I’d like to begin with a question this evening: How many of you have been called to the ministry? Now I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I imagine that if I did there might be a few hands raised here, but not many. And most of you would be wrong in your answer. In fact, if you are a Christian, you are, by definition, called to the ministry.
Who are the ministers of the Church?, the Catechism asks. They are “lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons” through whom the Church carries on its mission in the world (BCP, 855). Ordinary people, like you and me, who have been loved and saved and reconciled by God, and whom God now asks to be channels of that same love, salvation and reconciliation to others.
We have been chosen for this great purpose, to work with God and on behalf of God for the healing and reconciliation of our broken world, and for this work God has equipped us with gifts which enable us to carry out our task. There is not a single Christian who is not a minister of the Gospel of Christ. There is not a single Christian who has not been called to this work. And there is not a single Christian who has not been equipped by God for the particular tasks which God has given him or her. There are no exceptions. All of us are ministers of God and ministers of the Church. All of us have been equipped in some way to participate in this important mission.
And what is that mission? “The mission of the Church,” the catechism tells us, “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP, 855) That sounds like a tall order. How do we do that? Our gospel lesson today summarizes the mission of Jesus in the world, and since our mission is one with his, we might learn from this description of Jesus’ ministry what is expected of us.
“Jesus went about all the cities and villages,” the gospel tells us, “teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (Mt 9:35). Teaching – proclaiming the good news of the kingdom – healing every disease and sickness. That is the work of Jesus, and it is our work as well.
First, we are to teach others – we are to teach them to know, love and serve God. We are to do this not only by our words, but by the example of our lives. We are to begin in our own homes, instructing our children in the Christian way, teaching them to know and love God, and encouraging them to express that love in service to others. We are to teach our friends and colleagues, our neighbors and all whom we meet, that God is love and that God’s love is available to all for their healing and salvation, for hope and for blessing. We are teachers of these truths.
Second, we are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. We have a prophetic role in the world, we are to be proclaimers of God’s good news to people of our generation. We are to proclaim – again, by word and by example – the reign of God, introducing people to kingdom life and kingdom values. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed was not a kingdom of this world; it was a kingdom in which the world’s values were reversed, turned upside-down. In this kingdom, the first are last and the last are first, the proud are humbled and the lowly are exalted, those who would be great become servants of all. In this kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female – every distinction is obliterated, every wall is broken down, no one is greater than the next, we are all one. We are to help others see how this is good news for us all.
Finally, we are to heal disease and sickness, as Jesus did. We are the channels of God’s love and healing in the world, fostering forgiveness and reconciliation, bringing healing and blessing to the lives of those we meet. God’s work is healing work: bringing health and wholeness to human lives – physically, emotionally, spiritually. We ourselves have been healed by Love, and we are to be agents of that same healing and love to others.
All this Jesus did with compassion. “He had compassion for (the crowds),” the gospel writer tells us, “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (v.36). Look with that same compassion on our world today, see how we too are ‘harassed and helpless,’ broken and burdened by life’s demands, lost and looking for meaning and hope and purpose and love. Ask God for a heart filled with compassion for the world, God’s world, and for all its creatures. And then go, as Jesus did, “to every city and village” and teach the good news that God’s kingdom has come on earth, and is coming, with power and blessing, glory and strength, to heal and renew the world.
You are ministers of God in the world, laborers sent into the harvest.
Let me add one more thing. At the beginning of our Gospel lesson this evening, we hear a brief account of Jesus’ healing of a man who was mute. The healing itself is described in the briefest of terms. The emphasis on the part of the evangelist here is not the miracle itself, but the reaction of those who witnessed it. Two reactions are described.
First, there is the reaction of the crowd: they were “amazed” and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel” (v. 33). But then, in contrast, there is the reaction of the Pharisees, religious leaders who were often in opposition to Jesus. They say, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons” (v.34).
Matthew notes these two contrasting reactions for two reasons. In the chapters that follow he will describe the mounting opposition to Jesus which will eventually lead to his death. But he will also describe the opposition that the disciples themselves will face as they begin to take up this mission of God themselves.
The motif of divergent responses to Jesus is present in the other Gospels as well, especially in the Gospel of John. There, the author uses the Greek word schism (from which our word “schism” derives), which itself comes from the verb “to split.” As commentator Douglas Hare notes, “Wherever Jesus goes, he ‘splits’ his audience; creating a sharp division between those who see God at work in him and those who regard him as a manifestation of evil (John 7:43, 9:16, 10:19).”[i]
“Such a cleaving of the community is still frequently the result wherever Christ is proclaimed in a non-Christian context,” Hare goes on to say. And then he makes an interesting point: “By many Christians, however, the schisma is experienced internally: one part of our inner being acclaims him as Lord, while another rebels against such abject subservience.”[ii]
I wonder if you’ve noticed that within yourself. Does one part of you embrace the mission of God, welcoming the challenge of being a minister of the Gospel in today’s world, while another part shrinks back, wanting to preserve the illusion that your life is yours to determine and that you need not be subservient to anyone else’s plan, even God’s? It’s helpful to recognize this schisma within ourselves, so that we may consciously choose which path we will follow.
Ministers of the Church, I invite you to embrace your mission whole-heartedly, giving yourselves each day to proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, to teaching and building up others in the faith, and to the ministry of healing. Do these things by word and example, with compassion, in imitation of Jesus himself. You are the means he has chosen to extend his love and grace into all the world. Embrace your call.
[i] Hare, Douglas R. A., Matthew (Interpretation Commentary); (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993), p.108.
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