The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 14-15, 2008
Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some years ago an expert on the history of missions asserted that the early Lutherans had no interest in missions and no theology of missions. A member of the audience objected noting that in the very earliest days of Lutheranism we were involved in the evangelization of the Finnish people. The expert responded that this wasn’t really missions since all they did was send out pastors who founded congregations. I would contend that this so called expert was completely in error. For Holy Scripture knows of no form of mission that does not have as it base the sending out of pastors and have as its goal the founding of Christian congregations. This is exactly what the disciples did after Pentecost in Jerusalem. This is exactly what St. Paul did on his journeys. This also is why we should be greatly alarmed when we hear about ordained missionaries like Rev. James May being recalled from the mission field. Over the last decade many of our ordained missionaries have be replaced with lay workers. This raises many questions for us as a church body. Are we really committed to missions as we claim? Are we committed to Christ’s vision for the mission field?
Christ found that the Jewish people were like sheep without shepherds. Those who were supposed to shepherd God’s people weren’t doing their jobs. The priests, who controlled the temple, were more interested in playing politics. Further, many of the priests didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. The rabbis, who controlled the synagogues weren’t teaching people about God. They were too busy teaching their house rules, which they themselves had made up. No one was teaching God’s true law. No one was teaching them of the love of God. No one was teaching them that the Messiah was coming to save them from sin and death. So what does Christ tell His disciples? “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” What are we to pray for? Well, workers for the harvest. What does that mean? It means that they were to pray that God would send pastors who would shepherd God’s people. In fact that is what the word pastor means. It has the same linguistic root as the word “pasture”. A pastor is one who watches over the animals when they are in the pasture - in other words, a shepherd. Christ is telling the disciples to pray for pastors.
What does Christ then do? Does He forget about this and move on? No. He calls His twelves disciples. This action is connected to His first statement. He is providing the pastors that He told the disciples to pray for. Now the disciples or apostles are more than just pastors, but they are first and foremost, pastors. In the sense that the ministry continues on, so also does the work of the apostles. This is why we speak of the ministry as apostolic. The reason why Matthew goes on to list the twelve names is to tell people who really are Christ’s apostles - to show who was really authorized to speak on Christ’s behalf. Remember that when Matthew wrote this, many of these men were still alive. It was also possible that there were preachers running around claiming to be disciples of Jesus who were not.
Today pastors are not directly called by Christ or attested to, by name, in Holy Scripture. So how does one know if this or that person is really a pastor? There are two basic hoops that one jumps though to become a pastor. This is already in place in the book of Acts. First one is approved by the lay people and then one is approved by the clergy. This is still how it is done among us to this day. The members of Immanuel called me to serve as pastor in this place. Then the pastors came and placed me into this pulpit by the rite if installation. It works the same way with missionaries. The church either through a local congregation or through one its agencies extends a call. The pastors ordain him, if needed, and install him as a missionary to a specific place. A good friend of mine was called as a missionary to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he then founded a congregation. Others are sent to more exotic places like Kenya, Sierra Leone, Kazakstan, and the like. Sometimes missionaries go to people who look just like us. Other times they go to people who look and dress very differently from us. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are sent out by the church with their commission to preach, baptize and start congregations. It is this placing into office that allows us to recognize that they are indeed God’s appointed shepherds.
Why did Christ appoint the disciples and establish the ministry? To do just what it says in our text - to have authority over the forces of evil. To break Satan’s power. To undo sin. Sin is Satan’s power over man. Sin is what enslaves us to Satan. The healing of physical ailments was intended to show that they did indeed have power over sin. It shows this because disease and death is the practical result of sin. Today, God no longer gives us these outward signs. But the power over sin and death is still here in the office of the ministry. That is why I can forgive sins. That is why I can raise a child from the death of sin to life in Christ in the waters of baptism. This why I can have you feast on forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. Christ has given these gifts to His Church to be distributed to God’s people according to Christ’s command. Notice here that Christ’s commission is to go and work among those who were already supposed to be believers. In this sense the disciples, initially, were like parish pastors of today - gathering, teaching, and restoring to grace the people of God.
What are God’s people to do for their pastors? They are to pray for them. They are to listen when the pastor faithfully preaches. And yes, they are also to support their pastor’s ministry financially. For indeed a pastor is to be seen as a gift from God. In addition we are to support the work of missionaries with our prayers and donations, so that others also will hear of the wonders God has done for us. We are to encourage young men to consider serving in the ministry of Christ’s church. We are then to also support the seminaries and their work of training men for the ministry. You are also to support the work here in this place by bearing witness to Christ among your children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors. While a pastor or missionary is called and sent out to do God’s work, the people are to proclaim the wonders of God right where they are at within the context of their daily lives.
All of this comes back to Christ’s observation in our text. We need shepherds to lead us to God’s pastures. There needs to be workers in the harvest fields. That work might be telling the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard. It might be baptizing an infant. It might be catechizing the youth. It might be teaching adult Christians how to live in response to the fact that their sins have been forgiven. It might be commending the souls of dead to Christ’s eternal care in a Christian funeral. All this part of what Christ is talking about. All this is Christ’s harvest field. Pray indeed that there will always be workers for God’s harvest.