Christ’s gut-wrenching love for the world embraces us and sends us out with the same kind of visceral love and a call to be Christ.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 11, year A
Texts: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8; Romans 5:1-8
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Jesus was torn up inside over the crowds, because they were harassed and helpless.
He felt his love for them in his guts, his insides, because they were sheep without a shepherd. That’s what Matthew says. We heard, “he had compassion on them.” That’s accurate. Empathy, pity, this word can mean that. But for the Greeks, the root word of this verb is innards, bowels. That’s where you feel compassion. Viscerally, in your guts.
That sounds so much more like Jesus. He looked at these people longing for his help, following him everywhere, with needs more than he could count, and he felt their pain in his bowels.
This is the heart, the guts, of Christ that shapes the rest of this story. This pain inside, birthed by love for people in great need, people with nowhere to turn, people who had no guidance, who were harassed and helpless, this gut-wrenching love Jesus has causes him to do something very important.
We should pay attention, because it directly affects us.
This love of Christ changes everything.
It is our hope and life, that God’s love for us and this world is that visceral. Paul says God’s love for us is proved by Christ dying for us even while we were sinners. That’s how deeply Christ felt the pain of love for humanity.
So this is the grace we have received freely: you are loved by God to the depths of God’s guts, when you are lost, frightened, even when you are sinful, complicit.
And the Triune God looks at this whole world, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and is torn up inside. God sees the injustice of our society that means if you are a person of color, you can be killed by the police and your fellow citizens will rule that it wasn’t wrong. God sees the injustice of our society that means that if you make the laws you get full health care coverage but if you don’t have a job that pays fairly, or you’ve had medical crises before, you now face losing your health care. God sees the injustice of our society that believes that as long as the stock market is growing everything must be fine for everyone.
God sees all this and feels it in God’s very guts. Love for Philando and his family. Love for those falling through health care cracks. Love for those who struggle every day for food and shelter.
Christ’s death on the cross is God’s answer of love for these things. God enters human suffering to transform it through resurrection life. But this transformation only happens when God’s gut-wrenching, sacrificial love is shared, so it’s known everywhere. We see this plan born in today’s Gospel. Christ’s sacrificial love will not only embrace people, like you, like me, it will send them out as Christ to love the same.
Jesus, who loves us viscerally, commands us this: Love one another as I have loved you.
Feel what I feel in your guts, and act on it, like I did. See what I see, and do what I did. You received my love freely, without payment. Now give it freely, without payment.
Jesus changes his followers from disciples to apostles right here. So far, they were in it for themselves. They were drawn to Jesus, to the love of God he bore. They’d been healed, graced, changed. They found a shepherd to follow.
Now in two short verses, Matthew says Jesus summoned twelve disciples, and then says, “these are the names of the twelve apostles.” The followers are suddenly those who are sent.
Jesus looked at these followers and sent them as Christs like him, because of his deep love for the harassed crowds. He gave them the authority over unclean spirits, to cure every disease, and raise the dead. Like he did. He commanded them to go to as many villages as they could and proclaim by their presence, like he did, that heaven’s reign was near. That God’s love was with these people.
This is the place we can get stuck: the place of knowing we are loved deeply by God, forgiven, transformed, and realizing we’re being sent to others with the same good news of love. Realizing it’s not all about us.
So don’t be distracted by the specifics of this story, and stay stuck. Look at the greater call.
For example, here Jesus only sends twelve men. There were lots more disciples, women and men. So, maybe we’re not sent, just those original twelve, we think. But Luke says that later Jesus sent 70 out. And we just celebrated Pentecost, where all of them, women and men, over 120, were filled with the Spirit and sent. So no, it’s our new role, too: apostle.
But they did things we can’t, we say. We can’t raise the dead, heal the sick. Maybe we don’t have the same call.
Well, we don’t know we can’t do these things. Miracles do happen. But even if we aren’t given that particular authority, it doesn’t matter. The overarching command, love as I love, is for all, and can be done by all. The first command to these twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near!’, is for all, and can be done by all.
Go, now, and share my guts, feel what I feel, Jesus says to the twelve, and to us. And then, do what I do. Be love. That’s the rest of the sending.
The pain of the world is real, and God feels it deeply. To reach all corners of the earth, God needs us to be apostles, sent ones, to witness to what joy we’ve known, to what love is real for us and the world, and bear it in our bodies and lives. It’s what Pentecost means for us. It’s what was declared at our baptism, as it will be for Owen today.
What would it be for your life if, each day, you said, “I am sent as Christ”?
That’s the only question. What if we grasped how real this calling is, so that our first thought every morning was, “I am sent. Where should I go? What do I see? How can I let people know God’s reign of love and grace and justice?”
So, as sent ones, what can we do for our African-American sisters and brothers who cannot find justice, who face a society and a system that’s killing them? We could notice, and care like Jesus cares, in our guts, for starters. Enter their pain however we see our call, by joining protests, or demanding legal change, or simply listening and learning and standing with our relatives, our neighbors. We are sent to be Christ. So we figure out a way to go be Christ.
As sent ones, what can we do for all the other things that make God lose sleep at night? The same thing. Wake up each day and ask, “Where am I sent? What do I see? What can I do?”
Listen: if Christ is sending you and me out of such visceral love, to bear Christ’s visceral love in the world, we’re not going to be left without guidance. Trust that. We are sheep with a Shepherd, and Christ will constantly guide and advise and lead. This world, these harassed and helpless ones, matter to God more than we can imagine. God won’t abandon us when we’re sent to be Christ’s love. God’s got too much invested.
And we’re still disciples. We’re still learning and watching our Good Shepherd for cues and direction. We always will. But from now on we’re not only disciples, we’re apostles, sent ones.
Love as I love you. Now, go. That’s Christ’s word to us today.
You have Christ’s guts, you have Christ’s eyes. You see what he sees, and it makes you toss and turn, and feel it in your insides. So go and be Christ.
And don’t worry about tomorrow’s answers. Just deal with today’s sending, today’s vision. Pay attention to your guts: what things make you feel what Jesus feels, twist you up inside, make you want to do loving action, make a difference? What activates your compassion, your guts of love? That’s a good place to start serving.
It would be easier if we just could come here and be loved for ourselves. But God’s guts won’t let that happen. And, honestly, neither will ours. We’ve already been changed. We can’t look away anymore, we know we’re needed.
So you are sent now. Go with Christ, as Christ, and let your world know God’s love has come near, and there is hope.
In the name of Jesus. Amen