Wenceslaus Hollar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The scripture for this sermon is Matthew 9:28 – 10:8. It can be found here.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I don’t like to think of myself as “harassed and helpless.” It certainly isn’t the image I want to show others. But, there are times when I have felt harassed and helpless. I remember this particular time, when I went fishing with my family growing up. Because we milked cows we would often go after we finished with chores and would not get to the lake until an hour before sundown.
This one evening, we were out about a quarter of a mile from shore on my father’s homemade pontoon boat. It was a fun evening of fishing, it was great being on the lake, we caught some fish, but, the twilight was fading and it was time to go home. My father started the outboard motor, we went about 30 feet and the motor died and won’t restart. None of us knew how to swim so we couldn’t swim and push the pontoon. We had one paddle, but have you ever tried to maneuver a pontoon with a paddle? It is slow and cumbersome.
Have ever noticed that there is a certain time of the night when it seems like every mosquito in the country wakes up? That night they were a ravenous boiling buzzing cloud surrounding us. I felt harassed and helpless, swatting and flailing as we ever so slowly made our way back to the shore.
But, as the years go by, I think more and more about my dad. I am sure he also felt harassed and helpless as he watched his family get bit by mosquitoes, was unable to swat them away himself and row at the same time, and was making such painfully slow progress to the shore. But, isn’t that what good father’s do? I remember him with gratitude on this Father’s Day.
Harassed and helpless. Ever feel overwhelmed as you tried to figure out the best way to parent? Or helpless as you stood by the bedside of sick loved one? Maybe you found yourself dealing with an unexpected mid-life transition. Or coping with the death of a spouse, child, or friend. Maybe you discovered the future you imagined is not the reality you are living.
Or maybe you are trying to come to terms with the fact that you will need to keep working to make ends meet, wondering if your health will hold, wondering if your employer will continue to find you valuable as you age as you watch your friends retire. Or found yourself wondering if you are valued in retirement? Or maybe a sense of being harassed and helpless comes as you simply try to keep up with the pace of change. Tom Friedman makes a strong case that the pace of change is now moving faster than our ability to adapt to it.
When I think of the pace change I am reminded of a classic episode from “The Lucy Show.” Perhaps you are old enough to remember Lucy and Ethel struggling to wrap candies coming on a conveyor belt. The candies come too fast for them to wrap and so they pile them in front of themselves, stick them in their mouth, in their hats, and down their blouse in vain attempts to keep the candies from proceeding down the conveyor belt wrapped. At one point Lucy tells Ethel, “I think we are fighting a losing game.” (If you would like to see the clip, it is available on YouTube here.)
Harassed and helpless. At one time or another, most of us have felt harassed and helpless. That’s why I love Jesus reaction. Matthew tells us Jesus had compassion for them. Jesus had compassion. It was Jesus’ compassion that moved him to help and heal. And it is Jesus’ compassion that moves him to commission his disciples and send them out to do exactly what he was doing – help and heal.
Jesus believes compassion creates compassion. Jesus has compassion on imperfect people. Just take a look at the twelve he sent out. Peter will deny Jesus three times. Judas will betray him. Do you think we are divided politically as a nation? Matthew worked for the Romans as a tax collector and Simon the Cananean or “zealot” worked against them. The Romans may have considered Simon the Cananean a terrorist. This is who Jesus now commissions proclaim the kingdom of God and to carry out his work of help and healing.
Jesus believes compassion creates compassion. Jesus makes clear that seeks people who are willing to be commissioned and sent – proclaim and heal. Someone once said, the church doesn’t have a mission but rather God’s mission has a church. Although God could accomplish this mission alone, God in Christ invites us to come alongside him and participate in mission. William Williamon put it this way:
“What if the church isn’t the means whereby you get what you want out of God but rather the place where God gets what God wants out of you? What if Christian discipleship isn’t the way God meets your needs but rather you are the way God meets the world’s needs? I think the church makes a big mistake when it presents the gospel as the solution to all your problems, the way to get more of whatever it is that you think you just must have in order for your life to go a bit easier. Note that in today’s Gospel lesson Jesus doesn’t greet his first disciples with, “What can I do for you? Tell me where it hurts.”
A Christian is someone who has been found by Jesus, who has been assigned a job by Jesus, who realizes that their greatest need is not to have their wants met, their aches and pains soothed, but rather to join in Jesus’s mission into the world. In mission thought today, it’s sometimes stressed that mission is not so much what we do but first of all what God does. Notice in today’s Gospel that Jesus first preaches, heals, and casts out demons. Then he turns to ordinary people and says, in effect, “I’ve enjoyed embodying the outbreak of God’s kingdom. Now you try it!”
When we think of casting out demons most of us think of something dramatic – and I suppose it can be – but demons come in many disguises. I don’t know how many of you were at Lin Warren’s retirement celebration. But, Ben Utecht, a tight end for the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals, was the Master of Ceremonies (MC) for the celebration. He talked about how he had been goofing off as a 9th grader and got called into Lin’s office. Lin sat him down and rather than chewing him out as he expected, Lin proceeded to tell him about the gifts he saw in him and his leadership qualities. Ben said, “It changed me. I have never forgot it.”
Compassion creates compassion.
I was at the graduation party for one of Our Saviour’s seniors yesterday. You know how it is at graduation parties – you have the food, and drinks, and the Wall of Fame. You know what I’m talking about. Some open houses put pictures up – some have awards – there are accomplishments and treasures. We had them up for our kids too – it’s what you do. At this senior’s wall was a letter from the Mason’s. It was quite a letter. Ever since this senior was 14 he has been using his gift of music to fund-raise money. Every time he played he would give the money he got to the Mason’s for cancer research. By his Junior year he had already raised over $5,000.00. Here is a high school kid doing what he could to bring healing.
I was talking with a woman from Red Wing the other day. She told me about her 20-year-old son. He has been diagnosed Asperger’s. She told me about needing to take him to the emergency room a couple of years ago. The doctors who saw him demanded to meet her. They were amazed that he didn’t have a long list of medical visits. She told the doctor that up until now she and her husband had been caring for him. She asked, “Doesn’t everybody?” He told her, “Oh no. You would be surprised. Many people just drop them off and expect us to deal with them.”
Then she told me about an incident that happened in Red Wing not long ago. There was a large special needs young adult that had fallen in the middle of the street and couldn’t get up. People were walking by, cars were driving by, and it was her son who walked into the traffic made cars stop, and helped the person lying there.
Compassion creates compassion.
I could tell stories all morning long. You know these stories. You have lived these stories. God’s mission has a church. You are people who have been sent. God has a church – it is you! Amen.