Sermon: Proper 6 Year A (Pentecost 2)
June 14, 2020
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
Readings: Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
The following letter was written to Jesus, Son of Joseph, at Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop, Nazareth, Galilee.
Thank you for submitting the résumés of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests. We have not only run the result through our computer, but have also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all tests are included. You will want to study each of them carefully. As part of our service, we make some general statements.
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background and educational, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not understand the team concept. We would recommend that you continue to search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers James and John place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus have radical leanings and registered high manic-depressive scores.
Only one of the candidates shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness who meets people well and has a keen business mind. He has contacts in high places and is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.
Jordan Management Consultants
It has been called “the slippage”—the transition from Christ, to Christian, to Christianity. And maybe nowhere has the slippage been more apparent than in the Gospel reading for today.
Jesus has called to himself the Twelve. Now he summons them to share in his authority and mission as the Kingdom revealer, the Kingdom bearer. There is a rhythm in this passage of “calling to” and the “sending out,” which will be the rhythm of their daily discipleship. Asking his followers to do no more than he himself has done, Jesus instructs them to go out “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to proclaim the good news and heal everything in sight. Above all, Jesus says, make the ministry free. “You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:8b).
What is the essence of today’s gospel—this “calling” to be followed by this “sending out”?
At its core, the message is about claiming the central purpose, the mission, for the Christian faith. For Christ, for the Christian, for Christianity to manifest the unconditional grace of Kingdom of God love—freely received, freely given—is the one-foot-forward-at-a-time…the single eye of discipleship. All program, all structure, all leadership must center in this “preach and heal” purpose. This “manifesting” forms the heart of Apostolic Christianity. All else is details. And we preach, by the way, by the compassion and caring we show—thought, word and deed—as we read in our prayer book confession.
Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion for the people because they were harassed and helpless. (Anyone here ever feel that way?) In a verse prior, Matthew tells us that Jesus taught and proclaimed the good news and cured every disease and every sickness. Jesus’s ministry was and still is, and forever more will be, teaching and healing a broken humanity and redeeming humanity back to God, ushering in the Kingdom—in the present. He invited the Twelve to join him, and we are part of that commission as well, or else we really have no reason to be in this place today.
If we are to follow him faithfully, we too will have compassion for any and all who need a touch and a message of love from God. As the Body of Christ, we are Jesus’s hands and feet and heart. And this operation is not only to the lost, the poor, the starving—which is absolutely essential if we want to share in Christ’s ministry—but the modus operandi starts among ourselves—the household of faith.
If we don’t get it right in here, how will we be able to get anything accomplished for the Kingdom of God, the good of humanity? And heaven knows our world needs it more than ever, especially right here in our own country.
Have you ever noticed how we often find it much easier to have compassion for the needy and suffering outside the church than we do for each other in the Church? There’s the rub, the difficult part. To work together for the Kingdom of God we need much more compassion, understanding, acceptance, and patience for each other than we do for the suffering in the world. If we cannot grasp or at least strive with all of our heart, mind and soul to live into God’s love as manifested in Jesus, our ministry lacks the intended purpose.
Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to get lost in the details of doing church work that have nothing to do with compassion? And how much more comfortable it is? Because frankly, we can avoid true spiritual, emotional, and psychological intimacy. Or maybe we lose sight of all of the ways that the Holy Spirit gifts us for proclaiming and living into the Kingdom of God.
Our abilities, talents, and call can get lost amidst the demands of secular life, which are very heavy. Or maybe we simply forget that we are both called and sent? When any or maybe all of these conditions take root in our lives or in our congregations, we are in danger of losing our purpose, our center, our mission.
Karl Rahner, one of the brilliant theologians of our age, underscored this lack of purpose/direction in his book Our Christian Faith: Answers to the Future (New York: Crossroad, 1981). He describes the malaise of modern Christians:
“Every period has its neurosis—and every period needs its psychotherapy. Today we are no longer confronted as in Freud’s day with sexual frustration, but rather with existential frustration. We are suffering not so much from an inferiority complex, but from a meaningless complex with its associated feelings of emptiness.”
