s044g02 16/6/02 Sunday 11 Kidman Park
"let your peace return to you". Matthew 10.13
Imbued right throughout our gospel reading for today, again and again, Jesus indicates that the disciples never needed to worry about the magnitude of the task before them or the reception they receive from people. Their mission was not to change the world. It was limited in extent, they were only sent to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" - people for whom the message of the prodigalness of the love of God ought to have already been familiar. Jesus indeed predicts opposition, though the opposition seems to date from a later time. So these original disciples of Jesus were not at that time handed over to councils, flogged in synagogues, or dragged before governors and kings. I cannot see where Matthew gives us any report at all about their activities, the success or failure of this mission, or that he even mentions when the twelve leave or return. A similar mission described by Luke seems to have enjoyed considerable success. But even if such calamities were to befall them they were still not to worry. They would be given what to say, whatever circumstances were to befall them.
"Let your peace return to you." In other words do not get upset or disheartened. The main objective is to speak the gospel in the situation they found themselves in, and once spoken, let people accept it or not.
There is this divine indifference to results that I am pointing out - and this is in stark contrast to the demand for success in much of present life - within the Church and in the world in general. There seems a need to convert the world and to ensure that no one rejects the word of grace.
In fact this was how Jesus went about his ministry. He went from village to village. He didn't cure everyone in every village. On one occasion people from one town were searching for Jesus the following morning, but he left and went elsewhere - rather than returning to "complete" his mission. After the feeding of the 5000 he withdrew from the crowds, yet the crowds followed him.
One of the ancient views about God is that the divine is like a clock maker, who set the universe into being and "wound it up" and now leaves creation to work out it's own destiny itself, without further intervention. And there are shades of this same idea in how Jesus acted. There is a balance between what Jesus was prepared to do for people and how he also let people continue to be the masters and mistresses of their own destinies.
I can't recall who told me, but someone gave the advise that if one's children were fighting, the best thing to do is to say to them to go outside to fight. When they had got it out of their system, or when they got hungry, they could come back inside. I'm can't recall if we've ever had to resort to this, but I'm sure there is a good deal of wisdom here. I rather wonder what would happen in some of our trouble spots if the world actually enforced a complete news blackout. This points to the reality that it is people themselves who are hurt when peace breaks down, not God.
It is interesting that Jesus gives to these twelve "authority over unclean spirits ... to cure every disease and every sickness". Indeed later Jesus says to them "raise the dead"! Jesus gives the disciples remarkable power.
I have been known to question whether, had the disciples taken those five loaves and two fish and said the blessing rather than Jesus, whether the 5000 would have been fed. The God I worship would have indeed acted.
We, like those disciples, are also given power, power to be masters and mistresses of our own situation, and power to be a blessing to others. It is remarkable how empowering facing life with another alongside is. All of us would succumb to the "powers that be" and the "imaginations of the heart" if we faced life alone. But with others we can rise above all things.
So I suspect that the main reason that Jesus didn't cure everyone was that he expected that those who heard him and those who were cured at his hands would be able to be a blessing to others who hadn't actually met Jesus.
Only a week or so ago, the story of the couple convicted of manslaughter over the death of their child, whom they expected God to cure, brings home the importance of this.
One of the most difficult of frustrations of old age is that a person who was once independent and able to be all sorts of assistance others in need, now has to be dependent on others and accept help from them. I suspect that I will find it as frustrating as anyone else. For all we might pray to God to retain our independence, this is a prayer which will never be answered, for others in turn need the satisfaction of being able to help us.
So God, from God's point of view is indifferent to whether the message of peace is received or not. Obviously it is really us who are affected, and God would have us live in peace for our own sakes. So we don't have to force people into believing in God. God is not up in heaven, like the proverbial scrooge, counting the followers each day and rejoicing if there are more and getting out the thunder and lightning if these are less.
We do not have to force, cajole or threaten others. We can allow others to make an informed decision and respect people if they choose differently to us. It is the essence of our faith that people can voluntarily choose to worship like us or not.
Some years ago we had the year of the volunteer, and what a worthy dedication for a year, for so many do so much in a voluntary and unpaid capacity in our society. This is true of many people who ascribe to faiths other than Christianity as to those who call themselves Christians. Similarly there are many who do not ascribe to faith at all, but do much vital voluntary work. I am sure the whole fabric of society would collapse if everyone stopped making their voluntary contributions. It is a tragedy that the stirling efforts of our lifesavers and others might be jeopardised by the difficulties in obtaining affordable public liability insurance. We teeter on the brink of total chaos for all and sundry if some way is not found to ensure the continuance of such necessary institutions in society.
And yet we as Christians don't consider ourselves volunteers, we consider ourselves "called". We are given a divine commission, just as the disciples were called by Jesus. We are no longer volunteers and we expect to have some reward. Mostly our rewards are intangible - the satisfaction of knowing that we have a ministry, that we are valued, that we are needed.
So I think this is helpful to think of, as we go through life, if we consider others *should* volunteer their assistance, when this is really an oxymoron. We are of course, given an option. God doesn't force us to do anything. We may well do things "out of duty", but none of us are forced. And if God doesn't force us, God doesn't force others.
And this should bid us remember when others look at us for some recognition of what they contribute. They too want to know that they are valued and needed.
One of the consistent themes in the Pauline epistles is the freedom of Christianity. "Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" Paul says. (Galatians 5.1) We take this to mean that we don't have to do anything, where of course others do! Paul's words are for us and for all. Our liberty in the Spirit is the same for everyone else.
One of the reasons I have notices in the pew bulletin, in the parish paper or on the notice board (rather than from the pulpit) is that this allows people the space to consider whether they are called to respond in the light of their circumstances - or not.
Of course, I am happy when people do give of their time and their talents to this or that cause, but very often Christians can become the "whipping boy" of others, quite ready "to flog the willing horse".
When people are forced to comply it means that the love of God is denied them. It seems quite fundamental to our Christian vocation that we are in the business of spreading the love of God not restricting it to a select few. This means that when we get our own way at the expense of someone else, no matter how right and appropriate "our" way is, the purposes of God are not served.
Even if the compulsion comes from God, God doesn't ever go to those lengths - for God has no need.
It is interesting to me that the reception the disciples receive is more important than the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. For it will take anyone but a casual glance at the actual words of the passage about those ill fated towns to realise that the real sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not sexual but lack of hospitality - just the same as the reception or not of the disciples. There are so many examples of bullying and terrorism around this world. It can start in the playgrounds of schools and never end. In World War it was Jews, the disabled, the gypsies and gay people.
The message of peace is vital for the whole world and we as the Church are in the business of reducing triggers for disputation rather than providing more excuses for people to be alienated.
The reality is that all people have a responsibility to promote the message of peace. There is a responsibility for peace, for lack of peace only rebounds on everyone. The cycle of violence can be never ending and will spiral out of control, and it is all of humanity who will suffer.
At the heart of our faith is the fact that Jesus is prepared to die on the Cross. The violence is perpetrated on him by the religious authorities who were ever ready to compel others to act in ways they considered "appropriate".
I was interested that Jesus has this divine indifference to the results of the message too. Once the message has been given, it is the responsibility of the world to respond for its own sake. As soon as anyone is compelled to love God, real love for God becomes impossible.
I am enjoying reading the engineering magazines which seem to come to our house these days. In one article the author * quotes Émile Gaboriau (1835-1873) who said that "calmness and irony are the only weapons worthy of the strong", and I thought how close a sentiment this is to my text: "let your peace return to you".
( * Dr Peter Miller in "Engineers Australia" May 2002 p35)
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