Friday, December 29, 2017
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June 18, 2017
My friend Maya and I are so happy to be here worshipping with you. We bring you love and good wishes from Zion Church in Wappingers Falls, New York, St. Nicholas in New Hamburg, and Resurrection in Hopewell Junction. All of us are partners in the Friends of Darbonne, working to support education, school projects, and worship here in Darbonne, Haiti.
I learned to love Haitian worship when I was here in Haiti two years ago with a group from the Diocese of New York. I met your bishops, Bishop Duracin and spent three days with Bishop Oge in northern Haiti. Our group even stopped by Darbonne, to see the buildings, but Pere Michelin was away in California, so I just took a few pictures. I am so happy now to be here with my friend Maya Hennebery, whose mother was born in Haiti, and to finally see all of your faces.
I thank Pere Michelin for asking me to preach today. Our Gospel lesson puts us right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as Matthew the Evangelist tells it. Jesus wastes no time, and doesn’t miss a thing. He is busy going to all the cities and all the villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. And when he looks out at the crowds he has great compassion for them, for they are “like sheep without a shepherd; harassed and helpless”.
This is a very interesting passage to read right after Trinity and Pentecost Sundays. We have all experienced the power of the Spirit at Pentecost. We know without doubt that the Holy Spirit is doing something new with us. And that we can expect powerful changes in our lives if we follow Jesus' Way.
We are a new creation, being formed in the likeness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in order to bring healing and hope to our broken world. So when we read about Jesus saying the people he sees are harassed and helpless, do we think he is talking about us, or to us? Do we take offense? Is he insulting us? I don't mind admitting that I feel harassed every now and then. But helpless? That's different.
We have to look at the context in which Jesus is working. According to Matthew, Jesus has been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel - the Jewish people, who are not only sick, possessed, and dying, but are living in occupied territory where their loyalties are constantly being tested. There is widespread hypocrisy, dishonesty, and fraud, and the poor are being oppressed, not only by the Romans, but by their own people.
So Jesus walks among the harassed and helpless and starts curing, healing, loving and freeing folk. But they know that they have a disease, or are possessed by demons, or need help. The people he heals come up, get near to him, and look into his eyes, and beg Jesus to heal them.
At Zion Church, we have a weekly healing service on Tuesday mornings. We have about 10-15 regulars who come to receive laying on of hands and healing, for themselves or their loved ones, and then participate in the shared Eucharist. We pray for so many people in this service. We have grown close to each other through these healing prayers. We are fond of each other.
We also have two services each Sunday, each with their own personality and style. We pray for those who are sick, but we don't use the laying on of hands. Jesus, of course, is present in all of these prayers, and is actively involved in healing all of us, all of the time, whether or not we anoint with oil and lay hands upon one another.
But look at what is happening in this Gospel reading. When Jesus first calls his disciples we know that they have no idea what they are in for. They are fallible. They lose their faith. They don't understand the enormity of what Jesus is up to. When he comes to them, he brings the kingdom of God with him - and then he touches them with it, transforming their lives and turning the world upside down.
Jesus calls his twelve disciples and gives them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness." And then Matthew tells us their names. These very ordinary men, with ordinary names are given the authority to carry the kingdom of heaven around in their hearts. What a joy and a privilege. But how quickly the joy passes. How they lose their faith in him; how they distrust each other and themselves. How they betray him.
We are to understand, as we read this text, that we are the post-resurrection Christians who understand the full scope of what Jesus did for us. We are called to a continual transformation in the name of Christ.
Let's go back for a minute to the crowds who are harassed and helpless. Americans are not so good at admitting helplessness. We complain constantly about being harassed. But we tend to think that is always someone else's fault.
I believe we have to practice daily the art of being absolutely and completely helpless. We have to admit that we know next to nothing about why or how God saves us. God's loving grace comes to us unbidden. It is free. It transforms us into a community centered in Christ's love, instead of isolated, lonely, and petulant children always looking for someone else to blame.
It is transformative to hear how harassed and helpless the crowds of Jews were, thousands of years ago and to see that nothing has changed.
Yes. I'm helpless to help myself or any other person who I pray for, unless I turn to Jesus and admit that he is everything and I am so very very tiny in his presence.
Peter, James, John, and all the other disciples were given the power to heal in order to show the power of God the Father. And we are given the same power, for the same reason. The Kingdom of God is breaking through the walls and fences of our self-sufficiency and pride and inviting us to become part of the kingdom. We are the Jesus Movement, as our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is fond of saying.
So we have work to do, and prayers to pray, and songs to sing. Jesus has spread over all the earth, but is as close to each of us as our own breath. We are the lucky ones who seek to know him more clearly, follow him more nearly, and love him more dearly, day by day. Amen.