Your Job Description

June 17, 2017

 

Last Saturday I was asked to lead a retreat for the people and parishes of Leeds Anglican Ministries, a regional grouping of churches just south of here, between Kemptville and Kingston.  They wanted me to talk to them about how to be a missional church, a church whose purpose and way of being is rooted in God’s mission.  And so I started them off with a question based on Jesus’ own mission statement, the one that launches his ministry, the one that is at the root of our gospel reading today:

 

How do you think God is calling you to proclaim the good news of the kingdom in your time and place?

 

Then with a little bit of explanation, some prayer and a bit of structure to help their discussions, they went at it.  And forty minutes later they came back with some great stuff.  They talked about end of life preparation and support.  They talked about the need for transportation in their rural area, for isolated seniors and single parent families.  They talked about food banks and school breakfast programs.  They talked about prayer and meditation.  It was good stuff, and you could feel the passion and energy in the room.

 

Here at St. Albans we are in the midst of hiring a Pastoral Associate & Campus Minister to help us to carry out our mission and ministry.  As part of the hiring process we put together a job description and here are a few of the things we included.  We wrote that we are looking for a person who will:

  • help build our community,

  • direct our mission and ministry with students and young adults

  • develop and support important initiatives and ministries in the life of our parish

  • lead, coordinate and support our children’s ministry

  • engage community members in our mission and ministry

  • assist with worship and provide formation

I thought our job description was pretty good, lots of good stuff there.  If anything I thought maybe we were being a bit demanding.

 

Then I read today’s gospel.  In today’s gospel, Jesus summons the twelve disciples to carry out his mission to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God has come near.  Then he gives them their instructions, their job description and sends them out. Now, the job description that Jesus gives his disciples is much shorter and much more concise than the one we wrote for our pastoral associate position.  Jesus’ job description reads as follows:

 

Cure the sick.  Raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers.  Cast out demons.

 

This is bold language.  No nonsense language. It’s biblical language.  It clashes with our ordinary way of speaking.

 

Cure the sick.  Raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers. Cast out demons.

 

Imagine, for a moment, what the response would have been at the retreat I was at last weekend if, in response to the question “How is God calling us to proclaim the good news?” someone had stood up and said, “This is what we need to do: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” I imagine that after a bit of a pause, someone else would have stood up and said, thank you for your suggestions, maybe what we need to do is set up a committee to study that.  Or maybe someone would have suggested writing all the ideas on a piece of paper and getting everyone to stick coloured dots next to the idea they like best.

 

Or, what if in our job posting for a Pastoral Associate and Campus Minister, we had chosen to go with a shorter and more concise job description.

 

“As the new St. Albans Pastoral Associate and Campus Minister, your job will be to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

 

How many job applications do you think we would have received?

 

Jesus’ language, Jesus’ bold, raw, biblical language provokes feelings of caution and reticence on our part, doesn’t it? It takes us into unfamiliar, high risk territory.  It’s a bit scary.  I imagine the twelve disciples that Jesus sends out in today’s gospel shared some of our reticence.

 

What is so important, what’s at stake here that has Jesus commissioning his followers with such boldness and urgency?

 

It’s what Jesus sees. It’s right there, at the beginning of today’s gospel.

 

Jesus sees the crowds, the people, people like us, and he sees that we are harassed and helpless, faint and tossed aside, like sheep without a shepherd.

 

And it moves him.  It moves him with compassion, a compassion, which according to the Greek word used, literally churns his gut. He feels it with his whole being when he sees us harassed and helpless, he is moved with compassion when he sees our need, and so he acts, going about the cities and villages, not just some of them, but all of them Matthew tells us, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons.  And knowing that more needs to be done, that he can’t do it all himself, knowing the depth of our human need, he recruits twelve disciples, and teaches them, and shows them how it’s done, and sends them to carry out and expand his mission.

 

Are we like sheep without a shepherd?  Are we harassed and helpless?  I think for most of us our first instinct would be to deny it, to put on a brave face, to show the world that we’ve got our act together.  But scratch below the surface of our lives and there’s a lot going on.  We’ve all got our stuff.  And Jesus sees it.  When he does, he is moved with compassion.  So moved that cautious, reticent language just won’t cut it.  He sees our need, and he summons his followers to join his mission, sending them out in no uncertain terms.

 

Cure the sick.  Raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers. Cast out demons.  The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few; there’s a lot of work to be done; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into the harvest.

 

And so through the generations, through the centuries, the call comes down to us, to those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus.

 

Cure the sick.  Go to those who are afflicted by disease and distress, those who are poisoned by the ills of our age.  Hold them, hug them, pray for them, anoint them. Proclaim the power of God to heal us.

 

Raise the dead. Go to those whose lives are deadened, those who need to take their life back, those for whom the life is being squeezed out of them, the ones at life’s end, those who mourn.  Proclaim the power of God to raise us up.

 

Cleanse the lepers.  Do not abandon the outcast and the marginalized.  Go to them, don’t leave them in misery and isolation. Cleanse them from stigma and sorrow.  Proclaim the power of God to restore us to community.

 

Cast out demons.  Do not collude with evil.  Name it and resist it. Walk in solidarity with those who are afflicted by violent and oppressive forces.  Proclaim the power of God to cast them out.

 

Jesus looks on his people, sees their need, sees how we are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and he is moved with compassion.  And so he summons his followers and he sends them.

 

That summons comes down through the ages to us, those of us that call ourselves his disciples.  This is your mission.  You are followers of Jesus.  Here is your job description:

 

Cure the sick.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse the lepers.  Cast out demons.

 

Amen.

 

Homily:  Yr A, Proper 11, June 18 2017, St. Albans

Readings:  Gen 18.1-15, Psalm 116.1,10-17, Romans 5.1-8, Matthew 9.35-10.8

Inspired by Preaching Year A with Anna Carter Florence, (St. Paul: Luther Seminary, 2016), p807ff.

 

 

 

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