched tight, and we do not even realize that if one thing happens to go wrong life as we know it will collapse.
What would happen to us if we could no longer travel the extent we do? Imagine that your car broke down, and for some reason you were not able to have it fixed. Could you walk to the grocery store? Could you make it to work? Could you get to your doctor’s appointment? Would you be able to get the things that you need? The nearest grocery store to my house is just over three miles away. Imagine if you had to walk nearly seven miles to get food to eat. How would you adjust your lifestyle?
This is the reality of many people within our communities. The places to work, the places to shop, the places people need to be are often too far away. Life becomes a struggle, just to survive. The nearest grocery store to my house is three miles away. It would take the average person an hour to walk that far, an hour to shop, and then another hour to wrestle all those bags back home. Three hours just to get groceries. Now imagine going that distance with a toddler. This is what it means to live in a food desert and is the way millions of people in our nation live.
I mention this because these are our communities, these are the people that live around us. These are children in our schools, and people we see as we shop. People all around us are struggling, and this pandemic has only intensified the struggle.
Jesus is telling his disciples to go back to the communities. He tells them to stay near their hometowns. Have we ever really thought about why he tells them that?
I grew up in a rural farming community. I love my hometown. I love that I know everyone there and that they all know me. The problem with my hometown is that unless you inherit land chances are you will be forced to leave to find work. Every generation the population dwindles. When my grandfather was in school my hometown had drive in movies, a grocery store, several gas stations, a bank, and a school. Today my hometown has four gas pumps and a vending machine. All the businesses are gone and all that remains is basically a place for farmers to bring their harvest.
Every generation, even in larger cities things change. Business in one part of the city decreases because people move to another part of the city, and shop keepers that once had thriving businesses either relocate or close. There is this ever-expanding city, but the core is hollow and begins to rot.
Jesus sends his disciples to their hometowns. He sends them to heal disease and affliction, to free people from spiritual bondage. He sends them without provision and directs them to live on the hospitality of the community. He sends them to their hometowns, towns that are like many of our communities, towns that are dwindling. He sends them to those towns to change the perspective and to bring hope to the hopeless.
In today’s passage Jesus speaks not of the disciples going, but of the community that receives the disciples. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” This might seem like a weird statement, but it is a change of perspective. So often communities begin to dwindle because they cannot see beyond themselves. They are either caught in the past or distracted by the present circumstances. Every little change threatens the status quo. If someone does something different, the entire community descends into fear because they do not know what to expect. Often the response is to demonize the ones that are instigating the change. They cannot see life from a different point of view, and often are unwilling to see how those around them might be afflicted because they are not afflicted themselves. To receive means that this community has turned in some manner. They have recognized that there is a need to readjust their life and lifestyle to incorporate what the disciples bring.
Jesus goes on to say, “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” This statement is one that bothers me. I have read about the prophets and usually they are not received well. If we look at the life of the prophets it is a life filled with constant struggle, because a prophet is often telling the people that if they do not repent or turn then consequences are going to follow. A prophet brings the word of God to a community, the prophet is often regarded as a threat to those in power, and those in power threaten their lives. But what happens when people listen to a prophet? Consider Jonah, he was sent to Nineveh the seat of the Assyrian empire. This was an empire that threatened the very existence of Israel, yet God commanded his prophet to go to this place to proclaim the word of the lord. When Jonah finally made his way into the city, he proclaimed that in eight days God was going to destroy the city unless they repent. Unless they turn from their current trajectory and align with God. Jonah hated Nineveh, he wanted them to be annihilated, yet they received the prophet and received the prophet’s reward. They repented, they turned and readjusted their lives, and as a result God preserved them.
The prophet is sent to plead with the people to turn to God. They cry out to the people to turn away from lives and lifestyles bent toward destruction and to refocus on the things that God values. When God preserved Nineveh, he told Jonah that he was angry about the things he did not labor for, and was upset about God having pity on 120,000 people that did not know their right hand from their left. They were unaware and ignorant, and God had pity and sent his prophet to show them a better life. Often, we are ignorant, we fail to see because we are focused on things outside of God’s desires. God cared for the people, not the empire. God sent his prophet from Israel to Nineveh.
