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It is simply the luck of the lectionary that our Gospel reading for this Sunday on which we send off missionaries to Honduras is a story about Jesus sending out his first disciples on one of their first missionary trips. And indeed, there are some striking similarities between our missionaries and Jesus’ first missionaries.
First of all, our missionaries will be doing things like building a house, serving on medical brigades and digging latrines. Yet, while these are all talented and educated people, none of them are professional builders or latrine diggers. And as far as I know, in the entire group, there’s only one doctor!
The first missionaries were sent by Jesus to do these things: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Yet, when you look at the list of these folks just before those instructions, you might have noticed that, as far as we can tell, none of these guys are doctors or exorcists! And only Jesus has ever raised anybody from the dead. Indeed, most of these guys are fisherman, with the exception of Matthew and Simon the Cananean. Matthew is a tax collector. So, he professionally cooperates with the Romans in collecting their taxes. The title “Cananean” is synonymous with “Zealot”, so named because these folks were “zealous” for the liberation of Israel from the Romans and hid out in the hills around Canaan and ambushed Roman columns. They were an interesting pair to say the least, but neither of them were professionals at the tasks Jesus sent them to do.
Next, our missionaries are going to a very specific place – a town in Honduras that they go to every year. Of course, there are lots of places that need help in Honduras. And, there are lots of places in between here and there that need help, too. But to be really effective, and to focus on the real needs of people, the organizers at Haven Universe realized they needed to pick a place and be there for the long haul. The goal is to make a difference in that community, instead of just to go to a place for a week, and then leave. Often, when mission teams just go someplace for a few days, and never go back, they feel good about what they did. But they may not have really addressed the needs of those they came to help.
Jesus also sends his missionaries out with initial instructions that seem kinda harsh. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That also seems odd. After all, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus specifically sends the disciples to Samaria and to all the ends of the earth. They’re to go everywhere. But at this moment, they need to go to a specific place and to a specific group of people. Right now, you need to focus on the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And that doesn’t mean others don’t matter. But often, if you shoot for everything, you hit nothing. And sometimes, folks become so overwhelmed with the needs everywhere that they don’t do anything anywhere. Jesus focuses the disciples on one group for this moment.
And finally, our missionaries aren’t getting paid for this! Indeed, it costs a boatload of money to do this trip, not only because of the travel involved but because they’re bringing with them a lot of the supplies and medicines they’ll need. Folks here at Prince of Peace have helped by collectively contributing about $8000 for this, which has been a huge help! But none of that goes to paying missionaries!
Jesus also sends his missionaries out with the expectation that they won’t get paid either! He tells them, “You received without payment; give without payment.” This, also, is kind of strange. After all, this trip is also not without cost. In other places, Jesus tells his missionaries to stay in whatever home welcomes them and eat whatever is set before them. And later, Paul makes the point that the laborer deserves to be paid. And so, like our missionaries who couldn’t afford to do this forever for free, the disciples can’t either. But in this moment, Jesus wants to make a point. And that point is that as the good news is announced, there can’t be even the slightest hint that the disciples are looking for what’s in it for them. They are sent to the lost sheep in order to heal the sheep, not to fleece the sheep, and they need to show that by announcing good news, not suggesting that there should be something in it for them.
And these missionary instructions from Jesus are good for us to remember, not only when we commission international missionaries, but as we live our lives as Christians each day. After all, the overarching instruction is, “As you go, proclaim the good news.” And that instruction is for all of us, all the time. That is, for all of us, whether you’ve reached wherever you’re headed or not, your job is to proclaim the good news that God is near. And often, to do that, it’s necessary for us:
- To remember that we don’t have to be “professionals” to share God’s love with others. Sometimes, what’s most needed is that we care and focus on the needs of others instead of ourselves. Those first disciples didn’t know much about “curing the sick” or “casting out demons”, and frankly we don’t know how technically effective they were. But they clearly made an impact because they cared, and because they accepted Jesus’ call to help people with things Jesus knew those people needed. Sometimes, well-meaning people aren’t so effective at helping out because they think, “this is what I’d really like to do to help people.” Which is great, but it may not be what folks really need. Sometimes, they need you to dig them a latrine, as unglamourous as that sounds…!
- To accept a call to help a particular person or group of people, or in a particular place, even if there are 40 emails in your in-box telling you about other crises. In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about announcing the “good news”. But what we’re so often surrounded with is bad news – horrible news – devastating news. And it can become numbing. People get overwhelmed and it saps the energy out of them to do good anywhere. Jesus’ call is to fight against that, and to be willing “as we go along” to do good in particular places and with particular people that need help, even and especially when those people and places aren’t being lifted up all over the place. Sometimes, those are the people Jesus needs us most to help…
- To act in a way that shows we’re in it for Jesus and for others, and not for ourselves. One of our other big projects this week is getting ready to outfit an apartment for a recently arrived refugee family. We’re doing this with Lutheran Social Services, and our Social Justice Ministry Team met with LSS staff by Zoom this past week to go over details. They told us a lot about what to expect, and what was needed as we furnished the apartment. But one of the things they said was, “please don’t leave religious symbols or literature in the apartment.” After all, we don’t know the religion (if any) of the family. But it’s also important, especially if the family isn’t Christian, for us to show that we’re willing to help them because of OUR faith in Jesus, not because we think we can convert them. That is, we need to show Jesus by how we act, instead of even suggesting that we’re doing this to bump up our membership…
As you go, proclaim the good news. That’s the message of Jesus not only for missionaries, but for all of us. And that’s because all of us, in our baptisms, are sent into the world to be agents of Jesus’ love.
And often, the best way to proclaim the good news is to focus on what we can do to help people with the needs they actually have at the moment. Often, the best way to proclaim the good news is to do something now in a particular place with a particular person, instead of waiting for a more glamorous opportunity. And very often, the best way to proclaim the good news is simply to express our hope and confidence in Jesus by the way we live, so that Jesus can be seen in us and through us.