Proper 6-A Matt 9:35-10:8
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers in the congregation. Last Sunday I was at Good Shepherd Mission, Ft. Defiance on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. I had been invited by Episcopal Church in Navajoland to address their convocation about their spiritual and leadership process which I’ve been privileged to work with for twenty years. At lunch I was sitting with a couple where the man has been involved as a coach with his sons and other young people for years. We talked about Father’s Day coming up and I said I remember reading once the question, “How does a man give birth?” Obviously, he can’t physically give birth. He does it through nurturing and mentoring the next generation, caring and guiding and encouraging the young lives around him. Many men are fathers of this sort over and over again, and it is to them that we also give thanks today. The man smiled when I said, “See, you have given birth to many children!”
Think for a moment, how did men give birth to you in this way? Some may have done that over their life time as your biological father, Others it might have had this significant relationship with you the year they were your teacher or the years they were you scout master. Others, it might have nurtured in a sermon or in a counselling. At other times it could have been a brief encounter, maybe just a few words where you were seen by this man who recognized a fuller potential of who you were…something that no one else had seen before. Through them we knew God’s love.
In these moments you, the person God created you to be, came alive. Today, we should pause to look back over our lives and give thanks for each of these men whp helped us be birthed into a fuller reality of who we are as persons. In a real sense this is the good news, the Gospel of our life.
The reading of the Gospel according to Matthew (9:35-10:8) for today can help us understand why such births are at the heart of the Christian message. John Dominic Crossen, a New Testament scholar points to this passage as a crucial shift in Jesus’ thinking and teaching about how God acts in the world. We enter the story with the awareness that Antipas, king of Israel, has arrested John the Baptist and that it is just a matter of time before he is executed. Crossen points to the spiritual crisis this caused all his followers, including Jesus who had sought him out as a mentor and possible messiah.
Common to both men was their central teaching about the Kingdom of God. The word “kingdom” in Aramaic and Greek, the languages of Jesus and the New Testament, is a verb, not a noun. – “the reigning or activity of God in the world.” Both John and Jesus had been carrying forward the conventional belief and hope that God’s activity, his reign, would come into the midst of their world, intervene and change things to align with his will. Now John, the prophet everyone assumed had been sent by God, is about to die and God is not intervening.
I cannot underestimate what a struggle this must have been for the people and for Jesus. No matter how many prayers, no matter how faithful you are, no matter how hard you try to be good…none of that will matter.
We do not find in the Gospels much of a record of how Jesus struggled up to this point. But his teachings now change. God’s kingdom comes only in so far as people take it upon themselves and step into the work of God in the world. It is bilateral, participatory, collaborative and covenantal action.
How many of us have prayed earnestly for something, believing that if we prayed hard enough that some petition, some deep need for ourselves or a loved one would be answered. And of course it wasn’t answered because we were set in the old way of thinking.
Prayer is primarily the means by which our whole being is realigned to participate with God in his action in the world.
Whether the men you are remembering, who gave you birth, realized it or not, they were participating, collaborating with God in helping you become the person you are today. I hope you can say that their lives touching your life is “good news!”
However, so many of us are still caught in the old formula believing that if we pray and implore God hard enough he will come down, suspend the natural order, and supernaturally intervene with what is happening.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven has come near you.” He uses an agrarian image, “The harvest is plentiflul…,” the ripeness of God moving in your world is right there, as close as the fields that we are walking by.
There was so much urgency in Jesus because he saw people looking in the wrong direction, holding on to inadequate beliefs systems that were not working. He had compassion for them. But he had a deeper compassion for God who so desperately wanted to enter human life and still does today..
It is at this point that the Kingdom takes on flesh. In the Church we call this the “Incarnation…” in carnatus est. What we so often fail to realize is that even with all the Christmas stories and the baptism of Jesus, the Good News, the Gospel is this: if we choose to participate, to collaborate with God then we are participating in the incarnation –making concrete in our life and the life of the world God’s reality. To the extent we are commited will be the extent to which our lives are in partnerships with God working in the world. We become his hands, his feet, his mind, his heart. It is n a matter of belief; it is action.
When the lawyer asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him what did the tradition say. The man said “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
See the pattern of the incarnation, the participation with God in the world was there in the tradition from ancient times. If we want an outline of how to do that then this response is pretty comprehensive.
Today throughout the world people of all faiths and traditions are observing Refugee Sunday. We could get caught up in the old mindset where we pray that “God would do something with all these suffering people.” We put it in His his lap. It doesn’t work. God is not going to do anything. It is only when we do something with Him, together, that things begin to change. We must reap the harvest, we must move the potential into action. Our significance is immense. We are indispensable for the coming of the Kingdom.
You here at St. Stephen’s have been a part of the incarnating of God’s action in the world with refugees from South Sudan, especially children in your Youth Opportunity program with ECA and Hope With South Sudan. This has been an immensely important action you and God have done together. You moved with compassion towards young lives that I doubt would have survived without your intervention. You have invested in their future. You have been the caring mothers and fathers for children that you will probably never see. But they and their generations to come will say that you gave them life, hope and a future where none was guaranteed to them. That is the Good News, the Kingdom of heaven being in the midst of you and in East Africa. You took action. God’s love was imbedded in you, flowing to those in need.
But we can’t rest on our laurels. God never offers a time out. What is at stake is the Kingdom of heaven, humanity and God. Today over a third of the world’s population is displaced. It is mind boggling. When we see the plight of refugees in all corners of the world we can easily be overwhelmed. We either revert to the old way of praying or we give up and turn away.
However, if we look at our passage from Matthew’s Gospel we realized that Jesus and his disciples were in the same situation as Syria, South Sudan, Tibet. They lived in a terrible world where crucified bodies were common sights everywhere.
Jesus understood he was sent to preach and reveal the movement of God, the kingdom of God in such a setting. In this passage he sends his disciples out two by two, instructing them to take nothing but the clothes on their back and sandals on their feet. He wanted them to pay attention to what is right in front of them, right were the Kingdom was moving. He says that they must be like wise serpents yet like gentle doves.
He is very clear that not everyone will like this message and that the disciples will probably be attacked and persecuted. But he says “Leave that village that will not receive your peace behind. Shake the dust off your sandals and move to the next village where people maybe will be more receptive.” Both sides of this statement are reminders to ourselves of what we must be about and what we need to be opened to. It is all about our choice.
So on this day we give thanks to the men who have fathered us, who saw in us the gift that God was giving into the world, our own incarnation…who participated in the God’s plan for us. We thank them and God for caring, nurturing and supporting us on our journey…companions in our life for a moment or for all of their days.
We give thanks that our hearts have been open to refugees, who heard the words of Jesus when he said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and your welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35) You have feed, clothed and cared for the Jesus in them.
In the words of Eucharistic Prayer C we come to this table, yes, for solace, but also for strength; yes, for pardon, but also for renewal. The harvest is plentiful. God is moving just below the surface. Let us pray so that our eyes can see and our ears can hear the invitation to step into the harvest and know the strength that will be given to us to be the manifestation of the kingdom of God in the world: God’s love incarnate.
The Rev. Jerry Drino, Rector Emeritus, St. Philip’s, San José