Jesus goes on, “The one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” Again, this is a statement on repentance and turning. Recognizing that a lifestyle that is being lived is not focused on the proper things and adjusting. And finally Jesus says, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
These three verses are all based on some form of repentance or turning. Jesus is sending his disciples back to their hometowns, their own communities to encourage them to turn. He is sending them with the power to heal illnesses and to relieve affliction, and to liberate those that are struggling with the bondage of evil. Jesus is sending his disciples to rebuild the community. He is sending them back to their hometown to inspire them to focus on what can make them better as a whole instead of their own personal profit. Communities diminish when those within turn away and focus on themselves. Those within the community no longer seek what can help them all and instead focus on their personal desires. Jesus is encouraging the disciples to go back to their hometowns to become community builders.
He sends them with nothing. He sends them only with the power to heal, relieve, and to liberate. We often look at our communities and we think, if only I had this or that I could change the community. But God has given us all we need. What needs healing, what needs relief, what needs liberated? We can turn on the news and we are shown areas of ministry if we are willing to go. There are protests throughout our cities and some of us wonder why. Are we listening? Are we receiving and welcoming the prophets of God? I mentioned the food deserts and what we would do if we had to walk to get groceries, many of those that are protesting live in that place, are we receiving them?
This pandemic has caused us to press the reset button in society. It is forcing us to reconsider many things in our lives. We must be mindful of where we are and who is around us. We come to terms with the concept that my actions could directly affect the very lives of those around us. It is reminding us that community is based on helping those around us. Community is hospitality. Community is making a place for the afflicted to find rest. It is sacrificing oneself for the good of another. Are we listening or are we dictating? Are we helping or are we burdening? Are we encouraging or discouraging?
We have the power to heal disease, relieve affliction, and to liberate those around us from evil. We have everything we need right here within each of us to turn our world away from destruction and toward God. And it begins with offering our neighbor a cup of water and listening to what they have to say.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 21, 2020
Matthew 10:24–39 (ESV)
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Those that follow Christ often face many struggles. Many come to Christ with the idea that by saying the sinner’s prayer all their troubles will magically disappear. It is not an uncommon thought, I, myself have often thought these things. It is difficult to not consider this thought process. Jesus himself tells his disciples that anything we ask in his name will be done for him. Each of us have faced difficulties. The pandemic we are currently going through is evidence that we still struggle in our world, even though we claim the name of Christ. When we turn on the news we are often challenged with the struggles of the world, and often we as followers of Christ are right in the middle of the conflict.
When we read scripture, the historical context often alludes our attention. We look at the words and our minds interpret those words through the lens of our contemporary struggles. This is an amazing and dangerous aspect of scripture. It is amazing because after thousands of years, the words of scripture are still relevant. Every time I open my bible, I read something that seemingly speaks exactly to the very issues I am currently struggling with. This phenomenon is why Scripture is often referred to as living, it is living because the Spirit that inspired the words is still active in our lives today. That same Spirit that inspired the Apostles to write and teach, is still just as active in our lives today as it was generations ago.
I said that reading the scripture through the lens of our contemporary struggles is amazing and dangerous. It is dangerous because those ancient authors were writing to people that lived nearly two thousand years ago. Those people lived in cultures vastly different than our own, and they had problems that we may not understand. If we are unaware of the history surrounding the words of scripture, we might miss something important, and we might make assumptions about doctrine or life claiming biblical authority that might not be accurate. We can give countless example of this. In the antebellum era those supporting the abolition of and the continuation of slavery used the same King James Bible to support their cause. Denominations that support women in ministry and those that limit the leadership of women use scripture to support their cases. We can use scripture to justify any activity we desire. Harper Lee wrote in her celebrated book To Kill a Mockingbird, “Sometimes the Bible in the hands of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of oh of your father… There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
Scripture is amazing but can be dangerous. This has been the case since the beginning of time, because even in the garden the interaction between humanity and the serpent were based on the manipulation of the words of God revealed to them. The serpent used words out of contexts to inspire desire, and Adam twisted the words of God to control Eve which eventually led to their destruction. Adam could have waited and asked God why they should not eat of the tree, they walked together in the cool of the evening, so it was not as if God were distant. But he did not want to wait, they did not want to seek the truth from the source, instead they relied on their own understanding.
