"Go, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons". Three times over in the space of 10 verses this is what Jesus tells his disciples to do.
And what do you think their response would have been? "Thank you Jesus, great, no worries", or would it have been more like "Sorry Jesus, I dont know about this, it seems youre forgetting who you are talking to mate, it is just me, Anneke, and so far I have never displayed any superhuman powers. I thought that was more your department.......
"Curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, casting out demons, really, you must be joking man!"
And what do you think Jesus would have answered? Sorry, youre right, never meant to inconvenience you in any way, of course I wasnt serious, dont you worry about anything dear.......
All week I have been struggling with this text while, at the same time, I heard the laughter of Abraham and Sarah ring in my ears.
You think you cant raise the dead? Rubbish! If God can start a new people with two 100 year olds and bring laughter and joy into their lives against all odds and anything anybody would have thought possible, who are you to think you cant work miracles when Jesus tells you to?
It seems laughable, but you dont know what may happen. If you go and just do what Jesus tells you to do. Perhaps the only thing you need to do is go, like Abraham did and trust, to make miracles happen.
There has been a time when the trees seemed to grow into the high heavens in this congregation. A time when there was lots of money, lots of young enthusiastic people, the Sunday school filled to the rafters and the Church pews with people of all ages. It was an exciting time, where nothing seemed impossible and nothing was.
I wasnt around at that time, I was one of the young ones attending a Sunday school of 150 in Holland, but I imagine the feeling that prevailed at the time was very much the same on both sides of the globe: that miracles were possible, that they were indeed happening. And, what I have heard of it, some thought that it would only be a matter of years before the Ecumenical movement would have brought the Churches together and the United Nations the world. The harvest was plentiful and there was ever more the Church was doing and people felt called to.
That has changed dramatically. Some time between then and now the Churches have emptied, some divisions have healed while others have opened up. A lot of us are tired, have lost courage, find it hard to have faith, let alone believe in miracles. We have an inkling that the harvest is plentiful; all the media tell us that people are desperately looking for spirituality, depth and fulfillment in their lives, the only thing is they dont seem to identify the Church as a place where they could possibly come and get it. And, to be quite honest, we are not too sure what we would offer them if they came. Weve lost all the answers and the only thing we seem to be left with is a lot of questions.
Work miracles? Us? Dont think so Jesus!
There is one thing in the wording of the text that may help us. Not to get out of Jesus command. Unfortunately that is stated fairly strong three times over. Unless you want to limit miracle working to the twelve, which would get you out of just about anything in respect to the following of Jesus. No, no cop out.
It is not the words Jesus uses for the command, but the word that is used to refer to those he gives it to.
The word disciple does not mean, as some translations would like you to believe, friend. It does not even mean student or pupil the way we understand it either. It means learner. And refers to someone who makes learning their business, their attitude, the focus of their life. When Jesus followers, in the gospels are referred to as disciples, as learners, this implies they are not a finished product, but very much people in flux. People who are still developing and maturing in their faith as the story unfolds. Something that also applies to Abraham in the stories we have about him. He is never pictured as the perfect believer, the ideal God companion, on the contrary: we see him get himself into trouble again and again. It is Paul, two thousand years later who declares him a hero of faith, not because he was such a good guy and did everything right, but because he trusted everything he had, time and again to God.
So perhaps we can take this to mean Jesus commanding us to do miracles does not mean there is nothing to learn, or that we have to be more than we are, but that there is room for development and learning, for an evolving faith and a growing trust rather than something that comes on with a big bang and never lets go again.
It certainly took Abraham a hundred years before he got to the first miracle and after that he struggled on with various very human circumstances that involved miracles sure enough, but were difficult enough to deal with never the less. A wife, a second wife, a son, another son, a sacrifice, to name just a few features of Abrahams story most of you will be familiar with (and if not you should look them up or come to the stories of ancient women seminar on Thursday).
And the disciples? They may have done a couple of miracles, but in most of the gospels they are portrayed as a pretty lame lot who find it exceedingly hard to follow Jesus and do what he did. Because they cant muster the faith and get involved in all sorts of all too human difficulties. Conflict, doubt, power struggles, envy, betrayal, its all part of the life of those Jesus sends out.
But he still sends them out! Without any indication he doesnt expect them to take him seriously in his command. There is no "try or attempt" about it. "Go, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons".
He sends us out.
What that means?
First of all I think it means we have to stop living in the past. Miracles may have happened thirty years ago but what we need to have now is faith they can happen today and that we are the people God has called to make them happen. Even if we think that as laughable as Abraham and Sarah did the prospect of having a baby at their age.
Jesus sends us out and we have to trust he knows what he is doing and who he is dealing with. If he thinks we can do it, we can. That should be all we need to know. Of course anxiety and fear will try to take over. Thats the devil trying to see if he can put a spanner in the works.
Faith is always a work in progress, never finished, never perfect, but always moving. The minute we stop believing in its miracle working power and give in to that feeling that there is not much more to be expected because the best has been, then we are lost. Then no demon will be cast out any more, or a sickness cured and we will be dead before God.
Jesus demands the impossible from us, because he reckons we can do what he asks of us. Who are we then to laugh and say it is impossible and come up with a whole host of excuses? Sure enough, most of us are getting on in age, but none of us are quite as old as Abraham and Sarah yet. Sure enough, none of us have healing, life giving powers at our fingertips in the same measure Jesus had. Neither had the disciples. But they went, and miracles happened. We are here today because of them.
So now it is up to us. To work miracles, to go and do what Jesus told us without hesitation, entrusting ourselves to him rather than to what our limited understanding and imagination may be telling us. Amen.