Thursday, August 21, 2008

Workers, Ministers, Prophets

Rating: GT
Matthew 9:35-10:23

Jesus is giving his disciples instructions; and they’re very clear and explicit and concrete. He tells them to do six things:

1. proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.'
2. Cure the sick,
3. raise the dead,
4. cleanse the lepers,
5. cast out demons.

He’s also very specific about the scope of this project: this particular mission trip is “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That’s your focus. He tells them exactly where to go and then tells them how to go: “You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: to engage with the living God is to become vulnerable. Following the commandments of Christ means experiencing passion: choosing to be affected, at the deepest possible level, by our fellow human beings.
All mission and ministry is born in that place of vulnerability and passion.
There may be actions that are commendable and noble even, but without passion they are not missional.
Service without joy is not ministry, it’s just drudgery.
And while it may be possible to experience contentment or satisfaction from noble acts of service, joy is only born out of a place of vulnerability.

The disciples are to set out on a mission trip to the lost sheep of the house of Israel with no money and no spare clothes and no luggage and no staff to lean on or fend off stray dogs with, which pretty much means that they are going to be vulnerable at every step to all the circumstances of their journey.

So the parameters that Jesus sets up here are very well-structured in terms of action that is missional and ministerial.

Which is good, because some of the things he’s charged them to do are not exactly easy: I’m thinking here of casting out demons and raising the dead… and curing the sick and cleansing lepers are not party tricks either. These are big orders.

And… Jesus has told them that they will be given power to do these things. He’s very reassuring on that point. And given everything that Jesus himself has done up to now, I think I’d believe him. His credibility is very high right now.
So while these marching orders are definitely big deal, big time, there’s every reason for the disciples to have confidence that this thing is doable. And it’s exciting! Mission is exciting. There is good work to do, and there is no time to waste.

But there is something else.
And it is really hard.
Because there are six things Jesus tells them to do.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Man, I don’t know. And I’ve wrestled and wrestled with this.
It is just hard
And --I can’t find my way around the hardness of it.

Jesus tells them, sometimes it is not going to work. Some people are not going to take what you have to give and when that happens, here is what you have to do.

The sixth thing Jesus commands them to do is to walk away.

And that is—that might be really too hard. I’m not sure I can bear hearing Jesus command me to walk away. Everything in me screams that it’s just not right and he can’t ask me to do that.

But that’s what the words say; they’re very clear and not at all equivocal. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that.

There’s nothing here to make us feel any better about it. Jesus doesn’t say, “Look, just work with people who can hear you, but don’t worry about it if they can’t, because it’ll be OK, you’ll see.”

That’s not what he says. He doesn’t say anything about what it means
and he doesn’t reassure us by talking about eventualities.
He just lays it out there: there will be times when your current reality is that
it’s not going to be OK. He says really clearly: it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Pain and suffering and tragedy and what I am telling you to do is

Where is the good news in that?

I’m not playing when I say this is hard.
I have staked my life on the conviction that God is Love
and that the way for me to grow and live into my true nature as a physical expression of that Love
is to be found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Incarnate Word of God--who is Love

and this commandment to walk away is --
I’m not feeling the love
I can’t reconcile that.

I don’t know.
Maybe there’s good news in just being honest
In speaking this plain unvarnished hard hard truth that there is
and suffering
and tragedy
that you and I cannot do anything about
maybe there’s good news in just having that said, straight out
and acknowledged
sometimes it’s not going to be OK and there’s not anything we can do about it.

There’s a prayer that was written by Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980, while he was at the altar saying Eucharist.

in one part of this prayer he says
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

We cannot do everything.
In order to do something
we have to leave that which we cannot do
There’s no way to get to the next town where there is work to do,
to proclaim and cure and cleanse and raise and cast out the demon
without walking away from the undone thing

And Jesus knows this and he’s not lying to us about it
There’s no bait and switch here
Jesus knows that when you and I go forth in mission, passionate and vulnerable,
living into our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and respecting the dignity of every human being
that we will encounter tragedies and injustices and atrocities that you and I can do nothing about.
And Jesus knows how hard that is
that there’s no way for it not to be
there’s no way around the hardness of it
not if we’re doing ministry: not if we have chosen to become vulnerable, and passionate
Jesus knows this; that’s why he tells us.
So that we know we’re not alone.
We are not alone. And that is
good news. Doesn’t feel good. But it is good.

because the work of proclaiming and curing and cleansing and raising
and casting out the demon
still needs doing.
There is good work to do, and there is no time to waste. And we are not alone.

Romero’s prayer goes on:
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Workers. Ministers. Prophets.
You. Yes, you. And I. Look around you. That person right there is a worker, and a minister. And a prophet. So are you.
As a worker, you get to choose whether or not you will do the work.
As a minister, you get to choose whether or not you will minister to the person God has placed in front of you.
As a prophet, you get to choose whether or not you will speak truth to power.

And if that sounds scary to you, well, yes, that sounds about right. Jesus promises us that at times it will be scary, and hard, and painful beyond belief.
And that we will not ever, ever
be alone.

Workers. Ministers. Prophets.


yours in the struggle,


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