Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Harassed and Helpless

Matthew 9:35-10:23
June 18, 2017

            Harassed and helpless.
Hapless and hopeless.
Harried and hurried.
Hurting and haggard.
Heartbroken and heartsick.
The villages and the cities were filled with all of these. People pushed and pulled by life and circumstance. People sick and getting sicker. People surviving but only just. People loving their children and children loving their parents. People working hard, trying to care for their families. People trying to make it, just make it, without harming others and without bringing harm on themselves.
Keeping their heads down.
Hands to the plows.
Noses to the grindstones.
But still the world or life or existence plays by its own rules. People get sick and sicker. People are pushed and pulled. Hard work doesn’t always take care of a family. Love is not always returned.
People are harassed and helpless. Hapless and hopeless.
Harried and hurried. Hurting and haggard.
Heartbroken and heartsick.
Jesus saw this. He saw this in every village and in every city that he visited. He saw the people, harassed and helpless, and he had compassion for them. They were like sheep without a shepherd.
How many of you are feeling harassed and helpless today? How many of you are here just trying to hang on from whatever storms are buffeting you beyond these doors? I feel that way. I feel harassed and helpless. From the valleys of daily living, from personal circumstances, but even more by the circumstances of our world.
Two mass shootings this week, and I’m sure there were more that I have not seen reported. A terrible, horrific fire in London; a city which has already endured a terrorist attack along with the terrorist attack in Manchester a few weeks ago. The anguish so many are feeling over the acquittal in the Philando Castile case in St. Paul. So many people hurting. So many people angry. So many people sick and getting sicker. I cannot seem to shake this feeling of being harassed and helpless, hapless and hopeless. From city crowds to small towns, it seems as though we are sheep without a shepherd. My heart cries out, “We could use some compassion, Jesus. We could use a shepherd.”
But Jesus did not only feel compassion for the people, so harassed and helpless, so hapless and hopeless, harried and hurried. He acted on his compassion. He was God’s hands and heart and arms and feet and mouth and mind. But even the Good Shepherd could not shepherd so many. He told the disciples,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
The disciples were his laborers. Although this took place before the Great Commission that we read last week, this is all part and parcel of what the disciples were called to do at this moment and in the future. Later on in this passage, the disciples were given specific directions to:
“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’”
There is much more to this passage than I am focusing on, more that should be contemplated. But for this morning, I have narrowed it to these beginning verses. Jesus called the disciples to labor, but the labor did not end with them. Each generation has called new laborers. We are descendents of those disciples, and we are inheritors of the call. I cannot claim that I have ever managed to do anything that Jesus commanded, other than proclaim the good news about the kingdom coming near. I’m not sure I’ve even done that all that well. I certainly have not cured the sick, raised the dead, cleansed the lepers or cast out demons.
Have you?
But that does not mean that we are not still called to labor, to go into that plentiful harvest. We are called as the disciples were called to shepherd the harassed and the helpless, even as we are also harassed and helpless.
Here is the funny thing about following Jesus’ call to be a laborer, to shepherd the lost sheep. When we reach out with compassion, even as we need compassion, miracles do happen. You can be dead in spirit and dead in your soul and yet your body lives on. But someone showing compassion, someone reaching out to you – another harassed and helpless person offering a hand – might give you new hope and new purpose. Isn’t that raising someone from the dead?
Every week, every day we pray for people who are sick. Sometimes they become well. Sometimes they don’t. But compassion can change a heart. It can open up the way to reconciliation. It can heal old hurts and provide a balm to wounds that run deep, or soften invisible scars.
What about those lepers? Lepers were not only diseased. They were outcast. They were segregated and separated from the community. Who are the lepers who need to be cleansed? Who are the unclean in our midst? Are they the mentally ill, the homeless, the out of work and out of luck? Are they the ones ignored by society? Is a leper the least of these that Jesus spoke of, the ones who are oppressed or forgotten? How can our compassion cleanse them? How can our compassion bring them back into community, into relationship? How can our compassion bring them home?
            And what do we do with this talk of demons? Does Jesus call us to perform exorcisms or is it more about giving people space to and permission to acknowledge and confront the demons that possess them? What possesses you? Is it anger? Envy? Fear? I may not believe in demons in the way they were believed in Jesus’ context. But I know this, depression is a demon. Anxiety is a demon. They are cruel demons that can cripple. But showing compassion, offering compassion, being compassionate can help to drive those demons out.
            At one time or another, all of us feel:
            Harassed and helpless.
            Hapless and hopeless.
Harried and hurried.
Hurting and haggard.
Heartbroken and heartsick.
We are like sheep without a shepherd. But Jesus looked at those people and he had compassion for them. He looks at us and has compassion for us. He acted on his compassion. He called the disciples to do the same.
So we are also called: to be his discples, to be his laborers, to go into a plentiful harvest, with compassion and with love.

Let all God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

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