Equipped for a mission-focused
Journey With Jesus

Sermon for June 18, 2023 – Proper 6

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5030 | Calling 911
Greg Williams

Have you ever had to call 9-1-1? I hope not, but if you have, it was probably because you were in a serious situation that needed an immediate response. That’s why we call 9-1-1 here in the US. It’s the one number we know will be answered immediately and we will get a quick response to our needs. Could you imagine calling 9-1-1 and getting a recording or being put on hold? Hopefully, that will never happen to you. When an emergency occurs, there is a bit of peace knowing we can depend on someone answering us when we dial 9-1-1.

For those who have grown to know the Lord, 9-1-1 is likely the second call we make because our first cry for help is to the Lord himself. Like so many other believers, we have learned that the Lord is even more reliable than 9-1-1. He is always there to answer our call for help. Experience teaches us we can always turn to the Lord with our troubles, great or small because he has proven to be faithful to hear our call time and time again. Here is the beginning of a Psalm that expresses this trust:

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
He heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
Psalm 116:1-2 (ESV)

If you are watching this video, you probably don’t need to call 9-1-1. But I’m guessing many of you are facing troubles and trials. I encourage you to follow the wisdom of the one who wrote this psalm. Know and be confident in the truth that whatever troubles you are facing, either now or later, you can call on the Lord. Even when it seems he hasn’t answered, or answers in a way different than you desired, you can be sure you are not getting a recording or being put on hold. He hears you and always responds with the right answer at the right time.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 • Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) • Romans 5:1-8 • Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

This week’s theme is God’s response to human need. The call to worship Psalm is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s response to human need. The Old Testament reading from Genesis recounts Abraham’s and Sarah’s responses to God fulfilling his promise of a son. The epistolary text in Romans expresses confidence and trust in the God who provides justification, peace, and grace through Jesus Christ. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is proclaiming the gospel while healing out of his compassion for the crowd, and he commissions the disciples to do the same.

Like Master, Like Disciple

Matthew 9:35-10:8 (ESV)

Today we continue our early steps into the season of Ordinary Time. You may recall this season was kicked off with Trinity Sunday where we looked at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where he commissions the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Last week the lectionary track for the Gospels continued in Matthew with a selection from chapter 9 that begins with Jesus calling a tax collector to be a disciple, who, according to early church tradition, also happens to be the author of the Gospel that we are following. That calling is met with some scorn by the Pharisees, which prompts Jesus to say, “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). That is followed by a beautiful story of Jesus healing a woman who had been suffering for twelve years as well as raising a little girl back to life who had died at only twelve years of age.

Today, as we continue in Matthew, we will see a theme emerging – discipleship. And more precisely, what it means to follow Jesus. This is an appropriate theme to begin our season of Ordinary Time. This season is a time where we unpack all that we have learned about Jesus during the first half of the Christian calendar, to live it out in our lives. Or in other words, we look to live in alignment with who Jesus is, and who we are as those who belong to him. The passage we have today will help us further along that journey, as we see once again a little more of who Jesus is, and what that means for those who are his disciples.

Let’s see how Matthew chooses to begin this section:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV)

Matthew begins with Jesus and what he did in his ministry. We must remember who Jesus is as the second person of the Trinity if we are going to gain the significance of what Matthew tells us about Jesus’ activity. In short, when we grasp that Jesus is God’s Son, we come to see that Jesus is God on earth, or as the name Emmanuel means, “God with us.” That means that when we read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ activity on earth, we are not just reading stories about a man with a mission. We are being given a revelation of who God is in his very being.

When it comes to God, who is pure without any misalignment between his actions and his being, we can know that what God does flows out of who God is. We can’t say this of any other human being. We are sinful creatures, meaning that there is much distortion and brokenness between what we think, say, and do. Not so with God. He never says or does anything that is out of line with his being. Therefore, James can refer to God as “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). We can trust that all we see in Jesus, in his words and actions, are perfectly consistent with the character and heart of God. In light of that truth, when we have a written account of Jesus’ activity, we are given a great gift from above that reveals to us who God is. And that is exactly what Matthew gives us before he records Jesus’ instructions to his disciples.

