2 Pentecost Proper A6
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 9:35-10:8 Sermon
June 18, 2017

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Hymns (from With One Voice & Lutheran Service Book):
LSB 801 "How Great Thou Art"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"
WOV 699 "Blessed Assurance"
---------- "Because He Lives"  


TEXT: (9:35-36) “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

           November 18, 1978is a date that probably doesn't mean a lot to you, but it might when I connect a name with it.  The name is James Warren Jones, better known as the Reverend Jim Jones.  And the date connected with him is the date that a mass suicide occurred at his behest.  914 people died in the dense jungle ofGuyana, consisting of 638 adults and 276 children.  They died by drinking grape Kool-Aid laced with cyanide and drugs, or by being forcibly poisoned, or shot. Californiacongressman Leo Ryan, who was investigating Jones’s “People’sTemple,” along with others traveling with him were shot by People’sTempleguards.  What was it that prompted this massive loss of life?

            Jim Jones has an interesting history. He was born in 1931.  His father was a high ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan.  Jones's educational background is a bit sketchy, but he evidently had degrees from bothIndianaUniversityandButlerUniversity.  He was ordained into the ministry by anIndianapoliscongregation that was a member of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ.  He did not then, nor did he ever have the endorsement of the main church body. However, they did allow individual congregations to ordain their own pastors; so Jones entered into the ministry by slipping in through the back door, so-to-speak.

            Jones then began the People’sTempleinIndianapolisin the 1950’s, which was an inter-racial group, something almost unheard of in those days.  This was a mission for the sick, homeless, and jobless.  Jones preached a “social gospel” of human freedom, equality, and love; and his ministry was intended to reach the least and lowliest members of society.

            HisIndianapolischurch was doing well; however when an investigation began by the government into his so-called “cures” for cancer, heart disease, and arthritis, he felt forced to move his ministry toUkiah,California.

            His ministry was enjoying success, and so he also had groups inLos AngelesandSan Franciscothat netted several thousand followers.  InSan Francisco, he received numerous humanitarian awards, and even became chairman of the city’s Housing Authority.

            In 1977, the activities of his group became progressively weirder and weirder.  After an expose’ by a magazine, he felt forced to move his group again, this time toGuyanainSouth America.  The church had leased 4,000 acres of jungle land from theGuyanagovernment, and he began what was called “The People’s Temple Agricultural Project.” This was an agricultural cooperative where they raised animals for food, and assorted fruits and vegetables for consumption and sale.

            Jim Jones’s mental illness and drug abuse had much to do with how things went.  He developed a belief called “Translation,” in which he and all of his followers would die together, and would be moved to another planet for a life of bliss.  People were forced to rehearse mass suicides, where they pretended to drink poison and fall to the ground.

            Jim Jones ran his Jonestown commune more like a concentration camp.  People were forbidden to leave.  He would rally the people at a moment’s notice over thecampP.A.system, and would have sermons of nothing but ramblings and meaningless phrases that would sometimes last 4 hours. 

            Then when California Congressman Leo Ryan began to be suspicious of their activities, he investigated this group even more.  When this happened, Jones felt that the time had come to actually carry the mass suicide idea to fruition.

            And so, his faithful workers mixed up the lethal grape Kool-Aid/cyanide/drug combination.  Mothers and fathers fed it to their children, some even babies in arms.  Others who tried to escape were shot.  A few did manage to escape; however, the death toll was still massive.  914 people died in the dense jungle ofGuyana; 638 adults and 276 children.  To give us a better term of reference, it would be like taking the town ofFriendand wiping it completely off the map.  Certainly this was a sad, sad situation.

            As I studied our text for today from Matthew’s gospel, I thought about this situation.  Verse 36 of our gospel says, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

            People were looking and searching.  They were wandering about without aim or purpose.  They were in need of some leadership and guidance in their lives, some purpose, and some meaning. 

            This is basically the situation that the Rev. Jim Jones saw, and he took advantage of it in a big way.  But instead of ministering to them with the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he pushed his own agenda instead.  And when he did this, it led his faithful followers straight to their demise.

            Jesus, however, had a holy purpose in mind when he saw the people following him.  Jesus had been preaching, teaching, and healing from town to town, and his group of followers grew.  And so when he surveyed this group, he had compassion on them.  He saw them as shepherdless sheep heading for perdition, and he was determined to rescue as many as possible from this terrible fate.

            This would be a monumental task, and he wanted others to help with the work at hand.  The first thing he asks for is very simple, and that is prayer.  Verses 37 and 38 of our text says, “…The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

            We know that Jesus’ disciples took this message to heart, and did indeed pray that the Lord would send workers into his harvest.  The Lord’s first way of answering their prayer was to send them out into the spiritual harvest fields.  And they would have been happy to be part of the answer to their own prayers.

            It’s here where we meet the 12 apostles as a group.  I'm going to share the lyrics of a simple song with you that I learned as a little kid in Sunday School. 

            “Peter, Andrew, James, and John, fisherman of Capernaum.  Thomas and St. Matthew too, Philip and Bartholomew.  James the Less, and Jude the brave, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the knave.  Twelve disciples here in all, answering the Master’s call.”

            I’ve asked other people, even other pastors if they can name the 12 apostles.  Usually they will think a bit, count on their fingers, and try to name them all and not miss any.  So I generally take the opportunity to teach them the words to that simple Sunday School song.  This song is about the original 12, not counting the Apostle Paul, or Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot after he committed suicide.

