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Reference

Matthew 10:1-4
Sermon for Wednesday, July 16, Feria

A sermon preached by The Reverend Canon Dr. David Anderson at St. Jude’s Anglican Church, Oakville, on Wednesday, July 10, 2024 (feria).

I speak to you in the name God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We have an echo of the Gospel reading from Sunday in this morning’s Gospel reading. We have again Jesus sending out his disciples and “[giving] them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure ever disease and sickness” (Mt 10:1b).

We also learn the names of the twelve apostles in this reading, beginning with the first one to be called, Simon, who will later be called Peter, and ending with Judas Iscariot, who will betray Jesus. We don’t know much about these individual disciples. We know that Jesus will sometimes decry that they are people of “little faith,” but they are, nevertheless, the people that Jesus called. We will, as Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, come to know more about some of them, particularly Peter and Judas, but the more we learn about them does not increase the confidence we might have that they will grow into faithful disciples. In quite different ways, both Peter and Judas will betray Jesus.

That Matthew tells us here so early in the telling of his story, that Judas will betray Jesus, shows us that Matthew is not interested in keeping us in suspense reading what will happen to Jesus. Matthew is probably assuming that his readers already know the basics of this story. But Matthew also seems to indicate that knowing the basics of the story is not enough to make us faithful disciples ourselves. We must learn more. We must what it means for us to be a faithful church.

So, the fact that we are introduced to disciples of Jesus who have no stellar credentials to recommend them, the fact that they have ‘little faith,’ and a less than desirable track record, is a sign of hope for us who inherit their task. We, the church, stand in the tradition of these apostles. To be an apostle is to be a messenger of and witness to Jesus. To be an apostle is to be one who has been sent. It is no accident that Jesus calls his disciples to preach as he and John the Baptist had, the message, “The kingdom of God has drawn near” (Mt 10:7). It is no accident that he charges them with the work of curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. He asks them to do exactly as he has done.

Christianity is not an idea. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christ is not a truth that we can know in principle. Christianity is not something that we can learn apart from a community of people who embody it. If Christ is merely an idea, ‘a nice thought,’ then we wouldn’t need apostles. But the way that the good news of God’s kingdom is known is by having a community of people who embody it. Christianity is a way of life that becomes known to us when we see it lived. When we encounter witnesses, they make it possible that we might also become disciples and messengers. Jesus disciples are not particularly impressive persons, but then, neither are we. Their mission, as well as our own, is not to call attention to ourselves, but to Jesus and the kingdom of Jesus.

Jesus gives his apostles very specific instructions. The are not to receive money for their work; they are to travel light, with little money and clothes; they are to bestow the peace of God on those who show them hospitality. They are also not to linger with those who will not provide hospitality or who refuse to receive their message. We learn that these apostles were told not to judge. They don’t need to judge because people’s refusal to welcome the message is its own judgment.

As we seek to be a faithful church we don’t become self-righteous. We might be tempted to self-righteousness if we believe that our message has been rejected. But before we are ever tempted to be judgmental of those who have rejected our witness, we must first ask about the adequacy of our witness. Do we faithfully embody the way of Jesus? Repeating a little of what I said on Sunday, it is not that we need to be perfect. It is not that we must have it all together. But we do need to be thoughtful about how we allow our faith to shape our lives, our convictions, our choices, our actions. And this work is not easy and again that is why we need to belong to a community of disciples, all of us sorting it out together as we go along, supporting one another, and learning as we go.

The disciples receive instructions about how their message is to be exemplified. Jesus’ command that they should travel light, for example, is necessary to show that they have nothing to commend themselves other than Jesus himself. Being a follower of Jesus has not made them wealthy. They have no resource except for the authority that Jesus has given them. They cannot promise their hearers that Jesus will make them successful in the eyes of the world or allow them to live their lives worry-free. The promise is not for a magic kingdom. The only promise is that of the Kingdom of God.

Like last Sunday’s reading, this morning’s text needs to inform our thinking about evangelism. With reports of church decline all around we are tempted by our concern for the status of the church to try to make her more relevant. We are willing to take drastic measures to ensure that the church will remain socially significant. We become focused on the numbers and how we can increase the numbers. And don’t get me wrong, I understand the institutional anxiety. I am a leader of an institution that goes by the name of ‘St Jude’s’ that I assume most of us in this room care about. But the fact is this: the church’s calling is not about being large or significant. The church is called to be apostolic. Faithfulness, not numbers or status, is meant to be the characteristic that shapes our witness. It just might be that God is about the work of unburdening the church so that we can again travel light.

Jesus’ instructions to those whom he sends out may provide us with more guidance than we might first imagine. The instructions are meant to set his people quite apart from the kinds of movements that might send out messengers either in Jesus’ time or our own. They are not to swagger around claiming to be the special chosen servants of the next new thing. They are to be healers, restorers, people who will bring life and hope to others, and not grand status to themselves. They are to be scrupulous about avoiding any suggestion that they are in it to make money. They must expect that those who will receive their message will feed them: but the gospel itself, the important message that they bear, is free.

The detailed instructions that Jesus gave these apostles for their arrival in a new town must have also helped these followers to understand the great responsibility they carried with the authority Jesus had given them. This was not a ‘take it or leave it’ option. They were not recommending a new religious experience, or a new teaching that might guide people in sorting out the various moral dilemmas they faced in their daily lives. They were not even offering a message about life beyond death (although that would come later). They only had one message, and it was urgent. God’s kingdom is coming like an express train racing towards you, and you better get ready for it. A new day was dawning, be aware. The healings were signs of what that day will be like, when all things are restored to the flourishing God intends.

All these instructions were very specific for a particular cultural and societal context in which Jesus sent out his apostles on their first mission in Galilee. Matthew recorded all this detail for us, presumably because he thinks that some of this might still be relevant to us, his readers. I don’t think this means that we need to leave our sandals at home. I think that it might be permissible for us to bring our wallet so we might not absolutely have to rely solely on the hospitality of others. That said, our life should look something like the kingdom that we are pointing to. Let us strive to be agents of healing and wholeness, of human and creational flourishing, of justice and of peace, in our lives and our witness.

In this Eucharist we receive a foretaste of the kingdom of God. May our lives and our life together in the Eucharist give our neighbours a foretaste and sign of that present and coming kingdom too.

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