I think sometimes we need to be reminded of the strange way that the Kingdom of God was started on this earth.
Jesus begins his ministry ushering in the reign of God, and how does he do it? Does the Son of God, the Messiah of the world, the alpha and the omega, the one through all things came into being, do it all by himself?
Oddly enough, he calls together and sends out ordinary people like you and me to help him.
Master preacher Barbara Brown Taylor has written a wonderful meditation called The Preaching Life where she stresses the need for all Christians to recognize that they have been called to be ministers.
Somewhere along the way we have misplaced the ancient vision of the church as a priestly people—set apart for ministry in baptism, confirmed and strengthened in worship, made manifest in service to the world. That vision is a foreign one to many church members, who have learned from colloquial usage that minister means the ‘ordained person,’ in a congregation, while lay person means ‘someone who does not engage in full-time ministry.’ Professionally speaking that is fair enough—but speaking ecclesiastically, it is a disaster. Language like that turns clergy into purveyors of religion, and lay persons into consumers, who shop around for the church that offers them the best product.
Taylor says we need to revive Martin Luther’s vision of the priesthood of all believers, who are ordained by God at baptism to share Christ’s ministry in this world.
All we have to do is sit down and study he scriptures to understand that this is just how our God works in this world. Nowhere in the scriptures do we find God saying: “Go into the world and make Christians. Bring them into the church so they can sing some hymns, sit and pray and listen to a sermon about being good, moral people. Form a type of club. Hire a full-time club president who is going to be there to plan activities for and to support the club members, making sure they are comfortable and happy.”
No, what we do find in scriptures is Jesus instructing us to go into the world and make disciples out of all nations. Make disciples, not Christians.
And what do disciples do? Sit on a pew every Sunday? Sing, pray, try to be good. Maybe attend a committee meeting every now and again?
No, they do what Jesus did. Nothing too big mind you. Just your ordinary raising of the dead. Just your routine healing of a disease. Just your typical demon exorcism sort of thing. They do things that change the world.
Seriously. That’s what it says. Read it with your own eyes.
Maybe this is part of our problem. Maybe ancient scriptures like this which don’t seem to apply to us are why we sometimes look more like club members than disciples.
Perhaps we are tempted to believe that passages such as this have absolutely nothing to do with us. For how in the world can we sophisticated 21st-century folk take these words about raising dead people and casting out demons seriously?
Jesus also sent the disciples out to heal diseases. “Does that mean we are supposed to have faith healing services? Put a billboard out on Garriott: “Before you go to the Emergency room at Bass or St. Mary’s, swing by Central Christian Church first!”
I guess we will also need to create a demon exorcism ministry team and put an ad in the paper which will read: “Know someone possessed by the devil? Call the demon exorcism team of Central Christian Church. We’ll make your possessed loved one’s head spin around until the demons are cast out and are gone for good!”
And then I suppose we need to create a resuscitation ministry team—A team that will be on call to receive calls from families of loved ones who just died? We’ll send out flyers to hospitals and nursing homes which will read, “Before you call the funeral home, call our resuscitation ministry team, and we’ll bring the dead back to life!”
So, we read this and think that just maybe we’re not supposed to take this passage that seriously. Maybe this is not what we are to be about. After all, it was written very different people who lived a long, long time ago, in place far, far away. How in the world can this passage be for us living in the 21st century?
But this is the Bible we are talking about here. If there is anything true, it is in here. We are baptized Christians and believe Jesus is Lord—he is our Lord. And this is Jesus speaking here. This passage has to have something to do with us—perhaps everything to do with us.
Let’s look at healing diseases. Several years ago, Duke University did a study which revealed that people who go to church, people who have faith and a family of faith, people who are prayed for, statistically have a better recovery rate from major surgeries than people who are not a part of a church. Think of how many dreadful experiences you have had, how many horrible things you have gone through which made you say in the end, “I don’t know how people without faith and the church do it.” Christians bring healing to people whenever they pray, send cards or flowers, and make visits or phone calls.
Now, let’s look at casting out demons. We need to understand that the problems that people possess really have not changed in 2000 thousand years. It’s just the descriptions of those problems that have changed. Demon possession was a diagnosis given to a whole host of problems. Most of these problems labeled demon possession had an oppressive nature. People who were said to be possessed by demons had a problem or a habit, perhaps an addiction that they could not break by themselves.
And of course that is still true today. On this day, when our thoughts once more are turned toward family, there are countless children, living right here in our city, who are bound, living in a cycle of poverty from which they can not escape. Drugs have taken their toll on some of their parents. Some have been abandoned by their fathers, some by their mothers. Some of their fathers are in prison. These children feel unloved, unwanted, and unclean. The demons of these children are many. They are in survival mode. And a way out seems impossible.
Unless someone intervenes. Unless someone becomes a mentor or a role model to these children. Unless someone answers a call to step in to befriend these children, include these children, tutor these children, read a book to these children, coach these children, love these children. Unless maybe a church dedicates themselves to these children.
Ok, perhaps we can understand how we called to partner with Jesus to fight the world’s demons and diseases, but how on earth do we raise dead people back to life?
I want to suggest that we do this all the time.
Tony Campolo tells the story of attending a funeral where the minister stopped preaching to the congregation and started preaching to the dead body. The casket was still open as the minister recounted Clarence’s faithful life and talked about how everyone would miss him dearly.
Then his tone changed, as he started talking directly to Clarence. He walked down and looked at Clarence lying there in the casket. He said: “Today, Clarence, we say good-bye. But this good-bye isn’t ‘so long.’ Clarence, it’s ‘until then.’” Then he closed the casket himself and said, “Good night Clarence, we’ll see you in the morning.” Then the choir rose up and started to sing, That Great Getting’ Up Morning.
And when I think about it, at every funeral, I try my best to raise the dead. With scripture and prayer, I do all I can do to assure everyone that we will see them again.
And I will never forget how the dead was raised at the first Enid Welcome Table on Easter Sunday when one of our guests said to a volunteer: “Today, you have made me feel human again.”
The truth is that Jesus Christ gives all of us, his disciples, the power and the authority to partner with him in his mission and ministry in this world which includes, casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead.
But, you say, that’s still not for me. That kind of work was for the apostles. It was just for those special twelve disciples that Jesus called to follow him. They were special people, with extraordinary gifts and powers. I’m just an ordinary lay person. This passage is really not for me.
Let’s take a closer look at the list of these twelve to find out what was so special about them. Only two of the twelve here have descriptions in addition to the mention of their names (the rest of them are so ordinary that their names do not merit a description).
One name that does is “Matthew, the tax collector.” Matthew was a despised, disreputable, no good, low-life tax collector who took money from his own people to give to the Roman occupiers.
The other one with a description is “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” Jesus is either a miserable judge of character, or even his worst enemies are able to go out and work miracles in his name.
Think about it. There is nothing here to indicate that Judas failed to go out and preach, raise, cast out and heal. As far as we can tell, Judas had the same success as everyone else, including Matthew, the despised tax collector.
Beverly Gaventa says that this passage indicates that Jesus had a general rule for disciple-calling: “Only tax-collectors and traitors need apply.”
Jesus seems to only call sinners and nobodies to do his work. Does anyone here really know who James, the son of Alphaeus is?”
If even these twelve can be called to do Jesus’ work, so can people as ordinary as us. The truth is: this passage, that may seem strange and outdated on the surface, has everything in the world to do with us.
Are you ready to take it seriously? “The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few,” said Jesus. God is calling every one of us to preach, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead.
What will be our response?