Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost - Matthew 9:35-10:23
Everything Christ says, he will do. That is something we can trust. Unlike ourselves when we often forget what we said, or change our minds, or decide whom we will help and how, God looks at you through the lens of Christ and gives to you, even what you don’t ask for or want. Gives without expectation so that when he sends us forth to serve he gives us the words we need in adversity. He guides us by trust in the mercy that is his life in our fear of death and suffering. The work of God becoming endurance, endurance character, and character hope in a future yet to come.
I don’t know how well you do under expectations. I like expectations. But I also know I am really bad at meeting them mostly, all the time. I am ok when I give myself some expectations. I usually can meet them. I aim low. But when I hear of expectations of others, of being the type of pastor someone expects, to be the man someone thinks I should be, to be the best me that I can be – I shutter. I shutter, because I know I will disappoint you. I know that I will never be able to stand up to what it is that some may want of me, and I know that you understand that because you probably have people in your life who have had expectations of you that bring you to your knees. Because you know you.
Now Jesus has expectations made of him too. Crowds followed him, in part because the words he speaks are so different than the words of the establishment. It is he who becomes well known as a preacher proclaiming the nearness of God, which is himself, but also the nearness of forgiveness, alive and well. Forgiveness that has legs and arms and heart to bleed and be pierced that the world might be gathered unto God. It is this Jesus who calls together a motley crew of people to continue the message as he makes his way towards Jerusalem. A message for the absolutely wrong people.
It says that Jesus went - proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. Which is a message that brings out compassion, because the Kingdom preached, the good news proclaimed, and the healing that takes place causes one to look at the crowd and have compassion on who? The sheep without a shepherd. The one’s who have been abandoned. Who don’t measure up. That’s who Christ comes for - the shepherdless sheep, the friendless friends, the unlovable loved ones.
That’s what he calls forward for the apostles to do right? He gives them authority to do things. Curing the sick. A sick person could be unclean. You couldn’t even touch them, that would be going against the rules of what is said to be religiously proper. Because to cure you must touch. You must create a relationship. You must look on that person succumbing to the weakness of life, of mortality, and say – we are equals. That I am your strength.
Raising the dead – well, don’t touch a dead body. Numbers 19 – Whoever touches a dead body will be ceremonially unclean. Leviticus 21 warns priests, religious elites, not to even enter a room where a dead body is. But Christ gives authority to go against the law for the sake of mercy. Breaking expectations.
Lepers are even worse – the walking dead. Those who, even now, are segregated out into colonies away from the clean people. You wouldn’t want the disease, and you wouldn’t want to touch them. But healing becomes a taking of the outcast and gathering them in.
What could we even say about casting out demons. Most of us are honestly skeptical about the idea of evil spirits. We feel so enlightened because of our western heritage. But with all the hatred and anger on both sides of the aisle in our politics, our churches, our media, our schools, our communities, it has caused me to think otherwise. To wonder if there truly is this inherently dangerous evil causing this. Working it out in our world so that sin manifested as hatred and separation might be called goodness instead of wickedness.
But it is for this, this coming into the world, and this sending out of his people, that Christ gathers all this work, all the necessity of the forgiveness of sin and mercy of Christ relevant to you and me into one phrase that follows all this authority, all this curing and raising and healing and casting out - Freely you have received, freely give. Give away what you have been given. Healing, resurrection, cleansing, exorcising. The works of Christ at work in you every day, and need to be. Because unless we have been brought to that place where we can ask - Could it be that to God we were sick, unclean, leprous, demon-possessed dead people, that he absolutely adores unto death? A shepherdless flock, who rarely listens, yet he continuously speaks.
Making the whole work of God hinge on Christ and the message of this kingdom coming to you. Don’t try and bring gold, or silver or copper. No big purses. No luggage, no change of clothes, or sandals, or walking stick. No dressing up of this Jesus in hopes that he might look palatable, or lovable, or meet some expectation. Instead, there is an immediacy of this ministry being for the people they are speaking of and it doesn’t need a show, what it needs is a voice.
We see that at Sinai where God comes to the Hebrews, telling them of what he has done for them. You saw what I did in Egypt. In fact doing what they didn’t ask for, and then he says obey me by loving me. They answer – We will do everything God says. Right. You may know how that goes. Read the Old Testament to remind yourself. Some say human behavior. Some say psychology, we pastors should say sin-ology. But the truth we miss, is that God never stops speaking to them. Giving to them. Being with them. Unlike humans who expect a lot, and will leave quickly, God stays. Empowering you by giving to you and forgiving you.
The same giving-God being Christ. Freely given, freely give. Given so much in Christ that we can give it away. For free. Almost force feeding you if we must. I have said in past sermons that my goal as a pastor is that you are so packed full of him, so gorging yourself on Jesus and the Gospel in that all you can do is go out and puke him up on the next person you see. Did you hear about this Jesus guy? He forgives me, even when I don’t want to be. Imagine how such a life would work in a place of hate.
Coming to a head in Romans. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Dying for the ungodly. A few verses later Paul says - For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! This thread running through all these passages, this giving of God freely – The bringing out of the Hebrews from Egypt, the giving of Christ to you, the dying for enemies. A God who loves sinners, loving those we hate – even ourselves sometimes.
This freedom given. This credit to be given away, makes us all the harvesters we are supposed to be praying for. All the workers in the field. All of us becoming qualified and worthy in the eyes of God to use our lives, our money, our possessions, our brains and brawn to be freed sinners sent to our compatriots to bring words of life. To bring Christ. To open up our mouths and to speak words that don’t divide, but offer up this Jesus who snatched you out of the depths of death, and breathed into you life because he wants you. He needs. He says he will do his work in and among you. And he does what he says. Thanks be to God. Amen.