I have to say this is a very humbling moment, standing up here in the pulpit, looking out on the faces of many friends who have been with me throughout my journey to the diaconate. I can never express to y‘all what all your support and prayers and love meant to me as I walked that path. You will forever be special blessings in my life.
- “Lord, please give me to say that which you want your people to hear. Help me serve you well this day.”
Today’s scripture continues the great commissioning of the disciples which started with last week’s gospel reading. Jesus had been traveling through the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, healing the sick 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 quickly realized that there was much more 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 like a ‘disciple school’. [They were now prepared to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. More importantly they were to proclaim and spread the good news, just as Jesus had done.]
It is important to notice that Jesus called all sorts of people – you didn’t have to be pure as the driven snow. Saint Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most hated professions 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 fishermen, 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, or 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 have been considered persons headed for sainthood or martyrdom. But they dropped their nets, left their jobs and families and followed Jesus as apostles. What a motley crew they must have been. Scripture tells us 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”.
How little did those disciples know what lay ahead for them. Their path would be fraught with discomfort, persecution and even death. Yet, so intense and amazing was this man Jesus and their attraction to him that they followed Him anyway.
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 commissioned the apostles to bring these sheep back to the fold, and He 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 in people that others found disgusting or repugnant or laughable. Jesus saw into their hearts and knew their worth.
Today, as then, the desire of Jesus Christ is to bring all people to know and be part of the Kingdom of God. So throughout the ages he has sent, and today He sends apostles, prophets, evangelists, priests, deacons and teachers to go forth and preach the gospel of salvation.
And YES, he even sends YOU and ME!!!!
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, and we are brought into the family of Christ. We cannot escape – we dare not 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 stop the church from becoming complacent and forgetting its commitment to God and God’s purpose in the face of struggles with changing demographics, budgets shortfalls, ecclesiastical protocols and Biblical interpretations. The church is first and foremost asked to build a community where one does not exist or reinforce a community that is fractured. We are challenged to bring calmness and peace to the chaos of individuals’ souls and lives and to reach out and follow Jesus’ command to ‘feed my sheep’.
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 expect 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;
I am afraid.
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 whom 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 that 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 visionary 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 His side.
You say you do not know what to do. God has equipped us all with the tools necessary: 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.
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 hope, of forgiveness, of understanding of God’s love. There may be no one to go 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 who one ignores these lost sheep, who passes them by refusing in your safe and comfortable path to acknowledge their existence. . .
Or are you willing to be committed to Jesus?
When we see those lost sheep and we do nothing, is this not refusing our baptismal covenant and call? 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!
Jesus warns us that the path he leads and we follow will not be easy; we will be rejected and persecuted and may even die in the physical sense. But we will never be without God’s love and protection. Jesus assures us that, as God held Him in his arms at His crucifixion, so will God look after us with the same love.
God is love in this world!
This love is free and need not be earned and cannot be bought.
This love is complete and total, with no restrictions and no boundaries.
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, to teach us that our ultimate fear – death – does not exist – Is not an end, but a beginning.
What good news indeed!
What great love!
This is the love that we can grow into and learn to give each other freely and without end, to:
- our friends,
our fellow church members,
but even more to strangers,
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.
As we give thanksgiving for the birth and baptism of Moira Fellrath we are reminded that we are all children of God. And no matter what happens to us, we will always be His children and He will always be there for us.
This, then, is our great commission: our great baptismal pledge, 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.
Isaiah 6:8 is paraphrased in one of the most powerful and well-loved mission songs. My deacons’ school class adopted it as our theme song and sang it at graduation.
This song belongs to us all.
- Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, If you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.
Here I am, Lord,
Here we are Lord,
Send the people of Trinity.(sung)
Let us all take up the cross of Jesus and follow him and feed his sheep!
Delivered At Trinity Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 22 June 2008