Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

2nd Sunday Pentecost

 

S. Pentecost 2.17 “Freely Given” Matt. 9:35-10:8
Their names are famous now—well, some of them, others, not so much. Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, Judas you all know. The whole world knows their names, though Judas’ name lives in infamy. But Alphaeus’ son James (the Less), Lebbaeus, aka Thaddaeus, Bartholomew, and Simon the Canaanite? Yeah, not so much, right? Very tough trivia questions in a bible knowledge game. The 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ. A mixed bag…
It’s only because we know now what God did with them—well, with Peter, John, and Matthew, mainly; oh, and Paul, who is always late to the party—that we hear their names read as momentous, a great occasion, highly promising. Sending out the 12? Well, that’s something, isn’t it! But it didn’t seem so great at the time. A Christian martyr of the 1st century, on his way to die in the Circus Maximus told his guard: “The day will come when men will call their dogs Nero and their sons Paul.” At the time, it seemed a crazy idea. Today, it is very much the case. “Nice report card Paul, proud of you, my boy—oh and I think Nero needs to go out. Would you take him? Sit, Nero! There’s a good dog!”
That day, when Jesus sent out the 12: Peter, James, John, the rest, none of their names were known. And they did not, on that day, look like a mixed bag—some great, others meh. They all looked like losers, truth be told. And Jesus sending them out must have seemed like a joke to most in the crowd (probably to the 12 themselves?). “Who, us, Lord? To do what exactly? To proclaim Your Kingdom come? The sick—heal(!), lepers—cleanse(!?), dead—raise(!!!), demons—cast out?!?! Seriously? You expect us to do all that? Uh, OK… You’re the Boss.”
It’s only in hindsight that it looks like a good idea, a new and promising beginning. At the time? Not so much…
Jesus is going about the villages and towns of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing every sickness and every dread disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes—saw the depth of the sickness, the vastness of their despair, the utter lostness of the cause, He was moved with compassion because they were weary and scattered, or harassed and helpless (each translation works, or maybe they both work best together?). This was a sad and sorry lot, the people of Israel. Lost sheep, one and all. No shepherd, no clue, no good. Hard to imagine them amounting to much…
And Jesus says “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers—few! Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” We’ve romanticized those lines and preached many a stirring mission festival on them. But they weren’t so glamorous, surely to the people who heard them. Who likes hearing the Lord look them over and go: “What a sad and sorry lot of losers! Wow! This is really bad!” And who likes being compared to a wheat field ready to be threshed, bundled into barns and consumed? “Oh, yeah, please, pick me, pick me!” Right? Yeah, right…
What exactly do you mean by “harvest” Jesus? “Uh, I mean getting cut down by a sickle, falling into the ground and dying with Me, cross-ways, you know? And then, being raised up new and better and uh, not so lost, not so clueless, not so helpless and scatter-brained.” And what would you say to this? Sign me up!? I doubt it. I bet you’d say: “Let’s negotiate this cross and dying thing, Jesus!” Because then, as now, a theology of the cross is not very appealing, especially to most of Christendom. And those who preach this “good news” that we get to(!) die with Jesus in order to rise also with Him have not exactly gathered oodles and oodles of adoring fans, down through the ages. It is not those guys packing basketball arenas with eager worshipers! Not for them the big video screens and rock concert style “worship events”. Much more often, they have been like Athanasius, always on the run, hiding out from imperial hit squads, living out in the tombs. Or like Luther, scorned and squirreled away in castles and not nearly as popular as the man in the yellow, uh, white hat in Rome, who put a price on his head!
And that is how you must see the 12 in our Gospel today! As practically a joke! Israel has been oppressed by a succession of empires for half a millennium, and never were all that numerous and powerful, even in the golden age of David. Their fondest memories are of wandering with their God in the desert 40 years. And for many a century, there has been no David even to give them the hope that the Rebellion might one day rise and rule. They are harassed and helpless, sheep with no shepherd. Hard to imagine them amounting to much…
And Jesus’ answer is to send these 12 guys? Seriously?! A rag-tag bunch of fishermen, defrocked clergy, one thief, and a couple political agitators? Oh, that’s going to help loads, Jesus; that’s really promising. Like meeting the love of your life in detention. And 12 guys? You could send 1200 and hardly scratch the surface of the needs of these people! If you really want genuine competence, you should include some women. Jesus! What are You thinking?
And the Gospel writers would not disagree with you. The apostles argue among themselves about who is greatest. (Answer: none of them are such great shakes!). They don’t understand the simplest teachings of the Lord. They always forget to bring food; and then, they cover the mistake by swiping a little kid’s lunch! One of them betrays Jesus (and cooks the books as treasurer). Even at the end, after the Resurrection and all that, even when they worship Jesus on the mountain, some of them still have doubts. Sheesh, it’s like looking to the UCC (Unitarians Confronting Christ) for theological guidance. This is Your Answer, Jesus? These guys are going to usher the world into the Kingdom?
Uh, not exactly. Jesus will bring the Kingdom all by Himself; but He deigns to do it through these guys—to use them as His own mouth, hands, and feet. Because, if He can build His Church throughout the world in just 40 years with just these guys (and a few sidekicks!) well then: the world will know this is no human work or effort but a divine miracle!
He underscores this by telling them: go nowhere among the Gentiles. Don’t chase after Samaritans; don’t try so hard, for Christ’s sake; don’t follow the money! But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, no expectations, to their poky little congregations, scattered all over the world. And as you’re going, preach the Kingdom come, and watch the sick perked up, the lepers cleansed, the dead raised, the demons rousted. And in just that way, we see (in the Book of Acts!) that this gets the Remnant’s interest up. By cold-shouldering the rich, powerful, and numerous, you get the world’s attention. No one wants to be a member of an exclusive club that would have them for a member because then it’s not really that exclusive a club, not that cool…
Here, with the 12, you see the start of most exclusive, exalted Club of all! The Kingdom of Heaven, come to these guys, by these guys, through these guys(!). Oh, the places they will go! The things they will see! And the people Jesus will make of them, through cross and trial, Word and Sacrament! If He does that, with these 12 guys, imagine what He could do with you, today… That’s the joke, and there’s the joy of the Kingdom—freely you received. Freely Jesus gives. And freely we all belong where Peace surpassing understanding guards hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Services

22 October 2017

8:30 Divine Service with Communion

11:00 Matins

9:45 – Sunday School and Adult Bible class

Classes for ages 3 and up

Location

Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.