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 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 word ‘apostle’ in Greek may be translated as ‘sent ones’. These apostles He selected followed Him, watched him preach and teach, heard his parables and tried to become prepared to help Jesus with his work – sort of like a ‘disciple school’. [They were now prepared 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 as pure as driven snow. None of these men were born leaders, highly schooled, or well-positioned in the synagogue. 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 without looking back. 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. Some mothers even got into the act.
Let me remind you who they were:
Simon Peter, a fisherman, became the spokesperson for the group, although his impetuousness often got him in trouble. Although his faith always seemed to go from strong to doubt (remember he denied Jesus three times and almost drowned while trying to walk on water), Jesus called him ‘the rock’ on which the church would be founded. He spent his life after Jesus’ death evangelizing and eventually ended up in Rome and was crucified upside down for his faith.
Andrew, also was a fisherman and the brother of Peter, stopped following John the Baptist to join Jesus. Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus, letting him step into the limelight as the apostles taught and converted people. He spent his life bringing people to Jesus and like so many of Jesus’ followers he was killed because he preached the gospel. History suggests that he was crucified on a cross shaped like an ‘X’.
James was one of the fisherman sons of Zebedee who followed Jesus. He is often called ‘James the Greater’ to distinguish him from the other apostle James. He and his brother John were known as the ‘Sons of Thunder’ because of their loud voices and desire to punish anyone who slighted Jesus. James was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred, killed with the sword on orders of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D.
John, the brother of James and also a fisherman, was called ‘the apostle that Jesus loved’. John obviously was one of Jesus’ favorites because he entrusted his mother, Mary, to him at his crucifixion. John is credited with writing the gospel of John, first, second and third John, and the book of Revelation. John continued to teach and preach against heresy until he died of old age, the only apostle who did not die for his faith.
Philip was one of the first apostles to be called, having left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. And he wasted no time calling others, like Nathanael, to do the same. Although little is known about him after the ascension of Christ, Bible historians believe Philip preached the gospel in Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and died a martyr there at Hierapolis
Nathanael is thought to have been known as Bartholomew, who was introduced to Jesus by Philip and immediately recognized him as the Son of God. Although little is known about Bartholomew, legend has it that he preached in India and was crucified upside down.
Levi, who became the Apostle Matthew, was a customs official in Capernaum who taxed imports and exports based on his own judgment. The Jews hated him because he worked for Rome and betrayed his countrymen. But when Jesus said ‘follow me’, he did and became the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Legend has it that he traveled to Ethiopia and was martyred there.
Thomas, who we all know as ‘Doubting Thomas’ spread the gospel to the east after the death of Jesus and was martyred.
James the Less, son of Alphaeus, was called ‘the less’ to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee. He is the least known of all the apostles – he is only mentioned with all the other apostles in the Upper Room.
Simon the Zealot has almost no mention in scripture except in lists of the apostles. Sometimes he is referred to as ‘Simon the Canaanite’, as we heard in last week’s gospel. His life before following Jesus and after the resurrection is a mystery – the name ‘zealot’ may refer to his religious zeal or that he was a member of the Zealots, an assassin group during that period.
Thaddeus or Jude is another one of the unknown apostles, only referenced in a list of the apostles. Some biblical scholars think Thaddeus wrote the book of Jude. Church tradition says that he founded a church in Edessa and was crucified there.
Judas Iscariot is probably the most infamous apostle, and not for a good reason. We all know the story of his betrayal of Jesus, followed by his suicide. There is some theological thought that Judas’ betrayal was part of God’s plan, but that is for discussion at a later date.
So those were the apostles that Jesus called to follow and help him throughout his short life on earth – rather an ill-assorted crew, people from all walks of life. But what it says is that Jesus can, and does call all kinds of people to follow him – people that would normally never be friends or associates, but were brought together because of their belief in Jesus and his message.
How little did those disciples know what lay ahead for them. Their path would be fraught with discomfort, persecution and often painful 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”
Today, as then, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls 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 His word.
And YES, he even sends YOU and ME!!!!
Each and every one of us is called to be disciples for Jesus. 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 can learn to 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 many excuses why we can’t be disciples for Christ:
- We don’t know what to do;
- There are ‘professionals’ to do this;
- “It’s not my job”;
- We don’t know what to say to people;
- We are not good enough Christians to witness to others;
- We are 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 who and what you are?
- Was it a pastor?
- A friend or family member?
- A stranger who gave you love or hope?
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 all with the tools necessary: Prayer!!
- 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, then the needs, hurts and fears of the lost sheep will be made known to you.
Remember, 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.
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. This is how we become his true disciples.
God will give us the tools,
God will give us the words,
God will give us the strength,
God will teach us.
A well-beloved mission song says:
(sung) 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.
Let us all become true disciples of Jesus, follow him and feed his sheep with love peace, forgiveness and joy!
Let us pray:
(sung) Here I am, Lord,
Here we are Lord,
Send the people of Saint John’s.
To do your work.
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 25 June 2017