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-Apostleship-
Date: July 2, 2017 (Pentecost 4; Peace River)
1. Texts: Genesis 22:1-14; Ps. 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42.
2. Subject: ecclesiology.
3. Topic: apostleship.
4. Aim: educate.
5. Proposition: “With the blessings of apostleship comes also the hard work.”


BLESSING AND HARD WORK, HARD WORK AND BLESSING


I have this vague memory of the radio announcer, Paul Harvey, saying, “And now here is the rest of the story.” That’s kind of what the reading from Matthew’s Gospel needs today.
You see, the part we heard today was all about the blessings of hospitality offered to an apostle. The person who welcomes an apostle then shares in the blessings God gives to the apostle. As hospitality rewards the apostle, then the person offering it is rewarded by God. It’s all a very sweet arrangement.
But the short reading today doesn’t give us the rest of the story. While the ministry of the apostle results in all sorts of blessings all around, there’s a long list of jobs that go along with those blessings.
This all started thirty-nine verses ahead of our reading today: “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”1 Once the apostles had the authority, Jesus sent them out with specific instructions.2 And that list of instructions is L-O-N-G:
1. go only to the Jews;
2. proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven with miraculous signs;
3. don’t fret;
4. simply proclaim and proclaim simply;
5. be “street smart”, knowing the context of your listeners;
6. use Jesus as your model, both in suffering and in experiencing division; and
7. set Jesus as your priority.
It is in doing the hard work of apostleship that others will be blessed. That’s the rest of the story.
1 Matthew 10:1.
2 Matthew 10:5-14.
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Now, if this were a Bible study or a weekend workshop, we’d go through each of those seven identifying tasks more deeply. But preaching on Sunday doesn’t really allow for that kind of examination. I would STRONGLY encourage everyone to ask me questions after the service, and if I had the authority I would order the parish to host a weekend workshop on apostleship. But, let’s set those aside for now.
Instead, let’s plug one of the loopholes that exist. This is the issue of the apostles themselves.
A close reading of the Acts of the Apostles seems to say that there can be no apostles today. When selecting someone to fill the seat of Judas Iscariot, Peter outlined the criteria for apostleship.
So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’3
An apostle has to be
1. a man
2. who accompanied Jesus and the other disciples
3. for the time beginning with the baptism of John and up to the ascension of Christ,
4. a man who will then bear witness to the resurrection.
According to all that, there can be no apostles today.
Of course, an apostle could take the same route as St. Paul:
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’4
3 Acts 1:21-22.
4 Acts 9:3-6.
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Having a miraculous, blinding and commanding interaction with the Christ could make you an apostle, but you’d have to defend your office to the end of your days.
So, no apostles today, not without divine intervention by the resurrected Christ.
But that’s ok with me, because I don’t need to be made an apostle. That’s because the Church is already apostolic, right? We believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” We don’t have to have individual apostles because the Church itself is apostolic—it carries the qualities and characteristics of the apostles. As a community of disciples we embody, incorporate, experience and express the realities of apostolicity. The nature of the community of faith—that one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—is imprinted upon the individual members of the Body of Christ. The Church and the disciples who make up the Church are obligated to be apostolic. Our identity is experienced in the lives of the individual disciples joined in community. Together and individually we are apostolic.
Of course, we already know something of what that means because of that long list of instructions.
1. go only to the Jews;
2. proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven with miraculous signs;
3. don’t fret;
4. simply proclaim and proclaim simply;
5. be “street smart”, knowing the context of your listeners;
6. use Jesus as your model, both in suffering and in experiencing division; and
7. set Jesus as your priority.
First, apostles are sent by God out into the world. That’s really what the word “apostle” means—just like the word missionary. The apostle is sent by God into the world. The apostolic Church is sent by God into the world.
The Church is sent to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. We do that through our thoughts, words and deeds. We illustrate and embody the kingdom through our own lives and give testimony to that reality with our words.
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But please note that we are not sent out into the world to convert people. Conversion is God’s job not ours and he never overrides someone’s freewill in the process. Our job is simply to proclaim—and we do that in ways that encourage a positive response to God’s offer of salvation.
That’s why our motto should be, “Simply proclaim and proclaim simply.” We live out the gospel of Christ in ways that others can perceive and appreciate. The apostolic Church makes its proclamation fit the context. We don’t hide behind theology or holy language. We simply live the reality of our faith in ways that invite response to God.
It is crucial that we view Jesus as our Master, our Model. We are his apprentices. He not only teaches us stuff, he shows us how to do stuff, how to live out what he has taught. We learn what he taught and we live as he lived—but in our context not his.
That has some huge implications for us apprentices. As God used Jesus to bless people, so will Jesus use us. As Jesus came to bring abundant life, so we are channels of such life. Of course, as Jesus attracted the enmity of the world, sometimes even at the cost of some of our cherished relationships. Now, I don’t like that idea and I pray I will be spared the worst of such implications, but living the life of Christ through our lives will change us and transform our relationships with the world.
That’s what inevitably happens when we set Jesus as our top priority. It takes some intentionality to set spouse, family, job and community in their proper places. Like flossing your teeth, dieting and exercising, it takes discipline—which should work for us disciples, but it won’t be easy.
That’s what the rest of the story about the apostles brings us, a deeper appreciation for our own apostolicity and the identity of the Body of Christ. I understand the desire of the creators of the lectionary to highlight the positive-sounding rewards of welcoming the original apostles, but we won’t be able to reach those without the rest of the reality of being apostolic.
AMEN.