Genesis 18:1-15 [21:1-7]
Psalm 116:1- 2, 12-19
Matthew 9:35—10:8 [9-23]
Only once did we live in a provincial capital. It was for the eight years we lived in Winnipeg. And it was in Winnipeg that we attended the Lieutenant Governor’s New Year’s Levée. Of course, there was a public levée, held at the legislature, but there was also a levée for judges, representatives of the three levels of government, military, police, and clergy. That is the levée Jackie and I attended.
We always enjoyed these occasions but deep down I attended because for clergy still to be counted among some kind of elite was just too good to be true. You would not find that anywhere but at the Lieutenant Governor’s New Year’s Levée.
In some way this is reflective not only of the esteem clergy once enjoyed but also reflective of the power the church once had.
We have not lived in Winnipeg since 2002 and have not been to a New Year’s Levée for some time. But there are still invitations. We recently received an invitation from Chimo Community Services to their annual meeting. And Richmond Cares | Richmond Gives has a community directory and asked for confirmation or an update of our entry, and we have received requests to partner in refugee sponsorships.
The church’s place in society has changed but we still have a place.
We aren’t as strong in numbers or finances as we once were but we are still sought as a community partner and that is a gift.
How to partner and who to partner with requires discernment, as does knowing what our gifts are and understanding our mission. We don’t have to do something just because someone asks us to, but each time we are asked, we are reminded that God has given us a mission in the world.
In Abbotsford a retired Anglican priest contacted me to pool our resources for a fundraiser and awareness builder for South Sudan, the country that has suffered such violence and poverty because of it, for which CLWR now solicits funds for famine relief. I am not sure our fundraiser was a great success (and I had been a bit skeptical) but what came of it was an affirmation of relationship, and that led to a South Sudanese family renting the church’s old parsonage, which led to their request to run a youth group for South Sudanese kids out of the church, to help them live as followers of Jesus, and to ensure they who live between two cultures don’t get lost between them.
You never know what may happen. Only God knows and all we can do is be open to God’s possibilities.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel reading we hear Matthew repeat a verse we first read in chapter four, “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.”
These two verses form a parenthesis around teachings and miracles of Jesus, the whole of which not only characterize the ministry of Jesus but from now on characterize also the ministry of his disciples. And so we see Jesus send his disciples with clear instructions. They are to minister to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Later in the Gospel they are sent to all the world, but here they are to stay home and serve God at home.
And then they are to do as Jesus has done, which is not surprising because they are his followers, because Matthew already indicated so by repeating the aforementioned verse (“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”), but also because Jesus’ compassion for the people drove him to seek the help of the disciples, the help of the church.
What they are to do is more than speak words, though they are to do that also. They are to proclaim the good news, in the same way that Jesus has done,’The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ And they are to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.
If you first read Matthew eight and nine before you come to today’s reading you may wonder how we may possibly perform such miracles, or what has happened to the church that it does not seem to, or wonder about those churches who claim to (are they not just toying with people like Steve Martin in Leap of Faith?).
Personally, I believe that with God all things are possible but I also believe that the task of faith is not to escape the mundane realities of the world but to find God in them.
Yet what I first thought of when reading today’s Gospel was that it was Christians who built hospitals and orphanages and who shared their possessions with the poor, and who advocated on their behalf (as Shepherd of the Valley currently does in regards to housing for low-income families). Most certainly those things are also miracles, because every time we care for others for their sake God is at work. Where charity and love prevail, there is God.
And it strikes me that precisely this is the centre of our proclamation, people know that the kingdom has come near because we too weep for the world, and by God’s power we cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.
Following Jesus then is an engagement of the world. When I read the familiar verse about Jesus’s compassion for the people, I thought that we too must have compassion. Not in a patronizing way. But as a way to love as God loves. Compassion is a better way that beats screaming at your opponent or labelling your opponent as whatever you want to label him or her.
Having compassion remembers that God has sent us, that we have a mission, that we are inhabitants of the Kingdom already, and that as small as we may be, we can enter into partnerships with others, and part of following Jesus may simply be to seek where those partnerships may be. And partnerships usually are two way gifts.