Jesus, Friend of Sheep & Wolves?
Our lesson today has Jesus sending out his disciples “like sheep among wolves.” Scary thought, isn’t it? And they’re “red letter” words, too!
A young minister, who served a small church about 20 minutes out-of-town, was returning from his Sunday morning duties, when he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker, was an older man, and struck up a conversation with the young minister, saying he could tell the young man was “some kind of preacher.”
The hitchhiker commented that the scriptures are clear about preachers and their lot in life... quoting part of our scripture for today, “Behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Then, after a brief pause, he added, “I'll tell you, son, there are wolves out there!”
There are indeed wolves out there... but preachers types are not their only target! There are people, groups, organizations who target Christians... they’re hostile towards Christians... no doubt about it. One even targeted me, after looking over the city council meeting agenda, wanting to know why we included a prayer before council meetings!
But, the fact that there are wolves out there is NOT the point of today’s Gospel lesson. Anything worth doing is gonna face opposition and criticism... that is a fact of life... What the Gospel lesson is really about... is what we’re called to do, and who we're called to be.
We’re called to be the Church of Jesus Christ. We are called to be the Church, because of those wolves, in spite of the wolves. Christ died for the wolves, too!
And on top of that... we’re called to believe that being the Church is worth it... it’s worth the time, the energy, the stress, it’s worth the sacrifice... not because we say so, or we believe so... but because God thinks so.
We’re called to proclaim God's love and grace in the world around us... and to seek out others who need that love and grace. We’re called to go... to seek, serve and share Christ... offering Christ - the Christ we know - the Christ we’ve experienced... with everyone!
As children of God who’ve been redeemed by Jesus Christ, we are called to be disciples. That means that we are to be students. But a disciple is more than a student. A disciple is an friend. One who lives so closely with a teacher that they become more and more like teacher, every day!
That’s what we mean when we say we’re “called to be the Church.” We’re called to be intimate friends with Christ... to live in a growing, maturing, ever-developing relationship with him, to follow where he is leading us... knowing that He is The Way, The Truth and The Life... and, that we can trust him to be with us... every step of the way.
I wonder how often we really think of Jesus as being our friend. Oh, we sing about it... “What a Friend we Have in Jesus” - “I Found a Friend, Who is All to Me!” - “Jesus, Friend of Sinners!”
But to tell you the truth, most people seem convinced that Jesus is tyrant... an scrooge... a fun-sapping, rule making, lord-it-over-you kinda dictator... who’s just waiting to zap you if you do anything wrong. Kinda like the scene in the movie “Bruce Almighty” - where Jim Carey’s character Bruce, begins to shake his fist at the heaven’s while shouting, “Smite me, Almighty Smiter!”
But how many of us have been zapped? How many of us have been struck by a bolt of God’s wrath? How many of us have been “smited?” Not one.
Jesus loves us... and he forgives us... and he picks us up every single time we fall... if we’re willing to get up!
Because that’s what friends do. Friends... TRUE friends don’t walk away. They’re there for us! They inspire us... encouraging us. They only want what’s best for us.
Jesus initiated, and lived out, a radically different life and he calls us to do the same!
Jesus ate with “sinners” and walked among the lost, the lonely and oppressed. He touched the untouchable and had compassion on the outcast... while feeding he hungry and loving the unlovable: and commanding those he touched, to “go and sin no more!” Being a disciple... a friend of Jesus... changes us! And if your experience of Jesus hasn’t changed you, then you probably haven’t experienced Jesus.
And, like-it-or-not, he’s calling us... you and me... sending us out into a world that’s hostile towards us at times... and at times, cold and indifferent. A world that’s filled with doubters and skeptics and atheists. That’s critical of everything the Church does... and criticizes everything we do as followers of Christ. A world that calls us mean names... like hypocrite, and “holy-roller” - bible thumper.
And it’s into that hostile world, that Jesus calls us to go... to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons...” That’s a pretty tall order, especially for Presbyterians! I’ve never healed anyone, yet alone, raised the dead! And that whole demon thing... well, I’m not so sure... I don’t feel qualified to do any of that, to tell you the truth!
And neither do you!
But maybe we do these things... all of these things... and more... by simply being the Church... by being the Body of Christ; by being the hands and feet and voices of Christ in our world... as we “speak in the daylight... and proclaim from the roofs” the Good News of Christ!
I mean... think about it... every time we share the Good News, and someone hears... have we not participated in the healing and restoration of life? When we help someone who needs medicine, or food, or take someone who’s sick to the doctor... have we not helped in the healing process? When we dispel untruth... when we teach others about the love and mercy and grace of Christ; are we not, defeating the demons of this world?
Don’t kid yourself... to be a friend with Christ is to be an enemy of the world (James 4:4). There are wolves out there - and many are in sheep’s clothing.
Rebellion, betrayal, hatred and persecution on account of Christ are very, very real... and just because it hasn’t happened to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening to others. BUT despite all that... Faith is stronger; Hope is stronger; Love is stronger... forgiveness is stronger... Christ is stronger.
Which means we have no need to fear. We can be the Church... the Body of Christ... with confidence, with boldness, with assurance... as we faithfully walk, in God’s light, even when he sends us out, as sheep among the wolves.