So often it seems that we Christians who make up living Christianity think that the “Apostolic vocation” belongs to the ordained. What does “preaching and healing” have to do with being a farmer, or a nurse, or a parent, or a corporate CEO, or a webpage builder? Isn’t that the province of the ordained? This question has been kicked around for centuries.
An example of the earliest way the dilemma was handled is found in the teachings of Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, who was principal historian of the Apostolic Age (from the time of Jesus to Constantine). He maintained that Jesus gave “two ways of life” to the Church. There was the “perfect life” and the “permitted life.”
As you might imagine, the “perfect life” was intended for the overtly religious—priests, monks and nuns. These callings were for life and were a “higher” way of Christian living. The permitted life, on the other hand, was for Christians who lived and moved in and around the secular world—people who conducted an active life in commerce or as farmers, fishermen, or craftsmen.
However, with the Reformation, Luther burst the bubble of conceit around this entrenched, hierarchical notion of “higher” and “lower” ways of being Christian. Returning to the Scriptures, he emphasized that Jesus was a carpenter, the Apostles were fisherman, for the most part, and Paul was a tent-maker.
No “division of holiness” here, Luther maintained. God and the angels smiled, he said, when a man changed the diapers of his infant child. The menial housework of a manservant or a maidservant was more acceptable to God than all the fasting and other ritual works of a monk or a priest. This recapturing of the “priesthood of all believers” changed the life of the Church… at least for a while.
What is the answer? What is the solution to our era’s widespread loss of meaning in things Church, in our daily walk and call with Jesus? Maybe it is to realize that all of us as Christians are implored to live by two callings—a primary calling and a secondary calling.
The primary calling is always to Christ: the audience of one. To abide in the Vine, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to the praise of Abba God. This is the first and primary calling. The secondary calling is to live out the primary calling in the myriad ways God gives us. It may be as a coach or as a pilot, doctor or attorney, chimney sweep, retailer, builder, or day trader of stocks. Whatever… We are somehow to express the Christ in the ordinary, everyday world we inhabit, to find daily meaning in the common bread we are given—wherever we are, in whatever we do, in whatever company we find ourselves.
Both callings need each other. Just as the common elements of bread and wine become Holy Food of new and unending life in Jesus the Christ, so too, all of our thoughts and actions, our means and all of our lives must be given over to him, so that they, too, become sacrament.
That is how we live holy lives, acceptable to God, lay or ordained. That is how we live into our being sent out to follow Jesus in his ministry of preaching and healing, helping Jesus usher in the Kingdom of God.
How to begin anew? An example is written in The Paradise of the Desert Fathers: Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus, “Can one lay a new foundation every day?”
The old man said, “If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment.”
Friends, we don’t have to fear. The Jordan Management Consultants will not be analyzing our fitness for the mission ahead of us. We are most fortunate that God accepts us just as we are, with our insecurities and doubts. All we need is a fire in our bellies to love and follow Jesus. Because if we do, imagine the contribution we can make to our country. Never has the need been greater.
Whether it is this pandemic, or racial strife, or a tanking economy, or political divisiveness—only God has the answer. If we are willing and open and love God in Jesus with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength—we can change our world! And we can start doing it right here and now!
As Paul tells us in our Romans passage this morning: “…we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Let us pray.
Holy God of love and compassion, be present with all of us, harassed and helpless as we currently feel with all the stresses we are enduring right now. We recommit ourselves to your mission for your Kingdom.
Help us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Fill us anew with your life-giving Spirit. Help us to see Jesus and his solution in everything we do, in every thought, every problem, every instance of hatred we see expressed, and in every face we encounter. All people are your children!
Help us, we pray, to live lives worthy of your calling. Fill our hearts with hope that will never fail, and then send us out to express your love to a world that needs your Word and your healing more than ever. This we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen
HKO, “Postscript,” Synthesis, Proper 6, June 15, 2008.