So, as many of you know, I was in Israel for the past 10 days or so. What an amazing experience that literally changed my life and perspective on things forever. It was so great to get to see so many of the places that I have heard about and studied for so much of my life. Here are a few examples of some of those religious sites…
But the primary reason we went to Israel was to learn about the political and religious problems between Israelis and Palestinians that has been going on for a very long time. A ideological problem that I believe stems from two different people groups believing that they have a religious claims to the land. Two different sides that through religion and politics have often dehumanized the other side. The gravity of this complex issue was not only overwhelming to me, but very discouraging. This problem has been going on for ages, and peace does not seem to be a possible outcome between these two sides. I was left lost in the severity of a problem, hoping that Senator Kerry’s efforts could actually make a difference, that I could maybe somehow make a difference.
I think so often in our lives we hear about problems within this world. We hear about the poverty in third world countries, the injustice and wars on the other side of the world, the atrocity of natural disasters that take place without any warning, and what do we want to do? We want to go help, right? An earthquake happens, we want to go help. A hurricane happens, we want to go help. We live in a time when we can just hop on a plane and go “save the world.” Providing help in this fashion I don’t think is wrong, but my concern is, is that we then begin to ignore the problems that directly surround us. The places of need in our own backyard. We think that if we can go get involved with these bigger issues, then we will “really” be doing kingdom work. This morning we are going to explore the mission that Jesus invited his disciples to be a part of and how it often didn't fit the image of what people were hoping it would.
Text: Matthew 10:1-5
A Closer Look at the Text:
In this text the disciples are given authority and then they are listed by name. What is interesting is that the majority of the 12 are not well known within the history of the church. Sure we know a little about Peter, James, John, Matthew, and Judas, but we know very little about most of the disciples. And the information we do know about them from the gospels is information that does not always paint the best picture of them. They are ordinary people who would have been found on the lower rungs of the social ladder. Not people who are well known or who had considerable influence and power within society. Not the group of people I would have chosen. So why this group? It would seem as though God does not need, or God is not looking for, amazing people do the work of the Kingdom. God needs people who are willing to actually do something. Do what? To follow. To put the teachings of Jesus into practice. But when we look at the landscape of many congregations today within the western world, who are the people that often fill the pews?
Up until this point what have Jesus’ followers been doing? They have been following Jesus around. Jesus has been leading them through towns and villages, Jesus has been calling all the shots, handling the precarious situations, taking the criticism, but now there is a shift and Jesus calls them “Apostles.” A title that means, “people who are sent out.” How often has the Church missed this sending out piece?
So Jesus comes to this earth bringing God’s saving love for the entire world (John 3:16). This love was for the whole world, not simply for the Israelites (8:11), so you have to be thinking that Jesus is going to cover a wide spectrum of people. And now he is about to send out his team of helpers who has been training, and where is going to send them? Samaria? Greece? Rome? So where does Jesus end up sending them? He says, “Don’t go among the Gentiles or into a Samaritan city. Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
Where they currently were was the region of Galilee. It was a region completely surrounds by Gentile territory on all sides except to the South which was border by by Samaria. So what is Jesus telling them? Essentially Jesus is confining them to the small region around the Sea of Galilee. Confining them to their own people and the towns they grew up in. If I were one of the disciples, do you know what I would have been thinking? “Jesus, you aren't thinking big enough. There are a whole lot more people out there, this world is a whole lot bigger than this.”
Well, as we know, there would be a time later for expanding that mission. The Great Commission in Matthew 28, but for now, Jesus tells them, they were to stay around Galilee. Around their homes. Their families, friends, and neighbors; the area they were mostly familiar with. Eventually they would go beyond this area, but Jesus instructs them to start simple; to start small. They weren't to get ahead of themselves.
So we have a rag-tag group of people who Jesus is sending out on this mission. And he is confining them to their immediate surroundings. Interesting game-plan Jesus.
Well maybe it will get better when we look at who they were supposed to go to within the Galilee region. So which type of people were they to go to in this region? The “lost sheep of Israel.” Not the leading sheep of Israel, but the lost. The ones who don't have it all figured out. There are many evangelistic and missionary groups that single out targeting the leaders of a particular community. Why do they do this? It seems as though Jesus is sending out his followers to do the exact opposite: go to the poor-spirited, the heart broken, the powerless.