In today’s passage we meet the disciples in a similar place. Jesus had given them the authority over all illness and affliction, and the authority to free people from spiritual bondage. The disciples were amazed at this. They had the authority to do everything they had seen Jesus perform to that point. Can you imagine that? These were things beyond their comprehension when Jesus performed them, and he is now telling them to go out and do it. Jesus gave them that authority, but there is a cost.
The disciples were common. At that moment they were not yet known to be the saintly men and women we regard them to be today. The people within the communities they were going knew who they were. When Peter walked into town, they knew him as Simon the fisherman. They knew Levi, as the despised tax collector that sat at the table when they we attempting to make their way to Jerusalem, they did not know him as Matthew the gospel writer. Then there was that zealot Simon, he was going to get people killed. Jesus sent these men into the communities. He sent them out to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and that kingdom was at hand. He sent them into the communities, where the people knew them and tells them to go without any provision but to rely on the hospitality of those within the community. How many of you would be willing to house and feed the tax collector that just extorted money from you?
Jesus knew that the disciples would face struggles. He knew this because he faced struggles. Jesus went into these communities, and he began to teach. There were already established teachers in the community, rabbis that had experience and reputations. People that had spent years of their lives learning everything they could possibly learn about scripture. And Jesus comes into their town, draws a crowd, heals some people, and they know him as the carpenter’s son. They are upset. And from the perspective of those leaders they have a right to be a bit disturbed. Jesus has their community in an uproar. They have been leading this community for years and suddenly they are getting questions that they do not know the answers to. They were not prepared for this, and it is Jesus’s fault.
I, myself, have an education. I have training. I have a degree that indicates that I have studied theology, biblical studies, counseling, and several other things. There are some things that I have faced as I have been a pastor that I have absolutely no training for. How do I lead and encourage those within this meeting through a pandemic? There was not a class for this, and if there was, I probably would not have taken it because there were too many more interesting classes to take. We struggle because we are unprepared and often unaware of what might happen.
The interesting thing is that Jesus is telling his disciples that they will suffer and struggle. People they love will turn their backs on them. People they respect will seemingly oppose them at every front. People they perceive as allies will become their enemies and many of them will be in seats of power within their own religious organizations. We are often our greatest challenges.
Jesus tells them that disciples are not greater than their master, but it is enough to be like their master. Jesus is their master, he is their teacher, he is the one that has given them power and authority of disease and the spiritual realm, yet their master was accused by the religious leaders of being in league with the devil.
Jesus is sending his disciples out into the world like sheep among wolves. And he sends them saying, “have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known… And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both the soul and body in hell.”
What is Jesus saying? These are not exactly the most encouraging words that could be spoken. But the historical context is key. Remember the religious institution of Israel was probably at its greatest strength in history. They had a religious industrial complex that was the envy of an empire. People would travel three times a year to one place to offer sacrifices. And they had set this religious sanctuary up in such a way that they could not accept any currency because it needed to be sacred coins. Everyone that wanted to worship was required to convert their Roman coins into temple currency, just to be able to give their tithes. But there was a requirement for sacrifice as well. They would need perfect animals for the sacrifice. Priests would inspect each animal prior to sacrifice to determine if the offering were acceptable. If the animal did not meet the requirements it was rejected. That is ok though because you could convert more money into temple currency and purchase an animal to sacrifice that would be guaranteed to pass the inspection right there in the temple courts. Three times a year the people would participate in these holy festivals and then they would go home. When they got home there were synagogues to worship in. And these synagogues had rabbis trained in the porticos of the temple. Everything revolved around the temple.
Jesus is telling the disciples that they will not be greater than their master, but like their master. This is true even with the rabbis. They have influence because of who they were taught by, the better the school the more respect. Jesus was teaching and he did not have the proper educational background, yet he taught with authority and this set the religious world on edge. And they lashed out in words and deed. Jesus warned the disciples that it was coming, and they had already heard some of the words. They knew that Jesus did not fit the leadership mold, yet they trusted him.
