At the beginning of the tenth chapter of our gospel, Matthew details for us how Jesus gives authority to the disciples. They are to go into the world healing and teaching, laying hands on folks and casting out demons, taking the Gospel Message to the lost. Jesus is sending them out with his authority, but they are to go without any expectation of payment. Nothing in return. The only thing they might expect is that their basic needs will be taken care of as they go.
Jesus is offering them a life of hardship, persecution, difficulty, work – and is giving them very little to look forward to along the way. Not much incentive, you see, because discipleship is expensive. It’s the giving of yourself. They are going to be sheep among wolves, he says – they may even lose their lives as they go.
And that’s where we find ourselves as we continue the story with this morning’s text, we find Jesus continuing to prepare them for their missional work. Continuing to get them ready for the adversity they will face as their work teams leave the comfort area of Harnett County Raleigh and head out into a world of viruses and political unrest, maybe even protests and rioting. Leave their beds and their families behind without knowing what they will face, or when their work will be done, or when they will return. Knowing only that they have to tell people about Jesus and the things he has taught them.
Many of the people around them thought Jesus was a fraud, trying to trick them. Some thought he was as bad as Satan himself. So the disciples couldn’t really expect to be treated well by people who believed Jesus was teaching against God, now could they?
They couldn’t expect it any more than we can expect it. Our message of Good News is being presented to a nation where being part of a church is no longer the norm. We are living in a time when things don’t always make sense, in a nation where people think it is ok to stand on our own and not lean on our faith in God.
But, just like the disciples, we are called to a higher purpose. We are being sent out into that world that doesn’t want us there – and we are being sent to share information that many folks aren’t interested in hearing much less likely to believe. And yet, we are still expected to go. Still required to go. And there will be no peace until we go – until we want what God has planned for us. No peace.
This afternoon several of our church staff and friends will meet together – a couple of us in person, mostly by computer – to plan for our first live worship next Sunday. It’s a little overwhelming what goes into such an undertaking! We have worked so hard on planning and preparing – working to share the message of Jesus Christ with his church. But it’s not too much! We are called to be over-the-top. We are expected to offer the best we can – to offer excellence. We’ve put in hour after hour to share our faith… and guess what? We don’t know if anyone is coming! And unless you have told them about this… they don’t even know we are doing it!
But our goal is to be prepared. Our goal is to be faithful in telling the stories. Our goal is to be the best we can be in every single thing we do. We have a responsibility to share the stories of Jesus Christ with the world in fabulous ways.
Now, surely you can see that we’re doing everything we can to make it a little easier for you, but we can’t follow Jesus for you. We can provide opportunities to grow and learn and serve, but no one cannot take those steps for you. You have to walk in faith on your own. And you have to go without fear. Even though people may not show up or you will be rejected or worse, you go without fear knowing that you are protected by God always. What commitment are you willing to make? Will you be in Bible Study, Sunday School, Wednesday night prayer? Will you put it on your Facebook page? Will you tweet it out?
You know, we acknowledge Jesus by deeds as well as by words. You are here listening and worshiping, and hopefully you are going on our church website and singing the hymns and reading the scriptures and walking your children and grandchildren through their times of learning and worshiping. But what does that mean if on Monday it is simply back to normal and you haven’t taken any effort to tell someone else about these opportunities? What does it mean if your children and grandchildren aren’t experiencing children’s church and activities and Sunday School from our website? What does it mean if you haven’t funded the church or have no plans to help the Food Pantry this Tuesday on distribution day? What does it mean if we compromise our witness in that way?
You see, there will be no peace until we live into our commitment to God – until we seek God with all our hearts. No peace.
You know, so many pastors and their families are saying their good-byes this week. So many moving into new communities and new homes and beginning at new churches. You think preachers aren’t fearful as they bring God’s message to people? You would be incorrect in that assumption. We are terrified! We have every insecurity known to man. And even in a regular year, if the church were to be packed on our first Sunday, we know not to hold onto that too tightly because the newness will wear off and folks will most likely go back to who they really were before the “new” kicked in. Other things will come up in people’s lives that will take them away from church, and they will have all kinds of reasons they couldn’t be in worship on Sunday.
And this year, new pastors in new settings aren’t likely to be seeing packed Sanctuaries welcoming them into the community. This year, the people they do see will be wearing masks and keeping their distance. They will not be attending church in person. In some cases, living into one’s commitment to God can be agonizingly difficult.
We are having worship and Bible study together and committee meetings by Zoom these days, and I’m still hearing from people saying they can’t be a part of things because they are going out of town. This should be the easiest time ever to be engaged in worship. Grab a cup of coffee, sit in your recliner and tune in! But the excuses are amazing. You know, Billy Graham once said, "Jesus spoke about the ox in the ditch on the Sabbath. But if your ox gets in the ditch every Sunday, you should either get rid of the ox or fill up the ditch."
But it’s not all lost – even when we are terrified of the pulpit or saddened that people are playing hooky – again – we do have the assurance that we are under God’s protection. Always. Just as you have that same assurance, that same guarantee, that same hope.
And WITH that hope, comes an undeniable desire to look for Jesus, to be with Jesus, to know Jesus… and to share Jesus. You can’t just get rid of it.
When you recognize the hope that Jesus Christ offers, you realize that you have to share it. And even if it sets us against our friends or our neighbors or even our family members, we are going to love Jesus more than anything else we have ever known. And until we begin to move in that direction and actively look for Jesus, there will be no peace.
Jesus says: “Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven... but I haven’t come to make life easy. I didn’t come just so that you can have peace. Actually, it’s the other way around. Follow me and you’re likely to have no peace. You’re likely to plan, and set up, and get excited, and be ready to tell your stories… and no one will come to hear them. You’re likely to feel rejected at times. But the call isn’t to be successful – it’s to be faithful. And when you are faithful, it’s all going to be worth it in the end. That’s where the peace will be.” Folks, I just want us to be faithful. God is going to take care of the rest of it.
Do you hear the urgency in sharing Jesus with all the people who will cross your path this week? Will you make every effort to invite someone to our live worship next Sunday? Will you volunteer at the Food Pantry this week? Will you be a voice of reason and calm – a voice of hope – in a hurting and dying and violent world?
Will you open your heart to hearing Jesus move you into the world without fear?