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When Jesus Talks…Disciples Listen

Thomas J Parlette

“When Jesus talks…disciples listen”

Matt 9:35- 10:23

6/18/17

One of the great things about You-Tube is the ability to look up clips from old commercials and TV shows. It seems like there’s nothing you can’t find on You-Tube. I’ve enjoyed looking up some of my favorite commercials from when I was a kid – commercials I still remember. Like the one for American Tourister luggage with the Gorillas throwing the suitcases around in their cage. “Tough enough to stand up to even the toughest baggage handlers” was the tag line I remember. Or the one for Alka-seltzer – “Plop plop, fizz, fizz – oh what a relief it is.” Or the little old lady pulling up to the drive-thru window of a Wendy’s and demanding, “Where’s the beef?!”

Another one of my favorite commercials was the one where a Rolls-Royce pulls up to another Rolls-royce, the window of one rolls down and a wealthy gentleman taps on the window of the other car and asks, “Excuse me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” To this day, I still buy Grey Poupon mustard.

I remember one other classic commercial. It takes place around a crowded swimming pool at a resort somewhere. People are lounging around the pool, kids are swimming, young adults are playing volleyball and waiters are serving food and drinks. One man, sitting under an umbrella leans over to his friend and says, “Well my broker is E.F. Hutton, and EF Hutton says….”

And everything stops, everybody freezes. The camera pulls back and reveals that everyone around the pool has stopped what they are doing and they are leaning in to try to eavesdrop on what EF Hutton has to say. Then the voice over comes on… “When EF Hutton talks…people listen.”

It’s a great commercial. I’m sure I’ve given our younger members something to do later as they look up all these commercials they’ve never seen.

Well, this morning we’ve got a biblical version of that classic commercial as Jesus once again addresses his disciples. You could sub-title this passage, “When Jesus talks…disciples listen.”

These verses from Matthew today contain what scholars call “The missionary discourse.” The Gospel of Matthew is structured around five discourses or extended periods of teaching from Jesus. The most well known is the first discourse – the sermon on the mount. This one in Matthew 9 and 10 is the second discourse on mission work. Jesus will go on to deliver a discourse filled with parables in Chapter 13, he’ll teach about the Church in Chapter 18 and then discuss the end times in Chapters 24 and 25.

But today, in this second discourse, Jesus talks to his disciples about going out and doing the things that he himself has done – “Go, proclaim the Good News, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons.”

Jesus also gives his disciples some specific instructions about how to conduct themselves as they do their ministry – expect no payment, don’t take anything with you – no money, no luggage, no extra clothes or equipment. Stay with the local people. Don’t worry if any particular town won’t listen to you – shake it off. Literally, shake it off like dirt from your feet, and keep going.

Jesus is brutally honest with his disciples – it won’t be easy. Jesus knows he’s sending them out like sheep into the midst of wolves. So be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Yes, Jesus knows it will be hard, they will face physical abuse, legal problems and harassment.

But Jesus also assures them – do not fear. Keep on with the work. Persist. And trust that God will provide what you need, when you need it.

This passage is another commissioning passage. Last week, we read the words of Jesus that come at the end of the Gospel, the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples, baptize and teach them, and I will be with you.” This morning, it’s rather odd that we have another commissioning text, one that comes not quite half way through the Gospel. I’ve always wondered why we don’t look at this passage first and then the Great Commission. It’s one of the great mysteries of our lectionary.

I don’t want to call this the Lesser Commission, or the Not Quite Great Commission, but this commission is markedly different from the closing words of Matthew. It has a much tighter focus. Notice that Jesus sends his disciples only to the lost sheep of Israel. Don’t go near the Gentiles, he says. Don’t go into any of the towns filled with Samaritans. Go only to the Jews. Go only to somewhat familiar territory – for now.

This commission feels more like a practice run, like some kind of a warm-up. This feels like Jesus sending his disciples to the bull pen to take some warm up pitches before he sends them out into the game for real. This is where the disciples get some on the job training to get them ready for the challenge of going to all the world with the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.

And when Jesus tells them this, when Jesus talks, he reminds them of two things. There are two keys to their success.

Number 1 – Persistence. Keep at it. Keep going. Don’t give up.

And Number 2- Trust. Trust that God will provide what you need, when you need it. Right down to the proper words to say if you hauled into court. Trust that God will with you when you need it the most. Go out with persistence and trust, to share with the world that the Kingdom of God has come near.

That has been the attitude of Christian missionaries ever since. Consider William Carey, who went seven years before he had his first convert in India. Or Adoniram Judson, who worked in Burma for almost the same amount of time before he had his first convert. Then there’s Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, who labored for 25 years and had fewer than a dozen converts. And Anskar, the Apostle of the North, who gave his life to preaching the gospel to the Vikings without any long-lasting results. Or all the missionaries to East Africa in the early 1880’s who shipped their good to Africa in coffins because most of them knew they most likely would be struck down during their first term by illness or unfriendly natives. And there’s the well known story of Jim Eliot, Nate Saint and others who were martyred on a sandy beach in South America as they made the first attempts to reach the Auca Indians with the gospel. Many of these missionaries died without seeing great results.(1)

But with persistence and trust, they were able to plant the seeds of the Gospel that have flourished over the years. It certainly wasn’t easy, but God was with them.

Precisely because the gospel message is the good news, it will be met with hostility from those other forces advancing claims that are ultimately destined by God to crumble and fall. However, none of this hostility will have the final word.

Kinky Friedman, an eccentric musician and philosopher and Texas icon, once wrote an essay about the Texas hill country – that peaceful, bucolic expanse of rolling hills, green valleys, wooded canyons, and sparkling creeks that stretches across central and west Texas.

Friedman laments, though, the way in which this scenic region is increasingly imperiled by the arrival of tourists and folks from the big city seeking second homes. It is so bad at times, says Friedman, that one can encounter, in front of some old country store, a Volvo with out of state tags and a bumper sticker that says “Free Tibet.”

Friedman cites an old-timer named Earl Buckelew, who recently showed some hill country acreage to a man from the city who wanted to know if the land was any good for farming or livestock.

“No,” said Earl. “All it’s good for is holding the world together.”(2)

Our gospel message that the Kingdom of God has come near, may not look like much. It might not be convincing to all – at times it may seem foolish. But what it’s good for is holding the world together.

So once again today, we are commissioned to go out into the world, as the church, with the message that God is near. Jesus sends us with warning, but also with encouragement – be persistent and always have trust in God. Jesus sends us with the assurance that he is with us. And when Jesus talks…his disciples listen.

May that be true for us all.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Homiletics, Vol. 29, No. 3, p66.

2.    Theodore J. Wardlaw, Feasting on the Gospels, Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, p265.