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Matthew 9|: 9-13, 18-26
Practicing Christianity

 Today’s gospel reading goes into some detail as Jesus sends out the twelve to begin their own ministries -- by sharing in his.  Jesus has been going around town and country, teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, curing disease and healing sicknesses.  He sees the crowds of people, so full of need, and Jesus is filled with compassion for their situations.  These are his own people that he’s seeing, Jewish people, and they are harassed, confused and helpless, living in a Roman dominated world.  They’re lost, like sheep without a shepherd.  There is no one taking leadership for the care of those in need, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs—no welfare or disability and sick benefits in those days!  So Jesus gives twelve of his faithful the authority that he carries.  He’s sending them out to cast out demons, to heal and cure.  It’s an interesting metaphor Matthew uses, sending labourers out to the harvest.  In their work, the twelve are healing in the name of Jesus, and in so doing bringing to those in need the knowledge of God’s healing love in Jesus’ name, bringing them to faith in the Lord.  That’s the harvest, harvesting souls through care and healing bodies, minds and souls.  Jesus’ choosing and sending out 12 apostles was significant of course, representing the twelve tribes of Israel who God sent out to begin a new life as the people of God in the Promised Land. Jesus’ sending out of the 12 apostles clearly signified this was a new covenant for a new time! The word apostle means “sent out”[1] or “sent forth to preach the gospel”[2].  The word apostle specifically designates the original twelve, and later included Judas’ successor Matthias, who was chosen by lots from the group of disciples or followers who had known Jesus in person.[3]  Recall Paul said he too was an apostle, as he had also seen Jesus in his Damascus Road epiphany. His calling was slightly different though; he believed he was called by Christ to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people. Jesus specially chose and trained twelve people, and then gave them the power and the authority to do special works in his name. Can you name off all 12 apostles?  Of course we remember the ones we hear the most often about; like Peter, maybe better called Simon Peter because Jesus gave him the nickname—he was an impulsive sort--even denied knowing Jesus 3 times that fateful day. And Simon Peter’s brother Andrew of course.  And the fishermen James & John whom Jesus nicknamed “The sons of Thunder”.  I’m betting they were a couple of upstarts!  Then Matthew the tax collector, we know how the rest of the Jews felt about that!  Remember Thomas, the guy who was not afraid to voice his opinion and ask the tough questions, who wouldn’t believe Jesus was resurrected until he saw for himself? He’s purported to have brought the gospel to India.  And of course, Judas Iscariot, the traitor.  The others we don’t hear so much about are harder to remember, Philip and  Bartholomew.  And then it gets a bit confusing because there’s the other Simon, the Canaanite aka Simon the Zealot—which tells you a bit about his character. And another James, son of someone named Alphaeus.  Matthew lists Thaddeus among the twelve but Luke’s list doesn’t include him but another Judas, a son of James.   What an interesting group of twelve they must have been, each brought their own personalities and abilities to the group.  I suspect that it was because of the quirks and strengths of their characters coupled with their faith—that’s why Jesus chose them.  And Jesus, being Jesus, he sees beneath their exterior qualities, he knows them for their true nature.  He sees something in each of them sufficiently worthy to trust them with the power to do the healing work he did!  Even Judas Iscariot!  There’s a really important lesson in here for us, I think, we who may not be apostles but certainly consider ourselves to be disciples of Jesus—those who profess a belief in Jesus as Christ and chose a life to follow and share his teachings.   Regardless of who or what we think or ourselves, and our abilities, or how imperfect we are, when we do Jesus’ works, we are empowered by Jesus to do that work.  We are not alone, thinking we need to depend on ourselves for everything. It really is so cool!  To use a very Trinitarian way of thinking: God is leading us, Christ walks the journey with us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us.  Well, maybe not the healing of diseases and exorcising of evil spirits and the like—that’s not a power to be given to just anyone! But none-the-less, when we do the work of Jesus, each of us using our God-given gifts, our skills and abilities, we are living the ways of Jesus. The work of the apostles and the disciples is the compassionate work of Jesus. This scripture gives us the example, and Jesus sets the precedent.  And we can choose to do so – or we can choose not to, because we have been given that free-will by God.  