"These twelve Jesus sent"-Sermon for Proper 6, Matthew 9:35-10:8
I want to begin by picking up on the story that I shared this past Sunday about a woman named Rose. Without repeating the story entirely, though seeming to live an idealic sort of life, Rose was quietly struggling with depression and very, very sadly took her own life…leaving a note behind that read, in part, “I am so tired of clapping with one hand.” And, I said last week that if we can extend Rose’s poetic and soul-stirring words to a metaphor…one could say that so many people are tired, even to the point of death, of clapping with one hand. I mentioned, among other marginalized and isolated people, the African American Community who after 400 years of institutionalized racism, after the blood shed by so many martyrs, after countless years of patient endurance, after soul-shaking demonstrations of righteous anger, are still waiting…with a hand outstretched…waiting to be grasped as true sisters and brothers…waiting to be acknowledged, given voice, be seen and heard…waiting for us and those like us to take their hand into our own…completing the circle…clapping together…in celebration of a common life in which all are respected and valued…a life in which the rainbow colored people of God mutually flourish…together. And I also mentioned last week those people like Rose…those who are depressed, or bored, or disillusioned, or have just checked out…they too are tired to the point of death…they too are experiencing a sort of soul-crushing isolation that is caused by the serious spiritual vacuum that exists in our culture…a vacuum created not by secularization alone…but a church that has forgotten how to be Jesus’ heart and hands in this world. And that’s what I want to think about with you for just a few moments today…how we reclaim our healing, reconciling mission as a church and as individual Jesus followers…how we just begin to recover being, again, what I like to call being Jesus’ heart and hands in this world.
I wrote to our community at the very beginning of this pandemic, as we were just starting to stay at home…quarantine ourselves from all the people outside of our homes, who we love…I wrote this to each of you, “I ask that we keep all those most impacted in our prayers for hope and healing. I also want us to work together to combat the potential of isolation. I believe isolation is the true ongoing epidemic of our age, and I believe our faith calls us to combat isolation by remaining deeply connected, if not in person, then through phone calls and electronically. We worship and adore a God who IS loving community…three persons so profoundly connected and in love that they can only be described as one. Likewise, we are called into God's divine and shared life through Christian community, through the life we live and share together. For we most fully experience and know the love of God in our own lives through the love, care, attention, empathy, and affection that we extend to each other. We do our faith together.”
So, whether we are talking about the often violent isolation cause by systemic racism, or those suffering from depression or addiction, or those who have had to and continue to need to quarantine at home alone during this pandemic, or just those desperately looking for a friend and community to create a sense of love and belonging in their lives, our mission as the love-spreading, reconciling followers of Jesus is to be the ones who courageously grasp the outstretched hand of those who need us most…to complete the circle…to clap together in celebration of the power love…to heal, to connect, to make whole.
In today’s gospel lesson, Matthew tells us that as Jesus begins his itinerant ministry across Galilee he encounters crowds of people who are hurting, sick, disconnected, brokenhearted…perhaps I could say people clapping with one hand. And, he is moved…shaken to his core. Thus, Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion on them. Compassion is something other than sympathy. Compassion suggests a deep, soul-stirring sort of emotion. Something felt in the gut, in the center of our very being, something that cannot be ignored, something that moves one to action. And so, Jesus, indeed, responds…he goes into action…but not alone. For at least while incarnated in flesh and blood during his time walking among us…yes fully divine…but also fully human…Jesus is but one person…occupying one location on the earth at time…so he calls on his followers, his disciples, and he empowers them to be his heart and hands and to go forth in his name, with his message of love, and with his power to heal. Jesus sends out his disciples to preach the good news of God’s never-ending love for all of God’s children, to offer healing for those living with both disease and dis-ease. For two people can accomplish more than one…and three more than two…and so on. More people equals more love…more connection…more healing…more hope…more wholeness…to infect and transform the hearts of more and more people…for good and for God’s sake.
