As I prepared for this sermon, I had a direction planned.
This morning, something has been working on me to change the illustration but not the destination. I am hoping the ‘something’ is the Holy Spirit, so bear with me.
Our scriptures are challenging to hear and yet more challenging to live.
These scriptures address our need to be vulnerable, to share our weaknesses, and how to deal with rejection.
We need to explore:
- What is Jesus calling us to do?
- How do we respond?
- Why are we called?
- What is the goal?
Jesus, within these scriptures, is calling us further into our baptismal promise to proclaim the WORD of God in our words and actions.
How do we respond?
We seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, and love and serve ALL people.
BUT, it goes deeper than that.
Jesus is calling us to embrace and share our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which risks being rejected not only by those who do not know us but also those closest to us.
Therefore, I want to share a recent experience but in order to do that I must go back several years.
You may not know this, but I have a learning disability, a speech impediment, and came from a family without means having been raised by a single mother who worked up to three jobs at a time (1 full-time & 2 part-time) to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and shoes on our feet.
We had our challenges.
My mom, sister, and I (aka the Gapen Girls) had no option but, to be vulnerable, leaning on one another. We continue to be “freakishly close” as some have claimed.
People could not understand my speech until age four.
The professionals had several milestones that I would be incapable of achieving.
I was able to reach and exceed those milestones and challenges with my mother’s help, speech therapy in (public) school, and my sheer determination.
Needless to say I have a soft spot for those who struggle with learning challenges and disabilities, a lack of means, and/or poverty.
Now, we fast-forward to the last 12 months.
While I was visiting friends in Arizona, I had this encounter…
One friend was a special education teacher, but is currently teaching kindergarten.
Another friend was questioning how to get her young son, who she is convinced is a genius, into a particular school because she does not want her son to be in school (kindergarten) with children from the poorer neighborhood or a large number of special needs children.
I have never attempted to conceal the past (and current) struggles with learning challenges/disabilities and finances.
THIS was rejection as she told me that she did not want her son around people like me.
You all probably know by now, but I am feisty. I could not let this conversation “go”.
I confronted her about her statement(s). She attempted to defend it.
I responded: “you are talking to the special needs kid”.
BUT, it hurts.
It hurts when we share our weaknesses and become vulnerable only to be rejected, especially by those closest to us.
And yet, this is exactly what Jesus is asking his disciples (including us) to do. Why?
Ultimately, this vulnerability makes it easier to more deeply connect with one another on a human level.
When the walls we build between ourselves and the “other” come tumbling down,
when we reach our hands across those differences and divides,
we are changed BUT it is a huge risk and requires our vulnerabilities/weaknesses.
Jesus calls his disciples to this vulnerability and dependence in our scriptures.
He tells them (and us) to go forth fully dependent upon God and the people you encounter, who God is working in, among, through, and despite.
Why? What is the purpose of being sent?
- We are sent forth to share the Good News that the Kingdom of God is here and we get glimpses of it, the Kingdom of God is near and coming, BUT the Kingdom of God is not yet fulfilled.
- We are sent to cure/heal people bringing them to wholeness again
physically (body), emotionally and mentally (mind), and spiritually (spirit/soul).
THAT is the reason.
THAT is the purpose.
How do we determine success?
We shared the Good News and helped people become whole again in mind, body, & soul.
We, as Christians and society, too often believe the goal is “to save” or “to convert” the “other”, but last time I checked that was not in my job description.
I have been asked after bed-side visits and memorial/funeral services:
- Did you save the person?
- Did the person accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior?
My response: “I was present and shared the Good News with them”.
See: Our Vocations: Not to “Save”
Martin Luther argued that people cannot be brought to faith by manipulation, threat (including the threat of hellfire), compulsion, or violence because it is NOT about us. It is, however, about the Holy Spirit working through the WORD in our proclamation in word and deed.
I have been pondering two quotes from Saint Frances of Assisi.
There is no use walking somewhere to preach
unless our walking is our preaching.
But, pair that we his more infamous quote:
Preach the Gospel at all times.
Use words if necessary.
Our words, actions, and life should always proclaim the Gospel (Good News), seek justice, demonstrate compassion and mercy, while loving and serving ALL people.
A meme on Facebook wrapped it all together with a nice, neat bow:
I think my job is to make the grace of an invisible God, visible, wherever I am.
My challenge to us:
- Make God’s (unreasonable) Grace visible by going forth as the disciples were sent.
- Remember, God told Ezekiel that some will hear while others will not.
- When rejected, take Jesus’ advice to shake the dust from our sandals
and move on down the road.
It is the Spirit working in people through hearing the WORD proclaimed.
It is NOT about our ‘ability’ or ‘merit’. Amen.