Sermon

Matthew 9:35 – 10:8

Compassion Workers

Dr. Mickey Anders

A tourist collected a few of the signs in English that monolingual Americans traveling abroad must contend with:

In an airline ticket office in Copenhagen, there is this promise: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”

A Swiss restaurant announces to its customers that “Our wines leave you with nothing to hope for.”

An Acapulco hotel posts a sign assuring its customers that “The manager has personally passed all the water served here.”

But my favorite is a sign spotted in Paris. One of the city’s finer hotels invites its visitors to “Please leave your values at the front desk” (1)

Our problem is not that we have lost all our values. Our problem is that they have become too small. We can put our values away in an overnight bag and bring them out when we need to show them off.

Our values are to be the core of our being. One of our church members recently wrote a paper for a class she was taking.

“Many years ago Betty, a prominent citizen of our community and church, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She lived with the disease for eight years deteriorating a little more each year. About two years before she died our church hired a new minister, Mickey, and he began visiting with Betty. When she died and Mickey began to prepare his sermon he realized he never knew Betty as everyone else had known her. He had witnessed Betty striped of inhibitions and totally dependent on others to care for her. All he had ever heard her say was, “I love you.” All he had ever seen her do was smile.

At Betty’s funeral Mickey shared this observation with us and used an onion as an analogy to her life. An onion starts with a core and adds layers as it matures. As in life each experience and thought is layered to our core. Mickey pointed out that Betty’s core was love and he met her without any layers. “What is your core made of?” was his question to the congregation. I was not sure what my core was made of at that time, but I wanted my core to be love, too.”

What is your core? What is the core of our church? What have been the values that have sustained this church for 122 years?

I would suggest to you that our text for today contains the clues to our core values.

Matthew 9:35-38 says: “Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.  But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.'”

Matthew’s text moves from one phase of Jesus’ ministry into the next. For the past two chapters, Matthew has been busy stockpiling healing and miracle stories one after another in order to build an indisputable case that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.

Verses 35-38 serve, then, a transitional purpose. They offer a final summing up of Jesus’ healing ministry while opening up a new line of discussion — the mission and message that must continue to be spread throughout the land. Verse 35 nicely summarizes the activities which had defined Jesus’ own mission up to this point — healing, teaching and preaching.

I thought back on the 122 year history of our church and realized that there have been approximately 6,344 Sundays during that time. This church has had Sunday school and worship where the Gospel was preached for 6,344 Sundays. We are certainly known for preaching and teaching.

And I hope we are equally known for healing. We may not have experienced as many spectacular miracles as they did when Jesus walked the earth, but we have shown the compassion spoken of in the next line. Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them.

Tom Black used to say that the church was to be a hospital for sinners, not a sanctuary for saints. For most of our history, I think we have held true to that value. We are here to have compassion, not to condemn. As John 3:17 says, “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.”

Every church has a choice of whether to be inclusive or exclusive. We can become a sanctuary for saints where purity reigns, or we can be a hospital for sinners where everyone is welcome. It seems to me that the word “inclusive” is more representative of the ministry and example of Jesus than is the word “exclusive.”

We are called to be a church of compassion for the sheep. That is the next image in this text – for they seemed to be sheep without a shepherd. This image of wandering sheep suggests the need to be gathered — a task that requires the diligent work of the shepherd.

Jesus then offers another image of potential ingathering — the harvest.

There are biblical precedents for interpreting “harvest” language in at least two distinct ways.

A harvest is traditionally seen as an occasion for joy — a time of abundance, a time of rejoicing over the blessings that have been bestowed.

Verse 37 clearly makes two points.

First, the harvest is plentiful — a good sign, a positive image, which suggests that this harvest may be the good things of the kingdom Jesus has been preaching and teaching about. These “good things” include all the healings and other miracles Jesus has been performing as evidence of the approaching kingdom.

Secondly, this verse points up the problem that makes the next section a necessity — “the laborers are few.” More laborers are needed, not to “rescue” a few before judgment descends, but so that more can be exposed to the blessings of the approaching kingdom which Jesus.

Jesus is still calling new disciples each and every day to set out on that same mission. The 122 year history of our church can be over and done with unless we continue to call new disciples to take up the gospel message and carry it to a new generation.

Dennis Folds tells the story of a damaged Jesus in London. The city had been devastated by the bombings during World War II. The bombs that dropped on the city struck and destroyed buildings of every kind: office buildings, factories, apartments, homes, museums, government buildings, churches.

Soon after World War II, a group of German students, through kindness and love and a deep desire to return Christian love to those who had lost so much, volunteered to go to London to help rebuild an English cathedral that had been severely damaged by German bombs.

As work progressed, they became greatly concerned about a large statue of Jesus Christ, whose arms were outstretched and beneath which was the written inscription from Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”

The student volunteer workers had great difficulty trying to restore the hands, which had been completely destroyed. They worked and worked and tried and tried, but nothing seemed to successfully replace Jesus’ outstretched hands.

Finally, after much work and much discussion, they decided to let the hands of Jesus remain missing and they changed the written inscription to read this way: “Christ has no hands but ours.” (2)

Jesus is still the only one who can call disciples and commission them into service in the gospel ministry. But every Christian is called. It is the church’s job to prepare men and women for discipleship. Each and every congregation must be a disciple-making church. Creating disciples means opening Christians up to the possibility that the power of Christ can work through them with transforming power.

We are called to be compassion workers for Christ.

Endnotes:

1) Taken from unpublished remarks by Jeanne M. Fox, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Region II, quoted in HomileticsOnline, 6/16/1996.

2) HomileticsOnline, 6/12/2005

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2005 Dr. Mickey Anders.  Used by permission.