Have you ever been asked to do something that you are sure is impossible?
This is a bit embarrassing, but I have to admit that I cannot dive into a swimming pool, and I can’t really explain why not.
I have had a lot of teachers and plenty of lessons, and I understand the concept of diving and I can see how easily other people do it—but I can’t. For me, diving into a pool or lake is just impossible.
Now, fortunately, diving is not a life skill, and I have gotten along quite well for over 70 years without ever successfully doing it (and there are home movies of the belly flops to prove it!).
And even more fortunately for me, diving does not appear to be something
that God expects me to do!
But there are things that God expects of us—things that, to us, may seem—may seem—impossible for us to do, or at least so difficult that we are reluctant to even try to do them.
And that brings us to today’s Gospel lesson.
First, we see Jesus going to “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues,
and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” [Matthew 9:35 NRSV]
Wow. Jesus was a busy guy!
But Jesus knew that he was only one man, and even if he cured people 24/7, he couldn’t get to all of them.
So he tells his disciples “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” [Matthew 9:37 NRSV]
Then comes the second scene: Jesus finds some laborers! He commissions his disciples to carry on his work. He tells them, “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, [and] cast out demons.” [Matthew 10:8 NRSV]
Matthew doesn’t tell us whether this surprised the disciples—Jesus telling them to just go out and work those wonders in his name, and he doesn’t ask them if they think they can do it – he just sends them. And they go!
Then comes the final scene in today’s story: Jesus warns them that it isn’t going to be easy, that they are going to face resistance, and that they may suffer along the way.
And yet, in spite of all that, those disciples went where Jesus sent them.
I once met someone like that.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta—I should say “Saint Teresa” these days—came and spoke at my seminary—Mt St Mary’s in Emmittsburg—when I was a student there in 1976.
She was a tiny woman, humble but strong, and she spoke with a voice so soft that we strained to hear her.
But her words were full of power.
She reminded us of that parable that Jesus told about the vine and the branches.
She told us that, no matter how closely we looked or how long we searched, we would never find any fruit on the vine.
They are only on the branches.
Jesus is the vine—he provides our foundation, our support, our nourishment, but we are the branches, and without us, the words and intentions of Jesus will bear no fruit.
There was a time not long ago when it was popular to ask, “What would Jesus do?”
I think a better question for us to ask today is “What is Jesus asking me to do?”
Children—especially middle-schoolers—will do just about anything to fit in, to be part of the in-crowd, to be accepted, even if that means doing or saying things that they don’t really mean. And I think in some ways, a lot of us grownups never stopped doing that.
When Jesus asks us to speak up, to take action, to do something to change the world, we are quick so say, “I can’t do that. People would get angry. They wouldn’t like me. They would call me names or even be violent.”
But I like to think, “what if…”
What if Jesus is asking us to refuse to participate in conversations that divide people and focus on the things that makes us different from each other?
What if instead Jesus is asking us to speak up when we hear people around us condemning those of other faiths, nationality, or color?
What if Jesus is asking us to take positive steps by associating with groups that work for justice and mercy for everyone?
I know Jesus expected a lot of those disciples, and I know he expects a lot of us, too.
What Jesus wants –what Jesus needs –are disciples who show in every part of their lives, in every moment of every day, that Jesus and all he means and says and does is the very essence of our being, our reason for existing.
Jesus needs disciples—like those twelve so long ago—people who will travel with him on a perilous journey, who won’t hesitate to go where he sends them, even if what he asks of them seems impossible, or unpopular, or even dangerous.
We all know that often the hardest part is starting out on that journey—taking that first step.
Responding to today’s Gospel is like unfolding a map, planning the route, deciding what places we need to go to, and which ones to avoid.
The first step is to look at what is possible, and not to be afraid if what Jesus asks of us seems impossible.
There’s no better way to close this sermon than to return to today’s Collect:
“Lord, keep us in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness.”
These are powerful words:
Steadfast. Faith. Love. Grace.
Proclaim. Truth. Boldness.
These are all words of possibility, words that can comfort and strengthen us when the going gets rough, or inspire us when the task Jesus gives us seems impossible—or when we just don’t want to do it.
And if we are afraid of the consequences of doing what Jesus asks of us, we have Saint Paul’s words of encouragement from today’s epistle:
…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. [Romans 5:3b-5]
We can do the impossible, although I guess that doing it pretty much proves to us
that it wasn’t really impossible—it just looked that way.
And do you know why I think we can do the impossible?
Because I believe the promise that Jesus gave us at the end of our Gospel last week:
“I am with you always, until the end of time.”