That is one truth. A second truth is that reliable word could only spread so far and so fast in the ancient world. No one could text photos of Jesus to their friends. No one could post the latest thing Jesus had said or done on Facebook. There weren’t even any newspapers. Even if there had been, hardly anyone could read. The best source for information about Jesus available to most people was wild rumors.
That is why Jesus sends out his disciples in our gospel reading. Jesus could not get to every little town himself, so Jesus sent the disciples in his stead.
That was their task then. That is our task now. We need to hear what Jesus told his disciples to do as instructions for us, too.
For the vast majority of people the disciples met, this would be their introduction to the gospel. This would be the first reliable thing they learned about Jesus’ mission. What the disciples did and said mattered. A LOT.
So Jesus teaches his disciples how to give what we would now call an elevator speech. You know, the thirty second pitch you can give to someone you meet on an elevator.
I was sitting in a coffee shop a few weeks ago, trying to enjoy a cup of tea and write a sermon. Meanwhile a man at the next table was having a loud conversation with a friend about a business idea he had. He was working on his elevator speech. He wanted to attract the attention of potential investors and customers, and communicate what they needed to know about his business, all in just a couple of minutes.
The disciples faced the same challenge as the irritating man in the coffee shop. How could they grab people’s attention and then help a totally naïve audience understand what Jesus was all about? They had thirty seconds to hook them. Go.
It turns out, Jesus is good at this kind of thing. Jesus knows that you can’t just talk to people. You have to show them. So Jesus tells his disciples to start by curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. Then, Jesus tells them, proclaim the good news that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The miracles were a way to get people’s attention. If I saw someone raise the dead, I’d stick around to hear what that person had to say! Jesus knows that. Jesus uses that.
But, of course, the miracles are more than marketing strategy. Jesus also wants his disciples to meet people’s genuine needs. People hurt, then and now. Jesus tells his disciples to do what they can to ease the pain of the people they meet. That is compassion in action. That is what Christians are called to do.
But the miracles are still more, more than decent medical care in a world without competent doctors. The miracles are themselves part of the proclamation of good news. The disciples are showing people God’s kingdom at work. The disciples show people what can happen when they gather in the name of Christ and the Holy Spirit swirls around. Miracles happen. Healing happens. Reconciliation happens. Kingdom happens.
And so the disciples can credibly claim, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of heaven has come near in the person of Jesus Christ manifest among the people in and through the ministry of the disciples. The villagers get a little foretaste of God’s kingdom, of God’s love, of the joy of being God’s children, in the ministry of Christ’s followers.
And all that is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago.
People today need to see God’s kingdom, maybe even more than people needed it two thousand years ago. People today need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, maybe even more than people needed it two thousand years ago. And today we are the ones sent out to bring God’s kingdom near.
Now, miracles still happen. I’ve heard too many stories about healings to doubt that. But so far I am not very good at miracles myself. (I say “so far” because you never know. You should all keep coming back, just in case!)
But even if we cannot promise miracles as a regular part of our outreach ministries, we can still do what Jesus tells the disciples to do in our gospel reading.
So, after our regular services last week, a group of us went to the Parish Cupboard for our Church without walls service, like we do every month.
When we started that ministry, we knew people wouldn’t come just to worship with us. We had to offer them something. We had to offer them something good enough to justify suffering through a religious service.
We couldn’t promise miracles, so we bring food. Last week, we threw in toiletries collected by our children and delivered by Norma.
And one reason—this is just like the miracles in our reading—one reason is simple marketing. We want people to come, so we promise them stuff. We promise them stuff they want that we can deliver.
But just like in our reading, the lunches we offer are not only marketing. If all we cared about was getting people there, we could do better than food and toiletries. We could offer big helpings of communion wine. Instead we use grape juice.
We don’t offer wine because we are there to help people, to help meet their genuine needs. The food we offer is simple, but it is nutritious and wholesome. It is good for people to whom we give it.
But, still like the miracles in our reading, we are there to do more than give a meal to hungry people, important though that is. Along with a sandwich, we offer the bread of life.
We are there to show the people who join us God’s kingdom in action, to remind them that they are God’s beloved children, to tell them that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, to respect their dignity as human beings.
We bring a meal, and we join together in worship to share the good news of God’s kingdom, just like the disciples did.
I have not yet had the nerve to end our service by saying, “FYI, the kingdom of God just came near.” But that is what happens each month. God’s kingdom comes near in and through our ministry with our brothers and sisters at the Parish Cupboard.
And God’s kingdom happens here too, every week. We hear stories of the kingdom happening in Scripture. We do our best to bring a little kingdom to others. And in the process, we get better at seeing the kingdom happen among us.
God’s kingdom is never far away. But most of us need regular reminders that God’s kingdom is near. We need to experience a taste God’s kingdom for ourselves.
So we come together in the name of Christ. We hear God’s Word. We sing God’s praises. We share in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.
And we offer each other what we can deliver. We offer each other God’s peace. We pray for each other.
And in that experience of Christian fellowship, in our encounter with Word and sacrament, as we are united by the Holy Spirit into the one body of Christ, the kingdom of heaven comes near to us.
And for that, I give thanks to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.