The Second Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Gen 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Rom 5:1-8; Mt 9:35-10:23)

 

Scripture is full of images and stories about journeys. We could site, for example, the epic journey of Abraham and Sarah, the main characters of Today’s Old Testament reading, who traveled from Ur in present-day Iraq – the center of ancient civilization – to what was to become the promised land of Israel.

Or the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt—a forty-year trek through “the wilderness of Sinai” and the return of the chosen people to that promised homeland, which they all had heard about and dreamed about but had never seen.

In the New Testament, Paul makes his way across the Mediterranean world, spreading the good news of gospel grace and proclaiming, in the profound words of our second reading today, “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And, of course, Jesus himself spent his entire adult life as a journeyman, traveling from town to town, people to people, teaching, preaching, healing and announcing the coming of the kingdom of God.

It sometimes seems as if the people of the Bible cannot sit still. They are always on the road. But these are not tourists or sightseers on holiday. There is purpose behind each journey recounted in scripture. Each crossing, each story, comes with promise and proclamation. Abraham and Sarah, a childless couple, pull up roots and leave their homeland on the promise of being parents of a new nation. The journey will have a purpose. It will be worth the effort. They need only trust and believe, as the angel tells them, that nothing is “too wonderful for the Lord.”

In the gospel account today, Jesus is also on a journey. He travels “about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness.” There is a note of urgency in his travels, for the Lord knows the anxieties and helplessness of the people. “The harvest is plentiful,” he observes with compassion, “but the laborers are few.”

Jesus commissions his disciples and empowers them to enter the harvest and to journey to the people with his message of the kingdom. His instructions to the apostles, direct and insistent, begin with one word: “Go.” No ifs, ands, or buts. Just go. And, “as you go, proclaim the good news.” Avoid, for now, Gentile and Samaritan alike. Make a bee line instead for those nearest you and in need of the Lord’s comfort, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

To these “lost sheep,” the apostles are to proclaim that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” They are to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. And to those without means, they are to “give without payment.”

This is indeed good news. The apostles travel afar to proclaim that the kingdom “has come near.” Not a kingdom of territory and frontiers, but a moveable kingdom accessible to those who yearn for it. A kingdom where the wounded are made whole, where the anxious are embraced in peace, where the fearful are welcomed in, where everyone sooner or later belongs, including Gentiles and Samaritans and everyone else. No border walls. No immigration problems ever. No social strata or cultural compulsions. But the kingdom of God where love itself rules.

Yet this kingdom of the heart is not pie in the sky. It is the promise and proclamation made anew to each generation of God’s people. It is the fulfillment of covenant. The kingdom is still near to those who seek its comfort today. It is not bound to this earth any more than we are. Its gates are opened wide in spite of – or perhaps because of – our sin and despair.

We have a share in this kingdom, as God’s people by adoption. If the crowds of Jesus’ day were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” as the Lord describes them, the people of our world are hardly less anxious and fearful. Two thousand years may have come and gone, but the human heart has not changed all that much.

Our communities are still fractured by mistrust and suspicion. Violence and war tear us apart. Diversity and distinctions among peoples and individuals do not bring joy and wonder at the greatness of God’s work among and within us, but become instead stumbling blocks to understanding and harmony and peace and love. But in the midst of human misunderstanding and misfortune and pain, the kingdom has still “come near” to each of us.

The harvest of which our Lord speaks is full and ready to be gathered in. Then as now, it is not so much a harvest of grain and grape as it is of spiritual nourishment and the sustenance found in the nearness of God. The laborers are still few. But our Lord’s command is still there…still the same: “Go, and proclaim.”… “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” …Or more practically said: Speak the Word and assist those in need in God’s Name.

No small task, but then we need not travel far to find those in need of the good news of the kingdom. They are as near to us as is the kingdom itself. In fact, they are the kingdom. For our part, we need only brave our own fears, accept our own place as God’s children and as laborers of the harvest, and join in the journey that is ours together through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Go. That is Jesus’ directive. Go, and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.
Do good deeds.
And may your journey be blessed…
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

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