“Living So God Can Use Us” Colchester Federated Church, June 18, 2017, (Matthew 9:35-10:15) Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Last weekend I saw Wonder Woman with friends and it’s fantastic!  Now I love movies and sometimes use movies currently out in theaters as sermon illustrations.  But I do my best to not share spoilers.  There was one time when I ruined the ending of Harry Potter for a child (on Easter of all days) but that’s a whole nother story.  Rest assured that no spoilers are forthcoming!  Anyway, Wonder Woman is the story of Diana (princess of the Amazons) who trained from her youth to be a great warrior.  She was raised on an island paradise sheltered from the world until an American pilot (Steve Trevor) somehow lands in the ocean off the island as he’s running from a whole bunch of Germans.  A fight ensues and eventually the Amazons discover that this man is fighting in the War to End All Wars (World War I.)  Diana is convinced that Steve’s arrival signals her time to go fight to protect the innocent and truly help end war forever.  Along the way Diana discovers who she is—discovers her power and destiny.  If you want to know how that happens, you should go see the movie!

Part of what makes Diana such a compelling character is her earnestness.  She leaves her home with Steve and ventures where she has never been before, convinced that she can single-handedly stop war forever.  Nothing will stand in her way.  You could say that she’s naïve—she’s also determined.  Diana takes just a few weapons to fight in this War to End All Wars and doesn’t look back as she goes out on her mission.  Though what she will discover about humanity will both break her heart and inspire her to fight for those who need her protection—whether or not they know it or even deserve it.

What made me think of Wonder Woman while reading our Gospel text from Matthew Chapters 9 and 10 was contemplating how the disciples must have felt when Jesus called them to go out into the world and bring about healing and justice versus how Diana began her mission.  In Matthew we read that, “Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”[1]  It seems like an impossible task.  Go cast out demons.  Go cure every disease and every sickness.  It’s quite the charge!  Now Diana truly believed it was her calling to fight in World War I so that humanity would finally be at peace.  She set off with courage and determination.  Did the disciples have nerves of steel and no hesitation like Wonder Woman?  Or did they look at one another and think to themselves that Jesus’ expectations were just too high?  We react differently in the face of seemingly impossible challenges and we’ll never know exactly how the disciples felt.

To his credit, Jesus makes pretty clear to his disciples that their extraordinary mission of teaching and healing will not be a cake walk.  Jesus tells them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”[2]  Perhaps the disciples did have some idea of how hard it might be living out Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus warns them that sometimes people will not welcome you—so you just shake that dust from your feet and move on to the next person or town who will be receptive.  When Diana sailed from her island paradise she didn’t really know what to expect.  And her own mother didn’t fully warn her that people are complicated and that power corrupts.  We can juxtapose the earnestness and maybe naiveté we see in Wonder Woman with Jesus doing his best to prepare his disciples by giving them a heavy dose of reality.  Not everyone was going to be receptive to the message.  Not everyone was going to welcome them with open arms.  Unfortunately that’s still true.  It may be painful, for we too may have those moments of shaking the dust from our feet and moving on.

After all, Jesus himself had already been experiencing these negative reactions from some folks!  Instead of being met with relief, some met him with distrust.  Some folks even ran him out of town.  That must have been a hard pill to swallow for Jesus and for these disciples.  The disciples must have thought, okay Jesus—you want us to go and cast out demons and cure every disease and sickness and on top of that, some people will want to run us out of town for trying to help them like you’ve been teaching us?  Really?

Yet the disciples are sent out, and they go.  Being prepared for rejection, yet probably hopeful for the good work ahead.  Compassion won out!  As the great theologian Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless.”[3]  Jesus was the embodiment of God’s compassion.  Jesus passed along that compassion to his disciples then and now.  That remains a calling for Christians like us to embody—to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and even powerless with the powerless.  To be Christ’s hands and feet in the world even when people may reject us for the message we seek to embody.