This one verse gives us three things worth considering as revelations of who God is toward us.

First, we see that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages. We can see in this description that God is a God on the go. He is not a static God carved in stone sitting on a throne. He is active and takes the initiative to bring us into relationship with himself. This is good news seen in the work of Christ. God takes the initiative to come to us. We do not have to find him, he finds us. This echoes the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:8: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus did not first conduct a survey of the surrounding cities to see which ones were worthy of a visit. He went to “all the cities and villages.” God’s love is greater than our sin.

Also, this sound very similar to Jesus’ Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Jesus does not commission us as disciples to do something he is not doing. As disciples, we can follow him into “all the cities and villages” and participate in what he is doing in them, without any limiting requirements of those we are sent to. We are not left to go out on our own.

Second, Jesus was teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom. This shows us that God comes to us with good news. And that good news is of his kingdom that he shares with us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who shares. He is not stingy, holding back the best for himself. Rather, he aims to give all things to us, his very best. And we see that God is a speaking God. He comes to us, not to smite us into submission, but to teach and proclaim. He speaks to us personally. And his words are not words of condemnation, but words of healing and restoration. We could rightly say that God’s words aim to woo us back to him.

Third, Jesus backs up his words of teaching and proclamation with acts of healing. We are told that he heals “every disease and every affliction.” This reveals a God who does not settle for a little improvement in our afflicted state. He aims to cure all that afflicts us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not a part-time healer. He aims for a complete restoration.

Also, it is important to note the order of Jesus’ ministry being carried out. He begins with words. This is his primary ministry as he is the Word of God. The actions of healing only confirm the words that he speaks. The proclamation of the kingdom entails the good news of the complete healing and restoration that comes by way of God’s redemption of his lost children. When Jesus heals, he is giving a physical witness, although partial, to what can be expected in full in the kingdom of God. The order of Jesus’ ministry is important for disciples to understand if they are going to go and do likewise. The words of teaching and proclamation are primary. The deeds are secondary and serve to confirm the words. The words and deeds must be aligned if they are to serve as a faithful witness to God’s kingdom.

That’s a lot of revelation about God in one little verse. Jesus’ actions are packed with significance. Let’s see what more may be revealed in the next verse:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36 ESV)

The first thing that we see about God is that he sees us. Do you ever feel like you are lost in a crowd, and no one sees you? I think we all feel this way often. We may feel overlooked and misunderstood. But we are told here that Jesus “saw the crowds.” And he didn’t just see a mass of indistinguishable people. He saw beyond the numbers and into the depth of their sorrow and suffering. As Matthew describes it, “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The crowd did not become a hindrance to Jesus seeing their need and situation. Often crowds become hindrances to knowing. We can group people into “crowds,” or aggregates, in an attempt to gain some kind of understanding of them. But this approach only gives us a depersonalized understanding. It does not, and cannot, grasp the individual need or specific situation of the one in the crowd. This is not the kind of God revealed in Jesus seeing the crowds. In fact, we are told explicitly that Jesus was seeing through the eyes of his “compassion for them.” If you ever feel alone in a crowd, this story tells us that God sees you, and he has compassion for your very need.

Matthew begins this section by telling us what Jesus is doing, and in doing that he has shown us first who God is. It is only after this that he moves to tell us the implications of what this means for those who are called to follow him. The primary impulse of ministry is God’s activity first, which we then participate in.