Why? Jesus was not just words. He lived what he said. He would teach the disciples while they gathered by their evening’s fire and he then encouraged them to live it out in the day light. They had seen Jesus live this way. They had seen him worship in the synagogues, withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and minister to the needs of the community. Jesus was the same on the Sabbat as he was in the community the other six days of the week. His words and actions were consistent. And he says do not fear the struggles you will face.
Jesus lived a consistent life. He taught and he then proceeded to put his words in action. He proclaimed that Kingdom of God was near, that it was at hand meaning it is right around you. And he demonstrated it by restoring the lives of lepers, by healing the lame, the deaf and the blind. He called the children to him and included them among the adults. He allowed women to sit with the men while he taught, and he even said that some of the gentiles he interacted with had greater faith than Israel. Jesus said do not fear the world, because all they can do is take your life, instead focus on God. Respect the things that matter to God.
Over the past few months, I have struggled with this. I am a stubborn person. I have ideologies that I think are the best way to live. I think I am right most of the time. And I have come to a place where I do not have the answers. I cannot rely on myself. When our yearly meeting advised us to move worship to an online format, I was grieved, and I was on the board that made that decision. I sat in prayer asking how can we close and say we are living by faith? I struggle. But it is the right decision.
God cares for the lives of those around us. Not just the soul. He wants us to have an abundant life, now and in the hereafter. We can get ourselves worked up, on one aspect or another and miss the point. And that is what Jesus is speaking about. People will hate you and people will love you. Who cares? People will agree with you and people will disagree. It does not matter. What really matters is how are you living with those people during the disagreement and through the struggle?
The past few days, I have watched people go crazy over pancake mix. Pancake mix. I have watched people buy more pancake mix in the past three days than in a month. We are yelling and crying and have we ever really listened to ourselves? These past few weeks has shown me what Jesus means when he said that he has not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword. I have watched people argue over pancake mixes. It has nothing to do with pancakes, and in most cases those in the argument never even buy the questionable mix anyway. Jesus says that he does not bring peace, because people are too concerned with their own opinions. Jesus wants peace, that is why he came. He wants to give us an abundant life filled with hope, but all too often we are more concerned with our opinions than we are with the humanity of the person we are arguing with. We are more concerned with our reputation, and our heritage. Where is God in the great pancake debate?
We struggle. We find ourselves in the middle of struggles. Where is God in those struggles? For a couple of months, I have been alone in this Meetinghouse, preaching to a camera. And it has been a great deal of work. But last night I found myself longing for that time alone before the camera. I longed for it because I would sing and pray while I was setting everything up. I would listen to the service again while I was loading and editing. I would spend twelve hours a week in worship and prayer, just to get one hour of video. It is not about my opinions; it is not about my preferences. It is about God. We often want God to back our ideas, but we have not allowed God to shape those ideas with us. We have built institutions on the ideas we claim God is for, and God is nowhere to be seen. Jesus does not bring peace because we often have no desire for peace. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
We are in the middle of many struggles. How are we approaching them and how are we responding? We have been in a fast from church as we know it, have we learned anything from this time?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 14, 2020
Matthew 9:35–10:23 (ESV)
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. 16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
As the weather continues to warm up my mind moves from hockey to baseball and harvest. While I was growing up harvest was the most important time of the year. It was the time of year that the most important time of our business cycle. Every portion of an economy has a form of harvest. For those in the accounting industry, tax season is harvest. In retail the fourth quarter is harvest, because that is when the greatest gathering holidays are. There are always cycles. Life is filled with cycles and understanding those cycles gives us a greater understanding of the world around us, and when those cycles are disrupted there is usually catastrophe.
In today’s passage Jesus speaks of a harvest. He goes out into the cities and village, he teaches in their places of Meeting while proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and while healing disease and affliction. He looks out at the crowd. He has compassion for them, because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. This story is one that speaks of a disrupted cycle.
