God in Christ is breaking in upon this world in beautiful and profound and wonderful ways. It may not always be easy to see it or remember it, but it is true. Breaking in upon this world in the daily small and large actions people like you and I will make with God’s help – we are called by Christ as disciples, just as surely as those first disciples to whom Jesus is speaking in today’s gospel. Breaking in upon this world in powerful stories of people making a difference who may never know they are participating in the redeeming and liberating work of God. I recently heard two such stories, both connected to measures passed by Congress across the dividing lines that too often get in the way of bi-partisan cooperation within our legislative governing body.

The first of these measures was a bill to expand funding for research into, and speedier access to experimental drugs for people with ALS (often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The second was a bill that restored access for people in prison to Pell grants for the purpose of pursuing higher education (higher education being well-documented as one of the things that can significantly reduce the chance of someone who has gone to prison ending up back in prison again).

While there were undoubtedly many factors that led to the passage of these bills, it was likely the human faces and human stories that got these efforts across the finish line. The bill to support research into ALS and earlier access to experimental drugs was championed by Brian Wallach and Sandra Abravaya. Brian was diagnosed with ALS when he was just in his late thirties, right as he and Sandra were welcoming their second child into the world. Both of them had positions as government staffers and so they looked at each other and agreed that they had an opportunity and a duty to use their power and privilege to try and make a difference on behalf of the many, many people struggling with this disease. They have led the charge behind the scenes in their organizing efforts and Brian has testified multiple times in front of Congress, most recently needing to use a speech assistance device to make this possible, bringing a human face of human stories to help shift the tides and convince Congress to get this work moving.

When I was doing field work in a maximum-security prison in college I saw first-hand the difference that access to higher education was making for inmates, helping them to see purpose and possibility to time behind walls that should at their best not be intended for punitive retribution, but as a space apart, within which transformation for individuals is made possible for the purpose of restoration within a larger society that understands that any and all of us, if our situations and lives were different, might have ended up in similar circumstances. The stories of real people struggling to turn their lives around, and the ways in which their lives being turned around helps to support a stronger society and better world for us all; these stories put the human face on the statistics that got this second bill, restoring access to Pell grants for higher education, passed through Congress with bi-partisan support. And both of these stories give us glimpses of ways in which God’s transformative, redemptive work through Christ is seeking to break into this world. This is the redemptive, transformative work to which Christ called those first disciples, and to which Christ also calls us.

Today’s gospel lesson is the end of a larger speech by Jesus that we’ve been receiving in portions over the last three weeks, known as the “Missionary Discourse.” Jesus has told the disciples – and us - they we being sent into a world in turmoil for the purpose of healing and casting out evil. Jesus has reminded the disciples that they need to keep their priorities clear, remembering that this work of Light needs to be placed as their number one priority – everything else in life, including family, needs to be ordered from this understanding of their central purpose – our central purpose - as disciples. And here in this last portion of what Jesus is saying, he returns to the “opening affirmations that authorize and empower the disciples (and us) as representatives of Christ” for the world. (New Interpreter’s Bible, pg. 263)

The work of being called as Christ’s disciples might seem overwhelming to us, whether because we look at ourselves and instead of counting all of the small ways God helps us make a positive difference we only see all our human foibles and faults, or because we look around at the world and see that, despite wonderful examples of good things being accomplished by our government, such as the ones I shared, there have also actions taken by our Legislative and Judicial branches during these same two weeks that do not reflect the lofty ideals upon which our nation was founded (but which we have not yet attained).

In the times when we are overwhelmed, we need to turn to each other and remind ourselves that, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, we have been freed from our enslavement to sin. We are no longer tied to the brokenness and sins we and others around us have committed – no! We are not bound by the evil that prowls hungry as a lion through this world, looking on happily when we de-humanize and hurt one another – no! We are tied and bound together with God in Christ in a new resurrection story. It is this story that can fortify us for the discipleship journey, the daily journey of learning how to live with love – the journey of re-humanizing the people around us. Learning each other’s stories. Learning the stories of those we perceive as different or the same.

In trying to describe the work of living for, by, and with love, the character of Father Zossima in Dostoyevsky’s classic work, The Brothers Karamosov, says:

Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others…Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you have advanced in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and the immortality of your soul.

Yes! This is the work of discipleship – striving to love God with all our hearts and minds and souls and our neighbors likewise. This is the work of discipleship, to look for the small ways in our daily lives that we can make a difference and working to support the change needed to help larger efforts and larger institutions and even entire countries like ours to continue to build towards the lofty ideas upon which we were founded, even as we appropriately lament the ways we fall short and call one another to loving accountability and to do better.

God in Christ is breaking in upon this world in so many beautiful and profound and wonderful ways, many of which we may never see. Yet we can tell the stories that we have seen, even as we join hands and hearts and remind each other that we have been freed by God in Christ for the sake of bearing world-changing love to those around us. And that we are not alone in these efforts! And that these efforts matter, be it for the people we encounter today on the streets, in our homes, or online, or for people like Brian and Sandra in their mission to fight ALS, or for the prisoners who once again will have the possibility of accessing Pell grants as part of the restorative work changing their lives and our society as a whole.

I’ll leave us with Father Zossima’s words once more:

“Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it.”