The Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ June 18, 2017

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The Rev. Imogen Rhodenhiser
June 18, 2017
Matthew 9:35-10:23
The Second Sunday after Pentecost

Christ Church Cranbrook

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed traveling. This began early on with lots of car trips with my parents, and then towards my early teenage years because at one point, my parents were living, not only in different countries, but on different continents. And this was a temporary arrangement, but they wound up getting divorced. And so from about the age of 11, all the way through until my early adulthood, it was very common to find me and my brother traveling back and forth between Connecticut and England, where my mom lived, over the summers to see each of them. And I enjoyed these trips.

Back in the day, they didn’t have screens on the back of each of the seats. They had one screen. You lucked out if you were in a row close to where the screen was, and because films get released earlier, they get released in America first, and then usually they go to England. It meant that on certain occasions, you’d have good luck of having been able to watch on the seven-hour flight, a movie that wasn’t going to come out in the UK for another four to six months. Also, I definitely developed the excellent strategy of realizing that if you had dietary needs, and you ordered a kosher meal, or vegetarian, something like that, you actually got served first.

And so, at one point, coinciding with my vegetarianism, I was chaffed that I would manage to win that, and then everybody else, they’d go through the little plate. So this to me was not something that I dreaded, or that I just gritted my teeth, and got through. And perhaps more than anything, I enjoyed the arrival. It’s like if you’ve seen that film, Love Actually. And they start with this montage of what it looks like to be at the arrival gate of the airport and all these people seeing each other for the first time in so long. And so that’s how it always felt to me. Then when I saw my dad, or I saw my mom, and even now, I remember, before my parents were divorced, when my father would fly over to England, and neither of them would have told us, and my father would just be standing there at the pick-up, at the end of my school day, and I would run, and I would jump into him, hoping he would catch me.

But it’s like being in a movie. It was the best, best feeling. So I have all these positive associations with travel. Whether it’s me traveling to visit people, or people coming to see me, but very much grounded in that is this idea that the travel for me has mostly been about these relationships. Whether it’s people that I’m journeying with, or people I’m journeying to. And on the one hand, it’s had a number of side benefits. I don’t have a fear of flying, at least at the moment. I find it very freeing. I find there to be a freedom in going to new places.

So when it turned out I was going to go to North Carolina for graduate school, this sounded like a fun, awesome adventure. I hadn’t really spent a lot of time in the south, and I was ready to go. But at the same time, there’s also this unmooring that happens, if you will. Because when somebody asks me where I’m from, it’s become an art form for me to try and figure out how I can most succinctly convey why I talk the way that I do. And at the same time explain that I was born neither in America, nor in the UK, I was born in Canada, but I only lived there for a very short time. So the sense of where one belongs, where one is really from, is not quite as straightforward.

And this, I think, is profoundly relevant to what it is like for all of us who seek to journey faithfully with God. Because there is this huge freedom to know that God can do anything at any time with any person at any moment. And yet at the same time, there is also because God is so huge, and God can move in such unexpected, and wildly unimaginable ways, there’s also the sense of not quite knowing where to put one’s footing. Where to put one’s weight as you stand. And the Israelites know all about this because when we encountered them this morning, in Exodus. And really that whole book is about, not the destination, not the Promised Land that they go to, but it’s literally the road out. And it’s an account of their entire journey with God from Egypt to where they’ve been promised they will end up.

If you take the one verse before we start this morning, the first verse in the chapter says, “On the third new moon after the Israelites had left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai.” And together in that verse alone is this clear sense of freedom that has happened. The Israelites have been delivered from the slavery in which they were bound, and they have walked out. They’ve been liberated. And at the same time, they’re in the wilderness. This journey with God that is both freedom, and the strange uncertainty that comes from giving your journey to God. From allowing God to be the guide, and God to lead the way.

And thankfully, when God speaks to Moses, God says, “Here’s what you will say to the Israelites.” God provides that center of gravity, that holding point, that God says, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. How I bore you on eagle’s wings, and brought you to myself. And because of that, this is the kind of relationship we’re going to have. This is what you’re going to mean to me. You’re going to be my treasured possession, my people.” Where the Israelites have been, where they’re from, what they’ve seen God do, has everything to do then with where they go from there, and who they know themselves to be traveling with. And in that, is this reminder to us of the importance of following what the psalmist is saying over and over again to declare the wonderful works of God. Is called to remember what God has done in our lives. How God has shown up. Where God has come through.

The profound importance of reminding ourselves and one another that over and over again the Israelites do this, and they don’t just do it once. It’s the way they mark time. They mark the new months by how long it’s been since they were liberated from Egypt. They do it every time they have their Passover meal. And even today, they say again, and again, “Let us remember what God has done for us.” And that is so profoundly important for us, as those who follow Christ because we turn to the gospel of Matthew. And on the one hand, it can look like Jesus is sending the disciples out on a new journey. This is a singular moment; the commissioning of the 12 disciples.

