The Uprising of Partnership

Matthew 10:1-33; 28:16-30




Resurrection changes everything. As we follow the Risen Christ, we anticipate the power of life rising up within us, between us, and around us. During this Easter season, we will be in a series called The Uprising. As we gather together each week and then go back out into the world, we will experience an uprising. Followers of the Risen Christ have been part of revolutions for two thousand years. So far in this series, we have explored the uprising of fellowship, discipleship, and last week Kim explored the uprising of worship. This week we are exploring the uprising of partnership. In Christ and with Christ, we live in the power of life, facing the suffering of the world head on, and proclaiming new life for all. Resurrection happens. 

We are following the book We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McLaren, and for this week he has chosen the word “partnership.” But there are other words he could have chosen. A few weeks ago we experienced the story of Jesus feeding his disciples breakfast on the beach after his resurrection, and we talked about how following Jesus includes both proclamation and action. Following Jesus includes both saying “There is the Lord!” and also tangibly caring for the people that the Lord cares for. Proclamation and action. Or if you prefer, evangelism and social justice. Proclamation and action; evangelism and social justice; the combination of speaking and doing, whatever you call them, the combination is what Christians have historically referred to as “mission.” And “mission” is what I’d like to invite you to consider this morning.

Words are tricky. We don’t always agree on definitions. And depending on our past experiences, we have different feelings about different words. Proclamation – with a bullhorn on a street corner? Evangelism – by telling everyone they’re going to hell by default? Social justice – without calling people to repentance, which Jesus clearly did? Mission – from the point of a European sword? You see how it’s tricky? There’s not much we can say that’s not going to be objectionable to someone, and so it’s a balance. But we also can’t give up all the words! So here’s what I commit to you: I will use words that have been used by our Christian ancestors, and they may raise feelings for you. But I won’t use them without explaining what I mean, which may be different than how they’ve been explained to you in the past. And I won’t insist that everyone has to use them. So this morning, despite it’s colonizing overtones, I’m going to use the word “mission.” It’s our historic word. And at it’s best, it brings together the need to speak and the need to do. 

Speaking and doing has divided the church in America for long time. What I’m about to say is oversimplified, but it’s not inaccurate. More theologically conservative churches have focused on speaking the gospel as they understand it for the purpose of encouraging a change of heart in individuals. A crass way to say it is worrying about the soul and ignoring the body. More theologically liberal churches have focused on efforts that reflect the Kingdom of God as they understand it for the purpose of changing the physical situations of individuals. The crass way to say it is worrying about the body and ignoring the soul. Both approaches also hope that their efforts will bubble up into a change in society. 

Depending on how you were raised, one of the those approaches seems like the obvious right way and the other one seems horrifyingly inadequate. The real truth is that they are both inadequate. Separately speaking and doing makes as little sense as trying to separate the soul or spirit from the body. Jesus calls us to speak and to do, to proclaim and to act, to evangelize (which literally means to share good news) and to work for justice. Mission must include both. And we know that because Jesus told us. Let us listen now in the reading of scripture for the word and wisdom of God. This is from the gospel of Matthew chapter 10, and in a few minutes, we will also read from chapter 28.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of the heavens has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker deserves their food. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Notice please that the connection is towns that did not welcome God’s messengers. Nothing to do with queer folx.)

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called the Prince of Demons, how much more the members of his household!

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God. 

Jesus sends his followers out on a mission that includes both speaking and doing. They are to proclaim, as he has, that “The Kingdom of the Heavens has come near” (note that the other time this shows up in chapter 4, Jesus begins that statement by saying “Repent, for the Kingdom of the Heavens has come near”). His followers are both to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom and also do actions that embody the Kingdom, including raising the dead! Jesus gives them authority to do what he has been doing in one region for one group of people as a sign of what God is doing in all the world for all people.

As Jesus goes on, he starts to say things that are clearly directed towards the post-Resurrection church, because these 12 apostles do not encounter any Gentiles or kings or governors, although Jesus will at his passion. I don’t like this section, because it’s very clear here that following Jesus doesn’t make you very popular with the power structures of the world. As we proclaim and act, evangelize and justice-ize, speak and do, the world will not thank us for it. Jesus is the teacher and we are the followers and we shouldn’t expect to be treated any better than he was treated. We should not be surprised if even our own family members oppose us! This is one of the many reasons I don’t believe it’s God’s job to make life easier or better for us. And yet, we are assured that if we persevere, we will be saved, rescued, healed. And that we should not be afraid, because we are known and we are loved. In the midst of our speaking and acting, when things get hard, God knows the number of hairs on our heads and cherishes us. This is the mission that the writer of the gospel of Matthew places in the middle of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But it is reinforced again at the end.

Let us listen for the word and wisdom of God in Matthew chapter 28, verses 16 through 20. This is the every end of the gospel, right after the resurrection account. 

Now the eleven disciples (obviously, Judas Iscariot is no longer with them) went to Galilee, the mountain where Jesus had instructed them (possibly the same mountain from the Sermon on the Mount). When they saw him, they worshipped and yet some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all the gentiles, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you all the days, until the completion of this eon (or this age).”

This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

I just want to highlight for you a few more things about mission from this story.

First, mission is for all followers of Jesus, including the ones who doubt. Those who have seen him and are still hesitant are not excluded from the call to speak and to do. And now the call includes not simply proclamation, but also teaching, which is different than before. You can waiver in your faith and that is still a faith that needs to be passed on to others. You are a disciple and you can disciple others. Even in your doubt.

Second, the mission that was first only to one group of people is now for all people, obviously and openly. We will talk more about this on Pentecost in a couple weeks. Resurrection changes everything and now the good news and the signs of God’s Kingdom need to be shared with everyone in the world. All ages, races, and sexes— people in every type of body will be brought together, retaining their distinctiveness and being united in the same family through the same experience of baptism. 

And finally, this gospel ends where it began. In the beginning the angel told Joseph to name Mary’s baby Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” And here at the end, Jesus’ final promise to his followers is that he is with them. He is with us, empowering us to carry out his mission. Jesus is with us, the story specifically and awkwardly says “all the days.” Jesus is with us all the days: the good days and the bad days, the easy days and the hard days, the days of feasting and the days of fasting, the dancing days the mourning days, the brave days and the fearful days, the trusting days and the doubting days — Jesus is with us all the days, empowering us to speak and act, to carry out his mission, until the end of this age. We are on his mission and Jesus is with us.

Amen. 

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