Now Matthew records what Jesus says directly to the disciples, which is also intended for us as his disciples today:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV)

Again, let’s take note of the order of what Jesus says to the disciples. This is the first thing he wants to convey to them, and he sets up what should serve as our primary ministry. Jesus starts by letting them know the situation. Basically, those who are in need are ripe to hear the gospel. But there is a labor shortage. If we were to guess what Jesus was going to say to them as a solution to this problem, I suspect we would come up with something very different than what Jesus tells us. I would imagine we would guess that Jesus would tell us we need more laborers. Perhaps we would imagine Jesus giving a call-to-action speech, full of emotional appeal and affirmative “you can do its.” Maybe he would follow that up with some strategic program amounting to an all-out blitz of recruitment. That is, after all, how we so often react to dire predicaments. Pull up our bootstraps and get busy. However, did you notice what Jesus says to do? His solution is “therefore pray…” I hope we don’t overlook that and dismiss it with a “Well yeah, we pray but what we really need is to address the situation.”

Jesus begins here. Pray. That is the primary emphasis of how we are to address the mission of the church. Prayer. And not just a passive, obligatory nod to prayer, but earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest. In other words, we live in complete trust of the one who oversees the mission in the world. It is not our mission; it belongs to the Lord. On that basis, we pray knowing that that is the most powerful and effective thing we can do in light of who God is.

Prayer is not just a pious thing we do to appear righteous. It is a real participation in what God is already doing. And did you notice what it is that we pray for? It seems like the prayer should be for more laborers. But that is not what Jesus is concerned with; he wants us to pray that the laborers be sent out. That’s an interesting detail is it not? Why wouldn’t we just pray for more laborers? For Jesus, what is more important than the number of laborers, is that those laborers are followers of Christ. Just as Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages,” disciples are to grow to be more and more like Christ, imitating him by going out into all the world. In other words, Jesus is more concerned about growing the faith of those who are present disciples. More disciples will be added in God’s good time, but what is the point of having more disciples if the ones you have are not following the Lord.

The emphasis Jesus has placed in this prayer is on the laborers, not the results of the labor. Our God is not looking for workers to get a job done that he is not willing to do. God is far more interested in us growing up to be more like his Son Jesus. And that is exactly what we see in this passage, is it not? The disciples are being called to look just like Jesus. Their mission will look just like Jesus’ mission in the way Matthew records it. This starts emerging in the next verse.

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 10:1 ESV)

Do you see the parallel to what Jesus has empowered his twelve disciples to do? It sounds very much like what Jesus was doing at the beginning of this section. In fact, “heal every disease and every affliction” is the exact wording describing Jesus’ mission. To be a disciple is to participate in the very ministry and mission that Jesus is doing.

Now, here is a trick question. When you read this verse, what would you say the disciples are primarily called to? We may miss the obvious and think their primary calling is to cast out that which afflicts and heal people from those afflictions. But that is not what the text says. They are given authority to do these things, but their calling is to Jesus: “And he called to him his twelve disciples.” That is our primary calling. We are called to the Lord. We follow him wherever he leads, receiving the authority he gives and exercising that authority for his good purposes. But disciples, by definition, are those who follow the one who has called them to himself. Again, we see that Jesus is more concerned about our relationship with him as we participate with him in his ministry and mission. He is aiming to grow our faith in him and grow us up to be more like himself in his relationship with Father.

The next verse perfectly follows this personal focus Jesus has for his disciples:

The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:2-4 ESV)

If Jesus was more interested in the task at hand, why would Matthew include in this section the personal name of each of the twelve disciples – not only their names, but some distinguishing attributes of their identity? Matthew, who walked with Jesus, did not see this addition as out of place or out of step in a section dealing with Jesus’ mission. For Matthew, this is the exact place to list and identify the twelve disciples. In this section, it serves as the connecting hinge between Jesus’ mission and the sending of the disciples into that mission. God is more concerned about you and I growing up into the Lord, than he is about the results of our missional involvement.

