June 13, 2020, The God Who Sends, Matthew 10:5-15 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000198
Today we read about what you might call the first Christian missionary trip. Jesus sends out his twelve disciples, that small circle of men who traveled with him, who studied at his feet, who ate and talked and ministered by his side. Matthew, the author of the gospel, was one, and he lists the rest: Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and the “other” James, whose father was Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanean – to distinguish him from Simon Peter – and of course Judas Iscariot. We often speak of them as the twelve apostles, and the reason they are called apostles is at least in part because of this very passage that we just read, where Jesus first sends them out, because “apostle” literally means one who is sent out.
But the twelve apostles aren’t unique in the Bible for being sent out. God has a long tradition of sending people out in his ongoing history with his people. When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, God sent out Moses to go to Pharoah, the king of Egypt, to demand freedom for his people. “Come,” God said to Moses. “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”
Four centuries later, when the nation of Israel had fallen into sin and idolatry, there was a man named Isaiah who saw a vision of God in his heavenly Temple. And in the vision God called out for someone to go and bring his word to his people. “Who can I send?” God asked. “Who will go for us?” And Isaiah spoke up, “Here I am!” he said. “Send me!”
Later still, when Judah had fallen away from God, and was about to be destroyed and carried off by the Babylonians, God sent out a young man, Jeremiah. God said to Jeremiah, “Don’t tell me, ‘I’m only a boy’; for you will go to all to whom I send you, and you will speak whatever I command you. I have put my words in your mouth.”
The greatest one ever to be sent out, of course, was Jesus, as John tells us in one of the best-known verses of the whole Bible: “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
After his Resurrection, Jesus came to his disciples, gathered in the upper room, fearful and sorrowful and confused. He appeared among them and breathed the breath of his Spirit on them, and he said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so now I am sending you.”
Again and again, God has sent people out. He sent his prophets. He sent his own Son. He sent his apostles. In the days after his Ascension, he sent men and women to carry the good news to every part of the known world: Paul and Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquila, Silas and Timothy. And God doesn’t change; he hasn’t stopped. God continues to send out his people, down through the centuries, right down to our own time and place. Sending people out is a thing that God has done, and something he continues to do. So as we read this passage today, where Jesus first sent out his twelve apostles, I wanted to focus on what it means to be sent out.
The first thing about being sent out is that a person is always sent out from someplace. Being sent out implies that there is a home base. It means that the person being sent has a place of belonging to be sent out from. We have a desk at my house where we keep our bills and envelopes and stamps – all our correspondence stuff – and in the desk we have a tin where we keep all our return address labels. We seem to have thousands of return address labels, from the cancer society, and the heart association, and Habitat for Humanity, all different, but every single label has the same address on it – our home address. Because everything we send out – bills or letters or birthday cards or whatever – are all sent out from our home, because they are sent out from us.
And in the same way, whenever God sends a person out, he first calls them to himself. When God called Moses from the burning bush, he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” You remember Moses had been raised as a foundling in the palace of Pharaoh. But God reminded Moses where he had really come from, and who he really was. He reminded him that he belonged to God’s chosen people. First he gave Moses a home address. And then he sent him out.
When Jesus sent his apostles out, then, they were sent out as his men, his chosen band, his apprentices. They belonged to Jesus; he was their Teacher and Master. Jesus and his followers had no place to lay their heads, it’s true. But they belonged with Jesus. Jesus was their home address, and they didn’t need anything more than that.
The second thing about being sent out by God is that he always sends people with a specific mission. He gives them a message. He puts his own words on their tongues. When God called Moses, Moses carried God’s demand to Pharaoh, to set his people free. To Isaiah and Jeremiah, God gave a message of judgment, his indictment of their sin and rebellion, to carry to the people of Israel and Judah. And when Jesus sent his apostles out to the towns and villages of Judah and Galilee, he charged them to proclaim this good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ And he gave them some crazy instructions: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
Because clearly, being sent out by God isn’t just a matter of being a kind of divine mailman. Those who bear God’s message also bear his power. To be sent out is to be empowered. Whatever God sent his apostles out to do, he also empowered them to do it. In fact, he empowered them to do just exactly the kinds of works he had been doing – proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was dawning, healing diseases of all kinds, commanding demons, raising the dead. Being God’s message-bearer also means being the bearer of God’s power to do all that a person is sent to do. Throughout the Bible God sends out people on all different kinds of missions. He sends them out to build boats, to oppose mighty kings, to be walking parables, to issue ultimatums. But whatever it is that God calls people to do, he empowers them to carry it out.
When Jesus told his twelve friends to go out without a purse or an extra pair of sandals, and to do the kinds of miraculous works they had seen him do, we have no way of knowing how crazy that sounded to them. Go raise the dead and cast out demons? Sure. But the thing is, they were able to do it all. Because when God sends his people out he gives them the power to do anything and everything they are called to do.
And the third thing we see in this story about being sent out by God – and of course, there are infinitely more things that can be learned from this passage – but the third thing I want to draw out is that when God sends out his people he sends them to someone. Now, that seems obvious, but it is of great importance. In sending people out, God makes a connection between them and the person or persons they’re sent to, and even more important, he entrusts the person who is sent with a responsibility towards the people they are sent to. The twelve apostles carried a word of good news from Jesus, and they were empowered to do all that he had charged them to do. But they were given that word and that power specifically for the people Jesus called the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. To use the metaphor of mail again, the mission of the apostles was like a private letter bearing the address of their fellow Israelites, just like Moses’ mission was a letter addressed to Pharaoh. In a very real sense, being sent by God makes us servants of the people to whom we have been sent. There were no guarantees that they would be listened to, or welcomed, or even safe. In fact, Jesus told them plainly that some would refuse to receive them. Jesus told them that they would certainly be betrayed and arrested and beaten. But they had a responsibility to deliver the message of Jesus to all those who would listen.
And the reason it is so important for us to understand what it meant when God sent out his prophets and his apostles and his disciples and missionaries – the reason that matters so much to us is that God also sends us out. When Jesus appeared to his disciples after he had come forth from the tomb, he breathed the breath of his Spirit on them and he said this, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” That was true for his disciples, who were sent to bring the good news of the kingdom to the four corners of the Roman Empire. But it is also true for us. God sends me out. He sends you out.
And that means, first and foremost, that he calls you to himself. “God is love,” John writes, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” The love of God is our home address; he is our place of belonging. When he sends us out, he sends us out from himself. And when he sends us out, when he sends you out, he gives you a mission, a message. Sometimes we get the impression that really good Christians are out there evangelizing 24/7, like somebody that’s hired to walk up and down the sidewalk all day every day wearing a sandwich board advertising Jesus.
But the truth is, like the prophets and the apostles, God sends each of us out with particular messages to particular people. He might send you out to talk to someone you haven’t talked to in years. He might send you out to cry out for justice from those in authority. He might send you out to make a complete fool of yourself – a fool for Christ. The mission and the message come from God. You’ll hear him if you’re listening. His mission might be very costly, in any number of ways. It might seem impossible. He might not send you to raise the dead or cast out demons – and then again, he might. But you can be sure of this: when God gives you his mission and his message he also empowers you to accomplish everything he asks you to do.
The other side of this, of course, is to be aware of how many times God sends people to you, how many times you’re the one to receive his message through the faithfulness of one of his apostles: a friend, or a neighbor, or a complete stranger. How many times have you received the love of God in the words or actions of another person? As the Father sent the Son, so the Son now sends us all. We just have to listen.