Pentecost 2, 2017, Hillsboro, Il.
Crowds. Great crowds. From Galilee in the north to Judea/Jerusalem to the south and all up and down the eastern side of the Jordan River from the sea of Galilee to the Salt Sea, they came to follow him. Sometimes we need to get away from the crowds, so he took his disciples up a mountain and taught them, “Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual poverty, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied; Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” He continued, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” What other light do we have, but him who is the light of life? He taught them to pray, “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come, Your will be done…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven others.” And he said, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” All his teachings within the circle of his presence as Immanuel, God with us. The one who would save us from our sins for with him is forgiveness of sins.
When Jesus came down the mountain there were the crowds. And out of the crowd stepped a leper, a man with a skin infection, one who should have stayed far away. He kneeled before Jesus and said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched the untouchable man and said, “I will; be clean.” Then an army officer came beseeching him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But the officer said, “No, no, I am not worthy, only say the word.” Jesus said the word and the man was healed at that very moment. He went into his disciple Peter’s house where Peter’s mother-in- law was cast into bed by a fever. He touched her and she got up and began to serve him, as we are called to do.
In our text this morning Matthew reports, “Jesus, kept on going around all the cities and villages to teach in their synagogues and preach the Good News of the God’s reign and heal every illness and ailment.” Our Savior, that’s your name, went about teaching the good news that, God was reestablishing his ruler ship in the world. As Becky and I go about on Sunday mornings, I am in wonder of the Gospel proclaimed in the churches names. Last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we first went to Trinity Lutheran in Iuka located at the end of Trinity Lane. Then to Faith, Lutheran in Flora, where again we confessed our faith in the Triune God. We belong to a congregation named, Resurrection. What gospel is in those names.
But then Matthew tells us, in our text, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” The crowds were made up of descendants of ancestors whom God had freed from slavery in Egypt, of whom God had said, in our Old Testament reading, “you yourselves have seen how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. You shall be to be a treasured possession…a kingdom of priests; a holy nation.” But now these descendants didn’t feel as if they were flying on eagles’ wings. They didn’t seem like a treasured possession. Nor did they see themselves as God’s priests; a nation sacred to God. Literally, the crowd felt like they were flayed and throw down, dejected and being kicked around. There are times in our personal lives and in our life as a congregation that we feel harassed and helpless against forces we can’t overcome. I know that all those gospel – named churches I listed above have gone through times like what Jesus saw in the crowds before him.
Matthew says they were like sheep without a shepherd. A high school textbook of our oldest son contained a painting of a flock of sheep with no shepherd in sight. They had grazed their way to the edge of the cliff overlooking a broad valley below them. And some of the flock had already fallen over the cliff and landed on a ledge below them and were now trapped. They were looking up at the rest of the flock. Worse was yet to come, because above, the painting showed more sheep grazing their way up toward the edge. And soon they would be pushing up against the sheep already on the edge and more of the flock would soon going tumbling down.
When Jesus sees the harassed and helpless, he is filled with compassion. His heart goes out to us. He doesn’t abandon us, for he was born Immanuel and as we heard last Sunday, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”
Because in the epistle lesson Paul throws three fast balls right past us. We were weak, unable to come to God. Strike one. We sinners. Strike two. We were enemies of God. Strike three. But Christ stepped to the plate in our place. He belted each accusation out of the park. Weak and ungodly? “Christ died for the ungodly.” Sinners? “God shows his love for us in that…Christ died for us.” Enemies of God? “God reconciled us to himself by the death of His Son.”
Now Jesus points his disciples, including us, his 21st disciples, to look at the outside world. There we will see, that, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” One of the things I noticed in the last few weeks traveling through Illinois was that the wheat field had ripened and turned golden. Then last weekend the harvesting was well underway. Jesus says, “Think of the world as a vast wheat field waiting for the harvest.” But this isn’t our field or our harvest. That belongs to God. But laborers are needed to get the harvest ready. The first thing Jesus says to us disciples is to, “pray, earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers out into his harvest.” Then Jesus, who took our place in his dying and rising to life, now sends us out to take his place and carry on his ministry.
Our Savior commissions Our Savior Lutheran Church to carry on his work. Us? Weakened as we are? Yes. Look whom he sends out in our Gospel lessons, Peter and his brother Andrew; James and his brother John, who wanted to call down fire and brimstone on a village who wouldn’t let Jesus stay overnight. There was Philip who found his friend Bartholomew. It was Bartholomew who wondered if anything good could come out of that hick town of Nazareth. Let’s not forget doubting Thomas. And Matthew, a hated and crooked tax collector. There’s another James and a person named Thaddeus. Rounding out the twelve was a Simon, who belonged to a group called the zealots who were dedicated to getting rid of the Romans even if it took terrorist means. And Judas, who would betray Jesus to his enemies.
If Jesus can send these out to continue his ministry, then surely, he can use us. And he does. So again, today we will leave with the assurance that the Lord blesses us, and keeps us. We shall live under the beams of his shining presence and will receive grace upon grace. He will look upon us and in him we have peace. Lord, grant us faith to believe Your promises.