One final thought on the listing of the disciples. Matthew included a few details that would further emphasize that the mission does not depend on us. He begins the list with Peter who denied Jesus and ends it with Judas “who betrayed him.” That is a bookend that does not present a polished resume for the group. Not only that but he includes himself with the title “the tax collector” and Simon with the title “the Zealot.” One worked for the Romans, the other fought against them. Why would these two be chosen to work together? Perhaps Matthew’s structure of naming the twelve disciples in pairs gives us the answer. As we are called to the Lord as his disciples, we are also called to one another as brothers and sisters. Reconciliation and fellowship is implied in discipleship.

From here Matthew is now ready to shift this section from Jesus’ ministry to his instructions to the disciples.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. (Matthew 10:5-8 ESV)

Jesus is now going to instruct the disciples on exactly how they are to go about the ministry he is sending them on. Verses 5-8 contain the beginning of those instructions that entail a description of the apostle’s work. You can also read further to hear Jesus’ instructions regarding other matters that they will need to contend with in ministry – economic concerns and matters of hospitality as well as how to handle the opposition that will come from proclaiming the gospel. We will not explore those issues today. Rather, the main point to see in this section is the dynamic of Jesus being the one who is instructing them. To be a disciple is to follow the Lord’s instructions. Notice that the first thing they are told is the boundaries of their ministry. They are only to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” If you remember, this boundary changes and is expanded to “all nations” by the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Following Jesus in ministry means we must listen to him as we go. His instructions to us may change. What he has us doing one day may have to change on another. This fits the nature of being a disciple of a living Lord. He is present with us, and we are in a real, dynamic and personal relationship with him. We should not expect any static, predictable, or cookie-cutter approach to ministry. The Lord may have a few surprises along the journey. After all, he is more interested in us coming to know him than he is in the task we may be asked to do along the way.

But we can also expect some consistency in the ministry he shares with us. The disciples are instructed to continue to do what Jesus himself had been doing. Namely, proclaiming that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” while doing deeds that point to that proclamation. Jesus lists several such deeds – “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” We are not to read these too literally, but rather we see in them all in the context of healing the kingdom reign of Christ brings. In ways big and small we can witness to this kingdom primarily with our words that proclaim Jesus’ words to us, along with deeds, great and small, that confirm the words.

Our section today ends with “You received without paying; give without pay.” This final instruction can point us to how all ministry must be carried out: by God’s grace. The ministry and mission Jesus gives us is a gift. We receive it freely, meaning we do not earn it on our own merits. It is a gift to be received. Likewise, the proclamation to others must not be twisted into a message that turns the gospel of grace from a gift to be received into a task to be achieved. Ministry is not a means of exacting some kind of “payment” for the gospel. It is grace all the way through. As we participate in Jesus’ ministry, coming to him daily, listening to his instructions, and receiving his grace, we will grow to know him and his Father better by the Spirit. In so doing, we grow more and more to look like Jesus.

The Way of the Triune God w/ Myk Habets W3

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June 18 — Proper 6 of Ordinary Time
Matthew 9:35-38; 10:1-8, “Workers Wanted”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Has anyone ever had to call 9-1-1? What was your experience?
  • In what ways can you think or remember from the video that calling 9-1-1 is like calling on the Lord? In what ways is it different?

From the Sermon

  • Discuss the significance of knowing Jesus is God’s Son when reading stories of Jesus’ ministry and actions on earth. What do Jesus’ actions tell us about his Father?
  • Discuss any revelations given about the Father seen in Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ ministry. Did anything in the sermon stand out to you? Do you see additional points that could be made?
  • What observations from the sermon were made about the listing and description of the twelve disciples? Do you have other observations from these descriptions?
  • The sermon mentioned how Jesus’ instructions for ministry may change at times. Can you think of examples where his instructions to you for ministry have changed at different times?
  • The sermon also mentioned some things that do not change in ministry. Can you recall what these were?
  • What examples can you think of where deeds of ministry confirm the words of ministry? Or, in other words, in what ways may our proclamation of the kingdom be confirmed by specific deeds that point to the kingdom?

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