Based on  Matt 9: 35 – 10.8  June 14/20

Today’s gospel reading goes into some detail as Jesus sends out the twelve to begin their own ministries by sharing in his.  Jesus has been going around to cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, curing disease, healing sicknesses.  He sees the crowds of people, so full of need, and Jesus is filled with compassion for their situation.  These are his own people that his seeing, and they are harassed, confused and helpless.  They’re lost, like sheep without a shepherd.  There is no one taking leadership for the care of those in need, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs—no welfare or disability or sick benefits in those days!  So Jesus gives twelve of his faithful disciples his authority; sending them out to cast out demons, to heal and cure.  It’s an interesting metaphor Matthew uses, sending labourers out to the harvest.  In their work, the twelve are healing in the name of Jesus, and in so doing bringing the ones in need the knowledge of God’s healing love in Jesus’ name, bringing them to faith in the Lord.  That’s the harvest, harvesting souls through care and healing bodies, minds and souls. Twelve is a significant number, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, a new covenant for a new time!

The group of twelve whom Jesus calls out from the disciples who are following him are the ones that come to be known as the apostles.  I was reminded of something I had forgotten this week:  the word apostle means ‘sent out’[1]. These 12 who were sent out have been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry.  He called them to join him. Do you ever wonder if Jesus asked someone and they turned him down? “Thanks Jesus for asking, but I don’t think so.  I’ve got a pretty comfortable life here, and the lifestyle you’re offering sound’s a bit hit and miss.  It would take all my time, and my family wouldn’t be to keen on it.  Besides, I’m not all that sure about this Son of God thing…” The gospels tell us that there were many who found his teachings too difficult and left the following, and  there were some who were afraid to, for fear of the religious authorities. But there’s no mention of any of the specially chosen twelve turning down Jesus call.  We can and people do refuse to follow Jesus.  Its part of the gift of free will we are given by God, we have the choice, it’s ours to make.  Yet we must remember that we live with the consequences of all the choices we make, the good and the not so good ones!

So, Jesus specially chose and then trained twelve people, and then gave them the power and the authority to do works in his name. I have to admit that I don’t always remember everyone’s name!  Of course I remember the ones we hear the most often. Like Peter, or maybe better called Simon Peter because Jesus gave him the nickname—he was an impulsive sort–even denied knowing Jesus 3 times that fateful day, and the fishermen James & John whom Jesus nick named “The sons of Thunder”.  I’m betting they were a couple of upstarts!  Then Matthew the tax collector –and we know how unpopular those guys were.  Remember Thomas, the one was not afraid to voice his opinion and ask the tough questions, who wouldn’t believe Jesus was resurrected until he saw for himself, and of course Judas the traitor.  Then there’s the other Simon the Canaanite aka Simon the Zealot—which tells you a bit about his character. There’s another James, son of someone named Alphaeus and I always forget Thaddeaus, whom Luke’s gospel calls Bartholomew. Then there’s Andrew, who’s the brother of Simon Peter and last but not least Philip.  And what an interesting group of twelve they were, each brought their own indomitable personalities and abilities to the group.  We could call them a motley crew, to be sure.  I suspect that it was  because of their various personalities, the quirks and strengths of their characters coupled with their faith—that’s why Jesus chose them.  And Jesus, being Jesus, he sees beneath their exterior qualities, he knows them for their true nature.  He sees something in them all sufficiently worthy to trust them with the power to do the healing work he did!  Even the traitor.

There’s a really important lesson in here for us, I think.  Regardless of who we think we are, how imperfect we are, when we do the work Jesus calls us to do, we are empowered by Jesus to do that work.  We are not alone, thinking we need to depend on ourselves for everything. This is really so cool!  To use the Trinitarian way of thinking we learned last week, God is leading us, Christ walks the journey with us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us.  Well, maybe not the healing of diseases and exorcising of evil spirits and the like—that’s not a power to be given easily! But when we do the work of Jesus, each of us using our God-given gifts, our skills and abilities, we are living the ways of Jesus. The work of the disciples is the compassionate work of Jesus. This scripture gives us the example, and Jesus set the precedent.

So how else do we practice living the Christian way? We are being disciples; we are “practising Christianity”[2]. And that, for me, begs the question:  What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? To be a disciple means to follow a way, and that takes learning.  We need to learn, to understand what it means to practice Christianity.  Which requires some discipline.  Think about that for a minute—add ‘in’ to the word disciple, and it becomes discipline!  —– Jesus didn’t send the twelve out to share in his ministry until they’d been with him for some time, they need training, they needed to learn his ways!

