United Presbyterian Church of West Orange


“Sent Out”

 June 18th, 2023

 Rev. Rebecca Migliore



        “Sent Out”—it seems a fortuitous reading for this morning.  The Sunday before I step away from this pulpit, and from you, for a sabbatical time and the Sunday before you step into whatever adventures this summer will bring.  But Jesus’ message is really appropriate for any time and place—we are sent out into the world each and every Sunday.  Sent out to be God’s emissaries—to do God’s work in God’s world.

        Yes, we take our place next to Jesus’ apostles (we have made such a big deal out of these lists—and by the way, they change characters depending on which gospel you are reading).  The apostles, “Apostolos” in Greek, meaning—the sent ones.  Jesus is forever sending people out in his name.  One by one, or two by two.  Maybe because Jesus knows that there is so much to be done.  Maybe because Jesus has an inkling that they will be left without him eventually, and they need the experience of doing things themselves.  Maybe because that is the best way to put your faith, the things that you have stored up in your head, into your hands and feet, into your mouth and heart.  And so, Jesus sends them out.  Jesus sends us out, always.

        In the few moments that we have this morning, I want to muse about what being sent means.  Being sent doesn’t mean that you have all the answers—look at Abram and Sarai who embark on a journey to a distant land, who are told that they will have children in their old age and, at least, Sarai laughs out loud at how ridiculous that sounds.  God calls us to go, not when it is the right time or when we have it all planned out.  Being sent is always a journey into the unknown, but still it is a journey with God.

For the disciples being sent is a continuation of being called.  They have followed Jesus, leaving their settled lives to go on the road with him.  And now, after they have gotten used to life on the road with Jesus, he wants them to upend everything again, and go out, on their own, to ask them to do that fantastic stuff that they have witnessed him doing!

        I find it fascinating that Jesus (and the gospel writer) insist that doing God’s work is not just for the professionals.  Talking about how God touches you, offering a helping hand, being there to create a space for healing, inviting those who are outside into the circle of God’s love—that is an enormous job—one that each of us is called to do in our own way.

        Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, feels a special need to minister to the lost of Israel, to the Jewish people.  That’s why he sends them out “not to travel the road that leads to gentiles.”  Maybe he knows that you can’t be everything to everyone.  He also knows that there are so many sheep without a shepherd, there are so many lost with no one looking to find them, there are so many who desperately need compassion, need someone, somewhere, to care.  The ministry widens and deepens as each person finds their way of being sent out.

        As a pastor of a small church, I find comfort in this recognition that you might have to narrow your focus.  Of course, there are needy people everywhere you go, and Jesus doesn’t expressly forbid the disciples from touching whoever it is they come in contact with.  But they have a focus.  They are pointed in a certain direction.  They are invited to start close to home, to start with those who might talk their language, and who might receive them.

        In being sent out, like the disciples were (with very little in the way of provisions, or even clothing) you might discover the gift of other’s hospitality, the surprise of how much courage you have, the honing of skills you might never have known you had.  Being sent out is a leap of faith, it is a step into an unfamiliar world, it is truly leaning on the promises of God.

        I imagine that as our apostles, our “sent ones,” found themselves in territory they might not have known, they would have had to sit down at table with strangers, they might have had to listen to people talk about their diseases, their troubles, their shame, their grief, their desperation.  For we aren’t sent out thinking that we have all the answers.  We are sent out to be present with the world, in a similar way that Jesus was sent to be with us in the world.  If it was good enough for God to be a part of the action, right in the middle of the action, not above it all—then it is good enough for us as well. 

        Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist who spent much of his academic and clinical career working with children, wrote a book called “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.”  In its introduction he tells this story:

        A mother reads a young child the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”  And after she is finished, as she is tucking the child into bed, the child asks, “Mommy, are there really giants?”  The mother, who wants her child to feel safe, is just about to answer, reassuringly, “Of course not, Sweetie.  You’re safe; no giants will bother you tonight.”  But there is just enough of a pause before she speaks that the child continues, “Because sometimes I feel small, like I am surrounded by giants.”

        Her pause, her listening to her child’s experience, and her invitation afterwards “Tell me why and when you feel small…” was a moment for meaningful interaction—dare we say, a moment for healing, for being pulled to the inside of the circle, for being seen and heard. 

That type of moment can only happen when we are in relationship with others.  That type of moment can only happen if we take the time to allow others to name how they are walking in this world.  That type of moment can only happen if we are willing to risk being vulnerable ourselves, if we are willing to risk being sent out, if we are willing to believe that God is at work in and through us, even us.

And even though it isn’t in this reading, there is an implied ending—that you get sent out, only to return home, to return to share what you have learned, to revel in being together once again, to witness to the wonder and glory of God that you have seen and heard.

Our very worship service is based on this idea, in reverse.  We gather together—(called to worship as one body).  We spend time together in hearing Scripture, in lifting up prayers, in singing songs of joy, in offering ourselves for God’s purposes in the world.  And then, we are sent out—we charge each other for the journey, and we accept that the blessing of God will go with us as we depart from one another.  And yet, we fully expect to see one another again—to be gathered together again—to start the process all over again.  Coming in and being sent out.  Yes, that is the rhythm of a Christian life.  From the time that we are knit together in our mother’s womb, from the time that our name is lifted up in baptism, from the time that we take adult ownership in the church, from the time that we offer our time and our talent and our treasure, from the time that we find a home, find ourselves surrounded by brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, relations in the faith, until the time that we leave this place, off on a different journey, a new adventure, still cupped in the hands of God.

Yes, we will be apart from one another, for a short time.  But I can’t wait to hear what this summer ended up meaning to you.  And I can’t wait to share my summer as well.  In the meantime, we are sent out in God’s name.   And to God be the glory, Alleluia, Amen.