Directions for Disciples

Good morning, Friends!

I’m glad to be here with you this morning. I always feel it’s a gift, a privilege, to be able to share with you on Sunday morning. I know that a lot of you work hard all week, you have family responsibilities, and maybe you just want to rest on Sunday. I appreciate that you take the time, and make the time, to come here and worship together.

And I hope it’s not always a sacrifice. We do love each other, and we do like to see each other again. We do feel that the church is doing good and important work, and we want to share in it. We want this place to be here, and we want to share the living Word of God and the love of Jesus.

Some of us are lonely, and some of us are discouraged. I really want to lift you up this morning. That’s part of what we’re here for – to lift each other up, to pray for each other, to bear each other’s burdens and make the day a little lighter. That’s what Jesus told us to do – to be the light of the world! So, let’s let that light shine today! Let’s hear the good news together, and let it fill us, and strengthen us, and help our lives seem better.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been reading some very basic parts of the gospel together. We read that God is love, and whoever loves, lives in God, and God lives in them.

We read about what Jesus said when he talked with people – “Today is the day, and the kingdom of God is very near. Turn your life around, and trust this good news!”

There is so much bad news today. And it feels sometimes as though people are making careers and huge industries about sharing bad news. The world seems scary and threatening, and some people want to keep it that way, instead of seeing all the good things that God is doing all the time.

So, I’ve been focusing on the basics in worship this month. Last week we looked at how many ways there are to be saved. It’s not a “one size fits all” thing. God saves people in so many wonderful ways, and we’re all different.

Being different doesn’t scare me. It amazes me – that God can reach out to so many different people, and help us right where we are, and bring us to right where we need to be.

This morning I want to continue with some of this really basic stuff, and read a story about when Jesus first sent his friends out, to share his message.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

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

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.

Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.

As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

 – Matthew 10:1-15

I really think we make things too complicated. We think Christians need to be perfect people, and we set up such high barriers about what to say, and who to speak to, and what to do, when Jesus really made it very simple.

He didn’t start with big buildings or a mass movement. He didn’t have a detailed plan. Jesus started, by just making friends. He started by asking people to listen to him, and go on a walk with him.  He started out with twelve friends, and he opened his heart to them.

How many of you think you have a dozen really good friends? Not just people you’re acquainted with, but people you can share the most important things in your life? The things that matter most to you? Friends you can trust, with anything at all, friends you would trust your life to?

Most of us are lucky if we have even one or two friends like that. Jesus was pretty good at friending people. He started out with twelve.

Were Jesus’ friends perfect? I don’t think so. They were fishermen who lived in poverty. There was a tax collector, who was an outcast from society. There were people who were conceited. One was a habitual skeptic. At least one of the disciples had a violent past. But somehow, Jesus made friends with all of them.

One of the most important things for us to remember is that Jesus doesn’t need perfect people. All of us would fit right in! Jesus would welcome you, he would call you his friend.

The true church isn’t made up of uniform, perfect people. The true church is made up of millions of “odd couple” relationships. People you would never expect. People you would never think of.

Jesus gave them the same authority that he had, to do the same amazing things that Jesus himself did. That is one of the most incredible parts of the story, that Jesus tells us to share in his work.

At one point in the gospel, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

Part of being a Christian is realizing that Jesus wants his friends – you and me – to do all the things that he did himself. He invites us to share in his life. Growing as a Christian means exactly that – trying to do what Jesus did.

Jesus started out by making it simple. He said, “Don’t start out by trying to talk with pagans and religious opponents. Go to the lost sheep. Go to people who have forgotten God’s promise. Go to the ones who have lost hope. Go to people who are broken, and discouraged. They may seem lost, but God loves them. Tell them that they are loved!”

There’s a very significant line in Jesus’ directions. Our translation in the pew Bibles says, “As you go, preach this message. . .” A stronger translation would be, “Wherever you go, share the good news. . .”

The early Quakers were set on fire by this very line in the Bible. In 1656, one of the early Quakers, George Fox, wrote to his friends,

“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”

So, Jesus said, “Preach as you go, and tell people, ‘the kingdom of heaven is near. . .’”

That is such an important message, and it’s so simple. God’s love is very near you. It is! God’s mercy and forgiveness is within your reach. God’s healing is only a prayer away. All the good things, all the true things, that you’ve ever heard about God, are this close to you.

Jesus said you only need a mustard seed of faith. You only need a tiny bit of hope. If you turn and take a few steps toward God, God will come running to meet you.

Jesus Christ is as close to you as your neighbor. Christ is here in the next child you see who needs something. God’s word is already in your heart, if you just listen. You have a spark of God’s goodness in you, which nothing can ever put out. The kingdom of heaven is very near.

Those are things which any of us can say. And we all have opportunities to share this hope and faith, every day of our lives. Sharing hope and faith is what we do.

Then Jesus told them, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. . .”