And yet, as we hear this gospel reading, it becomes very apparent that it’s not a new journey. It’s a continuation of the journey that Jesus, that God, Himself incarnate, is on. Because straight away, we hear Jesus was traveling through all the towns and villages. And we hear that echo both in what Jesus says to the disciples, and what is said about Jesus that Jesus cured every sickness and every disease. There is nothing that the disciples are being empowered to do that Jesus is not already doing.

That is where we notice the importance of remembering who God has been for us, where God has shown up in the truth, that we can lay on that because neither the disciples nor we, who are following Jesus can expect that our own journey with God will look different from that of Jesus. And so it will bring hardship. And it will bring that handing over, that feeling of betrayal that is talked about in the Gospel, and it happens to Christ when he’s handed over to suffering and death. And Jesus tells the disciples this, and they still go. They still take this commission. And they hear in His words this assurance that the hardship is not indicative of whether they’ve done a good enough job, or whether they’re being faithful enough. But rather that their life will become the exact shape of the one whom they follow.

And so when we hear these words from Paul this morning, something opens up for us, of what it looks like to go through those difficult times on this journey with this ever-present, ever-loving God. Paul says that we boast in God, we are given peace, we are given hope through what Christ has done by dying and rising. But we’re also given the possibility because of the sheer love of God. And Paul would say the love that God has poured out, and not just poured out, but poured out into our hearts. That because of that, in our translation, we have sufferings, but really it could mean trouble, or just difficult times. Difficult times bring about endurance. But in the same sense as we hear in the psalm of God’s steadfastness, in the same way that if you live through with a friend, a spouse, a loved one, a community, those difficult patches, those dark times, there is a steadfastness built between you that reflects the steadfastness of God.

That steadfastness, that faithfulness brings about, we have character here, but in Greek, it’s really the word for a test. And what is meant is steadfastness brings about the kind of test that reveals the character of the one undergoing the test. So, in the hardships, in the hard patches of this long journey with God, we become more God-like. We develop that faithfulness, which God has always had for us, and always will. And we discover how God-like, we in fact are. How hopeful we are, in fact. What faithfulness, what resilience, what belief resides in us in ways that we may never have known otherwise. And that leads to hope.

Paul will say this is not an explanation for why we suffer. This is Paul saying, “Look what God’s love can do. Look what has been given to us, and all the difference that makes in every stage of this journey that we travel with God. In the joy, and in the sadness, and in the challenge, and in the celebration.” And there’s a subtle, subtle moment in the Gospel this morning where Matthew says, “Here are the names of the 12 apostles.” And you’ll notice that it’s not actually a list of 12 individuals. You’ll notice it’s actually a list of six pairs. The disciples are named only in twos. The journey with God is not one taken by individuals in isolation. The people of Israel traveled together. Even Moses travels with his people. The disciples, even Jesus, He is ever surrounded by the crowds. There is no shortage of people coming to Him at any given time.

And when Paul writes, it is to the Romans, it is to the Roman church as a whole. And there is a consolation to be found in that in a sense that whether we are in a moment of being joyful, and coming before God’s presence with a song. Or whether we are in that time of trial, where we are discovering exactly who God is, and who we are to God in both of those, we are with one another. We’ve been given to one another to be the expression, and the tangible sign of the love of God with one another through all this journey.

But at the same time, may I lift up the possibility that, for example, James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus may not have gotten along that well. These parents may not exactly have been the most joyous buddy system that one can imagine. And to some extent, we have the gift of choosing our travel partners. And to some extent, in fact a greater extent, we have the gift of God choosing our travel partners for us. Which means that whether we are traveling with someone who we enjoy extensively, or someone who rubs us the wrong way, our call is to be equally invested, equally eager to see God’s journey, God’s presence with the other as much as we seek to find it in our own life. And that in itself, invites us to this pouring out of love, of caring, of attention, of ever-presence that God has given, and made and done for us.

When you have a moment, take however much time you’re given to think where it is in your life you’ve seen God show up. Where God has come through. Remember the wildernesses you’ve walked through up until this point. And remember the help from God that was real, and transforming. So that that remembrance, that glorifying of God, and what God has done, and God’s steadfast love, and God’s faithfulness that endures to all ages and generations, that that is your song to fuel you, to encourage you not only as you walk the journey that is set before you now with all its struggles, and all its potential for doubt and despair, that in that you will hear and see what God has done, who God has been, how God bore you on eagle’s wings, and brought you to God’s self. And that knowing that divine light that shines from you, you will pour out that love. You will proclaim the truth of God with boldness, and minister God’s justice and care with compassion. And we will bolster each other, as we seek to glorify God and travel alongside God. Amen.