Sermon: Discipleship Basics
July 2nd, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passages: Matthew 10:5-42
Video – Jimmy Kimball and Kevin Hart on youtube, 1:28 start
Roller coasters are wonderful and horrible at the same time, aren’t they? There is excitement and thrill, the anticipation of climbing, clicking slowly up and up and up. Then suddenly, your seat crests the first tall curve of track, hangs momentarily, and in that split second there comes a whole jumble of other emotions, including fear and dread and regret. Holy moly, what have I done? Am I going to survive this? Get me off this thing!
Our scripture reading for this morning picks up the last part of what we read last week, and continues on the for the entire set of instructions that Jesus gives his disciples before they are sent out on their own – or in pairs, a detail that Matthew leaves out but that Mark includes in his telling of the story. If you recall from last week, Jesus looked out on the crowds of people – he saw that they were troubled and helpless, and as he saw that, Jesus felt love and compassion for them. They were like sheep with no one to lead them; they were like a garden full of ripe produce with no one to gather it in. So Jesus tells his disciples, “What a huge harvest; how few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”
Up to this point, being Jesus’ disciple had been watching and listening and learning. There has been the fascinating challenge of understanding Jesus’ kingdom talk, his talk about salt and light and treasures in heaven. There has been an amazing front row seat to view the miracles of healing, including a little girl who had died and Jesus brought back to life! People are being freed from crazy bonds of brokenness and evil, of demons and dread diseases. Blind men are seeing again. A paralyzed man is walking. It’s been fantastic to watch – eagerness, excitement, anticipation!
Then there comes that moment, suspended between a prayer and its answer. Jesus seems to say to them, the answer to your prayer is YOU! This is it! This is what it really means to be my disciple. This is what is truly involved. And as quick as that, the ride starts to dive down the first curve and pick up speed.
The first crazy, thrilling moment comes as Jesus empowers them to do what he has been doing. He gives them the authority. Jesus gives them the power to kick out evil spirits and equips them to heal people in the same miraculous ways as he has been. They are to provide the same tender care to those who are troubled and helpless as Jesus has been providing. They are to proclaim that God is close by and ready to take charge, with the same mind-blowing, culture-defying message that Jesus has been sharing. Go out and imitate what you have seen in me, Jesus tells them. The results are going to be just as amazing!
Then, the roller coaster swings a curve and Jesus is telling them about how they are to approach the task – be generous, travel light, trust God for provision, this isn’t about glitz it’s about God. At this point it is important for us to remember that Jesus’ instructions were for a particular time and place. As we seek to understand this text and to understand Jesus’ words, it is especially important to take that intermediate step of interpretation in which we first put the message in the context of life in Palestine two thousand years ago before applying it to our own situation today. We can run into difficulties if we try to go directly from Jesus’ literal words to what I am supposed to do as a follower of Jesus in 2017 in Delavan, WI. That is why I chose to read the scripture passage from the Message paraphrase this morning, rather than from the NIV. Eugene Peterson does some of the interpretive work for us. For instance, when Jesus tells the disciples to give their greeting of peace or withdraw their greeting of peace, Peterson helps us understand that what Jesus is talking about is how they were to interact with others as they shared the gospel message – they were to be courteous, be gentle. Peter explains the same thing when he writes to new churches and tells them to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) Or as Paul wrote in one of his letters, “ slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:2)
The roller coaster ride seems great a dozen verses in, all peace and power, but there are 27 more to go, and suddenly the ride takes a terrifying turn. “You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack,” Jesus says. Stop and let that image sink in for a moment; let it play in your mind like a PBS nature film. A sheep running through a wolf pack. There is panic, there is vicious aggression, there is blood. Your discipleship journey is going to include the difficulties and struggles of my life as well, Jesus now warns. There will be the power and the graciousness, but there will also be the rejection and the suffering. Empowerment and struggle; welcome and rejection; appreciation and persecution. All of these are part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus. (David Lose, In The Meantime blog)
Then roller coaster slows down slightly. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. Three times, he says it! Don’t be afraid, everything will eventually be shown for what it is. Don’t be afraid, God is watching over you and you are more valuable to Him than the sparrow who He also watches over. I like the way the Message words it, “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail – even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” Don’t be afraid. Don’t be embarrassed. Jesus will not leave you hanging out there alone. Breathe. Don’t be afraid.