            Now you might be asking what the difference is between an apostle and a disciple.  We often use the words interchangeably meaning the same thing, for example the 12 apostles and the 12 disciples.  You might have noticed in our Gospel Lesson today that in chapter 10, verse 1 the 12 are called "disciples;" and in verse 2 they're called "apostles." 

            The word “disciple” simply refers to someone who is a follower, or student, or pupil.  A disciple of Christ can refer to anyone who fits this category, including you and me here today.

            The word “apostle” is Greek, and it means “one who is sent.”  This word is directly applied to these 12 men in our text for today.  In fact, our text shows us a type of transition, where these men went from being just disciples in verse 1, to disciples who are now apostles in verse 2.  So there are many disciples, but only 12 apostles, notwithstanding Paul and Matthias.

             In verses 5-7 of our text, we read:  “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go amongst the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.  Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  As you go, preach this message:  The kingdom of heaven is near.’”

            Now we know that Jesus came to redeem the whole world, Gentiles and Samaritans too.  So why did he instruct them to concentrate on the Jews, or the children ofIsrael?

            We need to realize that this was a huge task, and they needed a game plan, or a place to start.  It was logical for them to begin with the Jews, who were their own people.  They could more easily relate to them.  Besides, all of their lives these men had been taught to avoid any unnecessary association with the Samaritans and the Gentiles.  It would take time to reshape their thinking in this area.

            No, their time would be well spent reaching the lost children ofIsrael.  They were like lost sheep.  The Jewish leaders of that day, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees had perverted the faith.  They replaced the truth of God’s Word with their own philosophies and traditions.  They were leading people down the wrong path.  And when God’s true prophets did emerge on the scene, they were regularly despised, persecuted, and rejected by their own people.  The sheep definitely needed a true shepherd sent from God who was faithful to God, and not to their own peculiar ideas and traditions.

            The apostles were sent with a message:  “The Kingdom of heaven is near.”  You might recall that prior to this time, this was the message John the Baptist was preaching, and the message Jesus preached when he began his ministry. 

            The call was for repentance, to warn people of the consequences of continuing in their sins, and to assure them that God was carrying out the promises he made in the Old Testament Scriptures for the redemption of the world.  The Messiah that had been foretold from almost the beginning of time was now here.  Jesus Christ was that promised Saviour, and there would be no salvation for sinners except through faith in him.  The events surrounding his passion, resurrection, and ascension would be taking place right in their midst in the very near future.  Most certainly the kingdom of heaven was at hand.  People needed to repent and believe the Gospel.

            In verse 8 of our text we read, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.”

            The message the apostles were preaching needed a divine stamp of authority.  The apostles were, for the most part uneducated men who at times showed weakness of faith, and were slow to learn.  Their mission could only be successful through the power and by the authority of the Lord.  The Gospel message was a powerful and living message, through which the Holy Spirit could use to produce a saving and living faith in the hearts of the people who heard it.

            The healing miracles and casting out demons were the same miracles Jesus had been performing.  This then demonstrated to the people that these apostles were, without a doubt authorized spokesmen for Jesus. 

            What’s more, the people needed to realize that the apostles did these things freely, and not because they wanted to become rich in the process.  They had not earned or deserved the ability to perform miracles; Jesus gave it to them freely.  So they were to freely use this gift amongst the people they were sent to minister to; certainly a far cry from the religious hucksters of today who claim to have healing powers, and who practice at the expense of their followers so they can enjoy an extravagant and lavish lifestyle.

            As we look at ourselves in relationship to our Gospel for today, I don’t think we have to look too hard to see ourselves as sheep who need their shepherd.  Christ has come to us with the message that the kingdom of heaven is near.  This is a serious message for our lives, each and every day.

            As we look at sin in our lives, we know it is something that is not pleasing to God.  But Christ came to remove that sin from us.  The Saviour who had been sent to the lost sheep ofIsraelhas been sent to us.  God has created faith in our hearts so we can believe the message and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour from sin.

            Of course there is always the temptation to follow other shepherds of this world.  But we must always remember that there is only one shepherd that will lead us in the way we should go, and that is Jesus.  There is only one shepherd that gives us the message of forgiveness and restoration in the Gospel, and only one Shepherd that loves us and cares for us enough to bring us into eternal paradise.  Jesus is indeed that Good Shepherd.  Anyone else who comes who does not faithfully carry the message of the Gospel is not a disciple of Christ.

            Back in the 1970’s, Jim Jones gathered a huge number of followers under the disguise of Christianity, and led them into a cult which eventually led to their death.  Thankfully some survived or left before things got too far out of hand; but sadly these sheep looking for a shepherd followed the wrong one. and one Shepherd that loves us and cares for us enough to bring us into eternal paradise. personal Saviour from sin.gan  And to think that Jim Jones could have blessed these people with the message of the real Gospel, but he did not.

            A couple of chapters before our Gospel for today in Matthew 7, verses 15 and 16 have some very pointed words of warning:  “Jesus taught them saying, ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?’”

            As we consider our place as a congregation in this community, we should always be aware that people are out there like sheep looking for a shepherd.  Some will be tempted to be led by false prophets who only seek their destruction.

            But we have God’s holy Word, and the pure message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is what has saved us from our sins, and given us new life and hope.  This is the message we need to share with the world. 

            There is nothing secret or underhanded about what we do.  We’re not out for any personal gain or glory.  The lost sheep need Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and there’s no strings attached to that.

            So may we always be faithful witnesses of our Lord, and may it always be our prayer that the Lord will continue to send forth laborers into his harvest.  There’s work to be done, and may the Lord always use us in his service as he sees fit.