O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my mouth and in the thoughts we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.
Today’s scripture can be called ‘The Great Commissioning’. From Matthew 10, we heard the following:
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out.
Jesus had been traveling through the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, healing with compassion and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. He was healing with compassion people he saw as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
He knew there was much work to be done than He could accomplish by himself – that He would need help. So he began to select his apostles.
The world ‘apostle’ in Greek may be translated as ‘sent ones’. These apostles he selected followed Him, watched him preach and teach, heard his parables and became prepared to help Jesus with his work – sort of a ‘disciple school’. (They were now prepared to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leapers and cast out demons. More importantly they were to proclaim the good news, just as Jesus had done.)
It is important to notice that Jesus called all sorts of people – you don’t have to be pure as the driven snow. Saint Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most hated people of the times. But Jesus went right into his office, grabbed him by the collar and called him to be an apostle. Simon Peter and his brother Andrew were common fisherman, probably with little or no education. And Simon the Zealot, an assassin, was one of those people that nobody wanted to meet in a dark alley.
None of these men were born leaders, highly schooled, well-positioned in the church. And although Matthew does not tell us this, we also know from other scriptures that Jesus called women to be disciples. None of his followers had training to heal or preach before they met Jesus; none would be considered persons worthy of martyrdom. But they dropped their nets, left their jobs and families and followed Jesus as apostles. What a motley crew they were. I am sure that they didn’t even get along with each other; there was all kind of jockeying to be Jesus’ favorite.
But, as C. S. Lewis once said,
- “Dogs and cats should always be brought together – it broadens their minds so”.
The apostles were told to gather the ‘lost sheep’ into the fold. Sheep without a shepherd are a foolish lot; they will wander off and not be able to find their way home. There is absolutely nothing more pitiful than a group of sheep with no one to lead them. Jesus commissions the apostles to bring these sheep back to the fold. Jesus clearly gave them the power to do so. In Matthew 10:19-20 Jesus told them:
“do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time”
This unusual and diverse group of people clearly gained through His example and teaching and power, the skills to do the work Jesus commissioned them to do.
It seems Jesus purposely called people from all walks of life to follow and serve Him. Jesus could see the possibilities that people found disgusting or repugnant. But He sees into the heart and knows their worth.
Christ wants all to be saved, to be a part of the Kingdom of God. So He sends apostles, prophets, evangelists, priests, deacons and teachers to go and preach the gospel of salvation.
And YES, he even sends YOU!!!!
Each and every one of us is called to be disciples for Christ. The word disciple comes from the Greek word meaning ‘learner’. We are called to be disciples when those three handfuls of water are poured over our heads in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. You can’t escape that calling from the baptismal covenant. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to proclaim the Gospel.
As Christians, we have a special responsibility to not let the church become complacent and forget its commitment to God and God’s purpose. We are asked to build a community where it does not exist or reinforce a community that is fractured. We are challenged to bring calmness to the chaos of individual’s souls.
Just as the apostles were directed, we must reach out to bring lost souls to the grace and salvation of Christ. As members of His body, it is up to us to do His work. And just as the apostles were varied and an unusual lot of people, so are we. Just as Jesus looked into their hearts and knew what they were capable of, so does he look into our hearts and knows us far better than we know ourselves.
Now, I know some of you think that you can’t be shepherds to lost sheep, that you are not called to do the work of Jesus. We all have hundreds of excuses why we can’t be disciples for Christ:
I don’t know what to do;
There are too many;
There are professionals to do this;
It’s not my job;
I don’t know what to say to people;
I’m not a good enough Christian to witness to others.
So I ask you, how did YOU get to know the love and grace and salvation of God through Jesus???????
- Didn’t someone gather you in like a lost sheep?
Didn’t someone show you the grace of God and welcome you into the fold, regardless of who or what you are?
Was it a religious professional?
A friend who listened to you in a time of need?
A stranger who helped you when you dropped a heavy load?
A co-worker who helped you finish an impossible task?
An acquaintance who brought you food when you were sick?
Someone who loved you when you thought you were unlovable?
A child who smiled at you when you were sad?
Someone who gave you forgiveness when you couldn’t forgive yourself?
Are not these lost sheep just as precious as you were then? The love of Jesus comes to us through the eyes, hands and hearts of everyday people, just like you and me. We are all called to be shepherds, to love and guide each other in the path of Jesus.
A voice from the fourteenth century, Saint Teresa of Avila, reminds us:
God has no hands but our hands, to do his work today;
God has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way;
God has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died;
And, God has no help but our help to lead them to this side.
You say you do not know what to do. God has equipped us all with the tools necessary:
Go with prayer.
Pray for God to strengthen and nourish those that are lost . . .
and those already found
Pray for the ability of others to hear and receive the Word
Pray for opportunities to be disciples
Pray for open hearts, ready to hear the hope in God’s love
Pray for the strength and courage to share that hope with others
Pray for the Holy Spirit to work his power in the hearts of others.
The best evangelist is one who reaches those around them. Perhaps first learn to talk about your faith to fellow church members through study groups and witnessing. Through this you may then learn to talk about your faith to the disenfranchised and strangers. Most of all, be an example of the gospel message and the needs, hurts and fears of the lost sheep will be made known to you.
For example, I know a graduate student, who through a living example of Christ’s love and an open invitation to attend church, has brought a fellow student to know the grace of God. It was a simple act of friendship. Let the Spirit move you and give you the words to say.
We know where lost sheep are – those who have been thrown away or abandoned. In ancient days, if you did not want your newborn, you threw it out or abandoned it in the desert. Lost souls are like these helpless children – left to die in the wilderness, without any word of comfort of God’s love. There is no one to come and help them. Jesus saw these lost sheep and sent his disciples to gather them in. He is sending us!
Do you want to be one of those lost sheep . . .
Or are you willing to be committed to Jesus?
When we see those lost sheep and we do nothing, we are sinning! We are not trusting in God to show us the way! We are being selfish, thinking more of our own comfort than the spiritual welfare of others!
God is loves in this world!
God sent His Son Jesus, to live as a man and die a most painful death as a man to teach us God’s love.
This love is free and undeserved.
This love is complete and total, with no restrictions and no boundaries.
This is the love that we can grow into and learn to give each other,
our fellow church members,
those who would hurt us,
people we don’t understand,
people who have never seen the love of God as shown through the life of Jesus
This is our great commission: to live this love every day, to show it in every choice we make and to everyone we see.
God will give us the tools,
God will give us the words,
God will give us the strength,
God will teach us
To quote Isaiah 6:8,
Here I am, send me.
This sermon was delivered at the Procter Conference Center, Diocese of Southern Ohio, as part of my ordination exams on 6 January 2008