Sunday, June 18, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Did you ever try and put together something without the instructions in front of you? It might have been as simple as an origami fish. Or maybe it was a grill, or a piece of diy furniture? Did it go together easily? Did it even look like it was supposed to? I have to admit, sometimes it’s easier to just look at the picture rather than read the long instructions that can be confusing. But what if you don’t even have a picture? What if you have no idea what it’s supposed to look like and you try and put it together? You might end up with some extra parts left over. And it’s always easier with a little help. At least one other person – maybe two – to help you get it together. You might be able to do it, you might try and Google it on the computer, but then again, you might end up really frustrated, especially if time is of the essence. Instructions are really important to put together something you’ve never built before – people to help you make the task not only easier, but more enjoyable. It might be hard work, like building a house, but as the saying goes, many hands make light work.
So why do we sometimes resist? Why do we think we have to do it by ourselves, and go it alone? Granted there is a certain peace in doing somethings solitary. It can be a form of stress relief, like painting, coloring, gardening, or even building something if we already have some sort of idea how to do it. The first time can be a challenge. After practice, it’s second nature to us. That’s the difference between an apprentice and a master. The apprentice is learning from the master. It takes time, and patience, and a willingness to one day be as good as the master. In order to do this the apprentice needs to listen and follow instructions.
Building a project, a house, or even a church requires instructions. That’s what Jesus is giving us in our reading from the gospel of Matthew today. Jesus is giving us basic instructions for how to build the Church. And to be clear, Jesus isn’t talking about a building; he’s referring to the people of God – disciples – who make up the Church. So what are the instructions for building the Church? The instructions Jesus gives are pretty simple. He didn’t say we have to memorize the 66 books of the Bible – the New Testament wasn’t even written back then. He didn’t say to make sure you memorize the Apostles or Nicene Creed word for word – again, they weren’t even written back then. The Creed – what the early Christians professed was simple – Jesus is Lord. It doesn’t get any more simple than that. What that creed says is that Jesus is the number one priority in my life – no one else is higher. That was a risky creed to say back then, because you were supposed to profess that the Roman Emperor was the lord or number one in your life. It’s a simple yet risky profession of belief even today. Are we ready to claim Jesus number one in our life above anyone or anything else? That’s what Jesus is asking of us if we are to be his disciples.
So what are the rest of Jesus’ instructions for building the Church? We are to tell people that the kingdom of God is at hand, meaning we are to tell them that God is real, that God has come to us in the person of Jesus, that Jesus lived, died, and rose again to save everyone. We are to tell people that God is not only near to us, but around us, and in us. And we are to not only tell people these things with our voices, but through our actions. Jesus gave us authority to cure the sick, to help those who are in need, and to have compassion for people just as Jesus has compassion on people who feel harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The temptation is to think that Jesus only gave this authority and power to the first twelve disciples, but that isn’t true. These instructions are for all of us today who profess to be disciples –followers of Jesus. He is the master and we are the apprentices. We need to listen to these instructions and follow them because Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” There’s a lot of work to be done to build the Church and to keep it going. We have to follow these simple instructions of learning from Jesus by studying his words and letting them speak to our hearts. His words are life and give meaning to ours.
The temptation is also to think that we don’t have the right words. I’ve heard people say, “I can’t pray as good as the pastor.” That’s simply not true. Prayer is listening and talking to God. No one’s prayer is more important than anyone else. God hears all our prayers. The only thing that matters is that they are sincere and come from the heart. I’ve also heard people say, “I couldn’t teach Sunday School, or visit people, or invite people to church because I’m not that good with words, but Jesus said, “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” As long as we are willing to answer Jesus’ call to help, God will provide all we need. The Spirit will give us the words to speak. The Spirit gives us all we need when we stop trying to do things our way and follow Jesus’ basic instructions for life. These basic instructions tell us to live more simply, to act with kindness, to love more deeply.
Is life going to be hard at times? Yes, Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.” In other words, it’s going to be dangerous at times, but we can’t let that stop us. Jesus said, there’s a lot of work to do and he needs more people to do it. He doesn’t call experts today any more than he called experts at the beginning of his ministry. We don’t have to be perfect because God is perfect. The only requirement to build the Church is a willing and compassionate heart just like Jesus that says, “Yes.” Yes, I will go where you send me. I will help those who need help. I will heal people with words of kindness, forgiveness, and love. I will not let others be mistreated, but will advocate for them and be the presence of Jesus to them. Yes, I will follow Jesus’ instructions and shine his light in the world.
As summer quickly approaches, and people begin to take vacations, we have Jesus’ basic instructions for being and building the Church. In our hallway one of our members helped to set up an interactive bulletin board about traveling with Jesus this summer. We invite you to write on the sticky notes where you have seen God in your travels this summer, and what things God is doing in your life, and in the community. On your travels today and in the weeks to come, let us go as Jesus calls us with his basic instructions and be the church. Amen.