Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
As some of you know, a few of us gather for morning prayer each day. Typically we do so at the church, but given the current pandemic we’ve been “meeting” online to pray the Psalms and scripture lessons appointed for each day. I greatly enjoy our time of prayer together; I find it gives me a sense of connection with you and with the Church universal. Praying the Daily Office also offers the opportunity to hear anew scripture texts that are familiar to many of us. I’m always amazed by how a passage I’ve read countless times before will suddenly impress me in a new way. I will notice things that I hadn’t noticed before.
Such was the case this past Thursday. While reading the second lesson for the day from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we came across the words “God is faithful.” For one reason or another, those three words left such an impression upon me. That simple phrase rested upon my heart the entire day and I continue to find myself ruminating about it.
God is faithful. All too often I think we perceive our relationship with God as us approaching God or thinking the relationship is somehow dependent upon our good behaviour. Strikingly, both points are not only foreign to the Christian tradition, they are contrary to what has long been believed. It is not we who approach God, nor is our relationship with God dependent upon on whether we are good or not. No, it is God who comes to us, God who reaches out to us in love simply because we are God’s beloved ones. And over the course of the entire scriptures, God repeatedly reaches out to us in love even when we quite frankly don’t deserve it. Ultimately, God even gives of God’s self in his son for the redemption of the world.
God is faithful. Over and over again, God reaches out to us in love. We see God’s care and compassion for us in today’s gospel lesson from the Gospel of Matthew. I’ll be honest, it’s one of my favourite scenes in all the gospels. We hear of how Jesus travels to all the cities and villages healing the sick and brokenhearted. As he does, he is overwhelmed by the immense pain and suffering in his midst. So moved by what he sees, Jesus feels from the depths of his heart compassion for the people.
I can almost envision the scene: Jesus standing in the midst of the crowd, women and men of all backgrounds and perhaps even of other lands and countries. I picture the crowds pressing in on Jesus, crying out for healing, for peace, and for rest. And I imagine Jesus looking upon the assorted crowd with love.
At first you might think my meditation sentimental, but I can’t help but think there is something profound about the scene, particularly given what follows. In the midst of all the suffering and need, and feeling an overwhelming sense of compassion, Jesus gives his first commission to the apostles, this time to go to the House of Israel (remember, last week we heard Jesus’ final commission to the apostles to go out into the world, baptising all in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) Jesus says to his disciples, “go, proclaim the good news, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Jesus doesn’t tell them to go and teach, rather he tells them to heal and to cast away all evil. The ministry of the apostles, and of the whole community of disciples, is rooted in the ministry of God to have compassion and care for God’s beloved suffering.
While I realise Jesus’ commission to the disciples is to go to the people of Israel first, I think there are striking parallels here for us and insight for our own day. First and foremost, I think Jesus’ message could easily be applied to our own life. Just as he commands the disciples to go to the people of Israel to begin healing and restoring them to their original purpose of being a light to all peoples, so Jesus commands us to heal and restore the Church, the People of God, to our original mission to be a light to all nations. Secondly, like the early disciples, we are to begin our ministry with acts of healing and forgiveness, casting away all that weighs God’s people down, so that we can have life and have it to the full. For if we are to be beacons of hope to the world, we must first be transformed by God’s grace.
We are called to be faithful as God is faithful to us. And that fidelity begins first and foremost with acts of compassion and love, words of healing and forgiveness. Our ministry is not to bind others, but to faithfully care for others and draw them into the divine life of God.
It is striking then that our first lesson today is the story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming the three angels into their midst. Although Abraham knows nothing about his guests, he still generously gives a lavish meal to them and invites them to rest under the oaks of Mamre. It is there that he and his wife are blessed, for they host the very presence of God in their midst.
We are called to be one with God’s beloved suffering and to set before all God’s people a lavish feast. Our ministry begins with acts of love and and compassion and it is to invite all to the table of life, to feast with us and share in the love of God. And we are to do all of this with counting the cost.
The latter point is of particular significance in this passage. We, like the disciples who heard Jesus’ commission for the first time, are not to measure and weigh the demands of ministry. Instead, we are to give of ourselves fully to our ministry as Jesus gave of himself to us. Christian discipleship and ministry isn’t something we do when we’re able or when the time is right, but it is a way of being that permeates every aspect of our lives. Our compassion and care for others ought not be limited to when it is convenient for us, but it ought rather be our natural way of relating to others.
While this total commitment to living the way of Jesus might intimidate us, our fears and concerns will be overcome by the blessings we experience in ministry. Just as Abraham and Sarah were blessed by God in their gracious hospitality and ministry for the three men, so too will we be blessed in our service of others. I can assure you of that. I consistently am overwhelmed by the many blessings I encounter as I serve in ministry. In fact, I’ve come to learn that although I may sometimes think I am giving something to others, I receive much more in return in often unexpected ways. To be clear, this is not why I minister or why any of us should minister. Rather, we simply thank God for the many ways he blesses us, even in ways we may not always see.
As God is faithful to us, so we ought to be faithful to God’s beloved people, those who suffer from sickness and pain, those who feel the burdens of sin and injustice, and those who yearn to share in the new life of God. May we give of ourselves as gift to others without counting the cost and may we be sign of hope for those longing to feel the compassion of God. Amen.