Sunday, June 6, 2005June 12, 2005
Have you seen those articles that show how stressful life’s transitions are? Those charts with the numbers on them that show that transitions, even good ones, can have an effect on your health?
In the past few years, I’ve worked for 3 different priests, been ordained, been married, moved, was in charge of my congregation while my rector was on reserve duty in Iraq, lost a dear uncle, lost my job due to a substantial budget deficit and the congregation could no longer afford 2 clergy, and now, as my husband, also an Episcopal priest, is the new Rector at St. John’s in OKC, we’re moved here and started all over in a new diocese and a new state. That’s in addition to the cultural stresses we’ve all felt since 9/11 and the institutional challenges we’ve faced in the Episcopal Church in the last couple of years. Whew! According to those charts, I should be sitting in a corner curled up in a fetal position. If it weren’t for the grace of God and a lot of chocolate I’m not sure I would have a pulse right about now.
And when I was reading your newsletter that was graciously sent to me I understand that this congregation is facing a time of transition of its own, the recent retirement of a beloved rector. Churches don’t like change—a rector is the person who knows our hopes and our tragedies, the keeper of our souls, if you will, for many of us the rector is the intermediary with God. And to be honest, we Episcopalians are a lot like cats—we really don’t like the furniture (real and metaphorical) being moved around on us.
The people of Jesus’ time and the people Matthew was writing the Gospel for 60 years later—they understood living in stressful and uncertain times. A journey as long as I made this morning from OKC to Guthrie could have been perilous back then. On foot, you couldn’t have afforded to run out of food and water in the desert (no such thing as a Braum’s at every exit). A lone traveler could be set upon by bandits. The Romans occupied Israel, and by the time Matthew was writing, the Jews had unsuccessfully revolted, and the Romans had destroyed the temple—the heart and soul of Judaism, the home of God on earth. Forget moving the furniture—most people could barely afford furniture, and most of them didn’t own the land they lived on and worked for endless hours each day. No wonder Jesus had compassion on them—harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
And, again, when Matthew was writing, the young Jesus movement was in conflict with the movement of the Pharisees (explains all those nasty stories about the Pharisees) both still considered Jewish, and like any conflict among family, very ugly. Families and synagogues were divided, often with physically violent results.
So what does Jesus do and say in this morning’s Gospel? Does he catalogue the stress and offer words of soothing comfort? Does he send everyone off to a spa for a massage and a makeover? No, Jesus looks around and sees a plentiful harvest—lots of ministry to do. Jesus himself travels around this unstable country doing his ministry. Then he takes his 12 disciples, and let’s face it, who are these guys? These are not the successfully CEOs and celebrities of the day. Small businessmen, a collaborator with the Romans like Matthew, impetuous, flawed Peter, and let’s not even get started on Judas Iscariot. They were people who disagreed with each other and argued over who was the greatest. Imperfect people who made mistakes left and right. He takes these 12 disciples, gives them authority and calls them his apostles. He takes these 12 (12 being a symbolic number, representing a new Israel) and gives them his authority to do ministry, sends them out into unstable places and an uncertain future. And he sends them with no cell phone, no pager, no laptop—just instructions to proclaim the Good News and cure every disease and every sickness. And it’s not always going to be easy, he says. Jesus promises persecution and turbulence. Jesus promises stress.
Called by our baptism and strengthened in confirmation, each one of us here, every one is an heir to the gift of authority and the direction to ministry Jesus offers in this morning’s Gospel. Each one of us has ministry among our families, in our workplaces, in our congregation, in our community. There is good news to share and harvesting to do. And if it doesn’t work in one place, we get to shake it off and try again. We can’t wait until things settle down. We can’t wait for someone to come and put the furniture back the way we like it. There’s no time. The harvest is happening right now and the laborers are all too few.
How can we do it? How can we bear it? Because this morning we’re going to do something else Jesus told us to do. We’re going to come to the table and do this in remembrance of him, of the one who bears it all for us, as flawed and imperfect as the original 12. We can do it because it was done for us in a dangerous time and an unstable place. We can do it because it was done for us—all of us, a body blessed, broken and restored, through the love and mercy of God, for the harvesting of the whole world.