By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard.
Today’s gospel reading is Matthew 9:35-10:23. It begins with Jesus going to the surrounding cities and villages, proclaiming the good news and healing the sick.
But there was too much work for him to do, so he commissioned his apostles, gave them power to heal, and sent them out to continue the work.
All three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke have a story about Jesus commissioning his followers, giving them power, and sending them out to other towns and villages.
So, this story is told here in the 9th and 10th chapter of Matthew, but also in the 6th chapter of Mark and the 9th chapter of Luke.
Each of the Gospel writers tells this same story in a particular way, in a way that will be most meaningful to the people who would first hear their gospels.
One part of this story that is unique to Matthew’s re-telling is that Jesus instructs his disciples to only go to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew is writing to faithful Jews. Matthew wants his Gospel to help these faithful Jews understand that Jesus is actually the messiah who has been proclaimed again and again in the Old Testament, and that following Jesus is the way to be a faithful Jew.
So here in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus tells his apostles to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matthew is making a point about who he believes is ready for the message the apostles have to share. Matthew’s gospel is for the Jewish people, and so the work that needs to be done in Matthew’s gospel is with Jewish people. Matthew has Jesus say, “You will not go through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
I used to think “You will not go through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” meant that Jesus did not understand how long it would be until his second coming and the world is made right once and for all.
But maybe Jesus did understand. Maybe Jesus was thinking about the other side of things — how very, very long it will take before all of God’s people actually understand God’s message. That it will take not decades,not centuries, but millenia, for God’s people to understand God’s intention for love, and justice, and equity, to rule the world — and for all God’s people to actually live that way.
Lord knows there is plenty of brokenness in this world.
We could drop ourselves anywhere in this world, and have enough brokenness to keep us busy for the rest of our lives. In fact, it is pretty easy to do this. We at St. Luke’s go to Belize and we see how far our dollars can go to help kids get educated, and have access to healthy food, and have just the most basic medical care. We look at Minneapolis and Louisville and Washington, and all over. And we we see so much brokenness.
But Matthew’s take on Jesus sending out the apostles is that there is plenty of work to do close to home. And that resonates with something I’ve been hearing from several of you over the past few weeks. Several of you, in one way or another, have asked me to help you find ways to talk with people you care about. To talk about the difficult topic of systemic racism and what is happening in the world today. Our reading from Matthew’s gospel today reinforces that call you are feeling: to focus on what needs to change in our own metaphorical house, with ourselves, and with our own family, and with our friends.
This moment in time gives me such hope. White people, who know we are not yet perfect, are reaching out to learn new skills and do hard things, to talk to other white people about the very sensitive subject of systemic racism. We white people–while we are still imperfect–are facing our own brokenness and working at amendment of life.
And ALSO, we are not waiting until we ourselves are perfect before we engage others we love in the difficult work of re-learning so much of what we thought we knew about our own nation and the way the world works. And just like Jesus commissioning the apostles to go out into the surrounding villages to heal and cast out evil, I do believe that the conversations we white people will have with one another will bring about healing.
I do believe our conversations will cast out evil. I do believe our conversations breathe new life into our deeply broken and sinful world. Because these difficult conversations help us see anew. They shed light onto that which has been festering for hundreds of years. They bring harsh truths to light, and an invitation to change our thoughts and our behaviors. They bring an invitation to yolk ourselves to Jesus in the difficult but important work of living lives that proclaim God as a loving, liberating, life-giving presence in our own lives and in the world.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sends his apostles out to the neighboring villages of people who were like them. Today, this moment, June of 2020, Jesus is sending out his white followers to talk to other white followers–to people like us. To have difficult, uncomfortable conversations. To name and confess the ways we ourselves have been wrong. To name and confess the ways our society has been built to benefit people who look like us. Thankfully, there are a whole lot of people who have been doing this work for a good long time, and we at this moment are able to jump into a stream that has grown strong before us.
Many have already taken the Racial Equity Institute or have participated in a Groundwater presentation. And there is so much more! Our Friday announcement e-mail has announced the five week online course “My Work To Do”. Another fabulous resource is the 21-day Racial Equity Challenge. And there are so many other resources out there, too.
Some of you are writing and reflecting on your growing understanding of whiteness. Some of you are using role plays to practice for upcoming conversations with family or friends. Some of you are widening your circle of friendship and news sources so that you are better able to see the world from another perspective.
All of these are actions that follow in the footsteps of the apostles, sent out by Jesus in today’s gospel of Matthew. We have been given the charge to heal, to cast out evil, and to proclaim God’s presence among us. Even in these strange times, especially in these strange times, we all have our work to do. Each person is called to their own way of proclaiming the truth of God’s loving, liberating and life-giving presence in our world.
Give thanks for those who have come before us. Get strength from those who have been called to walk beside us. And give hope to those who will come after us.
I speak in the name of the Holy Undivided Trinity, One God. Amen.
 Mt 10:1-4, Mk 6.7-13, Lk 9.1-6