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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Ones Jesus Sent - 06/18/2017

I think it's quite appropriate that on Father's Day, we have what seems like a boring and insignificant list of the twelve Apostles Jesus sends out into the mission field of the world as they knew it. They were sent to cast out unclean spirits and cure every disease and every sickness.

I say this is appropriate not only because they are men and, likely, some of them fathers themselves, but also because these are people we all should recognize.

First we have Simon Peter, who is often thought of in terms of being first – He, along with his brother Andrew, who we'll get to in a moment, were the first disciples Jesus called. Peter was the first to recognize Jesus for who he really was – “Who do you say I am?” Jesus had asked the disciples. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” Peter said. (Matt16.15)

He was also the first to recognize what this meant for Jesus once everyone else found out, including the powerful Romans. It likely meant Jesus would be put to death, a thought Peter couldn't bear. “God forbid it, Lord,” (16.22) he said when Jesus foretold this death. “This must never happen to you.” Jesus called him Satan and told him to get behind him – God was in charge here, not the Romans or Peter or anyone else.

When Jesus was in his greatest hour of need, Peter would also deny him three times. Later he would weep bitterly over his inability to rise above his fear, even if it was just for a little while, just until the cock crowed three times.

Andrew was Peter's brother. Like him he was a fisherman, a laborer from a little, rural town along the shores of Galilee. It was Andrew who noticed the boy with couple of fishes and several loaves of bread and told Jesus about it one day when the thick crowds gathered to hear Jesus grew hungry. You may remember what happened next. Jesus used those meager beginnings of a dinner and miraculously multiplied them so there was enough to feed thousands of people and still be some left over.

So it was through Andrew's keen powers of observation and trust that Jesus could do something with these few fishes and loaves that we learn something very important about Jesus. In him there is enough love and salvation for the vast numbers of people throughout creation – and then still and always some more leftover.

Like Peter and Andrew, James son of Zebedee was also a brother. His brother John, another of the 12, was very close to Jesus. Perhaps the one called Jesus' beloved disciple. James and John appear to have come from a family of some wealth. They were probably privileged enough to have had some education. Perhaps it was because of this privilege, that their mother would later be so bold as to ask Jesus to let her sons sit, “one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matt 20:21) The move caused some problems between James and John and their colleagues, who became angry when they heard about the request made of  their behalf. It just goes to show, then as now, sometimes it's hard to get along with the people we work with in our communities.

Philip, is one of the disciples we don't often hear much about, in fact even in history texts he is often confused with another Philip of that time. It is thought he had some deeper connection to the Greeks who were living among the Jewish people in that part of the world then – telling us he was perhaps one of those people with the ability to cross the aisle and work with those who believe a little differently, who look a little differently. Like some of the other disciples, he had been following the ministry of John the Baptist before he encountered Jesus. So his ears, and eyes and heart were already searching for the presence of God's chosen One in the world – the One John the Baptist and all the prophets said would come into the world to save them from oppression and tyranny, to save them from religious leaders who made it impossible to abide by God's law, to save them from their sin. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” John the Baptist proclaimed to all with ears to hear. (Matt 3:2) Philip believed, like John the Baptist, that Jesus was the One was who was ushering the kingdom of heaven into the world. He believed because of what he saw with his own eyes – like the wedding at Cana he was invited to. When all the wine ran out, Jesus changed water into wine, and not any old wine. He changed it into the very best of all wines on earth.

Philip also introduced Jesus to another who would become one of those orginal 12 Apostles, a man named Bartholomew who was from Cana. We don't know a lot about him. Sometimes he was called Nathaniel. He is always mentioned as being in the company of Philip, so apparently they were quite close, stuck together and had each others' backs.  One wonders is they talked with each other deep into the night about the things Jesus said and did.

Thomas is an apostle whose name many recognize right of the bat because so many of us know the story of, or even relate very strongly to, “doubting” Thomas. What you may not know about Thomas is that he traveled very far to share the story of Jesus, all the way to India, where he eventually died. His ministry to the people of that part of the world is still very apparent. Many Christian Indians use the Gospel of St. Thomas as one of their primary sacred texts. His ministry is also why many Christians there today take on the name Thompson – it's not to denote a biological father named Thomas, but rather this first century disciple who traveled very, very far from his people in Galilee to tell the story, to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” (Matt 10:8) And despite his doubts in the aftermath of the resurrection, Thomas utters the highest possible proclamation of who Jesus is when he says “My Lord and my God!” In other words – “Jesus, you are my earthly ruler and your are the One True God.” It is through Thomas' story that we learn that doubt is not opposite of faith, but rather part of a process by which we live deeper and deeper into our faith.

