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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 4 – Year A

They came from all over the country to spend their golden years living on an Island off the coast of Savannah. Many were corporate gypsy types, people who had worked for Ford, GM, Zerox, IBM, Kellogg’ s and other companies, often moving from one city, or even one country to another every few years. Skidaway Island was their retirement dream and on an Island of 10,000 people they made up over 65% of the population. For five years Melissa and I loved our life living and working amongst these seniors. Our little church grew significantly and these good people with years of experience and knowledge taught us much. One of the things that impressed me most about our church community was the way folks took care of one another. Because many of them had traveled so much during their careers in their retirement they craved community, they wanted roots and lasting relationships and they were very intentional about building real friendships. When someone died it was astounding to see the rest of the community close ranks in support of the widow or widower. As many of you know grief is a terrible thing but it is all the more difficult for those who lose a spouse after 40, 50, even 60 years of marriage. But on Skidaway you were never alone. When someone died folks immediately went to work caring for the surviving spouse. Those already widowed for several years reached out to those newly devastated by loss. Families took turns reaching out and awful grief was tempered by lots of attention and numerous invitations. I cannot tell you how many times I watched this community resurrect someone who thought their life was over once their spouse had died. And Jesus told his disciples  raise the dead.

I know a woman named Kelly who has been sober for more than ten years now. She works hard on her sobriety, attending daily AA meetings and she works hard to support the sobriety of others. In recent years she has sponsored several other alcoholics just beginning their own recoveries. Kelly will tell you that she is powerless over alcohol. She will tell you that even though she doesn’ t drink she is still an alcoholic and always will be. She will tell you that it was only through the grace of God and the tough love of some very persistent people that she ever got sober in the first place. Specifically, she will tell you that it was the relentless love and support of one good friend that finally enabled her to begin her recovery. A friend who told her the truth about her behavior, a friend who constantly refused to let her off the hook about the problems alcohol was causing in her life. A friend who refused to even talk to her when she was drinking but a friend who loved her enough to walk with her through four aborted attempts at sobriety. Kelly is a wonderful, healthy person who gives much to others because she has been given much. Someone believed in her and now she is healing. An important part of her sobriety is to believe in others so they can heal as well. And Jesus told his disciples  cure the sick and cast out demons.

If you look up the word Apostle it literally means  one who is sent. In our Gospel for today Jesus sends out the Apostles to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. In effect they are to go out into the world and be like Jesus. They are to do the things he does; they are to be like him in the world. And if you ask most folks how many Apostles there were they will tell you twelve. Two thousand years ago Jesus sent twelve men out to do his work. That’ s it, that’ s the whole story.

But of course that isn’ t the whole story. When you and I were baptized we were added to this list of Apostles that includes Peter, James, John and all the others. Just like Kelly’ s friend and the good folks on Skidaway Island when we were baptized we were made apostles so that we too could be sent into the world to raise the dead, cure the sick and cast out demons.

But wait, how am I supposed to be an Apostle when most of the time I feel more like the harassed crowd? How am I supposed to go out into the world and do this Jesus work when much of the time I feel like I can barely handle my own problems much less those of others? Don’ t you think the original twelve felt much the same way? They were there to learn from Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be taught and fed by Jesus, to sit at the feet of a great spiritual master and here was Jesus telling them that they had to go out and become Jesus for others. I can imagine Peter and Andrew saying,  Wait one minute. We are just fisherman not miracle workers. I can imagine Matthew the tax collector saying,  Hey I am good with numbers I am not so good with people. Although the Bible doesn’ t tell us the twelve hesitated or balked at being sent out – I think they must have. Maybe that is why Jesus gave them such strict instructions   Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff. It was as if Jesus was telling them – I know you don’ t have any special skills, I know you aren’ t even that bright. But you don’ t need anything special to be my Apostles. You don’ t need money or fine clothes, you don’ t need a lot of possessions  all you need is an open heart and the willingness to love others in my name. Just be yourselves, take people as you find them, offer them what you can and then let God do the rest.

It’ s an amazing thing, but if you want to find help for your troubles then focus some of your energy on helping others. It is a little secret that the clergy know well  when you minister to others you end up ministering to yourself. That is how God works. The Bible means it when it says that those who give their lives will find them. The Prayer Book is right when it says that in service there is perfect freedom. Being sent out to care for others is not only an expectation of our baptisms it is also an ingredient central to our own health and wellbeing.

Two thousand years ago Jesus left people like James and John, Thomas and Matthew, Thaddaeus and Mary, Peter, Paul and Phoebe in charge of his work in the world. He told them to spread the Kingdom of God – not only by proclaiming it but by living it. He told them to love and care for people as he did  to never run from the sick or shun the outcast. After many years those good people raised up other Apostles who were washed in baptism and nourished on the Eucharist and sent out to continue Christ’ s work in the world. In turn those good people raised up others and so on down through history for the last 60 generations. Now my friends like it or not, the mantle of ministry, the title of Apostle rests upon us. It is our turn to be Jesus for others – because the harvest is just as plentiful and the laborers are still too few. Amen.

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