Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
In the first half of this morning’s gospel we hear again Mark’s account of the time the people in Jesus’ home town rejected him. Jesus kept on going, however. He didn’t let opposition stand in his way. The second half of the reading gives us a sample of his determination and his unquenchable spirit. Instead of brooding on the unfairness of life and looking for a safe retreat, he sent his apostles out on their first missionary journey. He gave them the strength and courage to act as leaders in an environment that might not welcome them. He did a lot for his helpers, and does a lot for his people today, and that’s our subject this morning – what Jesus does to equip believers for life in the world into which he’s placed us.
When I was in the American army many years ago, I learned that the military always has two things in mind – first, their mission and then the welfare of the people who carry it out. If a battalion of soldiers, say, has orders to capture a certain city, they must do it, no matter what. Their objective is foremost. Casualties are often an acceptable price to pay. Concern for the fighting people comes second. They need to be clothed, housed, and fed. Injuries need to be tended to. Morale has to be kept up – all for the sake of the mission.
Jesus is different. He is just as concerned about the needs of the people who work with him as he is with the building up of his kingdom. The two go together, as we see in today’s reading.
Nearly everyone wants to be useful, to be needed, to take an active part in life. The way our world is set up, it sometimes seems that only a lucky few get to use their abilities to the full – movie stars, top politicians, heads of large organizations, and so on, while the rest of us live on the sidelines, so it seems, either watching or carrying the burdens.
Jesus set up his kingdom on a different basis. He uses the lowly and the humble of heart. Some of the apostles were fishermen, ordinary people in the world’s eyes. Matthew was a tax collector, a man on the margins of society in those days. The apostles lived close to the earth; they knew about simple things and had no contact with the powerful or the great. They probably expected to live obscure lives, dulled by routine. Then Jesus came and lifted them up. He called them to important tasks that brought significance to their lives. He gave them power to cast out demons and to heal. He instructed them to spread good news about the possibility of a new lease on life through repentance and faith. God had come to earth in human flesh with forgiveness and redemption from sin and salvation. How committed and eager for life the apostles must have been as they set out on their first independent errand for the Lord.
We’re not apostles, of course, with a unique assignment from Jesus and most of us aren’t at the beginning of our walks with the Lord, but our Savior still calls us and satisfies our yen for significance and freedom from anxiety. He gives us earthly tasks such as homemaking, raising children, going to school, and earning our livings. Plus, he empowers us to spread the good news by showing our neighbors through words and actions God’s love for them. We forgive trespasses; we help others carry their burdens; we tell them about the church. Jesus gives us something significant and worthwhile to do by making us his ambassadors who work for the building up of the kingdom. His Spirit working on us makes us open, affirming, confident people, grateful to him and eager for the life he gives. If you stop and think about it, thanks to Jesus, everything we do is on the side of life.
Now, when he sent the apostles out, Jesus gave them simple instructions about what to take with them. The message they conveyed was so important they didn’t have time to think about luxuries. They traveled light. Earthly goods often weigh us down, especially after we accumulate a few decades of stuff. Somebody once said that things are in the saddle and ride mankind. Jesus gives his people a new focus, so he told his disciples to leave their possessions at home.
It wasn’t that he planned to turn them into puritans or make their lives uncomfortable. He wanted to deepen in them a quality every believer needs – trust and dependence on him. He wanted to convince them that the Heavenly Father would provide them with food and hospitality. He would take care of their needs while they were in his service. He wanted them to have a feeling of security. They might meet opposition. They might be rejected or mocked. They might occasionally wonder – with their very human minds – where they’d sleep at night or where their food would come from. Jesus instilled in them the trust that he always takes care of his people. He will never run out or change his mind. He provided for the Israelites as they wandered through the desert for forty years; he looked out for his apostles; he takes care of his kingdom people today, as you and I can testify.
We humans often resist turning to God. We like to rely on ourselves and sometimes our neighbors. Human means bring partial success, of course, but they never carry us as far as we need to go. Jesus rescues us from the anxiety and frustration of natural, earthly life, so he trains us – sometimes by means of hardship and adversity – to depend on him. He gives us new minds so that we know him and come to lean on him more and more.
He builds up our faith so that we trust that everything we do we do for him. Our worship, prayers, reading the Bible, chatting about the Gospel – all these serve the kingdom. We also serve as we clean the house or wash the car, carry out our tasks at work or school, and take care of church property, as your pastor has told me the folks at Risen Christ do very well.
Christian living is about more than doing things, however. Jesus is concerned with what takes place inside us – what we think, what we want, our feelings. He gives us his own standards to live by and then empowers us to follow them – faith first and then love, which we express with gentleness, kindness, forbearance, patience, self-control. He transforms us bit by bit – sometimes without our being aware of what he’s doing for us – into his image so that we become like him.
The apostles were later disappointed with some parts of their first missionary journey. Jesus counseled them gently. He invites us, too, to be loving and patient with ourselves. If we take up a project and good results don’t come as quickly as we’d hoped, we may blame ourselves. Self-criticism is good, of course, but it’s not our Lord’s intention that we tie ourselves up in knots of reproach. Nothing we humans do will ever be perfect. We bring our concerns to him, for he is the judge, not we, and his ways are loving. He doesn’t want us to be proud, but neither do we sink into despair. We accept his assurance that labor for him is never in vain and we keep on going.
Another way of saying what Christ did for the apostles is that he gave them life in full abundance. He freed them from fear and dependency. He gave them a portion of his freedom as a gift, so that they’d be free to serve him. He blessed them with new life.
A Christian thinker who lived near the start of the church said that the greatest work of God is a living human being, who possesses eternal life in Christ, which God shapes and molds. Scripture tells us that he worked on Peter and Paul and Thomas, the apostle who doubted, to make them fully alive.
He makes us alive, too. We pass through turmoil and trials, both as individual believers and the church as a whole. We’re tempted and we sin. Sometimes we’re sorrowful. All the while, the Lord shapes us to endure, to persist, and to prevail. He trains us in faith and love, so that we are capable servants who live by his grace.
The apostles must have picked up profound insights into themselves and human nature and our common spiritual needs during their missionary journeys. Jesus helped them overcome their uncertainties and trust that they would be safe and useful in his care. Some of the folks to whom they brought the gospel must have seen God at work in them and wondered how to acquire faith in Christ themselves. We can imagine people wondering – how can we find a better way than the everlasting frustration of daily living? The apostles brought them the answer – look to Jesus. He will provide for you. He will give your lives meaning and keep you safe for eternity.
The same is true for you and me. If we’re weak, the savior forgives and restores. The light of his grace shines through the chinks in his armor as he transforms our minds and souls. Our neighbors may notice Jesus’ actions in our lives. They see that the Heavenly Father loves his children and gives us work to carry out, that we are confident, loving, and strong, alive in the hope of ever lasting blessedness. The people we come in contact with may never say anything about what they notice in us, but some will wonder how they can live in faith, joyful, persistent, and strong in stressful times. We are equipped to show them the way. Jesus, who does not withhold himself from anyone who seeks him, will fulfill their desire to know him.
To keep us humble, the Holy Spirit may never show us the results of our work for the kingdom. Nevertheless, the Heavenly Father wants us to carry in our hearts the assurance that we are following in the footsteps of our Lord and his apostles. He encourages us to be certain that he will use our faith and that in his loving way he will keep us fruitful servants of the kingdom. In his name we give thanks. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.