Cycles are often disrupted. Disruptions come from many different sources. When rain comes too soon or too late the plant cycles get disrupted resulted in something less than ideal. Many of us are facing a disruption in our traditional cycles and our lives seem to be disrupted. Schedules are off, school has not been in session since March, and our jobs and home cycles have also been a bit off. The results I am certain we have all felt: Irritability, fatigue, depression, and a strong desire to get out of the house.
Jesus looks at the crowd, and he sees that there is something not quite right, but the potential is there. He said that the crowd was harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd after he had already healed disease and affliction and then he said that the harvest is plentiful. This caused me to pause as I was studying, because in my mind the healing of disease and affliction would be the harvest. But even after Jesus had brought the immediate needs under control the people remained harassed and helpless.
There are always signs that indicate need. When a plant needs water, we can see it. At first the leaves may droop slightly, and the surface of the leaves may begin to look dusty. The dusty look is because the pores on the leaves are closing to maintain the moisture and the drooping leaves are because cells within the plant have less water, so it is like a deflated balloon. If we do not react when we see the signs of distress, eventually leaves will sacrificed, and if we still do not remedy the situation the plant will die. I mention plants mainly because I have a degree in crop science, I know plants. That is just one system, there are multiple signs on a plant that will tell us many things, discoloration will indicate nutrient deficiencies, and can even indicate disease. And at times plants will emit a different odor when they are distressed. If we learn to read the signs, we can act. I know plants. Before I became a pastor, my job was to maintain landscapes around the community. The yards I managed looked amazing, and the trees and shrubs could have been featured in magazines. I know plants, but my own yard was not something spectacular and I cannot seem to keep a house plant alive if my life depended on it. I can see the signs in others but often I overlook what is right in front of me.
Jesus looked out at the crowd, and he had compassion for them. These were not people across the ocean in some mission field, they were people from the very district of Israel he lived. He saw the crowds around him, after he had healed every disease and affliction and he had compassion because there was more work to do. And if that work would be completed, then the change within the community would be like a harvest of record proportion.
Jesus turns from the crowd and he looks at his disciples and he says, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” I imagine they are looked at Jesus in confusion. These men understood the concept of agriculture, but they did not have skills to manage the harvest. They were fisherman, tax collectors, and one is even known as a zealot which is basically a gang member. He looked at this group of unlikely leaders and he gave them authority over unclean spirits, and to heals every disease and every affliction. Imagine that scene. It is about the must unlikely group imaginable. To make it even better, from the outside their leader is a construction contractor. And Jesus says, “Yep, this place is in sad shape, look at those harassed and helpless people. The harvest is plentiful, and we do not have enough people to do the work, but I am going to give you guys authority to cast out demons, and to heal every disease and affliction. Now Go!”
And he sent them out, with the instruction to stay in Israel. This also caused me to pause. The harassed and helpless people were their own people. The sad bunch that cause Jesus to have compassion was not the pagan Romans, or even the misguided Samaritans but Israel. The people of God were the ones that were helpless like a sheep without a shepherd. Israel at this time had an amazing Temple complex. It could be argued that at this moment the religious industry of Israel was at its peak performance. People from around the empire were coming to this frontier province just to look at the structure that gave this nation pride. And the value within the treasury was the envy of those that sought power. This efficient and effective religious monument held power that was beyond the population it represented. Israel was small, but influential. I have always been small but influential. Yet it was these people that Jesus called harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
He sent the disciples out to their own countrymen. Advising them to go without gathering money, without packing for the journey, and to live off the hospitality of those within the community. He told them to enter a house and to stay there. Make that house the center of their ministry operations within the community. They are not advised to go from house to house. Which I find interesting. There are sent with authority to heal and to liberate, yet they are encouraged to remain in one place. You would think that moving around would be better, going out to find the people, and adding as many stats to the healing roster as possible, but that is not direction Jesus gave. Jesus sent these disciples out to heal, but that was not their main mission, the healing was to ease the symptoms of a greater distress. He sent them to one house within a community to become a place of strength and unity as they taught about the kingdom and challenged those that were causing the harassment and helplessness. They were advised to remain in one place so that they could work to affect a change within the very heart of the community.
