Proper 6 (11) – Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
14 June 2020
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
I have always believed the church was important, even when I was too young to be able to articulate why.
Now I am able to say why I believe the church is important. It is important because here our identity as God’ people is formed. It is formed in the waters of baptism where we are not only adopted and called but where we also see that all people are loved by God and that with God there is no partiality. Yes, there is partiality in the world around us, but not so with God, and therefore, not so in the church, which is why there must always be room for the people the world considers different or odd.
The church is important because in the proclamation of the Word we learn that we are not self-made men and women, but that through God’s word we were created, we are called, and redeemed by God. We are precious to God, and we are dependent on God. And we know that our lives belong to God and are not our own.
Around the table we learn that it is not my daily bread but our daily bread and that God’s gifts are meant to be shared. And so we learn to engage in a different economics than the one that capitalism teaches. The church is the place where we form deep relationships, because God has entered into relationship with us.
It is not that one couldn’t swim against the stream if one were not Christian. But the church is supposed to help us understand who we are in Christ, and make swimming against the stream possible, not because being contrary is somehow our goal but because living in the community of the church is what helps us to live our vocation as God’s people, as a light to the world, and salt of the earth.
And so I worry what it means for us when we don’t get to gather for an extended period of time like this. Do we forget who we are? Do we start to watch church on our live-stream instead of being the church? Does church become only one thing among many which help us accessorize our life? Not that these are not dangers in non-Covid-19 times.
And so I pray that our time of worship during these times is meaningful, that our friendships deepen, and we remember who we are.
In today’s Gospel Jesus sends out the twelve disciples and it is one of the few places in the Gospels where all of the disciples are named.
The whole passage begins with Jesus’ compassion for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. It is this compassion that makes Jesus send out the disciples and instruct them to proclaim the good news that ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near,’ to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. All of this they shall do because it is God’s will, and they are not to commodify the gifts they bring. Jesus says, “You received without payment; give without payment.”
On Monday night before I went to bed I listened to the Pentecost sermon of William Barber II. I have been aware of Barber for some time, he is a member of the national board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the United States and the minister of Greenleaf Christian Church (DOC) in North Carolina.
In his Pentecost sermon Barber speaks not only of Minneapolis and George Floyd, but also about the pandemic and the fact that black Americans are six times more likely to die of the Corona virus than white people, which is an illustration of economic disparity and disparity in health care.
When in today’s Gospel Jesus has compassion for the people who are harassed and helpless and like sheep without a shepherd, he sends out the Twelve to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
Jesus does not just pray for the people but he sends his disciples whom he gives authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
I know that we do not live south of the border, and not all issues there are issues here. But we do have our own issues. Racial stereotypes, discrimination, and racism exist here as well. People are always afraid of what or who we perceive to be different and since many of us represent the group of people that set up the existing order, we can’t pretend that we have nothing to do with it. We cannot ignore the compounded trauma caused by forced resettlement, the loss of livelihood, the loss of language and culture, and the loss of one’s children through residential schools.
The problems here are not the same as those south of the border, but we must ask why our prison populations are made up of 30% indigenous people when their share of the total population is only five percent.
I am not going to give you a long catalogue of things I think are in need of change, but consider two things.
a) Jesus had compassion for the people. His compassion made him send out the disciples. They went out and they saw the need before their very eyes. We need to look around and may God give us eyes to see and ears to hear. We must not assume that we already know everything there is to know.
b) When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he sent them out to actually do things, not just speak nice words. The church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, but that Kingdom is not intangible and elusive but it is the Kingdom we pray to come on earth as it is in heaven and the Kingdom we embody when we welcome all and share the most precious gift of God’s own presence at the altar.
Our passage ends with warnings of persecution and opposition. Generally, we believe that this was the experience of the community for which Matthew was writing his gospel.
It sounds scary. But I doubt that would be our experience anytime soon. It is, however, a reminder, that our lives are not our own, and that we did not become followers of Jesus for our lives to be easier. We became followers of Jesus to have abundant life, and abundant life includes truth and justice.
So may we who have been stirred by the death of George Floyd, by the fatal shooting of two indigenous people in New Brunswick, by the protests against systemic racism, may we be stirred by the Holy Spirit to know that life cannot be what it once was but that God has commissioned us. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear, and may we have hearts to love, especially those who we once perceived to be different, and with whom we share our common humanity.