Matthew 9: “The Right Team”
Sunday morning worship, July 29, 2018
Coca Cola’s summer advertising is: “Sharing’s always better when I share a Coke with you.” Listen to the sounds. Look at the faces. Forget the Coca Cola, who doesn’t want to be with happy friends? This advertising campaign assumes “having friends to share with is better than being alone.” Coca Cola is capitalizing on that assumption and telling us that the greatness of sharing is made even better when a Coca Cola is added to the event. For a moment, let’s re-write that commercial to say, “Loneliness is always better when I enjoy a Coke alone.” It’s the same Coca Cola. It’s the same internal experience—it’s still drinking a Coca Cola. But that advertisement probably wouldn’t be as effective in reaching people because loneliness is not as attractive as sharing a good time with good friends. Now let’s re-write it a third time. This time let’s say, “Hurting someone’s always better when I share a Coke with the person I’m hurting.” Once again it’s the same internal experience—it’s still drinking a Coca Cola. Yet, I can’t imagine the person promoting that advertising campaign enjoying a long career in advertising. Implicit in this campaign is happy people with friends drink Coke.
A young man I got to know over a number of years once told me he went into mixed martial arts fighting simply because he missed the camaraderie of high school wrestling. He was winning some matches and losing others. He took some beatings. But being a part of a team once again meant that much to him. Think about experiencing something truly wonderful and then not being able to share it with anyone. Imagine every time you started to tell your wonderful experience everyone just walked away from you. Imagine experiencing this pain time after time after time—no one would listen to you. I’ve experienced many occasions where people I’ve just met quickly tell me deeply personal experiences one after another after another. The fact that I’m a pastor must trigger a hope that I will listen, won’t judge them negatively, and won’t gossip about what they say. Maybe they’ve shared those stories with others to the point that others won’t listen anymore and I’m simply someone new. Whatever it is, I’ve learned people process the events of their lives by sharing them.
So ask yourself, “What was the greatest team I was ever a part of?” It might be winning team or it might be a team that hardly ever won or maybe never even competed. It might be a sports team, a musical group or a band. It might be a club, a mission team, or even a group that read books and got together to talk about them. It might be the group of guys or girls you worked side-by-side with for a number of years, or even a team that formed around an important project. It might even be an online group of people you’ve never met face-to-face. Your favorite team might have formed around any of hundreds of things. But my guess is that what made it special was what you shared together. Bruce Springsteen captured this phenomenon in his song, “Glory Days.” It ends with these words: “Now I think I'm going down to the well tonight and I'm going to drink till I get my fill. And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it, but I probably will. Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of, well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days. Glory days, well, they'll pass you by, glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye.”
This morning I want you to think about joining the greatest team ever assembled. This team is open to anyone who wants to join because everyone has been invited by the founder. Let me share with you His credentials as found in just one chapter of the Bible—Matthew 9. In this one chapter, Matthew tells us Jesus:
· forgave a paralyzed man of sins and then, with a spoken word, commanded the man to “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Jesus healed the man physically and spiritually.
· saw him, Matthew, sitting at a tax collector’s booth. Without prior conversation, Jesus commanded Matthew whose only friends were other “tax collectors and sinners” to “Follow Me.” Matthew reports that he did just that and then invited Jesus and his friends to dinner in his home. Jesus came.
· raised the dead. If healing a paralytic wasn’t impressive enough, Jesus then followed a synagogue leader whose daughter had already died to his home where Jesus “took the girl by the hand, and she got up.” Along the way to the synagogue leader’s home, “a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.” Jesus told the woman, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.” The woman was healed.
· restored sight to the blind. After leaving the synagogue leader’s home, two blind men followed Jesus. They asked for mercy and for healing. Jesus touched them and told them, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” They must have had faith that Jesus was able to do this because “their sight was restored.”
· gave a man back his voice. Still in this same chapter, a man “demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus.” Jesus drove out the demon and returned the man’s ability to speak to him.
So in one chapter, Matthew 9, Jesus forgave sins, gave a paralyzed man the ability to walk, brought a girl back from the dead, stopped a desperate woman’s 12-year bleeding issue, gave 2 blind men the ability to see, and delivered a demon-possessed man so that he could now talk. Let me put these stories in another context.
· The paralyzed man was brought to Jesus by “some men.” Now this formerly paralyzed man went home and probably brought other people to Jesus.
· Matthew became one of Jesus’ apostles and brought many to Jesus, even us through his Gospel.
· The synagogue leader’s family was restored and the grief that often follows the loss of a child was averted. I can only guess at the impact on the synagogue that leader’s act of faith and story had.
· An issue of blood which made a woman ceremonially unclean, meaning she had to avoid other people, was now gone allowing this woman to return to society and her former life, friends, family and others.
· The formerly demon-possessed man was now able to tell his story to any who would listen which takes us back to where we began. All of this happened while Jesus was going from place to place.
How does this chapter end? Jesus kept doing what He did: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Now I ask, “How would you like to be part of a team that regularly did these kinds of things?” I wonder, is our response, “Sign me up right now!” or is it, “If that’s what I regularly experienced in following Jesus, yea, sign me up, but my Christian experience is more sitting waiting for something to happen. If I was a part of a team that had those stories to talk about I’d feel totally different. My Christian experience is more about obligation, duty, and giving up my time and my money.”
Here is Jesus invitation: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Why is our Christian experience so unlike those Matthew wrote about in chapter 9? Let me re-write Jesus’ invitation and see if maybe that gives us a clue. “The harvest is plentiful but the number of people coming into churches today is getting smaller and smaller. Let’s ask the Lord of church buildings to help us find new marketing ways to get them into our church buildings.” Think with me for another few minutes. Where do wrestling teams gather to practice and to compete? Where do all sports teams practice and compete? Where do music ensembles and bands gather to practice and perform? Where do club members get together? Where do book clubs meet to talk about the books they read? Where do we work together? Where are we when we meet others online? My guess is we associate places or buildings or rooms or stadiums with all of these. We know where togather. The harvest field Jesus invites us visit is undefined; it’s vast, the whole world. Walls, even huge stadium walls, imply protection or boundaries. So do church buildings and sanctuaries. Think even of the connotations of the word “sanctuary.” The big, undefined world with so many different cultures and people groups can be scary, intimidating, even threatening. People die out there, even die alone. The Apostles were, for the most part, martyred. Coca Cola isn’t inviting us to share a Coke with people we’ve never met before or with people who scare or intimidate us. Death scares us. Demons scare us, even if we think they are only real at the movies. Sickness and being incapacitated scares us. Even the internet can lead to horrible experiences. We know our team members. We study them. We watch them. We cast out people who don’t fit in. Organizations have rules. Being a part of a team of friends is safe.
My guess is that’s why the workers are few. Safety and similarity are important to us. We will make tremendous sacrifices to be part of a winning team and/or a group of people who positively reinforce us. But there are risks when our only command is, “Follow me.” So we sort of follow Jesus and sort of say “No” when we don’t like the command. Maybe, that’s why Christianity has become boring and we aren’t experiencing the harvest Jesus did. Maybe, that’s why we are sitting here instead of experiencing miracles and sharing our stories. Maybe, just maybe, we need to get up out of our seats and get to work outside these walls as part of the greatest team ever assembled. Our leader’s custom was to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but He lived and died out there.