Jesus sent them with authority, but he sent them to live with and among the people. He sends them with the authority to ease affliction, but their mission is to show a different perspective of life. He sent them knowing full well that many within those communities would be so consumed and distracted from God that they would not be able to bear an alternate perspective, and Jesus encouraged them to not worry about it. To shake the dust off their feet and to move on to the next house and to try again. Remember again that these communities that Jesus is sending them to, are communities of good people of Israel. The chosen people of God, they are the people that God chose to reveal Himself through for the world to see. Their very own people might reject what they have to say even though they are healing diseases and giving freedom from spiritual bondage. And Jesus says that it would be more bearable on the day of Judgement for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those communities that would reject the disciples of Jesus.
I want us to take a step back before we dwell in Sodom and consider the shaking of dust off their feet, because this I believe will give us an insight into what exactly the tone is. This practice was a condemnation of the land. As I was studying, I read that this was a custom performed by of the people of Israel that were wanting to enter the Holy Land from areas deemed pagan. They did not want to contaminate the scared soils of Israel with the dirt so to speak. Jesus sent the disciples into communities within Israel, their own people. And he was commanding them to shake the dust off their feet before their own countrymen to illustrate that their land was contaminated and that the disciples would not carry that dust into sacred space.
I want us to think of this for a moment. Jesus says to shake the dust from your feet in communities that reject the gospel, and that those communities are worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah can be found in the book of Genesis, and these communities were deemed so sinful that God in his righteous judgment destroyed them with burning sulfur, which in my mind I imagine they were covered with lava and ash like Pompeii. There are a few theories about the cause of this harsh judgement, and I will allow you just consider that on your own. Jesus is telling his disciples that the rejection of their ministry within a community is even worse than whatever caused God to wipe out Sodom. What could possibly be that bad?
Jesus traveled through the cities and villages, healing every disease and every affliction, and he looked at the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Harassment and helplessness are what sparked Jesus’s compassion. There were institutions within the community that took advantage of people. Institutions that installed barriers and restrictions that caused hindrances within the population. And these hindrances caused disruptions within the various systems and cycles within the community that prevented healthy growth and an abundant harvest.
Today if we are to look across our nation, we can see signs of dis-ease. There are protests in city centers, and in some areas these protests have turned violent. We can condemn the violence, but violence occurs when communication is no longer effective. We have violence because somewhere along the line we as communities failed to see the signs that were causing the disruptions, or we in our efforts to fix problems constructed institutions that harass and leave people helpless and hopeless. Am I calling for war within our communities? Absolutely not. I am encouraging us to take a step back and listen.
Jesus says that communities will resist the change that Jesus encourages. They accept with open arms the acts of healing and the deliverance from the influence of evil, but they resist change. And those that seek to change the direction often face harsh treatment. Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the didst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”
I always struggle with the concept of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves. This is probably because of my irrational fear of snakes. But snakes are very aware of their surroundings, they are constantly flicking their tongues out to test the air and when they get the proper sense they silently wait until the proper moment to act. Doves on the other hand are out where everyone can see them joyfully flying causing no harm, and at times they seem as if they are unaware of what is going on around them. We need to be both, ready to act, and when we act only causing no harm. But we have work to do. We cannot just sit back and allow our communities and the communities around us to remain harassed and helpless. We will be opposed by governing bodies and religious institutions, we will be challenged by family and those that wield authority’s power, but we have been given power over diseases, afflictions and spirits that cause bondage and we are commissioned to use that power to promote the abundant life of Christ and prevent harassment and empower those that were once helpless.
This is the purpose of the church in the world. We are here to respect that of God in all people. We are to be stewards of God’s creation. We are to be instruments of healing and change in disease and affliction. We are called to be compassionate and be willing to give ourselves so that others can experience the hope that we have in Christ. We are called to use every aspect of our lives to encourage and empower our communities to become part of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
As we enter open worship and participate in the communion of Friends, I want us to consider our communities and where we are in them. We all have opinions and ideas that we see as being the right way to live. As we sit in silence, I encourage us all to consider those ideas and the positions others might have. Are we promoting the compassion of Christ or are we participating in the harassment and helplessness that infuriated Christ? Lord, forgive us and help us in our unbelief. Amen!