Jesus is sending out his disciples to continue his mission.
They are to share the good news that the kingdom of God has come near to them,
to heal the sick, and to cast out demons.
Jesus has been giving them instructions, such as, take no bag on your journey,
and receive no payment.
He says, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.
Not a very comforting image.
Not a great recruiting strategy.
Then we get to the verses assigned for today.
And the recruiting tactics get even worse.
I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.
Do not be afraid of those who can only kill your body.
What kind of mission are you sending us on anyway, Jesus?
Matthew’s gospel was written for a group of early followers of Jesus
who were, indeed, facing persecution.
Many of them suffered for what they believed and for living in the Way of Jesus Christ.
Many of them did lose relationships with family members when they chose to follow Jesus.
So the words of Jesus, as Matthew wrote them, are for those early Christians,
as well as those first disciples whom Jesus sent out.
Jesus is realistic with those who would follow him.
It is hard to be a disciple.
Jesus has some expectations of those who would follow him –
that they, too, bring good news to the poor and heal the sick and feed the hungry.
But he also offers words of assurance, to all disciples who will follow,
into generations beyond Matthew’s imagining:
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid of losing what you have.
Do not be afraid of people who threaten you.
Your lives and all you have belong to God.
Do not be afraid that you cannot do what I ask you to do.
God knows you, and God loves you, and God will be with you always.
The key to this gospel story is mission –
the mission of all followers of Jesus in all times and places
to share God’s love in the world by our words and deeds.
That is the very reason the church exists –
to be a part of God’s mission of love and reconciliation in the world.
Diana Butler Bass, who has studied and written about mainline churches for many years,
maintains that one mark of a vibrant church is its sense of mission.
When we, in the church, become too turned in on ourselves,
too concerned about what is in it for us and whether that will still be here when we want it,
we begin to lose our way.
When we come together to hear the stories, share the bread and wine, support one another,
and then focus our attention on meeting the needs of a hurting world –
that is when we, as church, thrive.
We are called together so that we may reach out to people –
to people who are hurting, people who are hungry,
people who are lost and people who have been told they are unloveable.
St Michael’s is in a time of struggle,
a wilderness time,
and it is all too easy at such a time to get turned in on ourselves.
Attendance is down a bit.
Giving is down a bit.
Anxiety is a bit high.
It is natural and expected to be struggling in a time of transition,
but it is still hard.
I said something at an adult forum a few weeks ago,
and a vestry member who is also on the stewardship and finance committees said, “Why don’t you say that from the pulpit?”
So I said Okay, I will.
If you have a friend who is going through something hard in his or her life,
what do you do?
Do you back away, saying,
“Call me again when your divorce is final and things are going better.”?
St Michael’s – your friends, your sisters and brothers in Christ who make up St Michael’s –
needs your faithfulness and commitment right now.
This is not a time for “wait and see what happens.”
We have an excellent staff working hard to support our ministry, and a mortage on a beautiful new building.
The search for a new rector will cost money,
even before we select and call the person who will eventually lead us.
We need each one of us to hang in there –
more than that,
to re-double our efforts and commitment to this place and our ministry together.
Join a new ministry.
Make a pledge.
Attend worship even more.
Give a designated gift to something that excites you.
Offer your gifts and talents.
So that a year from now – 3 years from now – 10 years from now –
St Michael’s will still be the thriving community we love.
The life of discipleship is not easy – it asks us to give of our time, talent and treasure.
Sometimes it asks us to step outside our comfort zones into places of need,
places of uncertainty.
But the other side of the coin is this:
this is what abundant life is all about.
Week after week, more than 30 people show up here to serve at the food pantry.
Not with a sense of drudgery and duty, but with joyful hearts and smiles.
They meet people they would not have met.
They help families that need help.
And they have formed a close-knit community of support and care for one another.
A teacher in our high school Sunday program told me last weekend, “I’m teaching again next year. I love it. And if you want me to get up and talk about it sometime in church –
I don’t love to get up in front of people, but I’d be glad to tell people that I get so much more out of it than I give.”
The second week of Camp Stoney just finished.
It’s a lot of hard work for a lot of volunteers.
But the rewards are immeasurable.
Kids praying together.
Reflecting on their God-given gifts and talents.
One day we stopped on a hike and asked “where do you see God in creation around you? That day, it was all about the snake we’d met on the trail – what excitement!
My youngest son Micah was at camp, but never paid much attention during worship.
He was usually wandering around at the edges, playing with a stick or something.
But one afternoon during Siesta he was playing with his toys, and as he set up the pirates and skeletons for battle, he sang,
“Father, I adore you. Lay my life before you. How I love you”
What we share here together is something beautiful and valuable.
A warm and inviting community which seeks to celebrate difference and diversity.
Most important, we come here to seek a relationship with God –
with the Living God, the creator of heaven and earth,
Mystery beyond all knowing,
who still cares for us so deeply that the hairs on our heads are counted.
Sometimes we walk in darkness, struggling to see where our next steps will take us.
But God is with us.
When we commit ourselves to God’s mission of loving a hurting world,
Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us.
What more could we ask?
A few weeks ago at the Pride service, David Martin reminded us of a beloved prayer,
known as the Prayer of St Francis.
In that prayer, we pray that we may seek to console and understand and love others,
even more than we seek to be consoled, understood and loved.
We come together to learn to console, to understand, and to love
- to see and serve Christ in the faces of one another.
We come to be led by the one who gave himself, in ultimate love, for all of us.
We come to be fed, and then sent out into the world renewed in love and grace.
Please turn to page 833 in the Book of Common Prayer and pray with me:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.