Sunday June 14, 2020

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Old Testament - Genesis 18:1-15

New Testament - Matthew 9:35-10:8


Seeing One Another Through 


INTRODUCTION: Way back in 1727, Benjamin Franklin called together 12 of his friends to form a club that was dedicated to their mutual improvement and overall societal advancement. 


Known as the Junto Club, Franklin and his 12 friends would gather one night a week to discuss and debate the moral, political, economic, and scientific issues of the day, as well as present any papers they might have written on said subjects. What’s more, the group would also frequently mull over and then enact ideas and programs they believed would benefit society as a whole.


Members of the group were an eclectic mix of folks. There was a business owner, a mathematician, an astrologer, a cabinet maker, a book collector, a window maker, a cobbler, and even a bartender. 


Well, the group eventually morphed into the American Philosophical Society, which exists even today. But the legacy of the Junto Club is with us in other ways too. For things like public libraries and hospitals, volunteer fire departments, the University of Pennsylvania, and even paved roads all had their origins in Franklin’s small group of dreamers and thinkers.


Through their weekly meetings they sought to not only better their own lives, but also the larger, wider world around them.      


     Well, Jesus, of course, also had his own kind of Junto Club, right? Yep, long before Benjamin Franklin got around to forming 12 of his friends into an organization for social advancement and improvement, Jesus was calling 12 of his own for a similar purpose.     


Swarmed by desperate and needy people, Jesus decides it's time to enlist the help of his followers. Or as Matthew tells it: “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So he calls together his first 12 followers telling them: “Go and proclaim the good news. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.” 


In the same way Franklin’s group of 12 had made efforts to improve the world around them, Jesus’ group of 12 was clearly charged with a similar task. In the same way Jesus was busy making the world a better place, his followers were to be about such work.


And while Jesus’ initial command is for the disciples to proclaim the good news among the people of Israel, by the end of Matthew’s Gospel that command is broadened to include the entire world. Or as the resurrected Jesus says in chapter 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”   


     Of course, while Franklin’s Junto Club was a diverse group from various professions, we do have to wonder about that initial band of followers Jesus decided to send out into the world. After all, they were a pretty motley crew, right? 


Among Jesus’ “select” group, there’s the despised tax-collector Matthew. Remember, in Jesus’ day tax collectors were the modern day equivalent of racketeers. You see, their living came from skimming money off the top of the taxes they collected. Whatever they could squeeze outta ya after you paid your taxes, they got to keep. 


Needless to say, tax collectors were known to be a bit intimidating and threatening. Since they walked the streets with hired muscle named Bruno and Tony, when they showed up at your door there was little point in trying to plead your case. You quietly emptied your cash register, or you paid the price.  


And then there is Jesus’ sending of Simon the Cananaean, also known as Simon the Zealot. Look, zealots were the whacked-out nationalists of the day. They saw conspiracies everywhere and were obsessed with overthrowing the Roman government. 


In today’s world, they’d be living somewhere out west in a secluded compound decked out in camouflage stockpiling arms and food in an underground bunker while mumbling about how, “The day of revolution is coming”.


And then there’s the traitor, Judas Iscariot. The man that Dante, in his novel The Inferno, portrays as sticking head first into the mouth of Satan with his protruding legs flailing away - his punishment for betraying Jesus.    


So all-in-all, not a very stellar crop of folks to pin the future on. One’s a shakedown artist, the other’s a militia member, the third is a traitor, while the others are mostly a bunch of poor, illiterate, country bumpkins.     


     But here is the thing...we can forget that being pure and stainless are hardly the final barometers for discipleship. 


Should disciples strive to be the people Jesus calls them to be? Well, of course. But we are all works in progress in that regard, right? Truth be told, we could all be better disciples when it comes to how we live and behave. So being able to declare one’s purity and righteousness are hardly the major prerequisites for being a disciple. What’s that famous line from Paul in Romans? “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” 


No wonder Jesus’ call to follow, like everything else when it comes to God, is an act of grace. For none of us ever earn the right to follow. Those first 12 disciples sure didn’t, and all these years later neither do we. So there’s another factor, there’s another indicator, that reveals us as followers of Jesus. It’s not primarily holiness and purity, as important as those things are, but, finally, compassion, right?        


For it’s upon looking at the harassed crowds and having compassion on them, that Jesus then sends the disciples out to heal and cure. Or as an old saying likes to put it: “Our duty is not to see through one another, but rather to see one another through.” 


Several years ago, Rose Espinoza and her husband moved into their first home. In an economically depressed part of CA, they quickly began having second doubts. Or Rose described the matter: “Boys with baseball bats hung out on the corners  and they weren’t looking for a pick-up game.” Then, after a drive-by shooting on their street, they really got nervous. 


Trying to address the issue, they started a neighborhood watch group. The night after the first meeting, however, they awoke the next morning to find their car spray painted with some not-so-nice messages. 


But the spray painted car hardly stopped Rose. So instead of the neighborhood watch group, she converted the family’s garage into a free after school tutoring program for kids complete with computers, books, and other needed essentials. Offering lemonade and free help with homework, 16 kids showed up the first day. 


Within two years of starting her free program, academic scores were up for kids in the neighborhood, while the crime rate took a sharp dive downward. The neighborhood, as you might imagine, was transformed because of Rose Espinoza's garage. So much so, similar garages were also started in nearby towns. Combined, the four after school programs now serve up 200 kids at any one time.         


CONCLUSION: Well, Jesus did more than just call people to follow, didn’t he? He also called them to go and make a difference in the world. 


Full of compassion for the helpless and harassed crowds, he gathered his followers together and commissioned them to do what he did: to cure, heal, and bring new life. Just like he made a difference in the world, so should his followers.


Because “our duty is not to see through one another, but rather to see one another through.”


And now to our God, to the One that calls us and commissions us to be bearers of the Good News, be our words thanksgiving, praise, glory and honor; today and forevermore. Amen!