Scripture: Matthew 9:35-10:8
It is crazy to think that both of my children are growing up in a world, where there from perspective smart phones have always existed. They have no idea how big of a cultural impact those little devices have had. I suppose every generation of parents has a similar revelation. I bet my grandparents thought the same thing about television when my parents were growing up as the first generation where TVs in home were commonplace. I also wonder if my parents had the same thought with me and my siblings about video games. Since I was old enough to understand how to use it, I have had access to a controller. Like most children of the 80’s I started on an Atari 2600, moved on to a Nintendo Entertainment System, and I have not stopped playing video games. I used to play video game a lot more than I do now. At one point in my life I was on a first name basis with the GameStop employees and I even got to live the dream and I got paid to play video games as a reviewer. In my lifetime I have played a lot of video games. I have played video games across all systems and genres. Of these hundreds of video games I have played, one of my absolute favorite games is called Skyrim. In gaming terms Skyrim is a fantasy action role playing game in an open world. What this means is that to play Skyrim I create a character, and then that character is put into a digital world. In that world I can go anywhere and do anything within the confines of the game. It is up to me to discover and essentially create the story of my character, and Skyrim gives a ton to explore. The world that can be explored is a digital 16 square miles, and there are 244 quests options available. Again, for those who have never played a game like this the player can go anywhere in that digital space and they can choose to complete or ignore any of those 244 quests. It is truly an incredible game and an amazing experience.
There are some other games of a similar nature, but I think that Skyrim is the best. I notice though that I behave differently in that game than I ever would in real life. I am pretty big introvert. To put it mildly I am not at my most comfortable in a room full of strangers. I tend not to be someone who is quick to engage a random person I have never met in idle conversation. However, when I am playing a game like Skyrim it is the exact opposite. In Skyrim, you can never quite be sure who will happen to have a quest ready to be completed, so I run around that game mashing the interact button like crazy in an effort to talk to everyone and find a new quest. Like most people, on most days, I go about real life doing the things I have on a “to do” list to get done. However, in the digital life of Skyrim I am more concerned about finding a great quest and going on an adventure. I think this morning’s scripture is a challenge to us. It is a challenge to live life differently. Instead of going through our daily routine once again, what if we approached every day looking for a new quest and a new adventure?
This morning’s scripture begins with a problem. “The harvest plentiful but the workers are few.” The implication here is that there are lots of people who were in need and ready to be receptive to the good news that Jesus was going to bring them. However, Jesus knew he was on the clock. He knew that he only had so long on this earth to share that good news with as many people as possible, so he sets forth a solution. He gave his disciples a quest. He instructed them to go. He sent them out and expected his disciples to do big things. This was a bit unusual at the time. In the rabbi-disciple relationship the disciple was supposed to learn to imitate the rabbi through intentional listening and observation. This event occurs fairly early on in the gospels, so there is no way that Jesus’ disciples had enough time to truly learn how to imitate him. This gives the impression that Jesus wanted his disciples to have more than just observational training, he wanted them to put it into practice while they were still learning.
As I just mentioned, this event occurs closer to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry than the end. So this is before Jesus gives the great commission was given to go and make disciples of all the nations, this is before the Holy Spirit came and empowered the followers of Jesus, and this was before the gospel was preached to gentiles. All of those developments does not negate the basic message of this scripture. In fact those later developments enhance it. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we seek to model our life after his. We seek to imitate him in how we live with others, love others, and serve others. Like the original twelve disciples listed in this morning’s scripture we are not meant to do this just through passive observation. We are meant to learn how to be a disciple by putting our faith into practice. We are to learn by going on a quest. As we consider this scripture, I believe there are three things we should consider as we prepare to go on our own new quest.
