Jesus looked at the crowd. He noticed how lost they were, and how out-of-place they appeared. They were a needy people, and He had compassion for them. He says: “The harvesters are plentiful, but the workers are few. Pray therefore that the Lord will send out harvesters into the harvest field. For the field is ripe for harvest, but the workers are few”. (Matthew 9:38) Then Jesus had compassion toward these people, and He sent His disciples top minister to them. He sent them without provisions. He basically told them that they will be provided for by those that they were being sent to minister.
Let’s think about this. Jesus sent these disciples to preach, teach and do ministry in the same manner that he trained and modeled to his followers and to share the principles of the Kingdom of God in word and deed. But, were they ready for this ministry? After all, they had not gone to an official seminary, but instead sat at the feet of Jesus for three years.
In seminary, clergy in training sit at the feet (technically sit in classrooms), but in practice we can say that we are sitting symbolically at the feet of teachers, who themselves sat at the feet of teachers, who sat at the feet of teacher’s, who sat at the feet of teachers. They taught the teachings of Jesus, the methodology of ordained ministry, and the teachings of the church. But, these first disciples sat at the feet of Jesus. First hand religion is always better than second hand religion. Hearing something for the first time in person, is always preferred to hearing something second-hand and after the fact. But, that’s how the faith has been handed down to us. We are all hearing it after the fact, but these disciples heard it for the first time, eye-witnesses.
Last week we looked at the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28. Jesus gave the commission to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to intensely persuade all believers to put His teachings into practice. When we hear the Gospel, let us listen with a mentally alert mind and not an empty one. Let us with an open heart and mind offer ourselves to the Holy Spirit to hear anew the words of Jesus and the readings of all Scripture. Likewise, may we open our hearts to Jesus and ask his continual presence as if it was for the first time.
To do that we must filter out all the baggage, the doctrine and the old ideas that go along with these passages that we have heard repeatedly. I am not saying that we should omit scholarship and learning. What I am saying is when we approach our Lord, let us approach Him with devoted affection. And let’s make that affection fresh, first hand spirituality. It’s kind of like sitting down to a specially prepared meal, instead of eating the leftovers in the fridge. I’m not saying that’s not a good idea. Eating leftovers is cool. Naomi and I do that all the time, but it’s not as special as eating the meal for the first time.
Study of Scripture is important and invariably includes criticism of the Written Word. We must ask these questions in our research: when was a book written; how was it written; why was it written; what was going on in the culture at that time; who was the original audience; what language it originally written and when (the time it was written will affect the style of the writing); and who wrote it. Only then can pull out the nuggets of truth and determine what applies to us, what does not apply to us, and why. Times change, cultures change and people change, but some truths are eternal. We gravitate to those truths. When Jesus says I want you to go out and to share my love with hurting and helpless people, who are hungry and thirsty for truth and compassion, we do so. This much has not changed, has it?
When we listen to that commission, let’s listen to Jesus like we have never heard Him before. Just as he commissioned those first disciples first-hand, so He wants to speak to us first-hand. There’s nothing like first-hand religion. Falling in love with Jesus, again and again and again, and falling in love with his words and his mission for us. That’s first-hand religion.
The Swedish theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. Christianity is a historical faith. We rest our promises on historical writings and traditions of the church. In each new generation those truths and traditions are reborn and re-taught and the truth goes forward. Even though we base our faith on historical records we live that faith forward. The truth becomes truth to us when we put the teachings of Jesus into practice. That includes both personal and community application. It involves personal piety, but it also involves social commitments, as well.
We are called to live in the truths of the Gospel that we read and hear, to make sure our words match our deeds and to cling to first-hand religion – a living faith. Putting that teaching into your life means to allow the Living Word to reshape, to reform, to change your worldview from the inside out and to redirect your movement both internally and outwardly. This personal transformation empowers and gives strength: to love justice and confront the evil injustices in the world; to stand up for the poor and marginalized and against those that persecute; and to identify and resist those principles in society that demoralize, dehumanize, degrade and defame. God calls us to be merciful, to combine truth of virtue with compassion and to walk humbly before Him with open minds and open hearts. Amen.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen