Sunday 14 June 2020 Message Supplement: “Encouraging the Faithful”

Today’s message weaves material from two lectionary readings, Romans 5:1-8 and Matthew 9:35 – 10:8.  The Romans passage begins with the great theme of faith, which contributes to hopeful peace with God: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  The wonderful news here is that peace with God frees you for a life of renewal and wellbeing.

What stands in your way? Challenges are not always bad.  Paul the apostle’s message provides encouragement for overcoming obstacles s if you do your part.  Beginning with suffering, each person has a choice about how to endure struggles.  As someone withstands attack, there’s a choice to not become negative.  As always, effective self-management can produce endurance.  Paul then claimed that the endurance can produce strength of character which feeds marvelous hope. Now that’s a process worth striving for!

Resist allowing bad circumstances to destroy you.  God provides remarkably positive promises if only you will claim them. Often, people complain so much about the moment-by-moment discomfort that it prevents a good outcome.  You can take a different course.  As a follower of God you can think in a manner that allows even bad occurrences to produce better character.  As your character matures so does your experience of God and therefore your spiritual maturity.

Now consider the verses in Matthew, where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37b).  This metaphorical language suggests that the harvest is helping people find and embrace God through love.  As always, there is much work to do in spreading God’s message.  Jesus spoke to many people directly but he also spread God’s message by sending out his twelve disciples.  Curiously, Jesus restricted his message to Jews here:  “ ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ “ (Matthew 10:5b-6).

It’s weird that Jesus forbade his disciples to visit any non-Jewish areas.  Wasn’t Jesus supposed to welcome everyone?  Part of the mystery can be overcome by realizing that Jesus attempted to reform Judaism by emphasizing faith and love rather than by rituals and rules.  Jesus’ initial preference toward his fellow Jews isn’t too surprising given that Jesus was also Jewish.  It doesn’t help to feel any offense by Jesus’ preferential treatment of Jews because it is clear from most of Jesus’ other teachings that God’s redemption eventually included all peoples (including you and me).

Now comes a powerful punch that reveals how God’s awesomeness can become part of your faith life: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8a).  This incredible list of miracles is what Jesus told his disciples to accomplish.  Jesus was able to perform miracles but it seems odd to think that his disciples were just as able (and what about us today?).  Perhaps each sincere person of faith today is like Jesus’ original disciples regarding potential.  In this way, Jesus’ message can be a way to leverage all that God has for you.  Stretch your faith and develop that same enduring, hopeful, strength of character that Paul discussed in Romans.  It may be that the greatest miracle awaiting you is the one where you are transformed from the inside/out.

Tapping into God’s spiritual power is what people of legitimate faith are supposed to do but it isn’t easy.  Lack of a personal spiritual life and external hurdles can hold you back unless you decide otherwise.  Jesus warned his messengers about the trouble that they’d encounter by highlighting resistance to God’s truth: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mathew 10:16).  The gist is that to your adversaries you may appear as a vulnerable sheep ready to be devoured by terrifying wolves.  The surprise for your enemies is that you can become wise and agile underneath all that inviting puff of soft wool.  The imagery of doves suggests that people of faith carry God’s Spirit wherever they go, including above and beyond the reach of wolf-like opposition.

Be encouraged by the strong character God is willing to help you build.  Persevere. Don’t give up on yourself.  Flex your faith muscles and perform the miracle of life renewal that God is inviting you to embrace.  You are one of God’s precious messengers and despite opposition you can be all that God is calling you to become.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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