Matthew 9:35--10:8 [9-23] (not printed here)

P   Good morning!

B  Good morning!

M  Twelve!

B  Twelve? What are you talking about?

M  Oh… sorry. I was thinking about how twelve seems to be everywhere, and I can’t really seem to figure out why.

P   What do you mean?

M  Well, eggs come in packages of 12.

B  And there’s 12 inches in a foot!

M  And usually there’s 12 donuts in a box, but sometimes an extra one.

B  And 12 months in a year.

M  And twelve numbers on a clock, but two of those twelves in a day…

B  But why now? What put twelve in your brain today?

M  Well, I was listening to the story…

B  You do THAT a LOT!

P   I think that’s a good thing!

M  Yeah! And first it said that Jesus told his disciples to ask for laborers to be sent out into the harvest…

P   Yes.

M  … and then it said he summoned his TWELVE disciples and sent them out to do all kinds of stuff.

B  So what?

M  So, did Jesus have just twelve disciples, or were the twelve just the ones he sent out that day?

P   That’s a really good question, Munchie!  And it’s one that people argue about so much that they actually came up with a different name for those twelve, calling them “apostles,” which means “the sent ones.”

M  So what’s with the twelve, then?

P   Twelve is actually a really neat number, divisible by 1, 2, 3, and 4.

B  I like that.

P   It also happens all through the Bible.  In addition to the twelve disciples (or apostles), there are twelve sons of Jacob (and also twelve sons of Ishmael).  There are 12 tribes in Israel, and twelve gates to Jerusalem. 

M  Maybe God likes the number twelve!

P   I’m sure God likes the number 12, but I’m also sure God likes all the numbers, because God created everything, and called it all good.

B  But what about the eggs and the inches?

P   Well, because twelve is so prevalent in the Bible, and the Bible as the written word of God was so important to so many people throughout the world, people would use it for all kinds of things.

M  Like what?

P   Like defining a foot as equal to twelve inches, and dividing the day into twelve-hour increments, and in Britain, there are twelve pennies in a shilling.

B  But what about the eggs!  They’re not connected like all the other things you’re talking about.

P   Actually, they (kind of) are.  For a while, you could buy one egg for a penny in Britain, and since twelve pennies equals a shilling it was easy to buy twelve eggs together.  That’s why they were packaged that way, and people must have just gotten used to it.

B  So, actually, twelve is really just a cool number, and it shows up in the Bible so often because it’s a cool number, and then it becomes and even cooler number because it shows up in the Bible so much…

P   Maybe. But there’s even more to it than that.

M  Even more than twelve disciples and tribes and donuts and eggs and gates and… and… (I forget)

P   Yes, even more.  If you look it up in the encyclopedia you’ll find all sorts of cool things about the number twelve that don’t work with any other number.

M  Wow.

P   I believe that Jesus chooses twelve particular disciples because twelve represents a wholeness, a completeness that isn’t limited to any particular number, but which encompasses everything.

M  So the twelve isn’t just the best and the brightest?

B  Actually, the twelve includes the best and the WORST!

P   We could put it that way.  Or we could see it as evidence that God doesn’t throw us away when we’ve messed up.

M  You mean God can use everyone?  Even Beaky?

B  Hey!

P   We know Munchie was teasing you, Beaky, but the answer is yes.  God can use everyone, and that’s why there are 12 disciples, and 12 tribes, and 12 of a whole lot of things, because it represents wholeness, an ideal that helps all of us to participate as things become better and better.

B  Even Munchie?

P   Even Munchie, and Beaky, and me!  Let’s pray. Thank you God, for keeping all of us as your people.  Help us as we participate in your wholeness, in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

When several of us pastors gathered by ZOOM last week to share thoughts and ideas about this Sunday’s readings, I was struck differently as I listened to today’s Gospel.

Maybe it’s because of the changes under which we live today because of the advent of a new virus for which there is no vaccine and little immunity, coupled with a risk of significant suffering which may lead to death for a significant portion of those infected.

Whatever the reason, I heard the words about being harassed and helpless differently.  I heard the call for sending laborers out into the harvest differently.

Some years back, I moved from one call to another, excited because of the promise I’d heard in the words of the call committee, and read in the information included with the ministry site profile, which detailed the involvement of so many who were active in events, outreach, and youth activities. 

After I arrived, things seemed significantly different than what I’d heard and read, and I remember commenting about it, and the answer was rather telling, “But now we’ve got you for that!”

What they’d been telling me was not how the congregation functioned in normal times, but how it functioned while they were without a pastor who they trusted would normally do all those things for them.

Now, I find myself in the church office nearly every day of the week with no one else in the building.  The doors are locked unless someone is bringing donations for the rummage sale or someone else happens to be working there at the time. Many of the ways I carry the good news of God’s care for the people of the world have been altered, because I can’t do services in the nursing home, or even visit most of those who live there. I can’t visit in the hospital or the homes of people without risking carrying this virus to people who already find themselves part of the high-risk population.

At the same time, the live stream of our worship has the ability to reach into homes all across the country (and even around the world) almost instantly.

It feels quite chaotic, and I hear those words again from the reading, with Jesus having compassion for the crowed who were harassed and helpless.

However, I am also encouraged, because I see evidence again and again of the ministry that happens in congregations all the time, but which is often unrecognized.  I speak with people on the phone, who tell me how their children or their assistants are coming to bring them groceries, and to help with their laundry, or just to see how they are doing.  I’ve spoken with members who tell me how they’ve been in touch with other members to reassure them that they are remembered in prayer, or that they thought about them specifically that day, or just to say hi. 

Granted, there may still be people who are not hearing from anybody, and there is no good way for us to know who the disconnected might be.  Therefore I encourage you to reach out—to your neighbors, to members of the congregation, to members of your family, to someone you’ve known and would like to encourage.  This is one way in which we are the church, in which we are the body of Christ in this world.

As much as I enjoy knowing that we have people reaching out while so many are suffering from the isolation that has been inspired during these days, I also know that not everybody is receiving this ministry that is vital during these days. 

So, when Jesus says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” I ask that we take these words seriously, and that we pray for God to open our minds and our hearts to the possibilities of the ways that we can be active in this ministry.  If you know someone who may be isolated, but you can’t connect (for whatever reason), pass the need on to someone who can—and keep both the one in need and the person to whom you passed the need in your prayers.

If you have neighbors you don’t know, connect now, while it’s easier to keep your distance, by saying hello, and waving. 

Finally, I’ll second what came up in Gospel Time with our puppets.  Sending the 12 disciples out with authority to minister does not limit God’s ministry to those 12.  It might give them particular responsibilities, but the ministry of love and care belongs to everyone.

Our medical workers have particular responsibilities, but we all work together when someone has been ill or injured and needs assistance.  Our plumbers have particular responsibilities, but we can all use care that faucets are turned off when not needed, and to make arrangements for fixing those that leak.  Our law enforcement people have specific responsibilities, but we all need to work together for things to be done well.

Of course, we know with recent events that sometimes those with specific responsibilities fail.  Sometimes we need to make changes because of those failures, to reduce the likelihood of repeating the failures.  It is said that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

We would like to forget the things from our past that are embarrassing.  We would like not to be held accountable for our own misdeeds, and certainly not for the deeds of others who acted badly on our behalf.  Yet even then, we need to know about it, and own it, so that we can move forward more righteously. 

Ask God to bolster the harvest, to make us all more righteous, that the whole world be made better, so people of every color, race, and even creed may know God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s care.  We are, each and every one of us, sent as people of God, for the purpose of God, in Jesus’ name.  Amen