Like many of you, I imagine, my emotions and energy levels have been all over the map after the last few weeks of turmoil. Justified, necessary turmoil, but still, turmoil. And there have been times over the last few months, first with just (!) the pandemic, then with the images of George Floyd’s murder, protestors being tear gassed and hit with concussion grenades by police officers and unidentified soldiers, and a President who delights in the chaos and violence, in dividing us from each other, that it has been tempting to think of the world as a thoroughly scary place with little good in it.
One of the things I tend to do when feeling scared and overwhelmed is…hide. Just get somewhere safe and hope that whatever is terrifying me goes away. The adult version of putting my fingers in my ears, closing my eyes tightly, and yelling “stop.” When that doesn’t work I try to take comfort in God or in the Church-rest in healing, forgiveness, restoration, peace, resurrection- all the “good stuff” God gives and all the sense of safety the church offers. Sometimes that works. And sometimes the Holy Spirit just comes barging into my peace, pulls my fingers out of my ears and reminds me that God does not exist, the Church does not exist so I can feel safe, protected, and happy. Reminds me that peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of true justice. Reminding me that God is not a guarantor of smooth sailing and the Church is not a feel-good fest. Reminding me, reminding us, through this Gospel passage and others, that we are not consumers of God’s love, but providers of God’s love-deputized, authorized, to go out into the world and serve Christ in those we meet in the streets, on the road.
Because that is exactly what Jesus is saying this morning. At a several millennia distance it can read like another one of those lovely Jesus stories—sending his friends out to do nice things—to heal a bit, cast out a few demons, even raise the dead. And, we remind ourselves, that was a long, long time ago. God doesn’t work like that any more. And Jesus’ words were for the disciples, that little group of super-Christians, not for us. You know where I am headed now, don’t you?
But let’s take a quick detour to imagine what it would have been like to actually be there with Jesus. Just hanging out, trailing around with him, watching him preach, teach, and heal. Clapping for him when he did something particularly spectacular—shouting encouraging words, and generally being proud that we were his buddies. But then, after what may have been a particularly bad week, one where the needs of the world seemed overwhelming—the sort of week we can relate to—Jesus, exhausted and tired of being admired but not imitated, turns to us and says, you know what? “The harvest is bountiful but the laborers are few” and I am looking at you, yes you, you look like a laborer to me. Then he holds out his hands and prays over you—a prayer that you can feel working its way into every fiber of your being- his prayer gives you authority over demons, disease, even death itself. When he is finished you cautiously open your eyes- wondering if you look different. You don’t. Do you feel different? Wiser, stronger, braver? Nope—feel about the same. Except sort of ready for whatever is next. Then Jesus starts making assignments: Ben and Matt, you take Point Breeze, Hannah, you take West Philly, Jen—North Philly, Jim, you’ve got South Street, Dan, South Philly. Leave everything behind—no purse or wallet, and go barefoot. God will provide what you need and that will be more obvious to people if you aren’t laden down with stuff—pretty hard to preach dependence on God when you are dragging a suitcase full of things with you.. Here’s your assignment: Preach the kingdom, heal the sick, raise the dead, connect the outcasts, cast out demons. I’m going to take the weekend off—go!
What Jesus did was transfer his ministry to them while he was still alive-entrusting it to them—a ragtag band with no qualifications or experience to speak of, except that they somehow, mostly, wanted to follow him. So off they went, with little more than his blessing, to heal wounds, restore outcasts, bring the dead back to life, and tell people the reign of God was near—probably something someone who had just been healed really didn’t need spelled out, but he had told them to do it, so they did. It may be that preaching the kingdom without doing anything is little more than politics, and doing good work without speaking the Good News is no more than a temporary reprieve. But proclaiming the kingdom while acting it out, now that is what Jesus sent his friends out to do.
And the God’s honest truth is that we are Jesus’ friends, this call is for us. We have our marching orders from Jesus’ own mouth. Powered and accompanied by the Holy Spirit we have been deputized to do God’s work, to be Christ for the world, to proclaim the reign of God with our mouths, our feet, and our hands. That means we are not to wait to look different, feel different-dramatically and suddenly changed by a bolt from above, to be agents of God’s love. We are not to look around for someone else to tackle the innumerable ways we have structured our culture, our systems, to benefit those who are white, those who are wealthy, those who hold positions of power in governments, corporations, and religious institutions. We are to do that work. It means we are not to pretend we don’t notice where our churches support the status quo in all its death dealing glory. We are not to pretend we don’t notice when millions of our siblings in Christ, God’s beloved children, are poor, hungry, and sick with no access to health care. We are to be the disruptive force of love that stands the world on its head, aligning not with Empire-whiteness, wealth, privilege, but with the compassion and justice of God.
Sounds like a big to-do list, doesn’t it? Feels tiring just to say the words. And, as I and others have said before, no one of us is going to deconstruct an immensely powerful system, an Empire, that has been, is, deliberately structured to keep things the way they are, but each of us is called to do what we can where we are. That means different things to different people. We have watched some pour out into the streets and raise their voices, putting their bodies on the line. We have seen some donate time and money to organizations working to effect change-such as the BLM organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Poor People’s Campaign. We have seen, perhaps are, white people beginning to cast out the demon of our own racism—to acknowledge and even wrestle with our own privilege-begin to open our eyes to the systems that suppress and oppress black and brown people- and begin to do the work of becoming anti-racist. We have seen people, mostly poor people, mostly black and brown people, standing in long, long lines to vote—watched people fight for their right to vote in a system that tries with all its might to stop them from voting. We have seen people feed the hungry, heal the sick at great personal risk in this time of pandemic. Again, no one of us can do all these things. But we can search our own hearts, listen to the voice of God- the still small voice within, look at our gifts and talents, and then use them, put them in action for God’s work. There will never be a right time to do this. We cannot wait until we feel differently, until we have a whole bunch of tools and equipment to take with us, we cannot wait until the path feels clear and safe. The time is now. It is always now in the reign of God.
And right now, you and I have been deputized not by the Empire, with its death dealing and oppression, but deputized by Love to be love-to be healers, those who cast out demons, raise folks from the dead- deputized to be repairers of the breech, to be the good the world desperately needs. And no, it is not safe out there. We are being sent out like sheep among wolves. But we have, as St. Patrick said, the strong name of the Trinity, the power and strength of community, relationship, justice, and love. And as we see clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, those are the forces that ultimately win.
We have all that we need, because we can trust in the One who is faithful. Who gives us what we need when we need it. Who has promised that if we open our mouths, we will be given God’s words. If we open our hands, they will move to God’s rhythm, if we move our feet, we will march to the steady beat of justice. We can trust the One who sends us out with absolutely nothing yet with everything we need: healing, forgiveness, restoration, resurrection. That is really all we have to share with the world and, coincidentally, that is exactly what the world really needs.