Most of us live life mostly unconcerned about the people around us. Honestly, we treat the people behind a checkout counter, next to us in line, or in the same store to us as movie extras. We more or less think of those people as part of the background of wherever we are. However, we should shift from that perspective. To move towards having a perspective that allows us to be a questing disciple, we need to see people as Jesus sees them. This morning scripture contains a perfect description of that. Verse 36 states, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus took time to notice people. He did more than just notice them, Jesus has compassion for them. We need to change our perspective. When we are in a crowded place like a grocery store, a restaurant, or a school we should realize that every person there is created by God, loved by God, and that God desires to have a vital relationship with them. We should have compassion on all of those people, because I guarantee that in a room full of strangers every single person there is struggling with something. We may not be able to tend every hurt or enable every dream, but there might be somewhere that we can help. We might be the right person at the right time that God can use to make a permanent difference in the life of someone else. However, we will miss out on that great quest if we do not have the right perspective. Our perspective must seek to recognize that everyone around us has sacred worth and we have to have hearts open enough to have compassion.
The second thing for our consideration, is that we have to consider who we are sent out to have compassion for. The short answer is everyone, but we have to be more strategic than that. If one person tried to reach everyone, then that person will probably end up reaching no one. In this particular scripture, when Jesus sent out his disciples he gave them a particular target to shoot for. He told them not to go into any gentile or Samaritan towns but rather to have compassion for “the lost sheep of Israel.” Eventually, in Acts Jesus would command these same disciples to take the good news to Samaria and the ends of the earth, but to begin with Jesus limited the Disciples to Jewish towns. In the same way, if we are going to be a disciple of Jesus who has compassion on those around us then we need to be strategic and start with an obtainable goal. We need to pick our mission field and then harvest with all of the energy and heart we have.
In April when I went to Atlanta to attend the Orange conference one of the presenters, Sam Collier, shared how he had been convicted to do just that. He realized that he had gotten stuck in the walls of the church and in order to be a better more faithful disciple of Jesus he had to find a mission field and go on a quest to have compassion for and love people like Jesus did. He made his mission field the places he visited regularly. He apparently has a big Starbucks habit, so he made his local Starbucks his mission field. His reasoning was that the baristas were required to talk to him anyway, so he might as well pray for them. He started asking them how can I pray for you, and he kept asking them. He kept praying for them. It did not take long before the Starbucks baristas were the ones initiating the conversation. They would come and tell him how their prayers had been answered and they started trusting him with the deeper, more serious hurts in their lives that needed prayer. He could not fix some of the big and deep troubles and hurts that weighed on the hearts of these people, but he faithfully prayed for them. After doing this for a couple of months, he was hanging out in the local Starbucks and the store manager brought him his favorite drink, in the biggest size they have. The manager told him it was on the house, and when he asked why the manager said “since you have started coming here the atmosphere and attitudes in this place of everyone has changed.” When we have compassion for people, then lives are changed.
The final thing to consider is what the disciples did when Jesus told them the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. They went. Look at Jesus instructions to the disciples. In verses 5 through 7 the word go is said three times. Following Jesus, having compassion for people going into the mission field; these are not academic theoretical ideas. To be a faithful disciple we have to do them. We have to go! The end of verse eight should energize us: “Freely you have received, freely give.” We have received the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness. We have received the confidence that God is always with us. We have received the hope and the joy that there is more to existence than just our daily routine. We have received the acceptance of being God’s people. It would be a shame, not it would be a sin, if we kept that to ourselves. The harvest is plentiful. There are so many people, who need the good news that we already know. There are so many people who need someone to give them a second chance. There are so many people who are desperate for someone else to notice them and have compassion for them. If the workers are few, then that is on us. If the workers are few it is because we still need to go. We, I, should approach being a disciple the same way that I approach video games like Skyrim, always looking for the next quest.
May you learn to better follow Jesus, by putting the teaching of Jesus into practice. May you have the same perspective of Jesus. May you truly notice other people and have compassion for them. May you love them the way that God loves them. May you find your mission field. Your mission field is not inside these walls. It is out there. It may not be in another country, it could just be down the street. Find the place that you are being sent, being sent to make a real difference, and may you go. May you find that God does indeed have a new quest for you to love your neighbors, to make disciples, and to transform our world.