Disciples of God’s Reign
Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”] Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)
We gather as the church each Sunday to remember, to celebrate and to give thanks for God’s love, amply demonstrated throughout human history and within the limited span of each of our lives. We come to be nurtured and nourished by word and sacrament for whatever might be the remainder of our shared and personal journeys. But our gathering as church is also intended to be a launching pad from which we are sent. Each week the liturgy concludes with the dismissal: “Go in peace and to love and serve the Lord.”
Today’s gospel reminds us that, very much like those first disciples, we are privileged and gifted to be in the presence of Jesus, that we too might be sent forth by Him. “Disciple”, like love, is an action word. Love is as love does, so too a disciple is, as a disciple does.
And as we are sent forth by Him with the simple yet awesome task of identifying, announcing and proclaiming, both with our voices and with our lives, the nearness of the Kingdom of God and the immediacy of God’s reign. The Kingdom is here. The Kingdom is now. It is from this that we derive the joy that the world cannot give, cannot understand, and cannot take away and the peace that is beyond all understanding.
Jesus is clear that those who are entrusted with this divinely inspired and awesome mission should, at best, anticipate an uneven reception, and, at worst, even a violent rejection. The world is not eager for the good news of God’s reign, as much as people might protest that we want good news. However, neither a mixed reception nor an outright rejection can be sufficient cause to deter us from our appointed calling.
Rightly des Jesus say, “I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves”. He knows full well that there will always be more wolves than lambs and that the Kingdom of God will always be the place where fewer will choose to dwell. The bad news of the Confederacy, which was activated to sustain slavery, still has an incredibly strong hold on the minds and hearts of too many white folks for legitimate Christians to take their rest.
This week, as each week, be faced both bad news and good news. Bad news is that news that does not serve the advance of the Reign of God, but rather presents obstacles to its progress. Good news reflects the priorities of justice, love, and peace that manifest God’s Kingdom.
On the bad news front there remain those voices that would drive a mythical agenda of law and order where law is put at the service of sustain a racist order. There are voices that continue to lie about the peaceful protests being violent and a prop of Antifa and the demand for real change being a call to anarchy. And those who would choose armed force against the way of love.
Last weekend a vast sea of peaceful protesters filled the streets of the nation’s capital, and with one loud cry called out the evil of systemic racism and voiced a demand that it be addressed now, and that justice no longer be deferred and denied. That protest simultaneously took place in cities across this country and around the world. What a beautifully ripe and grace filled moment it was and remains.
This vision of the human family, in all its diversity, coming together to name and caste out the demon racism certainly nourished my soul. If this was and is not God summoning disciples and empowering them with authority over unclean spirits, to exorcise them, and to cure the disease, that has racked the human family and continues to destroy countless lives, then what else could it be?
That so many disciples of God’s reign turned out and placed their own lives at somewhat greater risk, given the continuing Covid-19 threat, that would legitimately have us choose to quarantine rather than congregate, was impressive beyond belief.
The immediate impact began to spill out in one policing jurisdiction after another and in one institution after another. Black lives matter. The presence and destructive consequences of white privilege are beginning to be acknowledged and addressed. But let us not move too quickly with any declaration that the problem has been resolved and the issue can be laid to rest.
Seven, years ago, the Black Ministers Alliance and the Interfaith Council attempted to raise these very issues with the mayor and the chief of police in a series of public forums. For years both the mayor and the chief of police resisted with denial and platitudes. The mayor appeared clueless about his own white privilege and the chief claimed to not know what the term Blue Wall meant.
This week the mayor informed the common council that he was ready to sign reform legislation to ensure transparency and accountability on the part of the police and to establish an independent review board to process complaints. But we can be sure that this will face significant opposition from the police union. And so, disciples of Jesus must continue to hold the feet, of those we have empowered, to the fire.
There appear to be no shortage of voices that would propel division within the human family, encourage nations to relate to each other as adversaries, such that one might achieve ascendancy over the other; and that would caste the different other, even when that different other is in the most dire of straits, as the enemy to be held at bay and denied the compassionate embrace that the best of our humanity enjoins us to offer those in need.
As I make every effort to point out on a regular basis, tribalism, in all its forms, be it religious, ethnic, racial, or national is very counter Kingdom. If God has revealed anything in Jesus Christ, it is His will that His children become one body and one spirit, where the dignity of each is deeply respected, and the pursuit of the common good, takes precedence over every perceived individual personal good. We, in fact, act in our own best interests when we give primacy to the good of all. It is only in loving each other that greatness, as the gospel defines greatness, is achieved.
Disciples of Jesus do not attend to the bad news to be undone by it; nor to be taken to a place of hopeless despair; nor to be held hostage by fear for the future. We believe and believe very deeply that God has already achieved the final victory in Christ Jesus.
In the ultimacy of things, light will overcome darkness, truth will vanquish the lie, unity will heal division, love will dispel hate and life will triumph over death and all things are being brought to their perfection in Christ Jesus through whom all things were made.
Rather we attend to the bad news to be able to discern the moment and to clarify the actions that the present moment requires of us as disciples for the progress of the Kingdom of God – that we might participate in its advance rather than thwart its following. It is clear that the present moment is about justice for people of color and it is urgent that we listen to their experience with new ears, allow them to lead us in any response we would make, and to find the courage to examine our participation and complicity in white privilege and the racist system that it sustains.
The lambs of which Jesus speaks, are those who put themselves at risk, carrying no purse, no bag, no sandals, for the sake of the Kingdom of God and on behalf of those who cannot speak for or defend themselves. Disciples are those who make themselves vulnerable for the sake of others.
In these times and on every continent in which we experience a resurgence in the willed alienation of groups and classes of people, in rhetoric that scapegoats immigrants and undocumented workers, and in angry cries to seal borders to refugees, migrants, and the different other, are we not compelled, as disciples, to place the absolute compassion of the Kingdom of God before all hyped, imagined and rigid boundary needs, and all fear mongering?
We reap what we sow. If we sow seeds of hateful exclusion, we will never reap friends, but only breed more enemies. If we sow seeds of aggression, we will never reap peace, but only more violence. If we sow seeds of indifference to health care, we will never reap well-being, but only more pain and suffering. If we sow seeds of ignorance, we will never reap wisdom, but only more stupidity. If we sow seeds of selfishness, we will never reap abundance, but only more scarcity.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” It is the work of disciples to grow kingdom hearts within the societies we inhabit. Where competition, aggression, exclusion and great profit for the few, at the expense of the many, rule the day, it falls to us to challenge the values that would define the landscape and drive the biggest decisions.
Disciples of Jesus, in this and every nation are charged and sent by Jesus to enter the house where people live, and as often as possible and as insistently as necessary, with the proclamation and invitation: “Peace”. “Peace to this house”. “Peace for this house”. Peace from this house”. And to do so knowing that there is an essential connection between peace and justice, between peace and compassion, between peace and tolerance, between peace and inclusion, between peace and national humility.
We are sent by Jesus to proclaim, “Peace to this house”. Even at the risk of our own acceptability and our own acceptance. It is OK to be rejected for the sake of the Kingdom, for any rejections sustains us in the best company, “Whoever rejects you, rejects me and whoever rejects me, rejects the One who sent me.”
In the words of Paul to the Galatians, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all. And may we never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us and we to the world.”
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
June 14, 2020