Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6A
In the name of God, our source, Christ, our guide, and the Holy Spirit of wisdom. Amen.
It’s the end of the school year, and I think that no matter how long we’ve been out of school, there’s a part of us that, in these days, will always acutely recall what it feels like to be a child right now. The long summer stretches before you. Renewed freedom awaits. The reward for progress is about to be realized. Perhaps there are trips or camps or activities planned that now start to drift from the land of ideas nearer, into real life. The anticipation is palpable. And even though, for most of us, summer doesn’t mean what it used to, when these days come it’s hard not to still feel it, at least a little.
It takes me back to remembering all sorts of things about school, but especially my teachers. I remember Mrs. Hart in the third grade. It was so long ago that I don’t remember much about her, but I do remember her having a warmth about her – a way of making me feel better about myself. I always laugh when remembering Mrs. Cross, my Louisiana History teacher in the eighth grade. The students all thought she was aptly named – she could be quite cross. But I always liked her. She wore sparkling gold sneakers every day at school, and she had a dry, smart-alecky sense of humor that was a lot like my own. And I’ll always remember Dr. Henry. He was the choir teacher in my high school, so I had classes with him all four years. I never knew if he consciously cultivated this reality, or if it just was borne out of his own life experience, but as you might imagine, the choir kids weren’t really the coolest kids in school. Even so, Dr. Henry made his classroom into a kind of home base for us. It was a sanctuary from the rest of the school – a place where we could be ourselves without the intensity of the pressure we might have felt elsewhere on campus. So we would go there – not just during class, but whenever we could.
The common thread between these and all the other teachers that I remember fondly – even through college and grad school – is that my recollections about them usually have less to do with the course content that they taught me and more to do with the relationships we formed and the ways they helped me to better realize myself. They certainly taught me “things” – the content they were supposed to teach. But the good ones taught me something that was less quantifiable, but still somehow more.
The Gospel lesson that we read today recounts the first time that Jesus sent the disciples out as teachers. They had been students of Jesus. They would continue as students – but now their calling was growing. They would follow Jesus and become teachers, too. But one of the things that can be sort of hard to swallow in this story is that line about restricting the message of the Gospel to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Taken alone, messages like this have been used to try to restrict the message of Jesus and to limit the reach of Christ’s love.
As I’m sure you’d imagine – I have another way of looking at it.
In fact, this is just their first foray into teaching and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was their first time out on their own. And in this first attempt, their teacher, Jesus, prepared them for how to go about it successfully.
First, he endowed them with the spiritual gifts they would need: authority over unclean spirits and healing. Next, he called them by name. This wasn’t an open call, where anyone could show up – these specific people had been called for this specific purpose. Finally, he gave them instructions. He said, stay close for now. You’re just getting started, so start with what you know. Teach to people right around here. And use these gifts I’ve just given you. Later in the story, we hear how they were sent to the ends of the earth, but for now, they’re just getting started.
My dream for the church is for every person who is a part of this church to know and understand that they have been individually called by God to some specific ministry in the world – just like those first disciples. I believe that is true for me, and for each one of us, and for all Christians. And my further dream is for every member of the church to know that this community is here to help them. We exist to help them hear and discern their calling, and to help them develop the tools and resources they need to answer it.
Like those first disciples, we have each been called by name – as individuals – to some specific purpose in advancing God’s dream for creation. And like those first disciples, we have been endowed by the Holy Spirit with the spiritual gifts we need to accomplish it. Knowing that, we have to also know that that calling isn’t meant to stop inside these walls. It is meant to propel us into the world. But we don’t have to solve all the problems of the world at once. We don’t have to start all the way at the top, we just have to start. And like those first disciples, we’ll start to figure it out. We’ll start to understand God’s dream for each of us a little more clearly and we’ll get better at realizing it.
I think it’s significant that what I remember most about those teachers that stand out in my memory isn’t so much the subject matter that they taught, but the ways that they helped me to grow, personally, and the ways that they left me feeling supported and empowered. The same will be true for each of us as we live into our callings. It almost doesn’t matter what the specifics of our callings are. I mean, it matters in the same way that learning each specific bit of knowledge is important in school – of course, it matters. But what matters almost more is the heart with which we approach these callings.
The person who gets the mustard you donated to the food pantry probably won’t look back, years from now, reflecting on the spiritual power of mustard. And they almost certainly won’t know that you were the one to thank for it. But what may happen, is that they may remember from time to time that when they were hungry, someone was looking out for them. They may be comforted in imagining that someone was walking through the grocery store and thought beyond themselves. If they think about it, they may feel less alone.
I read on Facebook a few months ago this story about being behind a woman in a checkout line. When her total came up at the end, the total was $6.66. She quickly said, “Oh, I don’t like that total. Better add in a corndog.” The writer goes on to say that in a weird way, that moment restored her faith in humanity. Here’s this woman dedicated to fighting off the spiritual forces of wickedness in this world, and her chosen weapon at that moment is a corndog.
That’s how it can be for us. I can’t imagine that God cares all that much about what your total is in a checkout line, but it is true that it doesn’t take much to join in on God’s calling. It doesn’t require taking over the world. It just takes using whatever you’ve learned along the way to take whatever step you can muster in any given moment. We may never even know what our particular “corndog” is. But in developing a pattern of living defined by following God’s call, its impact can be more profound than we can imagine. Amen.