Think about the choices Judas Iscariot made with his free will.   Our decisions, generally speaking, will not have the same impact as Judas’, but you get the idea!  And that, for me, begs the question:  What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? To be a disciple means to follow his teachings, a specific way of life, and that means we need to learn and to understand what it means to follow that way; what it means to actually be a practicing Christian.  Jesus didn’t send the twelve out to share in his ministry until they’d been with him for some time, three years of intensive training, they needed to learn and understand the why of his ways!  And to learn something and then do it requires self discipline.  Think about that for a minute—add ‘in’ to the word disciple, and it becomes discipline!  To be disciple of Jesus requires discipline.  The late biblical scholar and author of many study books on Christian Practice, Marcus Borg, wrote that our practises, how we live out our faith in Jesus, are the ways and “the means that we live the Christian life.”[4]  Faithful “Practise (he says) is about paying attention to God.”[5] Makes sense!  Every relationship requires our time and attention.  Relationships deepen and grow as we spend time with those we want to be in relationship with.    All our close relationships impact us and have an effect upon us.  I’m sure you remember your parents’ concerns about who you hung out with when you were growing up, they didn’t want you to get into a “bad crowd”.  And if you had children, you had those same concerns for your kids.  Our relationships influence us, and help form us into the kind of people we are.   When we nurture relationships with people of faith, it helps to reinforce and form our lives as Christians, so when we go out into the larger world, we are strengthened by our faith and can resist the temptations that the world presents to us.    Being with, hanging out with like-minded Christians supports us all, as we see and work with others who share those same values.   Learning and studying together with others in our Christian community stretches us, deepening our faith and understanding of God in Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit.  It forms us into people with a stronger Christian identity and focus.   And as believers, we are called not just to act on our beliefs, but  also we are called to share our faith in Jesus.  Marcus Borg states that practising Christianity, actually nourishes us[6], because in all of us, is a hunger and thirst for a relationship with God.  That’s what partaking in the Lord’s Supper is all about, eating the bread, drinking the wine is a physical reminder to our spiritual selves that we need Jesus not just survive, but to be fully alive to Christ.  There’s really something to that adage, we are spiritual beings having a physical existence. Coming together in worship feeds us; it brings a synergy of spirit that is different from praying alone, and feeds us differently.  Worship done well bring to those in attendance an experience of being touched by the Divine.  “Being part of a church also creates opportunities for the collective practice of compassion and justice.  These include caring for people within the church, outreach programs for people beyond the doors of the church, and advocacy of justice.”[7] Relationships will wither away if you don’t spend time on them.  So spending time alone with God in prayer also feeds us; our relationship with God becomes stronger and closer, deepening our relationship with any or all three aspects of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we hang out with God, or with Jesus, of the Holy Spirit in prayer, whoever you pray to--it’s like hanging out with anyone else, it rubs off on us, as it were.  We can’t help but become more loving, more caring, more like Jesus in ourselves and our behaviours. Jesus teachings reinforce our Christian character and identity, giving us the strength to resist the values our rather self-serving, power-hungry, money obsessed culture imposes on society.   Besides, who doesn’t want to spend time with someone who loves you unconditionally?  And the benefits!  Remember those fruits of the Holy Spirit that form within us when we become more like God? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5: 22-23 NLT) These are all aspects of Christian character, they shape our virtues and hence our behaviours. It’s not enough just call ourselves Christians, to be a Christian is to profess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and then to practice the ways of Christ.  Being Christian means practicing Christianity.   Amen.                                                                                                                          

[1] Luke A. Powery In Homiletical Perspective for Matthew 9: 35-10.8. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 3

[2] Smith’s Bible Dictionary 42

[3] ibid

[4] Marcus J. Borg The Heart of Christiany.(Harper Collins: NY. NY,2003) p.187

[5] Ibid p. 185 [6] Ibid [7] Ibid pp 195-196