A priestly people

File:Harvest (13429504924).jpg

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.””

Watching for the Morning of June 18, 2017

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

The First Lesson on Sunday declares that if Israel abides by God’s teaching, they shall be a priestly people. In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends his followers out as heralds and agents of God’s reign. Though the language is different, the substance is the same: a priest mediates the connection between people and God. In the Old Testament this was about the reconciliation (forgiveness) and fellowship with God established through the sacrificial system. In the New Testament it is mediated through allegiance to Christ and participation in the Spirit/reign of God.   In both you are restored to a community bound together in praise and service of God. And in both there is a word spoken that announces the reality of reconciliation and fellowship – a priestly/prophetic word, spoken on God’s behalf, that the sacrifice has been accepted, that reconciliation is at hand, that the hearer now abides in the grace and life of God. “The grace in which we stand”, says Paul in the reading from Romans for Sunday. The debt has been forgiven. Reconciliation has occurred. Peace that has been established. This is our calling. This is our identity. We are a priestly people – or, at least, meant to be a priestly people reconnecting the world with the source and goal of life. Every cup of cold water. Every healing hand. Every kind word. Every confession heard. Every kindness lived.

It is a great honor to be a priestly people. In a world where so much is torn and divided, we have the privilege of joining the realm of heaven with the realm of earth.

Preaching Series: Abram

The narrative of the flood last Sunday set before us the mystery that though the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, God suffers for his world and delivers it. But the people that get off the ark are no different than those who got on. And now we will hear how humanity’s rebellion continues in the building of the tower of Babel. But then come the first notes of a new mystery that follows the line of Seth down to Abram. It is a line that seems to dead end with Sarai’s barrenness – but God speaks a strange and wonderful promise that, from the line of Abraham, God will bring blessing to the world.

The Prayer for June 18, 2017

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 18, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 19:2-8a
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

Psalmody: Psalm 100
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his.” – A hymn of praise as the community enters into the temple courts and are summoned to acknowledge and serve God.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” –
having established that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God justifies all by faith – by their trust in God’s promise – Paul declares that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 [9-23]
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – The twelve are appointed for the first mission: to be heralds of the dawning reign of God in the towns and villages of Israel. “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

File:Brooklyn Museum - Jesus Discourses with His Disciples (Jésus s'entretient avec ses disciples) - James Tissot.jpg

James Tissot, Jesus Discourses with His Disciples

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said “…21one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

We have an image in our minds of Jesus traveling the region teaching his twelve disciples. Da Vinci’s Last Supper shows Jesus and the twelve. Icons of Pentecost show Mary and the twelve. Books are written about what can be accomplished with a small group of twelve. But Luke tells us there were 120.

It’s still a number rooted in the idea of twelve, but that is the point – there is an idea about the number twelve that shapes the narrative and the minds and hearts of these first followers of Jesus. With Judas gone, they are now eleven and the number twelve must be restored. The idea of twelve must be restored.

When we read John’s Gospel, we don’t hear much about the twelve. And there are key people in the narrative – Nathanael, Nicodemus – who don’t show up in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Others, like Philip and Thomas, are active figures in John but only named in the other Gospels.

And then there are the women. In Luke 8 we are told:

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources

The twelve function as authorized witnesses. This is the test that is put forward for Matthias: someone who “accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” at the ascension. Had there been only twelve followers of Jesus, there would have been no one to step into Judas’ shoes.

The number twelve echoes the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel. It is a foundational number. It carries the idea that from twelve sons, in fulfillment of God’s promise, came a people as innumerable as the stars. So from twelve apostles – twelve ‘sent ones’ – will come the gathering of humanity into the reign of God.

The disciples are the students of Jesus, this is what the word means. We are all supposed to be such disciple/students. The apostles are the twelve ‘sent ones’ – although they are not the only sent ones. Luke calls Paul and Barnabas apostles. Paul calls himself an apostle, and in Romans 16:7 refers to Andronicus and Junias (a feminine name) as apostles. Though there is, in the tradition, a more technical sense that the word ‘apostles’ refers to a specific charism of those sent to plant churches in new areas, we are all ‘sent ones’.  We are all heralds of grace.

We confess the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic – meaning it is a single, sacred, universal, missionary church. The words ‘one’, ‘holy’, ‘catholic’ and ‘apostolic’ come into English from Greek; ‘single’, ‘sacred’, ‘universal’, and ‘missionary’ are their Latin counterparts.

We are all students and sent ones, disciples and apostles, members of a discipled and apostolic community – a single, sacred, universal, missionary community.


Image: James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Discourses_with_His_Disciples_(J%C3%A9sus_s’entretient_avec_ses_disciples)_-_James_Tissot.jpg