Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Be  briefed"

Message preached June 16, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Matthew 9:35-10:14

Order of Worship

            "Jesus held a briefing session and sent out the twelve." Thatís how one translation of Matthewís gospel put it. He held a "briefing session." I like that. Of course, not everything is said in a "briefing session," is it? Just the essentials. Sum it up. Get to the bottom line. Make it clear and concise. Cut to the chase. In so doing, be brief.

            Ever notice how "briefings" today are rarely "brief?" If they are short in length, they tend to say very little of substance, or speak in a language only those with special training can understand A doctor "briefing" the family of a sick person sometimes uses terms which fly over the head of those who need to know what is happening. A lawyerís briefcase is stuffed full of legal briefs - papers which, if read by a layman, would make absolutely no sense, and run on for page after numbing page. A sermon, which - it could be said - is a "briefing session" of sorts, runs on and on and on and sometimes is so convoluted and full of theological language that when Godís people respond to it with "What shall we do now?" (see Acts 2:37-39) they have arrived at that point because they have been confused, not convicted. I said it so you didnít need to.

            One of my frustrations with our denominationís Annual Conference is that the "statements" which come out of it, voted upon by all the delegates, are too often quite the opposite of "brief." In response to a question about some matter of faith or practice, we so often try to say too much. Now, I know life is complicated. I donít wish us to provide simplistic answers to issues that require much more. Still, isnít the Annual Conference of our church somewhat of a "briefing session" for Godís people, when we seek to hear the instructions of Jesus and then be sent forth by him? Isnít that also what this "brief" time we share together every Sunday is all about? Whenever we gather in Jesusí name we listen, that we might be "briefed" by our Lord and sent forth into the world.

            "Jesus called together his twelve students and gave them control over mean spirits so as to expel them and to heal every kind of sickness and affliction. Now here are the names of the twelve Ď agentsí: first is Simon, who is called Rock, and Andy, his brother; Jim, Mr. Zebedeeís boy, and his brother Jack; then Phil and Bart; Tom and Matt the revenuer; Jim Alphaeus and Tad; Simon the Rebel and Judas Iscariot, who turned him in." Then, "Jesus held a briefing session and sent out the twelve."

            Did that sound a bit different? It should, for it comes from the "Cotton Patch Version" of Matthewís gospel (10:1-5a), in which a fellow named Clarence Jordan took the words of Jesus and transplanted them into the land and time in which he lived. A Southerner by birth, a Baptist by persuasion, this simple man fought for the civil rights of all Godís children during a very turbulent era in our nationís history. The cooperative farm he started in Americus, Georgia, joining together blacks and whites, seems a tame experiment now, but back in the 1950's and 60's it encountered great opposition. Koinonia Farm still exists, by the way, just down the road from President Jimmy Carterís home. One of Clarence Jordanís disciples, a fellow named Millard Fuller, later began another similar cooperative effort - Habitat for Humanity.

            Addressing the needs of his own neck of the woods, and his own day, Clarence translated what Jesus had to say to his disciples the first time he sent them out on their own to continue his work. Listen to the "Cotton Patch Version" of it:

            Jesus held a briefing session and sent out the twelve. "Donít go after the people of the world," he said, "and donít enter the black ghetto. Instead go to the deluded racists of the nation. As you travel, preach on the theme, ĎTHE GOD MOVEMENT IS HEREHeal the sick, arouse the insensitive, make the outcasts acceptable, expel devils. You received this power as a gift, so share it as a gift. Donít bother to take any money or travelersí checks or pocket change, no suitcase, no extra suit, no dress shoes, no toilet kit; for the worker is worth his upkeep. When you go to a city or town, discover who in it is receptive, and stay there till youíre ready to leave. Upon entering a house, introduce yourselves. If the home is receptive, let your goodwill and concern rest upon it. If it is not, then hold on to your goodwill and concern. When somebody wonít be friendly with you or pay attention to your message, leave that home or city and wash your hands of the whole shebang" (Matthew 10:5-14).

            Let me tell you, 40 years ago, translating the instructions of Jesus in that way was a dangerous thing to do. Those who preferred a segregated and unequal society werenít too pleased to hear themselves called the "deluded racists of the nation," to whom Jesus might call forth his disciples to go and speak the truth. Of course, we know that Jesus actually was talking about his fellow Jews, whom he called "the lost sheep of Israel." It was to these people that our Lord originally directed his disciples. That was their calling at that time. However, Jesus sends forth his disciples in every day and age. Now, we arenít planted in the soil of the American south in the mid 20th century, as Clarence Jordan was. Nor do we live in Palestine nearly 2,000 years ago. To whom might Jesus be sending us today to share the message that "the kingdom of heaven has come near" or, as Clarence put it, that ĎTHE GOD MOVEMENT IS HEREí ?

