Children, go where I send thee. How shall I send thee? I’m gonna send thee one by one, one for the itty bitty baby, born, born, born in Bethlehem. The African American spiritual starts out like this and then counts all the way up to 12, mentioning Paul and Silas, the three kings, the four gospel writers, and so on, up to the 10 commandments and finally the 12 apostles. Every verse is a call to the children: go where I send thee. How shall I send thee? I’m gonna send thee two by two…. It is a teaching song, and it comes to mind when I hear Jesus’ commission to the apostles in Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus is sending them out into the world to carry on his mission, giving them authority to be his hands and feet in the world. They will heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons and clear up leprosy. They will proclaim the message that the kingdom of heaven has come near, meaning that in Jesus Christ, the realm of God is visible and tangible, in the care for the vulnerable, the oppressed, the marginalized of society, the kingdom of God is at work.
Up until this point, they have been the disciples, part of a larger group who listened and watched Jesus at work, a group of learners who surrounded Jesus in his ministry. That is what a disciple is, a learner, a follower. Now they are named apostles, the only time in this gospel where we find this term used. An apostle is one who is sent out, usually with a mission or a task. All 12 of them are named, one by one, in the verses just prior to our reading for this morning. We look at this text like a commissioning service, as Jesus gives them guidance and instructions for their task, and then warnings about how hard this work will be for them. Not everyone will welcome them or listen to what they have to say. There may be some violence ahead, and they may be arrested and brought before the authorities. Jesus doesn’t paint a rosy picture for his apostles. He paints a life that requires commitment and perseverance. There will be persecution and trials, hungry wolves that are waiting for them. Through it all he will give them the words they need to say in the moment. Although they may be wondering, he seems confident that they will be able to endure until the end, because God will be with them. Perhaps you have seen this in your own life: often when we most lack courage it seems the presence of the Spirit is most visible.
“Children go where I send thee.” Where is it that Jesus is sending these first missionaries? Out into the crowds that are earlier described as troubled and helpless, or as the literal translation reads, harassed and tossed aside. It is more than simply wandering around like sheep without a shepherd. They are being sent out to people who are being oppressed by someone or some system of power, people who are in need of compassion, attention and care. Notice that Jesus is sending them first to their own people. Not until the very end of this gospel will he send them out to all the nations, or to the Gentiles. In this commissioning for the 12 apostles, he clearly assigns them to start at home with their own neighbors who are harassed and tossed aside. The lost sheep of Israel need renewal, they are the ones who first need to hear the news about the kingdom of God.
“How shall I send thee?” How does Jesus send them out to begin their work? Without an extra coat or shirt, shoeless, without a bag to carry money. They are sent in poverty, perhaps so they will learn to depend fully on God’s provision for them. Perhaps so they will learn to empathize with others who live without every day. They are sent with no expectation to be paid, only with a promise that they will be fed and housed on their travels. Their motivation is compassion for those they meet, not personal financial gain.
Over the centuries, Christians have looked to this text as applicable on some levels to
any follower of Jesus. Not many of us refer to ourselves as apostles, but as followers of the Christ we do view ourselves as people who have been sent out into the world with the same message: God’s kingdom is here. Indeed, it is Jesus’ teachings of a community built around the restorative practices of grace and peace that we work toward in our homes, in our church, in our neighborhoods and in our cities. We carry the same message as those first apostles with our words and our actions. Like those first apostles, we carry it into a world that is not always welcoming, not always ready to hear that good news. We are sent out, two by two, five by five, ten by ten, twelve by twelve as emissaries for Jesus in the world. We too are sent first to our own backyards, to our own neighborhoods, to our own communities with a message for people who are troubled and helpless, harassed and tossed aside.
Imagine that Jesus is speaking to us through this teaching spiritual: “Children go where I send thee. I send thee into a world filled with people who need my guidance, who are living like sheep without a shepherd. I send thee into a world that is on edge due to a world-wide pandemic. I send thee into a world chafing under different treatment for different people depending on their skin color. I send thee into a society ruled by the educationally, economically, and racially privileged. I send thee into a world that suffers and hurts, a world filled with hungry wolves.”
“Children, how shall I send thee? I send thee to use your ears first—listen to the stories of your friends who grew up with different experiences than you. Then use your mouth to speak up for what is right and just. I send thee to build relationships with people from different backgrounds and life experiences. I send thee to be my hands and feet on the ground. I send thee to support positive efforts that show glimpses of God’s kingdom in the world.”
Hunting Ridge sent 4 cars with a total of 6 people ages 9 to the mid 80’s down to Western High School parking lot for the Youth Rising Coalition’s local launch on Friday, making a positive statement of support for young entrepreneurs in a city where many are without hope for change. I was especially inspired by the two young men, Justice and Louis, who introduced the event with spoken word, each sharing about how they see themselves and how others see them. Both Justice and Louis were, essentially, simply asking to be seen by others as the beloved children of God that they are, full of gifts and talents, full of energy and ideas. Then there are those neighbors on a block in Fells Point who joined Zalik and Jay’da Fisher, a young brother and sister team, to create a street chalk mural on their block with large letters spelling out ‘Black Lives Matter’. The children and their family are the only blacks on the block. Then there is Maia Wilkins, Hunting Ridge youth elder and a member of our youth group, who took time to teach her majority white softball team what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for and why it is important to her.
Where and how is Jesus sending you? You are being sent out with a task, with a mission. Your specific task might be different than the task of your neighbor. But being sent you are, into a world that needs your compassion, your love, and your attention. Being sent you are, with the power of Christ within you, giving you the words, the energy, the creativity, the joy, the courage that you will need to face a world full of hungry wolves. Being sent you are. It might be to care for a grandchild. It might be to plant flowers in your neighborhood park. It might be to redirect food resources from those who have it in abundance to those who lack it. It might be to build a relationship with a neighbor of a different cultural background. It might be to write poetry and share it: one of our 15-year-old nephews, Oliver, writes a poem each day and posts it on his Instagram page. He recently wrote one in honor of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey and Breonna Taylor, African American citizens of the United States who are three of the most recent neighbors who were treated as if their life did not matter. Listen:
I think it is crucial that we understand what the word matter means.
I’m not talking about solids, liquids and gases.
But I am talking about making up the universe
Because to matter is being part of the universe
In fact, it is being a star in it.
You matter. I matter. Your neighbor matters. The man walking his dog matters. The child riding her bike matters. For too long our society has operated with a double standard, where it became obvious that some people mattered more than others. In Jesus’ kingdom, everyone matters. No question about it. And in Jesus’ kingdom, if black and brown members of the family are mistreated and disrespected, it is incumbent upon the white members of the family to speak up and remind us all that black lives matter too.
Children, go where I send thee. How shall I send thee? I’m gonna send thee together. I’m gonna send thee united. I’m gonna send thee committed. I’m gonna send thee cooperating. You matter. You too are a part of this universe we inhabit together. In fact, you are a star! Keep shining, my friends! Keep shining! Amen.