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The best instructor

Sermon Pentecost Proper 6A 18 June 2023 A Group Assignment

This season, we’re studying what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In the Ancient Near East, where Jesus grew up and ministered, it was very common for people to find a teacher of wisdom and become a follower or disciple of that teacher. This person is sometimes referred to as “rabbi.”

Well, common sense tells us that we can’t be disciples if there is no teacher, no rabbi. So let’s take a moment and look, not at the disciples of Jesus, but rather at Jesus as a teacher, a rabbi, an instructor.

This story of the disciples’ preaching and healing mission occurs in all the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. There are some differences though: in the version we have here in Matthew, there was actually a previous mission, where they were sent out with no material assistance, and the narration tells us they experience a good deal of success. In Luke’s version, they return from their mission and relate their experience to Jesus.

So what is Jesus doing in this story? How does he act as an instructor? What kind of rabbi or master is he?

Well, what we learn from this episode is that Jesus, like many twenty-first century instructors, is capable of giving group assignments!

Now when you were in school, perhaps group assignments were your least favorite kind of work. Maybe you were the diligent student who received the instruction sheet and followed every detail, and maybe you even did most of the work of the group. Maybe you got a little annoyed, or greatly annoyed, because some of the members of your group didn’t pull their weight, and yet they got the same grade as you! Or maybe you were the group member that only showed up the day the project was due to be presented—loathed by everyone else in the group, but suddenly becoming a “showman”. Or maybe you didn’t show up even for the presentation.

But let’s go back to Jesus again—what kind of instructor is he?

Well, first of all, he gives the disciples this group assignment. Why?

I think that he’s trying to teach us mostly that our Christian life is not an exam. It’s not a worksheet where we fill in the blanks alone at our own desk, careful not to look on the paper of the kid across the aisle. And it’s not a one-off quiz, where if we get caught giving our neighbor an answer, we both fail.

Rather, the Christian life is an experiment, where we have to work as a team. Some of us are carefully reading the instructions. Some are getting the equipment from the closet. Some are pouring the caustic chemicals from one beaker to another. Another one writes the report at the end.

Christian life requires us to work in a team, and we learn by doing in community. NO one can do all the parts of the assignment. No one can learn it all or do it all by himself.

The second thing that we learn about Jesus as a teacher is that he sets his disciples up for success. He gives them good background information—sort of a pre-assignment lecture. He makes sure they have all the equipment they need—in the first mission, he sent them with money, extra clothes and a bag. But this time the assignment doesn’t require any equipment. And most importantly, he makes his expectations very clear: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

And the version in Luke to me is particularly important. After the disciples have been sent out, and they’ve done the assignment, Jesus brings them back and does what is known as a debriefing. He brings the disciples together to perform the most important part of the assignment—the reflection.

When I used to take students to Mexico on Study Abroad, I had them meet with me weekly for dinner, so we could talk, in English, about how their week went, and what problems they had, and what challenges they overcame. It was the most important part of the week. I heard stories of culture shock, of surprises in learning the language, and about how they overcame their own insecurities and were becoming intrepid adventurers.

Jesus’ disciples returned in awe as well, amazed at the power to heal and to encourage and to renew that Jesus had given them.

And one important thing I’ve learned from Jesus. When his disciples failed in the first attempt, he encouraged them and gave them a re-do.

I’ve got a piece of good news for you. Jesus is always ready to do these same things with us, today in the 21st century. He’s giving us good instruction, by giving us the Scriptures and a Church where we can come and learn and study together. He’s still setting us up for success, by giving us good equipment and good instruction. And he’s giving us the opportunity to meet and reflect together every week.

And when we ultimately mess up and ruin the assignment, he’s always faithful to give us a re-do.

How awesome it is to learn from the Master who not only wants to teach us with love and patience, but he sets us the perfect example, and continually encourages us together.

Christian life is not a lone assignment—it’s a group assignment, and we get a new chance every day to learn, to grow and to improve as disciples.


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