2nd Sunday after Pentecost, September 18, 2017, Year A
Exodus 19.2-8a; Psalm 100; Matthew 9.35-10.8 [9-23]
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who has compassion on those who suffer, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One of my favorite movies is called “Cool Runnings.” It came out in 1993 and is loosely based on a Jamaican Bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Olympics. Bobsledding wasn’t exactly well known in Jamaica at the time. For one thing, there is no ice in Jamaica. So there is a scene in the movie where an American coach agreed to hold an interest meeting for Jamaicans who would like to be part of the first ever Jamaican Bobsled team.
The room is packed full of people. The lights get switched off so everyone can better see a short video showing what it’s like to bobsled. As the video begins, the coach says: “Gentlemen, a bobsled is a simple thing. Basically what you’re trying to do is get your sorry rear ends from the top of an icy shoot to the bottom.”
All eyes are on the screen as they watch 4 guys run on ice and get themselves into a bobsled to fly down the icy shoot. The coach continues: “You’re zigging, you’re zagging. It’s the biggest, coldest rollercoaster you’ve ever been on.”
At this point in the video, there begins to be terrible crashes. You can hear the coach in the background going, “Ooohh … Ahhhhh …. That’s gotta hurt.” People are flying out of the bobsled. It’s flipping over and dragging its passengers along the ice. Then the coach says: “I almost forgot … one minor draw back to this likeable winter sport is what can happen. Always remember, your bones won’t break in a bobsled; they shatter.”
The last thing that everyone sees on the screen are the words: “Crash kills bobsledder.”
The lights turn back on and the coach says: “So who wants in?”
The camera angle turns back to the room that was once packed, revealing a bunch of empty chairs. Everyone cleared out with the exception of three people. A fourth comes in who misses the video all together and there they have their team. They understood the risks, even the potential loss of their own lives, and stepped forward anyway in order that they might participate in something great.
I wish verse 24 in our Gospel reading would have Jesus saying to his disciples: “So, who wants in?”
He just finishes telling them what is going to happen after they are sent out to do his work in the world. They are to go out with no provisions making them quite vulnerable. He tells them they will be like sheep in the midst of wolves. They will be flogged and dragged before governors and kings. The closest of family members will have relationships end in betrayal.
At least Jesus is upfront and honest I guess. I’m somewhat surprised none of the disciples bailed at this point. They would have had every reason to say, “I didn’t signed up for this, Jesus.” But they didn’t. They were sent out to do exactly what they witnessed Jesus do: proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.
One thing, among many, this Gospel reading does is acknowledge the incredible suffering that is in the world. Jesus sees crowds of people who seek him out for some kind of healing in their lives. He sees them and sees they are sick, harassed and helpless. His response to people who are suffering is to bring healing and wholeness to their lives and proclaim the good news that God has come near through him.
If we often wonder what God is like, we are to pay attention to Jesus: what he does, what he says, how he responds to people. In our Gospel reading Jesus is moved with compassion towards those who have been dealt a terrible lot in life. Lovingly, he tends to people wounds and builds up others to do the same.
When he sends his disciples out he instructs them to tend to people’s wounds, whether they be physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional. This, more than anything, is the primary work of those who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus. It’s not to stand on a street corner and shout the 10 Commandments at people, or to cast judgment of who is saved and who isn’t.
It’s to be moved with compassion, letting the Holy Spirit work through each of us to bring out reconciliation and healing in the world.
A tough thing about this reading is that it portrays the healing that takes place in people’s lives as quick and easy. Jesus just heals people and the disciples go out and do the same. I’m not saying it never happens like this, but more often than not, we know healing is usually anything but quick and easy.
And yet, theologian, Alexander Wimberly points out:
We must acknowledge that throughout history, amazing things—seemingly impossible things—have been done and continue to be done through ordinary members of the church. Due in part to the efforts made by faithful Christians, diseases thought to be incurable have been eradicated, unjust laws have been overturned, and individuals who thought some doors would never open have seen them swing wide. (Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 3: p. 144).
How is it that we can believe Jesus when he says: “You will do greater works than me.” How is it that we all can somehow be a part of this Kingdom of Heaven? How is it that you and I are given the commission and authority to be agents of healing in this world in the name of Jesus?
A couple things. One, is that you and I have been given the Holy Spirit to lead and move us to do Jesus’ work in the world. Two, you and I have one another in which to find strength and encouragement, reminding each other of what Jesus asks of us as individuals and together.
Like the disciples, we are all very different from one another and yet we have been called into the same body for a purpose greater than ourselves. It amazes me to read the list of the disciples’ names in the Gospel reading. Often times I wonder what Jesus was thinking calling people who were so different to be together in mission.
As Conlin Yuckman says: Just look at the makeup of the twelve: “the “first” apostle Peter will deny Jesus three times and the last apostle Judas will betray him to death, while two apostles in between held opposite positions on the Roman occupation (tax collector Matthew worked for them, while Simon the Cananaean or “zealot” worked against them).” [www.workingpreacher.com].
All argued who was the greatest. This was quite the crew and yet Jesus’ ministry was carried out in powerful ways through them.
If Jesus wasn’t healing people, or sending his disciples out to do the same, then the suffering people have no one. Someone else was not going to do the work.
Same with us. If we are not responding to this call of Jesus to be agents of healing in the world, then no one is. Is this work easy? No. Is it quick? No. Are we all alike? Far from it. And yet we are the Church together, and more specifically, Heart River Lutheran Church.
We exist because we are moved with compassion for the situations of those who come to be here at YCC. We believe Jesus has called us to be here on campus with you and to provide ways of support when you leave. We also believe that you minister to us as much or more than we do to you. You all are a part of us and a part of the mission Jesus has for us in this place and in the wider world.
As often as I can I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This week I came across him writing about what the church is really about. He writes: “What the church is all about is not religion but the form of Christ and Christ taking shape among a group of human beings (I Want to Live These Days With You by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 174).”
Jesus takes his shape among all of us together. We understand our identity when we understand our mission is not for ourselves. Maybe you haven’t ever noticed, but if you open up the bulletin to the first panel, on the top you will see Pastor: Renee Splichal Larson, but more importantly you will see: Ministers: All Members.
You all in the pews are ministers. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself in this way before. Jesus needs and empowers you to do his work of healing in the world. You get to be a part of something greater than yourself.
My guess is most of us are not going to end up on a bobsled team, but we make up the body of Christ and that is something great indeed.