And then we have Matthew the tax collector. Under normal circumstances, Matthew, who was also called Levi, would not have been welcomed into a tight circle of Jewish people. He would have been born into the role of tax collector, born into the role of carrying out the brutal taxation policies imposed on his own people by a conquering foreign nation. His own people would have seen him as a traitor, a collaborator in the Roman occupation. We don't really know too much more about him, but that is enough, I'd venture to say. It's enough because we can all probably think of times we have pushed others away because of who they associate with, what they do for a living, or the family they were born into. Perhaps we can even think of times we ourselves have been pushed away. But while the world may ask us to make these distinctions, Jesus chooses to crush them, pushing us to welcome, walk with and serve all people – even our enemies.

James son of Alphaeus is another of the apostles we dont' know much about and what we think we may know is not for sure. But this is probably the James mentoned in Acts who is killed by King Herod for bringing too  much of this Good News into a world Herod thought he controlled. He rodwanted to be god. He wanted people to fall at his feet and worship him, do everything he said … he wanted people to live and die by his word. The work of people like James was a threat to that power King Herod was working so desperately to maintain over the people. So James, among others, died for the sake of that mission – for the sake of the people who gathered around him to hear the Good News in the first century, for the sake of us people who gather around the truth of this story at the Lord's table today in the 21st century.

Thaddaeus, or Jude as he is sometimes called, may have been a brother or cousin to Jesus. Some say he, like Simon the Cananaean (Cana nee on), was a Zealot. The Zealots were a resistance movement of that time, working to convince the people to rebel against the Roman Empire and forcably remove them from the land. The empire was growing itself and its power on the backs of those who had very little power and wealth. These policies pushed people like Thaddaeus and Simon to respond to violence with violence, to respond to force with force. But in Jesus, they found another way – a way that directly undermined acts of power and greed and brutality, but still held at it core a deep love and trust in the One True God and love of neighbor.

And finally that brings us to Judas Iscariot, who may also be familiar to many of us. He is the one who ultimately betrays Jesus to the Roman soldiers by kissing him on the cheek. Judas tried to rationalize that he did this for the good of the mission, for the good of the harassed and helpless people they met everywhere they went, for the good, even, of Jesus, who was beginning to attract way too much attention and put all their lives in danger. In the end his rationalization failed him though and saw that what he had done was downright, outright betrayal.

These are the people Jesus sends. They are ot kings or princes or elites. They are simply regular people with quite regular needs and dreams and worries.This particular passage today mentions just a few of those first followers of Jesus, his inner circle. But there were many more. Many other fathers and brothers and husbands who kept the ministry alive after Jesus's death and resurrection. And not just men. There were many women too. Like Mary Magdalene, who was likely a very wealthy woman who not only followed Jesus throughout his ministry, but also funded that ministry.

And when we think about who these people really were, when we think about what seems like a boring and insignificant list of the twelve Apostles Jesus sends out into the mission field of the world as they knew it to cast out unclean spirits and cure every disease and every sickness, we see that this is a rather extraordinary list.. It serves as a mirror, really. A mirror in which we see those of us who are often first in line, first to “get it,” first to be called; a list of people who on occasion turn our backs on God, turn away from Jesus, doubt, deny or even betray Jesus only to, by the grace of God, be called back to our senses where we can proclaim again that Jesus is our Lord and our God.

A mirror in which we see those of us who are challenged to see past the privilege we enjoy, and those of us who have the ability to reach out and work with people who have different values, opinions, skin color, gender identities, or no privilege.

A mirror in which we see those among us willing to make great sacrafices to bring the Word of God to the people, to enusre the legacy of the Word for the generations to come.

In this extraordinary list, we find this could very well be list of our own names – John, George, Curt, Larry, Scott, Michael, David, Duke, Ed and so many more, and not only men and fathers – a list that tells us a little about our gifts, our origins, our missteps. A list of people who Jesus still sends out into the world, regular people, laborers for a ripe and ready harvest, people who will teach in our gathering places, heal one another and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven for all who are harassed and helpless. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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