Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5-10 (NRSV) The Harvest Is Great, the Laborers Few 35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The Twelve Apostles 10 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.
When I went off to college for the first time, I went with my sister. She was starting grad school in Madison the same time I started undergrad studies. My Dad went with us in our Plymouth Fury station wagon. It was a beast of a car, and could hold nine people, or a ton of stuff. My sister and I had it packed full. At the end of the school year, on the journey back to Minnesota, I managed to squeeze even more stuff in the car but it was all mine. The following year, I had to leave some stuff behind in storage.
When I moved from Rochester to the Twin Cities 6 years ago, I had to hire a moving company and four guys to move a house worth of stuff plus a 6 ft. grand piano. What happens if this keeps going? Well, when my mother moved out of HER house, she was overwhelmed by trying to downsize from a 6-bedroom Victorian to a 1-bed apartment. She had to sort through the accumulation of 48 years. I calculated it took 500 hours of work to empty and clean the house. What would Jesus do instead? Our Gospel lesson today tells us. Jesus sent his disciples out with next to nothing, not even a second set of clothing. He ordered his disciples to travel light, without even money to pay for things. Now before you start getting ideas that pastors should do things the same way, I have to explain.
Hospitality was a sacred custom in those days, and shelter was considered a God-given right. If someone asked to stay at your house, you could hardly refuse. Outside the shelter of a house there were bandits and wild animals, and water was hard to come by. Sooner or later in your travels you’d find yourself in a spot where you’d have to ask a stranger for help, and mostly, they’d do it.
Being a guest was also a sacred responsibility. They believed that if you abused your rights as a guest, God would get you. You can’t have a system like that in America, today. Yet I wonder sometimes what it would be like in America if everyone took in strangers like they did in Jesus’ day?
The point is, Jesus was trying to make things easier for his disciples. If you’re not focused on food and shelter and clothing, you can spend more time on God. Today, it probably wouldn’t work to travel as light as Jesus asked of the disciples. But even in America, we are learning during the COVID-19 crisis that we can get along, even happily, without a lot of things we took for granted. The things some Americans thought were important, like going out to eat several times a week, really aren’t that important. Now there are many things we miss desperately since the pandemic began, and rightly so, but that’s another sermon.
What else can we get rid of that would make our lives easier? How about all that emotional baggage we carry around? When the disciples followed Christ, they literally got up and left their old lives behind. It was easier. Nowadays when we are called by God, more often than not we stay in the same place. But we could still leave our old baggage behind. Be kind to yourself- God is. Let the past be the past- Let it go! Ask forgiveness and you are forgiven, by God, at least. Forgive others and God will forgive you- seek to understand and be understood in turn.
Anything else we can do to make our lives easier? How about all that STUFF we have? This is one area of life that COVID-19 may actually make things a bit easier. With all the sheltering at home we Americans are doing, most houses are getting cleaner. Almost every street I pass through has a pile of stuff waiting to be picked up by others or by sanitation folk. As a nation we are sorting, cleaning fixing and throwing like never before. In that way at least, we Americans are one people, of one mind.
Why is this helpful? Of course, the less you have, the less to take care of- clean, repair, store. The less you have, the less you’ll have to move if you travel elsewhere or even buy a new house. Downsize! Riches are a barrier to the Kingdom- where your treasures are, there your heart is also.
What about our attitudes in the life journey for us disciples? What should we leave behind? How about the future and what we expect in the future? If you look at TV, everyone has a luxury home, ‘way beyond their means. There is a message out there in advertising that you can have it all: a good marriage, great kids, wonderful career. Super Moms and Super Dads- give it up!
Unrealistic expectations are the greatest source of depression. Before COVID-19 we may have wanted to be like Hollywood stars and professional athletes, even though many have BIG personal problems and everybody wants a piece of you. Being a star is not all it’s cracked up to be.
And COVID may have changed even the good things about being a star. How would you like a yearlong unpaid furlough when you were making millions a year? How would you like to play your future games in an empty stadium or rink- without fans present? How would you like to have your movie salary cut in half or your play or tour shut down permanently?
Too often we modern Christians expect life will be trouble-free. Jesus said just the opposite- expect disaster. If your life doesn’t have troubles, injustice, then beware- you’re probably living too close to the world’s standard; Maybe you’re not taking a stand where you should. Disciples’ lives will be full of trouble. But don’t be afraid, God will help- God’s power will be with you. Be shrewd, but be innocent.
All this talk about what we shouldn’t bring begs the question, “What things SHOULD we bring with us on our journey of discipleship?” Bring hope. If we Christians have hope, we can endure anything. Bring Love. Paul said this is the greatest gift God gave us: without love we die, when we share God’s love, we grow and bless the world.