But with Jesus’ next words, the roller coaster is off again. This time in an unexpected direction and at an alarming pace! Conflict?! Sword?! In Matthew’s version, Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” In Luke’s version, however, Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace? No, I tell you, but division.” (Lk.12:51) Luke helps us understand what Jesus meant, and that ‘sword’ was a figurative way of describing division – something cut in two. It is not that Jesus is bringing violence, but that his message will create resistance. The Gospel message will not be embraced by everyone. In some cases it will be rejected, it will be seen as a threat, it will be resisted. Jesus then quotes the prophet Micah – the line about a man turning against his father, a daughter against her mother, that a person’s enemies will be the member’s of their own household. Micah was talking about what people were going to have to do when it came down to choosing sides – God’s side or the side of corrupted leaders – and that it would redraw family relationships.
It sounds pretty harsh, but what Jesus seems to be saying is that dedicated discipleship will redraw your family relationships. Jesus is now the head, the one in charge. Family is not rejected, but it will be restructured. The most important family members are no longer those with whom you share blood and marriage connections, but those with whom you share Spirit and Faith connections. In just another chapter or so in Matthew’s account, Jesus’ mother and brothers are going to show up wanting to talk to him and take him into their protection since he seems to have gone crazy. Jesus refuses and points to the large gathering of his disciples saying, “Here, these are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt.12:50)
Then the wild ride of Jesus’ instructions for discipleship seems to straighten out as he concludes with some final words about hospitality and welcome, about recognition and reward. And what seemed like it was going to be a crazy, impossible, terrifying, stretching-to-the-point-of-breaking project – of taking up crosses and laying down lives. Jesus says, you know, it’s really rather simple: It comes down to this – even a cup of cold water given to a disciple of mine will make a difference!
Even a cup of cold water! David Lose in his weekly blog on the lectionary reading, wrote, “Even. It’s such a small word. You use it only when you want to make a point. A point about something surprising or unlikely. And usually it’s a point about something surprisingly small or extremely unlikely… Which is how Jesus uses it here…. Discipleship, in other words, doesn’t have to be heroic. Even offering a cold cup of water counts.” Along with many other actions and gestures that seem small – smiling at a stranger, offering a shoulder to cry on, welcoming the new neighbor, writing a letter, resisting abuses of power, standing up to defend a victim of discrimination, putting food in the food pantry wagon, thanking a member of the armed services, sharing chicken noodle soup. Small gestures, really, but in the Kingdom of Heaven “even our smallest acts of kindness and generosity [and welcome can] reverberate with cosmic significance.” (David Lose)
So what is the call and commission of disciples of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be sent out in Jesus’ name? What do I need to do? At the end of this roller coaster ride of instructions, Jesus seems to say that in the end, God is at work through everything you do. Will you and I change or save the world? Maybe not, but that’s not our responsibility. It’s God’s. God is the One who will do the saving and do the changing and we are simply to trust Him and then do the everyday tasks of being a follower of Jesus, of being like Jesus. Some days these discipleship tasks may seem exciting and overwhelming and challenging; other days they may seem small and insignificant. But each and every word or act in the name of Jesus is gathered into God’s work to love and bless and save this world and to build His kingdom. That is what Jesus empowered those first disciples to do, and that is what Jesus continues to empower his followers to do.
So watch for the troubled and the harassed and the helpless, like Jesus did. Reach out in compassion and in love. Trust in God to provide – to provide for your needs and to provide the right words. Be gentle. Take courage. Remember you are not alone – Jesus is beside you and has provided the Holy Spirit within you. This discipleship journey will be a wild ride, but it will bring you into the very presence of God.
In a few moments you will be invited to join Jesus at His table – the communion table where Jesus invites us to once again make that commitment to be his disciples, to receive his forgiveness, to share in his mission, to be empowered by His body and blood. As we do that today we rededicate ourselves, knowing that it involves total commitment and total trust, as Jesus leads the way. Jesus invites you, “Take up your cross and follow me!”
Closing Song: “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus” # 576