Today’s message is drawn from two lectionary readings, Romans 5:1-8 and Matthew 9:35 – 10:8. The Romans passage begins with the great theme of faith, which contributes to our peace with and hope in God. “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The wonderful news in the Romans verse is that peace with God frees us for a life of renewal and wellbeing.
What stands in our way? Challenges are not completely bad because Paul the author suggests a promising process if we do our part. Beginning with suffering, each person has a choice about how to endure struggles. As someone withstands attack, and doesn’t yield to negativity, emotional coping muscles become stronger, producing endurance. Paul then claims that the endurance can produce strength of character which feeds marvelous hope. Now that’s worth striving for!
The notion about not allowing bad circumstances to destroy followers of God is a remarkably positive possibility. Often, people complain so much about the moment-by-moment discomfort that it prevents a good outcome. Alternatively, as God’s people we can think in a manner that allows even bad occurrences to produce a superior result. As your character matures so does your hope for God, the source and destination of faith.
Now we turn to the Matthew chapter nine Bible passage, where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37b). What is talked about here is spiritual, such that the harvest is helping people find and embrace God through Jesus’ core of love. As always, there is much work to do in spreading God’s message. Jesus at first sent out his twelve disciples among only Jews. “ ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ “ (Matthew 10:5b-6).
Forbidding his twelve closest followers to visit any non-Jewish areas is a curious situation which can raise eyebrows and resentment among non-Jews. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to welcome everyone? Jesus was a Jew and he attempted to reform Judaism by emphasizing faith and love rather than rituals and ethnic privilege. Jesus’ initial preference toward his fellow Jews emphasizes the biblical status of Jews as God chosen people. Does this make you feel like a second-class citizen? It doesn’t help us to feel any offense by Jesus’ preferential treatment of Jews because it is clear from most of Jesus’ other teachings that God’s redemption eventually included all peoples (including you and me).
Now comes a powerful punch that reveals how God’s awesomeness can become part of our shared message. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8a). This incredible list of what Jesus told his disciples to accomplish is a tough act to follow. Jesus was able to perform miracles but it seems odd to think that his disciples were just as able. Perhaps all of us are just like Jesus’ original twelve in that we doubt our capabilities. We may be failing to leverage all that God has for us. Stretch your faith and develop that same enduring, hopeful, strength of character that Paul discussed in Romans.
Tapping into God’s spiritual power is what we’re supposed to do but it isn’t easy. Lack of faith and other internal and external hurdles can hold us back unless we decide otherwise. Jesus warned his messengers about the trouble that they’d encounter. He highlighted massive resistance to God’s truth from even friends and family. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mathew 10:16). The gist is that to our adversaries we may appear as vulnerable sheep ready to be devoured by terrifying wolves. The surprise for our enemies is that we can become wise and agile underneath all that wool. The imagery of doves suggests that we can carry God’s Spirit with us wherever we go, including above and beyond the reach of wolf-like opposition.
Be encouraged by the strong character God is willing to help you build. Persevere. Don’t give up on yourself. Flex your faith muscles and perform the miracles that God is inviting you to embrace. You are one of God’s precious messengers and despite opposition you can be all that God is calling you to become. –Reverend Larry Hoxey