Mission of Discipleship: Be Like Jesus
There’s a series of commercials for Progressive Insurance where young adults confront the challenge of becoming like their parents, despite their insurance rep’s attempts to teach them otherwise. In one commercial they enter an elevator. The Progressive rep tells the camera: “For a lot of people it may just be an elevator, but for a young homeowner becoming their parents, it’s a learning opportunity.” In the elevator the young man does all the embarrassing things a dad would do: stands facing everyone instead of the door. Asks if there’s any out-of-towners in the elevator. Notices a girl with a Paris shirt and says “Bonjour!” And to someone going to the 10th floor he says “Ahh must be a heck of a view.” The moral of the story is that Progressive might save you money on insurance, but they can’t protect you from becoming your parents.
On days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day you might get a good laugh thinking about how you’ve accidentally become like your parents. Whether your parents are biological or adopted, if you’re around someone long enough you can’t help but pick up a few things.
And that’s exactly the reason that Jesus spent three years living with his disciples. Wandering around Galilee and Judea and Samaria together. Jesus was teaching the disciples to be like him. He was training them to act the way he did, share the message he did, help people like he did, and manifest the kingdom of God like he did.
That’s where we find ourselves in the Gospel reading today. It is the disciples’ first mission. The first time they’re leaving Jesus and going out on their own. Jesus sends them to various towns and tells them to proclaim the kingdom and to heal. Jesus told them at first to only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But don’t get hung up on that. This was day one of discipleship training. Later on, Jesus expands their mission to include Samaritans and Gentiles and, in fact, people to the ends of the earth. So the mission field expands, but what he tells them to do is the same from the beginning.
The first thing Jesus tells them to do is to proclaim the kingdom of heaven has come near. Jesus doesn’t really explain what the proclamation of the kingdom is here. Christians disagree on what this proclamation of the kingdom means. Does it mean he thought the end of the world was coming soon? Or does it mean the kingdom way of being is close at hand, that Jesus is initiating a new age where earth is in alignment with heaven? Even today some Christians still think Jesus’ message is about the end of the world. But I think it’s clear that the proclamation of the kingdom was Jesus’ way of saying that heaven has come close to earth. That the heavenly realm and the earthly realm are aligning because of his coming. That the world will enter a new age of God’s kingdom come, God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
The second thing Jesus instructs them to do is to heal people from all kinds of suffering. A natural follow up to telling people the kingdom is close is to show them that the kingdom is close by helping broken people find wholeness. To heal them from whatever ails them. To cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Elsewhere he adds feed the hungry, cloth the naked, house the homeless, welcome the refugee, visit the prisoner. The disciples are called to care for those in need like Jesus did. To serve their neighbors like Jesus did. To heal broken people like Jesus did. That is the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Just like those first century disciples, it remains the church’s mission today to be like Jesus. To proclaim the kingdom and help those in need. To use whatever gifts God has given us to be a blessing to others. This same mission that the first disciples had—of proclaiming the kingdom and helping those in need—is what we are called to do as well. We should also strive to be like Jesus, to be disciples who proclaim the Good News of the kingdom and who bring healing to people who are broken or suffering. And if we don’t have miraculous healing powers like they did that’s ok, we can still heal broken people in our own way—in whatever way the Holy Spirit gives us ability. Maybe we don’t feel comfortable in trying to cast out demons or cure leprosy, but we can use whatever talents God gave us to do our part. We can use our financial resources to donate to causes that help those in need. We can use our intelligence to discover cures for diseases. We can use our wisdom to develop better ways of housing the homeless. We can use our compassion to help those in grief or trauma. We can use our cooking skills, our cleaning skills, our gardening skills, whatever talents we have—in a way that helps further God’s mission of manifesting the kingdom in this realm. We can all pray for God’s guidance in figuring out our gifts and how we are called to serve the world.
This is the same life of service for the world that God called the people of Israel into at Mount Sinai in our first reading this morning. This chapter appears right before God gives the people the Ten Commandments. It sets the tone for all that follows. In it, God tells Moses to tell the people what they are: God’s treasured possession, called to be both a holy nation and a priestly kingdom. This means they are called to be holy and pure, a nation that’s different and set apart from the world. And at the same time to be priestly, that is to minister to the world, serve the world, and help the world connect with God. So from the start God called them to be a people set apart and holy—and at the same involved with the world as a priestly people, serving and ministering to a world in need. This sets the tone for the rest of the Old Testament and Israel’s self-understanding. They don’t always live up to it. In fact, the prophets are always calling the people to account. But God’s people are called to this task of being a holy nation and a priestly kingdom before they ever even enter the Promised Land.
In the same way the early church understood its calling as being a holy nation and priestly kingdom. To be pure and set apart, but at the same time involved and in service to the world. To be in the world but not of the world. That is how the church can live out its mission of being like Jesus, proclaiming the kingdom and helping those in need. But much like the history of the Old Testament where God’s people often failed to live up to God’s high calling for them, in the same way the church has often failed to live up to God’s high calling for us.
But in every time and place, whether in ancient Israel or the height of medieval Christendom, there have always been faithful people who followed God’s call. And today it is more important than ever for Christians to understand the real meaning of Jesus’ message about the kingdom and to dedicate our lives to healing and helping a world in need.
This is the life we are called to as mature disciples of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to do it in order to earn God’s love or approval, to get reward or forgiveness or salvation. We already have God’s love and grace freely given to us. And that love and grace inspires us to be on this path and to grow into the mature children of God we were created to be. We may not do this perfectly all the time, but if we trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction, God will provide us with opportunities to live out God’s mission for our lives.
And so, wherever you are in life. Whether you just finished kindergarten or just graduated high school. Whether you’re just beginning your career or just retired. Whether you’ve got your whole life ahead of you or are expecting to be called to your heavenly home any day. Whatever stage of life’s journey you may be in, Jesus is calling you to be an engaged disciple, someone who serves those in need and whose life manifests the kingdom. Life will always give us opportunities to be Jesus Christ in the world. To be the Body of Christ. As his disciples, we get to be like Jesus, healing the broken and helping those in need. We get to be like Jesus, proclaiming and embodying the kingdom with our lives. We get to be like Jesus, whose Incarnation continues in us—the Body of Christ in the world. Let us continue this mission of discipleship. Thanks be to God for entrusting it to us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Pastor Brian, 6/18/2023