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Worship and Sermons
June 18, 2017

 

“The Thirteenth Disciple” by the Rev. Don Wahlig

 Year A / Pentecost 2 – Exodus 19:2-8a  •  Psalm 100  •  Romans 5:1-8  •  Matthew 9:35-10:16

THEME:  Share Christ’s peace by living the gospel;  trusting God’s providence  and being willing to act on his will.

 

A few years back, the best-selling author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers: The Story of Success.  His goal was to identify the foundational reasons why a variety of successful people became such high achievers.  He looked at everyone from Canadian ice hockey players to Bill Gates, to Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who developed the atomic bomb, and even the Beatles.

We typically assume the reason for these folks’ rise to fame and fortune is their extraordinary intelligence and single-minded ambition.

But he finds that there are a host of other reasons that explain why such people thrive.  They’re often far more prosaic.

Chief among them is something your parents probably taught you, as mine taught me:  practice makes perfect.  In addition to whatever innate abilities and favorable life circumstances we might enjoy, simple hard work is the foundation on which expertise is built. 

Gladwell dug into this even further and found what he calls the 10,000 hour rule.  Across a surprisingly wide array of disciplines, in order for anyone to become an expert they not only need talent, luck and support, but they have to practice or apprentice for a minimum of 10,000 hours.  

As he puts it, “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”. Makes sense, right?

Which is why it’s so interesting that Jesus takes a very different approach in preparing his disciples to go out into the world to share the good news.

He certainly knows what it takes.  He’s been busy teaching in the synagogues and healing in the towns.  So he knows firsthand just how harassed the people are. 

That experience of being around so many hurting people has touched his heart.  He feels compassion for them like never before.

It may be that he now knows the sheer scope of human suffering.  He sees just how much need there is out there for the healing he brings.  The harvest is huge.  The problem is there aren’t enough workers to bring it in.

So he tells his apostles to pray, as he himself has been doing, asking God to deliver more workers. 

God’s been good, as God always is.  He’s brought to Jesus a team of twelve.  So far in Matthew’s gospel we only know of five of them:  the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James and John, plus Matthew.  Remember Matthew?  He’s the former tax collector, whom Jesus transformed into a disciple.

Now, we get the full roster:  and what a peculiar lot they are!  Presumably, they’re all Galileans, but they’re hardly homogeneous.  9 of their names are Jewish, 3 are Greek. 

One of them - that’s Matthew - is a former lackey of the hated Roman oppressors.  Another is a zealot, Simon the Cananaean, a radical revolutionary.  Putting the two of them together is the equivalent of asking a right wing conservative and a leftist guerilla fighter to join hands.

But they have joined hands.  They’re united in Jesus and his mission to bring the good news to the people, starting with the Jews.

Their work is to do what Jesus himself has done: to make the people whole and restore them to life – life that really is life.

But there’s something odd here.  Their preparation is curiously lacking, wouldn’t you say?  They’re brand new at this.  There’s been no 10,000 hours of training for them – this is cold turkey evangelism.  They may have seen Jesus do this, but they’ve never contemplated doing it without him.

As if that’s not a big enough challenge, Jesus tells them to take nothing with them – no bag, no sandals, no staff, no outer garments and no money.

And instead of going to the most prominent folks in the community to try to get them on board first, they’re to go only to those households where they and their message are welcomed. 

When you and I think of sharing the gospel, is this approach we think of?  My guess is probably not.  This hardly sounds like a recipe for success. 

But there is a wisdom in Jesus’ approach.  It’s what he means when he says, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  We would do well to heed it.  It has two primary points.

First, being worthy to receive the gospel is measured by our willingness to receive the defenseless, the dependent and the destitute.

As Jesus will tell his disciples later, as we welcome and assist the least among us, so we welcome and assist Jesus himself.

Second, in sharing the gospel with others, we don’t need fancy clothes and buckets of money to succeed.  Nor do we have to twist anyone’s arm.

What is necessary is peace – Christ’s peace.  And there’s only one source of that peace:  it comes from trusting God and being dependent on his providence.

In other words, our success in sharing the good news with others does not hinge on our own resources or abilities.  It does not depend on how well we can explain the gospel, or how persuasive we are in communicating its benefits.

What it does depend on is how well we are living the gospel.  It requires that we know, and truly enjoy God’s love and grace – not in a smug or self-righteous sort of way, but in a simple, authentic and grateful manner.

Just as Jesus found that many people in his world were harassed and oppressed, the same is true today.  Inner calm and peace are some of the most precious commodities in our world. 

Consider these statistics published in the last decade:

·       50% of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in our everyday lives.

·       40% of us find our jobs stressful or very stressful.

·       25% of us feel "angry all the time" at work.

·       4 out of 10 live paycheck-to-paycheck

·       19 million American adults suffer from depression.

·       One quarter of Americans – 25% – have no one we can talk with about personal troubles.

 

Friends, never before has there been a greater need for the peace that Christ brings.  The question for you and me is do we have that peace to share?  Because we can’t share what we don’t already have.

And the only way to possess profound peace is to surrender ourselves to God.  As Rick Warren puts it, “stress relief always starts with letting God be God . . . giving up control, because [only God] can control the things that are out of control” in our lives.

But we really don’t like to give up control, do we?  In fact, we spend huge amounts of energy, time and money to control everyone and everything.

We think the more we can control them, the less chance of things going wrong, and the greater likelihood of getting what we want.  We’re like puppeteers, pulling strings to make people and events suit our needs and desires.

But, in truth, we don’t directly control people or events, anymore than we control the weather.  The inevitable result is frustration and anxiety. 

There are only two things we really do control: what we think and believe, and how we act.  The good news is that, together, these things can and do bring real peace – the peace of Christ.

Step one is trust:  believing God loves us, and that God’s at work in us and through us to share his love with others.  That’s the starting point: trusting God to lead us into new, abundant life. 

Most, if not all, Christians believe that.  The question is how many of us are willing to act on that trust.

That’s the second, and most critical step to finding Christ’s peace.  

It means listening to God and acting on his will, and not our own.  It means being open to what God wants us to do and being willing to do it, even when it makes us nervous.

It’s the truly challenging part of being a Christian.  And yet, without it, we will never know Christ’s true peace because we’re too busy trying to stay in control, trying to play God.  And we certainly won’t be able to share it with others.

Where in your life could you use a little more of this peace?  Where do you experience habitual, unresolved stress?  Financially, emotionally, in your relationships, your vocation? 

What might it look like to turn that part of our lives over to God, listening in our heart for what God wants us to do, and then doing it, even if it scares us a little bit to do it?

No one is perfect at this – we all do it partially and sporadically.  But, having tried this enough to experience a bit of what that life is like, I assure you of two things.

First, you may be uncomfortable for a little bit, but you won’t be sorry, especially when you’ve tasted the peace that comes from surrendering to God’s providence. 

And, second, I guarantee that others will want what you have.  That’s evangelism.  That’s sharing the good news. 

May it be so.

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:25 AM
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