Between the Call and the Go

Matthew 9:35-10:8

 I once had a friend who made a habit of reading the first page and the last page of a mystery novel before reading the whole book. 

I thought that was a terrible idea – after all, the surprise would be destroyed, knowing “who dun it” before even starting! But my friend liked to see how all the pieces fit together, and he could do that easier when he knew the ending at the start.

I think that’s what we’ve had going on over the past few weeks here in our Gospel lessons. Two weeks ago, we heard about Jesus commissioning his disciples at the end of his earthly ministry, saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And last week, we read about the calling of Matthew as one of Jesus’ disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s like my mystery novel buddy, peeking at the ending before reading the whole story. It makes me wonder, what happens in between Jesus’ Call and his Go?

That’s where our Gospel lesson for today comes in, because today we see Jesus in the middle of his ministry. He has now assembled all twelve of his disciples; they have been with him as he has been traveling around Galilee teaching and healing. It’s been a heavy instruction period, with both lessons specifically for the disciples and those for a broader audience, as well as Jesus demonstrating the kind that the disciples later would do. 

In our lesson the time has come for the hands-on component of the instruction. Matthew refers to these followers in our passage, not as disciples – that is, the ones who learn – but rather as ‘apostles,’ which literally means, “the sent-out ones.” It isn’t so much that the disciples have graduated, it’s that their job description at this juncture is not about sitting at Jesus’ feet but about going and doing. It’s a practicum in kingdom living, where the disciples practice engaging in the same ministry as Jesus – teaching, healing, proclaiming the kingdom. They are practicing for the “Go” that will come at the end of the story.

I am interested in this idea that the disciples – apostles – are sent out to practice the faith.  Practicing the faith is like practicing anything else – it’s more of a journey than a destination; it is more about a process of growth instead of a predetermined product. Surely role models in the faith make a big difference; like Jesus did for the disciples, they show us what to do. Describing what has to happen is also important. But there comes a time when you have to begin doing yourself.  You have to do the practice.

In college, I was a French horn performance major, so practicing my instrument was a big part of how I spent my time. My teacher emphasized learning to practice right. We went back to the basics and slowed down enough that I could concentrate on one thing at a time – my air stream, my embouchure, the intonation. Improving my skills one at a time like this meant that the practice became natural to me – it became part of my everyday playing. The skills became a part of me.

Jesus was sending out the apostles so they could get that kind of practice – active, intentional, and organized, so that it would become part of them.   Jesus wanted them to be intentional about building attitudes and skills and routines, and then come back so they could sit at his feet again as disciples and learn some more. It was a repeated process that would ready the disciples to be sent out to Go and make disciples.

Here at the Austin campus, we are practicing for Jesus’ Go!  We talked two weeks ago about our personal WHY for coming to worship here; but what about our community WHY? Epiphany’s mission statement will have a particular flavor here at the Austin campus. What does Jesus’ Go look like on Sheehan Road? Who are the neighbors we may serve in this area? This is a newer community, so small groups are likely to be a part of the ways we deepen connections beyond Sunday morning – they are also an important way to sit at Jesus’ feet and receive. We’ll want to put a concerted focus on providing a welcome to people who come and we’ll also need to consider the ways we can Go to the people out there who are hungry for connection. 

The deal for us is the same as in Jesus’ day – the field is RIPE for harvest. We have the support of community and the healing of a graceful theology. We have the treasure of our scriptures, prayer life, and practical help to share. Like Jesus’ apostles, we are being sent out, and so we need to be nimble and ready to move.

So what happens in between the beginning and end of our story as the people of Epiphany at Austin? What happens between Jesus’ Call and his Go? It’s the rhythm of being fed and sent out, like we do every week in worship. Like the disciples, we will learn by doing; but we will also attend to the faith practices that slow us down and help us to pay attention to the details of our spiritual journey. Because like Jesus’ first followers, we are disciples who sit and receive, and we are apostles who puts on our walking shoes and head out to see who God has sent our way each day.

The harvest is plentiful. Between the Call and Go, we have a lot of good work to do. Practice helps us integrate our learnings into our living. Coming together to receive and process our work strengthens us to go out again. In a life-giving loop of living with Jesus, we are called and sent, disciples and apostle, God’s workers in the fields of the world God loves.

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