Disciples of the Kingdom
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 come to church to gather with other believers; to remember and celebrate God’s love, demonstrated throughout the ages and within the limited span of each of our lives. We come to be nurtured and nourished by word and sacrament for the remainder of the journey. But Church is also, a place from which we are sent forth? Each week the liturgy concludes with the dismissal: Go in peace 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 we are sent forth by Him with the simple yet awesome task of identifying, announcing and proclaiming, both with our words 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.
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. But neither a mixed reception nor an outright rejection can be sufficient cause to deter us from our appointed calling.
The world is not eager for the good news of God’s reign. As much as people may protest that we want good news, we seem, to be “rubber neckers” by nature, fascinated by and drawn more easily to bad news. We are compelled to slow down and peer at the wreck on the side of the road.
Rightly does 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.
This week we faced much bad news and a bit of good news. Bad news is that news that does not serve the advance of the Kingdom 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 page, we were told that 4000 additional troops are being deployed to Afghanistan. Those who do not return in coffins will return physically, psychologically, or spiritually damaged. They are being sent to fight a sixteen-year old war, that we have been assured again and again, is finished and won.
Even as we processed another act of gun violence, this time directed at members of congress, in which voices were quickly raised about the consequences of the intensified incivility of public discourse, by day two, the chief offender was back twittering vitriol in the early hours of the morning. I do not think that it should come as a surprise that his attempt at a compassionate and reconciling speech, delivered on the heels of the incident, had to be written by others.
Congress continues to work at eliminating affordable access to health care for the poor and to deliver massive tax reductions to the wealthiest among us.
We witnessed elected officials having sworn an oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, obfuscating, dissembling and outright lying to those authorized to question them, and others questioning the character of those duly appointed to investigate them.
On the good news page, the protection from deportation of Dreamers, those undocumented immigrants who came as children with their parents, is being extended, for the Dreamers, but sadly, in a gross failure in compassion, not for their parents.
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 to those most in need.
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 and in humbly serving 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; neither 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 all things, light will overcome darkness, truth will vanquish the lie, unity will suppress division, love will dispel hate and life will triumph over death and all things are indeed 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 it’s advance rather than thwart it’s flowering.
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 vocal 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 the 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 wellbeing, 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 a kingdom heart within the societies we inhabit. Where competition, aggression, exclusion and great profit for the few, at the expense of many, rule the day, it falls to us to challenge the values that define the landscape and that 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 the invitation: “Peace”. “Peace to this house”. “Peace for this house”. “Peace from this house”. And to do so, knowing 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 rejection sustains us in the best company, “Whoever reject 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 18, 2017