Proclaim! June 17/18, 2017
Matthew 9: 35-10:8
Today we are continuing our “Move” sermon series. We’re looking at the different ways Jesus calls us to put our faith into action and considering how the Holy Spirit helps us in that regard.
This is one of those texts that, with a bid of meditation, causes two visceral reactions inside of me: intrigue and intimidation. I’m intrigued by these words because they’re a reminder of the awesome power of God and the power God has granted us. Who can argue that such power isn’t a necessity today? Cast out demons? Heal? This is the Kingdom of God. When I read this, especially after hearing about last week’s shootings and the constant battles against evil and hatred, I find myself saying, “Amen! Let’s do this.”
But then I have a second reaction, one of intimidation. Again, these words are a reminder of the power God has granted us… and sometimes we don’t want the responsibility of using that power. And then I start to really imagine what that type of authority looks like when I live it out…and even the best in me begins to shrink away. When I was in high school, there was a big movement called “WWJD.” What would Jesus do? Remember that? Any one who was anyone had these pretty little bracelets that begged the question, “If Jesus were here today, or if he were in your shoes, what would he do in your situation?” And it was kind of fun ploy to get people talking about Jesus, but the more I think about it, that’s a dangerous question. What would Jesus do is a dangerous question.
Matthew’s words for us today are pretty clear. Jesus would go. That was his mission, his focus. He was born to go. Just think about the way he entered this world. He was sent, commissioned by the Father to dwell with us and bring us healing, redemption and hope. We call that the Incarnation. Philippians might say it best: Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing by taking on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2: 6-7). That’s what Jesus does. He humbles himself. He goes where he is needed, and where he goes isn’t always where we want to.
Michael Frost, a professor and pastor says, “Jesus isn’t level-headed. He’s not reasonable” (Exiles). And that’s because He really believes that the Kingdom of God isn’t some type of metaphorical hogwash, nor some pie-in-sky fantasy, but a reality that can be expressed and lived out in our often ungodly world. And then he goes and he literally begins to build a new reality in front of our eyes. He calms a raging sea; he heals Peter’s mother-in-law; he tells a man who was paralyzed, “Get up; take your mat and go home.” All of this won him favor. The crowds continued to grow in numbers and in awe. Even those closest to him began to praise him. And then he turns the tides. Looking at those who were doing their best to follow he says, “You know, there’s a lot more where this came from. There’s a great harvest out there. There’s more evil to be driven out, more sick who need to receive healing, more hope that needs to be proclaimed. But I need more workers. And I can just imagine the crowd affirming that need: “Yes, call them. Send them. Commission them. You can’t do it alone. You need help. We will pray for God to send you more workers Jesus.” And then he drops the hammer. I give you authority to go. And one by one, they are named, like a roll call. Peter, James. Philip. Bartholomew. Thaddeus. Oh, you mean us?
For the first 10 years of my life, the Kingdom of God looked like a community that sang songs every Sunday morning, listened to the preacher preach, and maybe attended a weekly Bible study. The stories of Jesus were, at best, hope-filled dreams and at worst, the stuff of legend. I’m not sure any of us really thought those stories could happen today, but we at least affirmed that somehow they were important. We couldn’t deny the evil in the world, but we thought, or at least, I thought, the missionaries and super-Christians would handle all the heavy lifting. And then Jesus started to name us. It began with a church merger and a couple named Chuck and Janet who reminded us of a “great harvest” out there. And then they really put their feet down. “Jesus means us, and we’re going. Our destination? Toledo Ohio.”
I had never heard of Toledo, Ohio and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find the Kingdom of God there. I WAS sure that we would find stuff we didn’t like: poverty, crime and smelly situations. As a 10 year old, that was NOT the vacation I was looking for. Somehow I confused “mission trip” with “fun vacation,” and it was most certainly not a fun vacation. The lasting image I have of that trip is standing in the middle of a room filled with bags and bags of garbage, and Janet singing praise songs for the whole world to hear. It was horrible. And yet I had this strange feeling, this questioning, why a group from Pennsylvania were the ones noticing the piles of garbage and bagging it up.
I wonder at times if we get scared off when Jesus says, “Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God” because we think that means you have to be a preacher or go to seminary or ask the question, “Do you know where you’re going when you die?” Or maybe we’re frightened when we Jesus talk about bringing life to what is dead and casting out demons. But in reality, the Kingdom of God is simply noticing what is going on around us and leaving things better than how we found it. And when moved and empowered by God’s Spirit, we can all do that.
Jesus tells his disciples that they need to go because the people are helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd. The leaders who should’ve noticed their plight didn’t…or at least they didn’t care to do anything about it. Neither did their neighbors. Somehow no one noticed the depth of poverty right outside their doors. But I’m not about to blame them. I know how easy it is to build up my own little kingdom and forget about God’s. And I think that’s why Jesus speaks these words. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God is about proximity and getting close enough to see what is really going on. Like getting close enough to see the garbage and bag it up. I’m convinced that revival will take place when we get close enough to others to open our eyes to see the real needs. These weren’t lazy men who were living off the government. These were helpless sheep. Who do you need to see?
Proclaiming the Kingdom is also about presence. It’s about getting close enough to see others and then finding the courage to stand with them. When Jesus sees what is really going on, the text says he has compassion. What a great word that we have, unfortunately, neutered over the years. This word in its original language is “Splankna,” which signifies a deep pain in the gut. Compassion isn’t feeling bad for someone; it’s suffering alongside them, as if your intestines are being ripped out with theirs when you see their pain. Who are you called to “suffer with?” Not help, but suffer with. The Kingdom of God isn’t about hand-me-outs; it’s about taking your hand in mine and walking with you until this journey is fulfilled. And this takes courage, or as Danish pastor Kaj Munk writes, a “holy rage” against complacency. Munk, an outspoken critic of Hitler’s Nazi fascism (who was later martyred for his stance) talks about this strongly worded characterization in a poem I’d like to share with you:
"What is therefore our task today? Shall I answer: "Faith, hope, and love"? That sounds beautiful. But I would say -courage. No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature...we lack a holy rage-the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth...a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God's earth, and the destruction of God's world. To rage when little children must die of hunger, when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God. And remember the signs of the Christian Church have been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove, and the Fish...but never the chameleon" (http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/2010/12/holy-rage-against-complacency-passage.html).
What does Munk mean by recklessness and and rage? He means for us to be troubled and unsettled, afflicted with a discomfort of injustice and a compassion for the helpless. He means for us to be moved, just as Christ was, to abandon our safe havens and to go and root ourselves where life, salvation and healing are needed. And when we go spiritual strongholds will be torn down. Personal strongholds. Community strongholds. Systemic strongholds. To the naked eye, it might just look like shoveling garbage into big black Hefty bags, but to Jesus (and to us) it’s a sign that things CAN and SHOULD be different, because the Kingdom of God is closer than we think. That is true power and true authority. Amen.