So not only is Jesus using a bunch of misfits, and confining them to a pretty small area, but he is also telling them to go to the people that no one else in society wants. And what are they do when they go? They are to say and do what had already been said and done by Jesus. Which is what? Announce that the Kingdom of God has arrived, and then display that the kingdom has arrived through healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing those with skin diseases, and throwing out demons. This method was completely contrary to anything that Jesus’ contemporaries would have been used to, where people would swagger around letting people know that they were the chosen servants of this new king. Instead, the method was to be healers, restorers of life, those who would bring life and hope to others instead of attention and status to themselves. They weren't bringing some new religious experience, or a teaching that could help with tricky moral decisions, or even an assurance of God’s salvation after death (although that would come later). The message was that God’s kingdom had arrived and it was coming fast. God’s new life was breaking into the present and people needed to get ready for it.
The message of the Kingdom needed to get out, but how did Jesus unleash it? In small and simple ways that went against conventional wisdom and the ways of the time. That is not how you begin a movement. And yet as Jesus’ followers began to do this, what happens? Life and peace, began springing up in the most unlikely of places and spreading like a wildfire. The disciples just couldn't get ahead of themselves. Jesus was asking them to start small, keep it simple.
What About Us:
I get ahead of myself everyday. I am dreamer. I like thinking big. A lot of times it gets me in trouble because there is so much that I overlook when I do this. Like with my golf game. By focusing on the big picture I miss the small details.
How often to do we do this? We get ahead of ourselves. We want to change the world. We hear about problems on the other side of the world and we want to help. My fear though, is that in American culture, although we might begin to care about the larger global issues, we are ignoring the great physical and spiritual needs in our own areas of influence. Why do we do that? Well for one, I think the bigger global issues are more sexy. They have more appeal to us. They are the cool, or hip, issues to care about within Christian sub-culture. Why do you think that is? The other reason is I think that bigger global issues appeal to us more, is because I actually think its safer to think about the bigger issues, because they require less commitment from us, and have a smaller direct impact on our lives. When we dig into our own communities, the commitment becomes a whole lot more personal and messy because it starts affecting our day to day routine, not simply a week here or there of our life, or a certain amount of money withdrawn from our bank account. It affects every aspect of our life.
What I found in Israel were people who were truly making a difference in the country, but not on the grand political and religious scale that I had envisioned. They were doing what they could in their areas of immediate influence (Save a Child’s heart. Multi Ethnic School. Rabbi and Pastor). People were bringing life and peace to the most unlikely of places. I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the problem. One of the most valuable things I learned in Israel was to not get caught up in trying to find a fix-all for a massive problem, but get involved at the local level. What I saw was pockets of life emerging in places where the media had told me there was only the deprivation of life. Yes, I could probably do a little to help make a difference in Israel, but I believe I am called to make a radical difference here. We so easily jump to thinking big picture when I think Jesus is trying to get us to think smaller. No that God is not big, I just happen to believe this is the way that God works.
Our text text this morning is a perfect example. Look who he chose, how he confined them, who he sent them to, and the result that it had. The model Jesus provided us with is that we first need to take care of our immediate surroundings. But this is something that we will have to fight against because simple and small are not usually the way we do things in our culture. Small is usually not hip in our culture. We like to make things complex, and we like things bigger and better.
Gandhi- “What we are doing may seem insignificant, but it is most important that we do it.”
Mother Teresa- “We can do no great things, just small things with great love. Is is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.”
Don’t walk away thinking we shouldn't care about the large global issues, but I think Jesus has called this community of people together to make a difference right now in our immediate surroundings in small and simple ways. It’s not that we might not be called to confront a global issue, but when you look across the scope of global history, movements have always begun with small groups of people.
Shane Claiborne- The Simple Way “Average Day.” Pg. 121.
Margret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
This is a community of people who are going to try to keep things simple and small. We aren’t worried about offering the best programs in town, or about numbers, but we are worried about having a community of people who dare to be radical in their following of Jesus. Where it stops becoming about the next big thing we can be a part of, but about making a difference on your street, in your dorm, in this city. Since moving here I have sometimes struggled because living here sometimes feels so easy. SO what I start to do is think about bigger areas of social injustice around the world, and dream of how I can be a part of bringing justice to them. But what does that do? It causes me to ignore the injustice that DOES exist in THIS community. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it does not exist simply because we live in a beautiful part of the country, or the “happiest city” or most “romantic city” in this country. The injustice is there. All around us. We must be willing to open our eyes to it, and daring enough to confront it.
We are a community of people called to the mission of God right here where we find ourselves. So where do we start? We identify the need. Not something global, but the need right around us. Keep our eyes open, ears alert, heart ready to be moved, and intentionally go out into the community this week. Let’s not sit around and wait for God to tell us something. Move. Now. God is calling this bunch of misfits to to the people right around us in small and simple ways.