            In the past week, an interesting thing happened among Godís people in this Long Green Valley (or thereabouts). Let me share it as briefly as possible, without divulging confidences. Please donít try inserting names and figuring out the details. Instead, listen to this true story and be inspired by it in such as way as to be prepared when Jesus sends you forth in a similar way, in the soil of your own life.

            One of our dear sisters was recently led by God to "preach." Oh, I doubt thatís what sheíd call it, but thatís what it was. You see, there was a need for something to be said that would get certain individuals to stop relating to each other in the harmful ways they had in the past, and to start walking a new path together. The "past" is a tricky thing, you know. We say and do things that get remembered, and then we canít seem to let them go. These words and actions become a barrier that separates us, and the wall grows higher and higher as the years go by. That was true of these persons to whom God was calling our sister to go.

            Mind you, she didnít literally "go" to them. In fact, her "journey" didnít leave her own home. But make no mistake about it, she did "go" to them. She laid aside her own luggage and traveled light - right there in her own home. In so doing, she was able to pay less attention to what she was carrying with her and more attention to the One who was walking with her every step of the way. Thatís the case when it comes to sharing what God calls each of us to share. Our arms easily get tired with the load we carry and we begin listen to our own voice crying out how heavy it all is. Our own tired voice has a tendency to drown out the voice of our traveling companion, you know.

            Anyway, our sister was able to let go of some pretty heavy luggage and travel light. In the process, events sort of just happened to bring these persons to her at the right time. Each of those persons was at an intersection where they could choose to turn away from or toward each other. The red light above them was of their own making. Who would take the first, fearful step into something new? It is hard, as I said, to set aside the past.

            A bold action was required. Some tough words needed to be spoken. But which words exactly should they be? Our sister wondered what she would say. Until the moment of saying them, she hadnít a clue. But when the moment arrived, her traveling companion provided the words. And those words were exactly what was called for. What did she say? Well, if I told you, that would be giving it away. And besides, the words she used then are not for every situation. If you, for instance, would try to take and use them elsewhere, they might not fit. Letís just put it this way, she told them - "the kingdom of heaven has come near" or, ĎTHE GOD MOVEMENT IS HERE." God is on the move, donít miss it. Put the past behind you. Step out. Turn.

            And you know what? They did! They turned. Not immediately, of course. Mind you, they didnít like the words at first. Thatís often the case, folks. What God whispers in our ear for us to say is not always appreciated. Sometimes our message - what God nudges us to say - just needs to be spoken and left at that. When we do so, we need to stop worrying about what will happen next. If good things occur right away, wonderful! Run with it. If not, let it go. Dust the sand off your feet and move on. You are not responsible for how others respond to God. You are only responsible for your own footsteps as you listen to your traveling companion.

            Amazing things happen when we travel light and listen, my friends, as evidenced by the true story I have just told of our dear sister. I hope I havenít been so brief in my telling of it that you didnít hear the good news behind it, the "healing" that took place, the "demons" that were cast out along the way. Believe me, it happened. I witnessed it with my own eyes and ears. Of course, this real story continues, as every story does. There will be other corners down the road for these persons, of this I am sure. But, you know what? "The kingdom of heaven has come near" to these people. Theyíve been told, ĎTHE GOD MOVEMENT IS HERE,í and they know it, and have responded to it.

            As disciples of Jesus in this soil, we are called by him to go and show and tell that Godís realm is so close itís just bubbling up all around us. What words should we use? I think we worry too much about the words, needlessly. What matters is that, when we go, we travel light enough that we can spend less attention on the pain in our neck from carrying all our baggage and more attention to the voice of the One who is with us always, to the end of the age. Listening is the power behind speaking the truth. Before we speak, we listen. "What you are to say will be given to you at the time, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." Thatís according to Jesus himself (Matthew 10:19-20, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11-12). Of course, he was referring to moments when his followers would be persecuted for what they said and did, after he sent them out. People donít always appreciate the truth, do they? Regardless, the "Spirit of Truth" (John 14:16-17, 15:26-27, 16:13) will provide the words. Just keep listening.

            Thatís all I need to say, probably in more words than necessary. Even so, brothers and sisters, be briefed. Now, go and show and tell.

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Matthew.


©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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