This is the point where most of us say, “Thank you very much,” and start moving toward the door. This is weird stuff! This is not in our comfort zone! But I’d like you all to stop and think about how this part of Jesus’ instructions could really apply to us.

Any of us can pray for healing. It’s real clear in the Bible that Christians do this all the time. But think about it: God does the work. We just ask for help. We know, from our own experience, that it doesn’t always happen. But why shouldn’t we ask? Why should we not pray?

Prayer is an act of love and caring. It’s lifting up our friend, like the four friends in the story we read last week, who lifted and carried their paralyzed friend and brought him to Jesus. We can pray. Jesus gives us not only permission to pray, he encourages us to pray. When someone is sick, or hurt, praying is a kindness. It’s reaching out. It’s a gift, all by itself.

Healing is a miracle. That’s God’s job. We really need to get over our fear and shyness, and realize that we are praying for miracles. We’re asking God to help, because we know we can’t do it all. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

Pray like a fisherman. Pray like a skeptic. Pray like a person who’s made mistakes before. It’s OK! Pray like who you are.

As for raising the dead – not all the people who are dead are out there in the cemetery. There are people whose hopes are dead, whose conscience is dead, whose care for their neighbor is dead. Start with them first.

There are people who are dead to God’s goodness and beauty. Start with them. There are people who think that all the decency has gone out of the world. Show them it’s not so. Raising the dead is one of the most important things we can do!

There are still people in the world today who have leprosy, but I think that most of the time, this also applies to people who are cast out and considered untouchable for one reason or another.

I’m not going to try to give you a lot of examples. But if society says that a person is unclean and should be shunned and avoided, Jesus would probably send us there. It may take courage, the first time or two. But we find that other person has a heart that’s hurting just like ours. We find that their needs are human needs. We discover that God loves them, as much or more than God loves us.

Same thing with driving out demons. The real demons aren’t cartoon devils like the ones at Hallowe’en. The real demons are things like addiction, where people can’t stop the things they know are destroying them.

And those people need our prayer and tough love and constructive support. People who are destroyed by an addiction need to know that Jesus loves them and that Christians are here for them. We can’t turn their life around for them. That’s something people need to do for themselves. But we don’t have to make it harder.

All this stuff Jesus says isn’t impossible. We can do these things, with Jesus’ help. What sounds like a ridiculous list is actually very practical and down to earth. It’s called putting our faith to work. It’s called living the good news of Christ.

One of the best pieces of advice Jesus gives usis, travel light. “I gave you all this for free; share it freely as you go. You don’t need money, you don’t need special clothes, you don’t need a lot of baggage or new shoes or a crutch of any kind . Just do what I’m telling you. You are my friends. That’s all you need to take with you. Everything else will come when you need it.”

Later on in this very same section, Jesus said, “When they drag you up and put you on the spot, don’t worry. What you need to say, the Holy Spirit will give you in that very hour. If they kick you out, go on to the next place. I tell you truly, you won’t finish going through the country before I come again.”

I know I’ve been going on for a while, but there’s a section in today’s reading I really love.

Jesus says, “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the house, greet everyone.”

Jesus says that the best work we do is in homes. Any time we’re in a new place, a place of opportunity, the best place to reach out to people is in the kitchen, or on the porch, or at the supper table.

The good news isn’t just for church on Sunday. It’s at the bed side of a sick person. It’s in the living room. It’s in the work shop – some of the best conversations I’ve ever had with guys are in work shops and job sites.

And I like that bit about, “As you enter the house, greet everyone.” You may have come to see one person in particular, but greet everyone as though they’re special. I remember one lady I visited who was very mistrustful and closed to me, but she loosened up a whole lot when her cat got up in my lap and purred. I guess if her cat thought approved me and though I was OK, she could take a chance on me, too.

And Jesus said, “Let your peace rest on the whole house.” That is such an important piece of advice.

When you walk in the door, it doesn’t matter what clothes you wear. It doesn’t matter most of the time what words you say. What matters is that you bring a sense of peace – God’s peace.

So many people, so many homes, are missing that. Their daily reality is family fights, financial problems, old hurts, physical illness, fear, anxiety, and frustration. The first and greatest gift we can give people is a sense of peace when we walk in the door, or when we invite them into our homes.

One of the old Quaker questions or queries asks, “Do you make your home a place of friendliness, refreshment, and peace, where God becomes more real to those who live there and to all who visit there?”

That’s what Jesus is talking about. Bring peace into every place you go, and people won’t care what you’re wearing. They may not even remember what you say. But they will always remember that one of the friends of Jesus came to their door, and entered their house, and brought some of that peace of Christ with them.

“If they don’t receive you,” Jesus says, “don’t let it bother you. That peace you brought isn’t damaged or destroyed. Just wipe your feet off on your way out.”

We won’t always get through. What matters is that we try. Maybe the next person to try with them will be heard. Maybe we just prepared the ground. What matters is that we do our best, and not judge each other, and try to do the things that Jesus said, and talk about God every day, as we make our way along the road.

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