And this moment then, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, becomes the vision for the love-spreading, reconciling ministry of God’s people throughout all time moving forward. Jesus, in response to the compassion he feels at his core for the lost and lonely, sends his followers out…and Jesus still sends his followers out…including you and me…the people of St. Julian’s…all the rainbow-colored people of God…empowered to turn the world right side up with love on the very top…one love-suffused moment of connection between two people at a time.
Now if this sounds dramatic…I don’t intend it to. For being sent out by Jesus, as his own heart and hands, looks like all sorts of things, little moments and large, things like calling regularly a neighbor or fellow church member who continues to need to self-quarantine at home alone for still an undetermined period of time moving forward; like vulnerably entering into the conversation and theological reflection we will be doing on Wednesday evenings beginning this week on race, justice and reconciliation; like going to onehumanrace.org and joining one of their gatherings to listen and learn from our sister and brother Episcopalians of color; like, if it safe for you, joining peaceful protests, that are following safe social-distancing and mask use, to stand in solidarity with our African American sisters and brothers; like donating to twelve step ministries; like creating at home manna bags for our homeless friends; like gathering household and hygiene supplies for residents at our local outreach partner Foundation Communities; like using Amazon Smile, with the Episcopal Church in Navajoland as your charity of choice, when on-line shopping; like teaching your children about God’s love for all people whatever they look like, whoever they love, whatever they believe; like calling a health care professional you know to thank them for their heroic work.
And, I suppose if there is one thing I would suggest most of all…what being sent out by Jesus as his own heart and hands looks like…is making a new friend with someone who looks different than you or has lived a different experience than your own. And the key to building friendships, especially when wariness exists, is to establish trust…and this is done first and foremost by being willing to listen more than speak. Trust is built upon understanding…and to understand another in the same way we hope to be understood requires a willingness to really listen…to passionately listen with empathy to the hopes and dreams, the pain and woundedness of the other. And, these sorts of friendships create the opportunity for healing. For healing…that Jesus sends us out and empower us to accomplish…as a spiritual matter…is always about the heart…healing happens when one heart become deeply connected by God’s own love to another. Then two hands can truly clap together.
I would like to close with another story shared with me by the same priest friend who shared Rose’s story with me. And it is about the Rat Pack comedian Jimmy Durante. The story goes that he was asked to perform by a group putting on a WWII veterans’ function. Jimmy agreed but said due to his tight schedule he could only be on stage a few minutes…maybe tell a joke or two and then would have to move on. The producers of the show agreed. The night of the performance arrived and Jimmy went on stage. The stage manager stood watching the show from behind the curtain. Jimmy began his performance. Quite soon Jimmy had completed his short act…but he continued. Ten minutes passed, the crowd was howling with laughter. Then thirty minutes, the crowd continued to cheer. Finally, after an hour Jimmy stepped off stage. The crowd was ecstatic. The stage manager immediately approached Jimmy and said, “Why did you stay on the stage so long, I thought you were only going to give us a few brief minutes?” In reply, Jimmy took the manager to the edge of the stage and pulled back the curtains exposing the first row. Seated in the middle of the first row were two men in uniform. The one on the right was missing his left arm and the one on the left was missing his right arm. As the two men continued to cheer and enjoy the show, the two men were clapping together using each other’s good hand.
Make no mistake, as Jesus sends us out, as his heart and hands, we go as wounded healers ourselves. We go with our own fears and prejudices and shortcomings and wounds and limits…like a person with just one hand…and we go to those with all the same…some of their own making…and many, many more heaped upon them by a death-dealing world. But, if we will heed Jesus’ call to go, to be his heart and hands among those most in need of us, we will find friends to make and outstretched hands to clap with…and healing begins…not just for the one to whom we go in God’s name…but for ourselves. And it is in these moments of hope filled connection, when the circle is again made complete, that God’s hope for the world…for all of us is found. Amen.