God Has Faith in Us
There are passages in the Bible that feel like they could have been written yesterday. There are parables that have stood the test of time and have as much relevance today as they did when Jesus spoke them. The Bible is full of life lessons, catching phrases, and wisdom that are simple to apply to modern life. Then there are passages like today that seem to have nothing to do with modern society, pieces of scripture that make no sense to our contemporary ears and lifestyles. Yes I read the scripture today but it seems like we could tear this part out of the Bible because it has nothing to do with us.
At the end of the passage Jesus sends out the 12 disciples with explicit instructions. He tells them to go out into the Jewish world and proclaim the good news. He tells them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, and drive out demons. This sounds great for the 12 disciples. It must have been cool to leave Jesus and go out into the Jewish world and do those things. But to do those things today…that’s a different story.
Imagine if I asked the Witness and Evangelism team to meet. I told them that since they are in charge of bring in new people the church; I have a great idea for them. Then I invite the Mission and Outreach team in on the new strategy as well; since they are supposed take us out into the community to serve. Now all these people are together I tell them the vision. I want you all to go door-to-door in the surrounding community. I want you to literally knock on your neighbor’s door and ask if they have anyone who is sick, or has demons. If they do we will heal them and kick the demons out. Heck, even see if they have a corpse lying around. If they do, raise that corpse up from the dead. What if I was serious about this how long do you think it would take those two groups from calling the Pastor Parish Relations Committee together to have the DS remove me as your pastor. I’m guessing it would happen before the next morning.
That is not the way we envision going out and evangelizing to our community. It sounds absurd and utterly ridiculous. It seems that the task that Jesus is calling the disciples to go out and do has really nothing to do with us today. In addition to what they are to do, where are they to go? They are to go see the “lost sheep of Israel.” Now how many Jewish people do we know that we could then go and heal their sick and raise their dead? Jesus tells them not to go out into the Gentile world. Guess what, we are the Gentile world. Gentiles are anyone who is not Jewish and none of us are Jewish. Therefore even though I seriously doubt many of us have the ability to cleanse lepers and raise the dead, we really wouldn’t have anyplace to go.
It is hard to take Biblical ideas and stories and make them relevant for us today. One person who I think does this well is Rob Bell. He is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI. You might also know him for the video series we have here at Trinity and that Solomon’s Porch and the Jackie Boles Bible Study did. He has a very fresh perspective on things and in some cases a very unique visual way of expressing them. To demonstrate the idea of real love he set a stack of timber logs on fire. The flames were said to be seen from 10 miles away.
If the task the disciples were given are not relevant to us the disciples must be. What I think is interesting about the list of disciples here is the information that comes with them. It is interesting who Matthew names and then labels his father or their profession or their sin. Matthew simply names Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Thaddaeus. He has to distinguish between the two James and Simons. He tells us one James is the son of Zebedee and the other the son of Alphaeus, who both thanked God that they weren’t named after their father. He also has to tell us the difference between the two Simons. One is called Simon the Zealot, which is really a reference to his hometown of Cana. The other is Simon, aka Peter and we all know him. The other two are very interesting. He tells us that Matthew, the disciple this gospel is named after and some think actually wrote it, is a tax collector. This is the only person whose profession is named. The other is Judas Iscariot who we learn here betrays Jesus (great way to ruin the surprise).
Matthew is a tax collector, the most hated person in all the land because he is seen as a traitor to his fellow Jews. Then there is the one who actually is a traitor, Judas. These are the people that make up the dirty dozen that Jesus calls to do his will. These are the rag tag group that is called to be Jesus’ closest companions and trusted followers. If you ever visit Duke Chapel you will be amazed by the beauty of the stain glass windows. When you walk in you will see that down the main section of the church there are two levels of windows. The upper windows are depictions of the Old Testament and the lower the New. Behind the altar you can see individual windows of the 12 disciples. In each of their hands are the weapons by which they were martyred. Each one of the disciple Matthew names here, end up all dying for the one they followed or in Judas’ case by his own hands.
This is the group Jesus trusted to do his will, to build his church, to proclaim the good news. This commission in the 10th chapter of Matthew is small taste of what they will have to do when Jesus leaves the earth. It makes me wonder if Jesus should have picked some better qualified people to do this. Jesus should have hired Goodby Silverstein, they are the advertising firm that came up with those cool, HP commercials. You know the one where you see celebrity’s hands taking about all they do. The way to promote your cause these days it to get a good PR firm and spread your image, logo, catch phrase, or cause all over the media, TV, radio and especially the internet; YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Google.
Instead, Jesus chooses 12 people, everyday individuals, from fisherman to even a tax collector, to spread his message. He chooses only 12 and one still betrays him. He looks at them and knows the future of God’s work is in their hands and he has faith that they will succeed and live up to the life he is calling them to live. The stain glass window in Duke Chapel tell us they did even though it cost them their lives. We sit here today in this sanctuary because of the work that these ordinary people did.
During the summer I worked as a life guard. I even taught swim lessons to little kids. Now that I have one of my own I look forward to teaching him how to swim one day. When you are teaching a kid to swim they have to trust you completely to do what they do. I remember coaching a little three year old that it was okay to jump off the edge of the pool into the water. I told him, “Don’t worry, I’ll catch you. You can do it. You can do it.” Eventually he jumped and I caught him. After about the second time you could tell a light bulb went off in his head. Confidence grew in him and he started to have faith that he could do it. Then it was hard to get him to stop. I would place him back up on the wall and before I could get back into my spot he had launched himself off the edge again, and then again, and then again.
If you look up Rob Bell you YouTube you can see clips of his videos. You can also see people’s responses to them. In one video a guy was explaining that Rob got it wrong in his video Dust. In that video Rob explains that Peter started to sink when he was walking on water because of his lack of faith in himself. He talks about the fact that God has faith in us. God has faith in us. God…has…faith…in…us. When I heard that it was hard for me to swallow too.
The beginning of this scripture today tells of Jesus looking out into a crowd and seeing people who are harassed and helpless. He sees them as sheep without a shepherd and then he says to his 12 friends, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. God doesn’t need our help to do his will in this world. He could have it done in a blink of an eye. I could have picked up that kid I was teaching to swim and thrown him into the pool but would have learned anything, besides not wanting to be around me anymore? God can do it but instead he chooses to use us instead. He chose people like Noah who had a drinking problem; Moses who stuttered and wavered in his faith; Rahab who was a prostitute; Jonah who hates God’s vision; Judas who betrayed Jesus; Peter who denied he ever knew Christ; and Paul who persecuted the followers and witnessed the death of the first martyr. God chose a dairy farm boy from Charlotte, called Billy Graham, to proclaim the good news to millions. God chose a person who grew up hating to speak in front of people to become your minister.
God chooses to use ordinary people like me and YOU to do his will. He does so because he has faith in his children. He has faith in you that you can do the things he is asking you to do. He looks at you and says, “(look out and name people in the congregation) and everyone else, I gave you talents and abilities to do my will. I have faith in you…go do it.”
Jesus looks at his disciples and tells them to pray to the Lord to send out workers into his harvest field. God smiles today because he knows that although we may not believe it in our hearts yet, he has called us to go out and pick the harvest. Normal, ordinary, broken, messed up, shy, scared, unwilling, nervous, regular, and average people like you and me. God has faith in us. US.
And all God’s people said…AMEN.