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Discipleship Begins With Hospitality

sheepamongwolvesMatthew 9:35-10:14
Introduction to the reading
The sermons for this summertime of worship will draw on the lectionary readings from the Gospel of Matthew, as Jesus teaches the disciples about the meaning of discipleship.  They will now be apostles, the ones sent out to make other disciples.  Through them, including Matthew in the list you will hear, Jesus is also teaching those who will have gathered around them as early church congregations.  And then, of course, Jesus is teaching us.

We begin today with the idea of hospitality.

Sermon
Did any of you see the movie, The Martian, that came out a couple of years ago?  Matt Damon plays a scientist who gets stranded on Mars during the first manned mission to the red planet.  He uses his training, his wits and a lot of perseverance to survive while his colleagues work to bring him back home to planet Earth.  A very interesting piece of science fiction because it is not so very far from real possibility.

There’s an idea being proposed by a Dutch nonprofit called Mars One to establish an initial colony of four people on Mars in the year 2030 with new crews being added every two years.  Mars will be their new home where they will live, work and study the planet for the benefit of science and to explore a totally new place exploration for future human habitation. Amazingly, when the search for astronauts for this project began in 2013, more than 200,000 applicants expressed their desire to go where no one has gone before and from where no one will return.

Who knows what might be in the not too distant future?  Imagine leaving behind everything and everyone you’ve ever known, including your family, to go to a planet where you will spend the rest of your days in a hostile environment with nothing to see but red rocks and dust.

Well, the planning is on, but it is doubtful that this kind of permanent mission will actually be sustainable for the long term, at least as far as we know now.  The technology just isn’t there to deal with oxygen-related issues in particular.  But…

Now let’s take a leap backward in time.  Jesus was offering those first disciples the prospect of a one-way mission into a way of life which was radically different from what they knew.  They had been following Jesus for a while now as he went about the countryside – a closely circumscribed area, when you think about it – not only proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God but also curing diseases and healing sickness.  This was miracle work.  Jesus could not do this much all by himself – and besides, he knew the crucifixion was coming.  So he gave to his followers - the ones he had called to be disciples - fantastic authority:  to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  Imagine having that kind of authority and that kind of power.

But Jesus was sending them into hostile territory, into an inhospitable environment.  Jesus himself was laughed at and scorned, especially by those in power.  They didn’t understand his true power; they were probably afraid of him.  Jesus knew what was in store for his disciples and so he instructed them:

Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town (Matt. 10: 11-14)

Later the warnings become dire:

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me...”  (Matt. 10: 16-18a)

The first apostles might as well been leaving Earth to take up life on Mars.

By the time we get to now, however, the environment has changed. Christianity has become tame, nice, comfortable, routine; and there are many who pay it no mind at all.  We forget the stories of those first, early times in the church.  We forget that Jesus has given us the church as a training ground and launching pad for his risky, challenging mission in and for the world, even if it isn't literally raising the dead or casting out demaons.

It is certainly true and not wrong that we seek peace in the church; we seek and find a place for contemplation and reflection; we seek solace and safety; we seek and find direction and encouragement for the week ahead of Sunday.

But that is not all that the Christian church is called to be and to do.  In so many places in the world, the church is in a precarious position, the Coptic church in Egypt, for example, and Christian churches in other parts of the Middle East and in China.

Even here in the U.S., there are churches taking great risk to be what Jesus has called us to be.  I think of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, whose mission for over 20 years has been to provide sanctuary and protection for refugees from Indonesia fleeing from religious persecution.  They went so far as to build housing for them on church property and help them find work; families have grown and served the church and the community.  The mission to care for immigrants, for strangers, has expanded to include Syrian refugees and people from other countries, who themselves take great risks to come here to find a safe and secure new home.  Not all of these immigrants, though, have had legal status, and in the past month, under new mandates, some – even the Indonesians - have been deported. But the Reformed Church of Highland Park and its pastor Seth Kaper-Dale continue to speak out strenuously on their behalf.

I daresay there are plenty of opportunities for the Christian church to be at odds with the culture around us because of our faith in Jesus Christ.  Are we willing to act on those opportunities?  Are we willing to stand for what is right, what is just and what is true when an inhospitable world seeks to conform us to its less than righteous ways?

The words of a song we’ve been singing lately seem to sum it up:

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
Should your life attract or scare,
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around?

 

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
June 18, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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