June 18: The Third Sunday after Pentecost

Sam Magill is a coach and poet. He has served on the Bishop’s Committee at St. Hilda St. Patrick and has chaired the stewardship committee.  This sermon for June 18, 2023 was preached in response to Matthew 9:35-10:8-23 based on the manuscript below.

On the surface, todays Gospel reading is straight forward. Jesus sends the disciples out on mission, tells them to whom they should go, gives them travelling instructions and warns them of the cranky people they will encounter. AAA and Rick Steve’s Travel Guides.
When Joseph asked me to preach this Sunday, I read the passage from Matthew and told him I could not do it. For me it ran so contrary to my understanding of God that I wanted nothing to do with it. Go only to the house of Israel, enter only “worthy” towns and houses. I read exclusivity; I read limitation; I read judgment.
It turns out my concerns are, in some degree, shared with Douglas R.A. Hare in his Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. He called the passage baffling. I called it annoying. But as you know, the hound of heaven pursues us until we are caught. It slowly dawned on me, often as I was just waking up or occupied doing something else, that there is much more to this passage from Matthew than meets the eye.
Last week, as we heard from Joseph, Matthew spoke about the nature of God, about the mission of Jesus. This week, it is all about us.
In short , Jesus tells the guys that he trusts them to carry on the work of healing and preaching and teaching – what is less obvious and only recently discovered in an additional passage from Matthew, is that Jesus also cautioned them. If you were here last week, you might not be surprised by what is written in this little known text. “Then Jesus whispered to them. Guys, come close. Listen. I trust you to preach and to heal, but here’s my concern – if you are going to sing in your big, loud voices, just remember to turn the page and sing the correct words and verses. Okay? People might be listening and if you don’t turn the page, they will be confused. Got it?” Everybody, say Amen.
But He did trust them to go out on their own. Image getting a text from God Incarnate saying. Hi! I’m sending you out among some rough people and want you to do all the cool stuff I’ve been doing.
What is your immediate reaction? Terrified? Confused? Why me – I’m just a fisherman or a programmer or a dad or a mom or a retiree…. I didn’t ask for this; I just wanted to hang out with you.
This reaction is understandable – I know my own reaction would be to study harder, to take it on my shoulders, to get stressed out about my capability, my strength. And this is the first subtle point from Jesus – in fact, our capacity has nothing to do with our own strength, knowledge, experience because it is not really about us. It is about God knowing us and never giving us more than we can handle.
In the course of the next few minutes, I will weave in three personal stories. Why rely on these to make sense of scripture? I believe that each of us as we mature and face life head on are called to create our own scripture. Certainly not to compete with or replace THE Scripture. But God invites us to encounter the creation and in using those encounters, we make come to understand God’s living presence in our lives. Matthew, author of todays Gospel reading was doing the same thing. Reading Hare’s Interpretation gives a glimpse of his efforts to understand.
Let me offer an example of this: Some years ago, I was quite depressed, filled with shame, guilt, self-loathing. As I began to drift off into sleep, I said to God, “I have made a mess of my life, I give you back my life. I’m done with it and apologize.” I really meant it and was rather convinced that I would not wake up. As you can see, I did wake up. In the hours afterwards – when I was awake – I heard that still small voice in my heart saying, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m returning your life to you. You are the only person I trust with this precious gift.” “You are the only one who can carry it out.”
Jesus sends the disciples out to do the work HE has given them to do and he will equip them. Friends, it is not up to us –
A second confusing part of this passage is the instruction to go only to the house of Israel. Haven’t we heard that we should go out to all people and spread the good news? In his commentary, Douglas Hare quotes Matthew 15:24 _I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And yet, he meet and served the Centurion, he gave water the Samaritan woman. Hare suggests that Matthew is giving a limited hint of the post-resurrection mission. John 12:20-24 suggests Jesus can minister properly to the Gentiles only by dying for them.
I believe Jesus sent them to both the right people and the most difficult people. The right people? The Disciples are me of the house of Israel – so they are being sent to their own people whom we might guess they understand. I’ll try to bring this home to us with another story – after the murder of George Floyd, I spoke with my long-time friend Lou-Rachelle. Lou is black and I first met her when I was working at the University of Washington in 1980. We’ve maintained contact from time to time since then. As our conversation rambled along, I finally said, Lou, what do I, a white guy in his 70’s, do? She thought for a moment and said, Sam, your work is with white people!
It makes so much sense. I can’t say anything to a person of color about racism that they don’t already know. I have no wisdom for them. All I have is friendship and the avoidance of micro and grand offences.
How is this related to our exploration today? As disciples, our most important work is likely in our own neighborhood. In his interpretation, Hare writes about our preaching and healing: “Churches reach out to their neighborhoods in effective evangelism when concern for souls is accompanied by genuine concern for bodily existence. “Jesus love me” becomes more credible to a distraught mother when a church food pantry rescues her children from starvation – There must be no divorce between preaching and healing. Jesus sent the Disciples into their own community. Lou sent me to mine. We are sent to our own people.
How different this is from the self-appointed “disciples” who have gone around the world on their own missions – so adversely affecting people – especially those who are different from the “disciples”. Think of the harm done to Indigenous people around the world.
Once the destination is clear, Jesus instructs the guys about traveling light. This, Hare, writes is different from Mark’s Gospel in which they are told to travel with sandals and staff – not much. Matthew goes even further – take nothing with you. God will provide what you need.
My own sense is that we take more on our journeys of faith than we need. We burden ourselves. Many years ago, I went on a canoe trip in British Columbia. I was determined to carry my own canoe and gear. The others on the trip teamed up. I was in my mid-50’s and determined to prove my strength to myself. (My buddies could have cared less.) As we moved from camp to camp, I found myself leaving bits of gear stashed up in a tree. Turns out I didn’t need it and could pick it up on the way back. I unburdened myself. Jesus in a sense, unburdened the Disciples. What burdens are we carrying individually and in this community?
In the final part of this passage, we find Jesus warning the Disciples about the snakes and dangerous people they will encounter. Hare suggests they will meet the members of the community that are too busy for God and who have no use for the prayers, for breaking bread together, for service. My equivalent is that it is far easier for me to talk with Black men and women about race that it is to talk with the people Lou-Rachell assigned me to – white people. The equivalent for me would be white people who resist the call for inclusion, who deny the humanity of non-white people. I find that very difficult. It’s where my courage fails me.
But Jesus is there for the Disciples – he reminds them not to worry about what to say. The Sprit of the Father will provide the words.
Friends none of this is up to us, except in the sense of trusting God, having faith that God is with us, that it is the Spirit who guides us. My last personal story comes from a volunteer trip to Spain in 2004. I had gotten to know a man from Calcutta. Swami Shudananda. We knew each other from an earlier encounter in Nairobi. He was amazing. Just before went our separate ways, I said to him that each time we met my heart cracked wide open. Tears were in my eyes. He said in response, “That that is so has nothing to do with me, but the one who sent me”. Had he read Matthew, or was the Spirit speaking through him to me?
Isn’t that what this is all about? It is God who calls us and creates our worthiness. It is Jesus who loves us, instructs us, and sends us out. It is the Spirit who informs us in the midst of battle. No matter what mission of faith and services we are on, we can say – it is not I who is worthy, it is not I who knows what to say – it is the one who sent me.

Leave a Comment