Today we ponder Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples, which is also our commissioning. We ponder what the legacy of God’s work through our hands might look like, and the difficult, yet potentially joy-filled and joy-producing journey of being called and sent as disciples for the world.
I heard a story this week of a young man named Lance, first diagnosed with cancer in college at the age of 19. As part of his healing work and treatment Lance worked with a music therapist. The therapist’s name was Brian, and Brian taught Lance to play the guitar over several years, with songs by The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.
It was only after Lance died, 7 years later, that the music therapist gave his parents a couple of CDs containing recordings with Lance. And it turned out that there were several songs that had been recorded using the sound of Lance's slow, steady heart as the percussion track (From NPR story on All Things Considered 6.16.17).
As I consider Lance’s story, I wonder what our legacy will be and what will we leave behind for the world once our earthly journey has finished? I wonder how God in Christ might make the beating of our hearts echo into the days and years after we are gone?
In our Gospel from Matthew today we hear about Jesus commissioning - sending out - the disciples. The disciples are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God by curing the sick, raising the dead, healing lepers, and casting out demons. Pretty every day tasks, wouldn’t you say?
Writing about this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, doctoral student Colin Yuckman observes that:
Jesus seems to be in the thick of fulfilling his Father's mission -- preaching, teaching, healing -- when he inducts his disciples into the same vocation. While the narrator's word about Jesus' compassion for his sheep (9:36) reminds us of the foundation of Jesus' mission, his commission introduces a different image: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (9:37-38). Paired with Jesus' compassion is a sense of urgency. The time is ripe for their mission, so he summons them and gives them "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness" (10:1). (Workingpreacher.org, 6.18.17)
“Paired with Jesus’ compassion is a sense of urgency.” The time is ripe for healing and teaching, for coming alongside a world in need. The disciples – and we are also called by Jesus to be disciples – are needed to carry Jesus’ ministry to the world. This is meant to be Christ’s legacy through us, and it is made possible not because we are so strong and wise and noble, but because Christ’s death and resurrection make God’s heartbeat our heartbeat. The cross makes it possible for the legacy of Christ’s loving, compassionate song of a new creation to live in and through us for the world. God desires that our lives participate in Christ’s healing for the world, and this will be our legacy, this will be our heartbeat that drums on long after we are gone and forgotten.
And we are told that the harvest is plentiful! And my goodness! Isn’t it ever plentiful, with people in need of healing left and right in this world? There is no shortage of opportunities to join in God’s healing work here in the United States and abroad. God needs us as healers in our neighborhoods and our schools, in our families and our faith communities, on our farms and in our grocery stores, in our private lives and in the political struggles of our nations. Healing is literally needed everywhere, with everyone.
And it will not be easy! Notice that Jesus tells the disciples (and remember that all of us are disciples) that we are being sent out as sheep amidst wolves. You may have heard the saying that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and in fact we may find that our attempts to enact God’s healing is met with struggle and adversity, suffering and pain. Yet we are not called to heal and be hope for the world because it will be easy or well received.
If we would join in God’s healing work, such as is happening with the Lutherans and their ecumenical partners who have been laboring to rebuild in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, donating time and money, we should no do it because it will be easy or because people will praise us for it. If we would join the volunteers I heard about this week, who donate countless hours to help children and adults learn to read and write, we should not do this to be thanked. When we host our Art-based summer program to foster hope in the hearts of children and their families we should not do this because we desire to be appreciated. When we plan benefit concerts to support FAMILY of New Paltz in helping the least and the lost of Ulster County we should not do this in the hope of receiving recognition.
Yet we are called. We are commissioned. We are sent for the world to shine Christ’s light to the world. We are marching in the light of God. We are praying that this light will come through us for others so that Christ’s healing might touch them through us. It will not be easy. It will cause pain. And it may very well make us tired and cranky. Yet with God’s work through Christ in the cross we persist. We keep our sometimes-protesting bodies and minds and hearts and souls in motion. And we praise God for it all, knowing that as the apostle Paul writes, it is God in Christ who justifies by faith and gives us peace. This is all the reward we could ever hope for.
God in Christ has died on the cross, yes. God in Christ has risen from the dead, yes. God in Christ has ascended to the only perfect Father there will ever be, yes. And God in Christ commissions us to carry healing, Christ’s healing, to the world. Yes.
So as Christ named Mary in the garden on that first Easter morning; as Christ named the disciples in their commissioning; so we, too, have been called by name and we are being given a heart for mission, a heart for healing, a heart to be the hope of the world.
This will be Christ’s legacy that lives on long after we are gone; by the cross and grace of Jesus Christ; through us. Amen.