Now, as it turns out, the Zoom book study some of us are doing on Marcus Borg’s book Living the Heart of Christianity, has a chapter called “The Heart of the Matter—Practice”.  The book writes of “emerging ways of seeing Christianity and being Christian”; (and he presents a contemporary view on) “how to see the Bible, God, Jesus, faith and the Christian life.”[3]  His views resonate deeply with me, and are very compatible with Anglican theology.  Borg was raised Lutheran and became Episcopalian – which is to say ‘an American Anglican’.   Borg notes that our practises, how we live out our faith in Jesus, are the ways, “the means that we live the Christian life.”[4]  “Practise is about paying attention to God.”[5]

Makes sense!  Every relationship requires our time and attention.  Relationships deepen and grow when we spend time with the one with whom we want to be in relationship, whether that’s a friendship or a marriage.  Relationships will wither away if you don’t spend time on them.  Our close relationships impact and effect us.  I’m sure you remember your parents’ concerns about who you hung out with when you were growing up.  And if you had children, you had those same concerns for your kids.  I know I did!  Our relationships influence us, and form the kind of people we are.   As people of faith, we are God’s children, created and beloved, we are accepted by Jesus our brother for who and what we are.  This is our Christian identity, brothers and sister of Jesus, and spending time with God deepens our relationship with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Who doesn’t want to spend time with someone who loves you unconditionally?  And the benefits!  Remember those fruits of the Holy Spirit that form within us when we become more like God? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5: 22-23 NLT) These are all aspects of Christian character, they shape our virtues and hence our behaviours.

Being with, hanging out with like-minded Christians reinforces our faith, as we see and work with others who share those same values.   Learning and studying together deepens our relationships with others in our Christian community and, stretching our thinking, deepens our faith and understanding of God in Christ.  It forms us into people with a stronger Christian identity and focus.   Remember the Great Commission that we heard in last week’s gospel reading? We are called to share this, to go and make disciples, to baptize them and to teach new disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded.

Practising Christianity, Borg notes nourishes us[6].  We hunger and thirst for God—images that Jesus often used in his parables.  Spending time with God feeds us, our relationship becomes stronger, deeper, and we become more loving, more caring, more God-like in ourselves and our behaviours. The ways of Jesus then reinforce our Christian character and identity instead of the values our rather self-serving, power-hungry, money obsessed culture imposes on Western society.  “Being part of a church also creates opportunities for the collective practice of compassion and justice.  These include caring for people within the church, outreach program for people beyond the doors of the church, and advocacy of justice.”[7]

Practising Christianity together feeds us spiritually. Our communal worship feeds us; the experience of worshiping together brings a synergy of spirit that is different from praying alone, and feeds us differently.  It’s like eating 2 different kinds of dessert—I really enjoy a good fruit salad, but I like chocolate cake too!  Worship done well gives those in attendance an experience of being touched by the Divine.

Is some of this sounding familiar to you?  I do hope so!  As I was reading the chapter it occurred to me that Borg’s chapter on practicing Christianity was a lot like our Five Marks of Mission.  Remember them?

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

We are living a new reality in our Covid 19 world.  This virus has changed how we meet and will adjust how we do our ministries, our mission and ministry plans will probably need to adapt to meet our new reality, like our worshiping together will have to adapt, once we are allowed to come together.

But it has not changed who we are.  We are disciples of Jesus, called to practice our faith, our love of God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to minister in Jesus name.  Jesus brought together, trained and sent out a diverse group of folk to minister in his name, each with their own personality quirks and foibles.  And he empowered them to do his work, in essence, to practice Christianity.  We continue with the legacy of those first disciples.

We are called to be Practicing Christians.  Amen.

The Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector                                                                                                                                                              The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1][1] Luke A. Powery In Homiletical Perspective for Matthew 9: 35-10.8. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 3

[2] A concept I’ve borrowed from Marcus J. Borg Chapter on Practice–Chapter 10 in  The Heart of Christiany. (Harper Collins: NY. NY,2003) pp.

[3] Ibid p. 3

[4] Ibid p.187

[5] Ibid p. 185

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid pp 195-196