The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 6A (6/15/2008)

Love for the Unlovable

Lessons:      Exodus 19:2-8a      Psalm 100      Romans 5:1-8      St. Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)      Semicontinuous Readings:           Genesis 18:1-15 [21:1-7]           Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Prayer of the Day:     God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy, we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

9.35 Then 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. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

10.1 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. 2 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; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.' 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

9 "Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 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. 15 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.

16 "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 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; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 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."

St. Matthew 9:35-10:23, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Mission Statement of Saint Peter Lutheran Church is grounded in Jesus' Great Commission from St. Matthew 28 (I would argue that should be the mission statement of every Christian congregation) - but it could just as well have been grounded in this Sunday's Gospel lesson. How would this work for us?

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.

What a mission! Can you imagine what a church would be if those kinds of activi­ties were regularly taking place? It would be an amazing - a phenomenal experience. People would be aware of the Spirit of God that was moving. The local papers would write about how lives were being changed.

But of course, there would be a down side to that kind of ministry. Can you imagine what kinds of people would fill the church? There would be people who are sick (coughing and hacking their way through the morning liturgy.); worshippers would bring dead friends or relatives with them, hoping that they would be raised to life; lepers (how would you like to be seated next to someone with leprosy during the peace?); demon filled people (unpredictable, regularly jumping up and shouting during the sermon and during the sharing of the meal). It would be a pretty bizarre setting, wouldn't it? And, to be quite honest, it would be a pretty frightening setting.

But the interesting thing is... that's the essence of Christian ministry. That's what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth: reaching out to those whom society can't bring itself to reach; loving the unlovable ones and touching the untouchable ones. Remember how our Gospel began today: Jesus looked on the crowd and had compassion on them. Why? Because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. The Greek says it even more strongly: they had been beaten down so thoroughly that they no longer had the ability to pick themselves up.

Faithfulness to the Gos­pel doesn't mean that there have to be sick, leprous, and demon possessed people seated in the pews when we come together on a Sunday morning. But faithfulness does have to do with discerning who, in our world, is ha­rassed and beaten down - who is like a sheep without a shep­herd. In this week's Gospel lesson, we are called to reach out to them and share the ministry of God's love. As we do so, we know that we are following in the footsteps that our Lord walked.

Why would we choose to do so? First of all because he has commanded us to. But another reason is that in doing this kind of ministry, we are reminded in a powerful way that God is one who has loved us - even when we felt most unlovable. God is one who has touched us - even when we felt most untouchable. God values us even when we suspect that we aren't worth much of anything at all.

That's the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's the message which lies at the heart of our Scriptures. God has chosen to love even the most unlovable ones of our world. So we are assured that, no matter how we feel about our­selves, the entire grace of God's love is always offered to us as a gift - a gift from a God who knows us intimately, and loves us deeply. May we never forget that love! And may we order ourselves, so that this love of God continues to reach those in our world who so desperately need it.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What were the essential elements of Jesus' ministry on earth?
  2. Which of these did he entrust to his disciples, when he sent them out?
  3. What does it mean to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. When have I felt the most unlovable, or the most untouchable?
  2. Who seems most unlovable or most untouchable to me?
  3. How has God worked through the church, or other faithful people, to support me when I needed support?
  4. How is God calling me to reach out to someone, today, who needs help and encouragement?