(Genesis 18:1-15 & 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19;
Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23)
We begin today with the first verse of the passage from the Gospel According to Matthew: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (9:35). This verse describes Jesus ministry while he was on Earth. He went about all the cities and villages. He taught in the synagogues. He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. He cured every disease and sickness. Jesus, in his person and through his ministry, brought the kingdom of God with him wherever he went.
As he traveled, he saw the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (9:36). The word translated into “compassion” in English means that Jesus felt deeply for the crowds, for the sheep without a shepherd. The feeling rose out of his gut. It was a strong feeling. To be a sheep without a shepherd was a dangerous thing. You could get lost, attacked by a wolf, or separated from your flock. Jesus must do something for these shepherdless sheep, because he is Jesus, the Great Shepherd, and he brings the kingdom of God with him wherever he goes. These sheep must experience life in the kingdom.
So Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them to pray to the Lord of the harvest for laborers. They pray and then become the answer to their own prayer! He gathers the twelve disciples and commissions them to do the ministry that he does: to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come near, cast out unclean spirits, heal the sick, cure every disease, and, even, raise the dead! The disciples do not go out into the world to do ministry by their own authority, but by the authority of Jesus. The power that they hold is not theirs, but God’s. When the needs of the people are met, it is God who meets their needs, not the disciples. The disciples are merely the vehicles through which God ministers.
Jesus makes it clear that the disciples will meet resistance while ministering to the people. Some will not welcome them or listen to them. Others will turn them over to the authorities. They may be punished or persecuted. But they are not to worry, for the Spirit will speak through them.
The crowds are sheep, but so are the disciples: Jesus sends them out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, they must be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. As they minister, they must use their heads in order to be wise and discerning, but feel with their hearts in order to be gentle and loving. They walk a fine line, the line that Jesus walked while on Earth. Jesus knew how to handle conflict and controversy, but he did so peacefully, with his knowledge of scripture, and compassionately, choosing to heal even when the law forbid it. The disciples must do the same. They must minister with both head and heart.
You may have noticed that Zombie movies and television shows are popular in the 21st Century. Of course, the people who think about such things have thought a lot about this. Why are Zombie shows popular at this time in history? According to the article, Why We’re So Obsessed With Zombies, 
"Many sociologists and critics say that the zombie resurged post-9/11, as the world changed, and thus, our collective anxieties shifted. “Americans no longer felt safe, and at the same time, we had Hurricane Katrina, the avian flu, anthrax scares. Suddenly there was a 5-year period when people in the U.S. felt insecure, and as it so happened, the nature of those insecurities manifested in zombie narratives: Invasion, destruction, apocalypse, infection ... there was this intersection of these influences that made it perfect for the zombie to take over. People like monsters that manifest the things they're worried about,” Bishop, [author of American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture,] says."
Our fears about our world haven’t gone away. They may have even gotten worse! We are anxious, worried, afraid, and those things are reflected in the art that we as a society create. Zombies are the ultimate walking wounded: They are so wounded, they are dead! Yet, they still live! They are the walking dead. They are the ultimate sheep without a shepherd. And, they represent we human beings when there is no hope. I found the following quote from the same article illuminating:
"Central Michigan University Professor Kelly Murphy teaches a course entitled From Revelation to The Walking Dead, which helps students think about how zombies can be used to predict the end of the world. Says Murphy: 'People have always been concerned about the end of the world. There are these imaginings of how the world might end. The ancient apocalyptic texts are hopeful, because we perceive these horrible things, but the end of the world is about recreating. So when we get to contemporary apocalyptic stuff like zombies, it's interesting to see whether the question of hope does or does not play out. How long you can stay hopeful? Is there any hope?'"
Is there any hope? Yes, of course, for we Christians, there is always hope! God is always recreating: Jesus was crucified, but he was, also, resurrected. We sin, but we are, also, forgiven. We get sick or wounded, but we are, also, healed. We die in the flesh, but we, also, live in the Spirit. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus! So, yes, there is hope!
It is this Christian hope that Jesus asked his disciples to bring to the suffering sheep, the walking dead of his time. From God, through Jesus, the disciples carried the kingdom of heaven into the world with them. Where there was sickness, they brought health. Where there were demons, they brought angels. Where there was scarcity, they brought abundance. Where there was death, they brought life. Where there was despair, they brought hope. We, the descendants of the original disciples, are to do the same. We are able – if we are willing – to carry the kingdom of heaven with us wherever we go.
As we carry the kingdom of heaven into the world, we will meet resistance. The principalities and powers rule through oppression. They want the walking dead to stay dead, for they are easier to control that way. When we bring the hope of the kingdom of heaven to the walking dead, they come alive. They wake up and see that they are oppressed. That is why oppressive political regimes don’t want the Bible brought to their citizens! The Bible wakes them up! Then, they rise up against oppression and seek to extend the kingdom of heaven to others.
The age-old battle between good and evil continues. If we refuse to get involved in the battle, if we refuse to minister with our heads and hearts, then we side, by default, with the principalities and powers. Great spiritual leaders throughout history have expressed this:
Martin Luther King, Jr.: “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.”
--“was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
--“was a German pastor, theologian, spy, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has become a modern classic.”
Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
--“was an Irish statesman born in Dublin, as well as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who, after moving to London, served as a member of parliament (MP) for many years in the House of Commons with the Whig Party. Burke criticized British treatment of the American colonies, including through its taxation policies. He also supported the American Revolution, believing both that it couldn't affect British or European stability and would be an innovative experiment in political development because the Americas were so far away from Europe and thus could have little impact on England.”
Albert Einstein: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
--“was a German-born theoretical physicist.
Kahlil Gibran: “In battling evil, excess is good; for he who is moderate in announcing the truth is presenting half-truth. He conceals the other half out of fear of people’s wrath.”
--“was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer of the New York Pen League.”
Jawaharlal Nehru: “Evil unchecked grows; evil tolerated poisons the whole system.”
--“was the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. He emerged as the paramount leader of the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi and ruled India from its establishment as an independent nation in 1947 until his death in 1964.”
We have no choice but to do as Jesus asks us to do. We have no choice but to labor in his vineyard, for to not do so is to side with the principalities and powers that work against God. As Jesus told his original disciples whom he commissioned to minister to the world, “Those who endure to the end will be saved” (10:22). And, as Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, we “boast in our sufferings, knowing that 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” (5:3-5).
The kingdom of heaven is near, but there are sheep without a shepherd who need to know and experience this truth. We, who already know and experience it, are the ones to teach and show them. We are to minister to them with our heads and our hearts, to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We offer to others the kingdom of heaven. If they receive our offering, we rejoice. If they refuse our offering, we move on. We offer, but we don’t force. Doing so is both wise and gentle. And, so, that is what we will do, in Jesus’ name and for God’s glory. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, June 18, 2017, the Second Sunday After Pentecost and Father’s Day.
Image from https://www.slideshare.net/karpetheday/head-heart-hand.
Information about historical figures is from Wikipedia.