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Proper 11, Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Our Apostolic Calling

Readings: Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8

We live in improbable times. So many improbable things happen that we simply accept. Consider for example that at the 2000 Olympics in Australia, the Olympic torch was taken underwater. What is more, it stayed alight! But I suspect that we have always lived with a sense that improbable things can and will occur.

Scripture is filled with improbable stories, stories which call us to suspend our doubt and risk newness in the ways that we live out our faith. The story of Abraham and Sarah is just such a story. God has promised to make of them a great nation. Yet Sarah remains childless. Then she overhears a conversation between Abraham and a visitor who accepts their hospitality. “Your wife Sarah will have a son,” the stranger tells Abraham. And the eavesdropping Sarah, knowing that she is beyond child bearing age, begins to laugh. We share in that laughter, and we share too in her happy laughter as she plays with her infant son. After all, nothing is impossible with God. Isaac, child of laughter, symbolizes hope and possibility against improbable odds.

The gospel is one of improbability. Consider the people that Jesus called as disciples. I discovered this tongue in cheek letter written by Tim Hansell which expresses these thoughts beautifully.

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter's Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee. It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.


Jordan Management Consultants[i]

Well, not withstanding their foibles, Jesus chose twelve people. These are not disciples who are to sit at the feet of the master to learn. These are apostles sent out on a mission. Jesus not only chose them; he also commissioned them. He sent them out on a mission to do his work, to be Christ in the world. Their mission is an extension of that of Jesus. The healing activity of Jesus and his disciples is about more than kindness. It is part of the proclamation of the kingdom. Jesus sends them out to be in places and roles with which they have no familiarity. They are to stick to their priorities. There is no point in complaining about those who do not listen. They are to bless them, leave them and move on. They are to travel light. Forget the baggage!

And you know, it is really good advice when it comes to ministry. But it is very difficult to take. During my theological studies I spent a summer doing a course in chaplaincy. During our orientation our supervisor called us Chaplains. One person protested vehemently. “We are not Chaplains,” he said. “We have come here to learn how to be Chaplains.” Our supervisor continued. “If you don’t believe me, look at your name tag. You are Chaplains. What is more, you know what to do. You know how to be a Chaplain. It is in you to minister to people.”

I remember my first visit. I stood outside the door for some time praying that I would know what to do. I felt totally inadequate. But when I entered that room I was a Chaplain. I knew that the Holy Spirit was there to guide. I trusted my instincts. I trusted God.

As improbable as it seems God is calling each one of us. We are an apostolic church. God calls us to apostolic ministry. We are not called to sit and learn about God. We are called to action. What is more, it is needed. People are searching for God.

Jesus looked out at the crowds and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless. I have to say, life has not changed. People today feel harassed and helpless. They see the price of gas going up and up. They see the economy floundering. They see people losing their jobs. They see sickness and suffering. They hunger for answers to all that life brings. And we have the answers, you and I.

But so often we think that there is nothing that we can do. But Matthew says that the call of Jesus is exactly that, and what is more, he says that the authority to do something about it has been given.

What holds us back? Is it unwillingness? Is it lack of imagination? Is it lack of resources?

On the street I saw a small girl, cold and shivering in a thin dress with little hope of a decent meal. You must have met her now and then too. I became angry and said to God: “Why do you permit this? Why don’t you do something about it?” For a while God said nothing, but that night God replied, quite suddenly, “I certainly did something about it. I made you! Now you go and do something about it.”

[i] Tim Hansel, Eating Problems for Breakfast, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195.

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