This is also a perfect text for us to consider as it’s Graduation Season.  In our own community, the Bacon Academy Class of 2017 had graduation on Friday night and soon all those young people will be off on new adventures.  Sometimes receiving a wonderful welcome and other times experiencing some hardships along the way.  Parents do the best you possibly can to prepare your children for the real world, knowing that the ideal life to be lived and the reality we sometimes meet won’t always be the same.  As it’s Father’s Day, we know that you fathers out there have that instinct to protect your children from a world that is not always kind.  Resiliency and overcoming obstacles can be hard lessons to teach.

Knowing this reality, one of the best graduation gifts remains Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go.  This wonderful book is perfect because it’s all about journeys and telling the truth that this journey of life will not always be easy.  As Dr. Seuss writes: “I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.  You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a Lurch.  You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump.  And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.”[4]  Un-slumping yourself was not easy for the great comic book character Wonder Woman or for Jesus or the disciples or us!  Though we can keep our hearts attuned to what we seek and we can live into our ideals as people of faith.

There’s confidence we may feel when setting off on a journey and then perhaps a gap between the rosy-colored ideal and the reality of a new situation.  For the disciples reality may have set in early as Jesus gets specific, “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”[5]  They must have known on some level that this was not going to be simple.  Jesus wasn’t going to make it any easier for them by having them load up on supplies as they set off to heal in his name.  We can imagine that Jesus wanted his disciples to be nimble and be able to move from town to town and person to person, unencumbered by a whole lot of stuff.  We can imagine that Jesus wanted them to trust that God would provide.  This path that they were to walk required a great deal of faith.  Leaps of faith.  It required trust and even nerves of steel.  They had to set out, so that God could use them.

What makes this passage hopeful for you and for me is that Jesus trusts his disciples to go and minister in his name.  If he had only been focused on doing all the work himself, well there wouldn’t be a Christian Church today.  Because Jesus’ movement would have died with him.  Instead, he gave his followers authority.  That’s important.  Jesus gave them authority to go out and spread the Good News through acts of healing.  This can help us ponder how we go out and walk the walk to shine Christ’s light beyond these walls.  It’s not always comfortable to speak about our faith.  Some may call us holy rollers or church ladies or on and on.  But church has changed and we can’t always expect that people will make the effort to come find us.  Sometimes we gotta go find them!  We gotta live in such a way that God uses us for good.

UCC Pastor Kathryn Matthews often writes Sermon Seeds for the UCC that are helpful as we contemplate the lectionary text each week.  In reflecting on this morning’s passage she mused, “We learn that the church is to be about healing, teaching, and proclaiming the good news. And the church is to be about movement not static, stay-at-home, preserve-our-level-of-comfort-and-let-them-come-to-us spirituality, but a bold ‘going-out’ into the world that God loves so passionately, sharing what God has given us with those who have not yet heard God speaking to them, or felt the touch of God’s love upon their lives, or have not known how to name either one.”[6]

In the end, that’s why this Gospel text still matters for our lives.  For we in the Church can still focus on healing, teaching, and proclaiming the Good News out there—to be part of that bold witness of God’s love for those who haven’t really felt that love before.  This isn’t meant to be easy.  Jesus warned us about that from the beginning.  We won’t always be well-received or even welcomed.  We may even have to un-slump ourselves if we get into a bind.  Shaking the dust from our feet and moving on.  Though if our hearts are on fire with God’s love, then we can certainly bear the setbacks we face a little easier.  We can bear one another’s burdens a little easier.  And we can rest assured that the kingdom of God is near when we love one another as God has always loved us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 10:1, NRSV.
[2] Matthew 10:14.
[3] Henri Nouwen as quoted by Kathryn Matthews in Sermon Seeds June 18, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_june_18_2017
[4] Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
[5] Matthew 10:9-10.
[6] Kathryn Matthews, Sermon Seeds June 18, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_june_18_2017