Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine
9:35Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. (Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, NRSV)
Let us pray: God of the prophets and apostles, you greeted old Abraham and Sarah with news of wonder and life. Send us into the world to preach good news, as Jesus did, heal the sick, resist evil, and bring the outcast home. Amen.
This past week I accompanied seven of our youth, Will Beyries, Claire Boylard, Marion Caine, Abby Donnelley, James Johnston, Claire Shultz and Will Taylor, and two other adults; Jennifer Taylor and Suzy Wilson to the Cumberland Plateau in Southern Middle Tennessee. This was somewhat of a home coming as I went back to the region of my last church. It was actually in some neighboring counties to my former congregation. While I went back to familiar area, it was anything but familiar. As I saw people and places I had never truly noticed before. Oh, I had driven some of these same roads but this time I traveled them with new eyes. This time I was going on a mission.
The ten of us joined seventy-five other youth and their adult chaperones from churches in Fairborn, Ohio; State College, Pennsylvania; Hope Sound, Florida and Bolivar, Tennessee. We gathered at Mountain Top, a ministry that seeks to meet the physical, spiritual and social needs of the people of the impoverished former coal region of the Cumberland Plateau. If you read the informative bestseller Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance then you have a picture of these devastated and hopeless communities.
We were divided up into small groups of 7 (5 youth and 2 adults) that were sent out each day to work and visit with families. My group began our week working with LeBron and his wife and mother. The three of them lived in a small house with no air conditioning. Our task was to rebuild his steps and repair the wheelchair ramp for his aging mother. As we began our work we realized that most of, the front of the porch was rotted. We were not prepared to do this extensive work so we did what we could… Probably not work that will be up to code, but work that will enable them to have a safe and functioning porch.
LeBron and his wife prepared lunch for us and it was delicious. They joined us and told us about their lives…lives that are so very different than ours.
The next day we went to work for Rick. Rick lived back in the woods in a dilapidated trailer. He was a divorced man in his sixties, who looked much older, having lived a hard life. He shared his home with three dogs, four goats, six abandoned cars and a plethora of unfinished projects and repairs. He wanted us to build a fence to contain his animals and a drainage ditch to catch the runoff from the hill beside his property. We quickly learned the virtue of patience as our work ground to a halt and our real mission was to visit with a lonely man grieving the death of his fiancée and two of his dogs. He talked and I listened. He told of her fight with cancer and her death. He explained that she was her motivation. He has been lost ever sense she died.
The next day we returned to Rick’s and tried to finish the fence but it was more than an inexperienced group with bad tools and little direction could possibly complete. Again, we were taught the value of patience as we were forced to wait again…this time for over an hour for him to get his supplies but by that time much of our day was wasted. So, we were assigned to a new job.
Later that afternoon we went to Paul and Mary’s home and finished a storage shed for them to keep stuff in safe from the elements. Finally, we completed a job and accomplished a task which felt really good to my get it finished work ethic but my wants and my work ethic are not the point. This was a major learning for me this week. As much as I find satisfaction in completing a task and getting it done; for these people and their lives nothing is ever really finished or done. It seems to be a long series of unfinished work, there is always more to do and each day presents itself with more to do than they have the energy, drive or competency to complete it. From my point of view, they have so much to fix, so much to clean, so much to put in its proper place that it is simply overwhelming.
On, Thursday, we went to Alice’s home and did some weeding and scraped and then painted her wrought iron work. Ms. Alice, a 67-year-old with horrible arthritis and seizures. She was a sweetheart, with wonderful hospitality, but she was lonely and wanted to talk to people. Our work was secondary, to our listening to her life and her stories.
On Friday morning, we went to Christy and Wilbur’s home to paint a shed. Ms. Christy showed us what to do and watched as we worked. She talked and she talked a lot and she told us about her life. She and her husband have been married for 58 years but it has gotten difficult in the last four years because Wilbur had a stroke that has affected his right side and his speech. So, he is basically homebound. She said it is especially hard because she can’t understand him. He gets so frustrated because no one can understand him. We realized that she needed to have conversations with other human beings and she did with us. This was so much more important than the shed we painted for her.
As I have shared with you just a tiny glimpse into our week in Grundy County, Tennessee I realize just how important this week was for the ten of us. We obviously left our comfort zone. We slept in cabins on really hard and uncomfortable beds. We realized a new measurement of moisture, camp dry, meaning it is not at all dry but it is dry for camp. We saw and experienced people and their lives that are vastly different than ours. No running water. No plumbing. One man said for his showers he goes down to the creek. This is in the United States, not a third world country. This is within a half a day’s drive of where we sit this morning. But then it is more than likely so much closer than that. My point is that it opened our eyes and our hearts to see our world. To see other human beings. To reach out to them and share our time, our abilities and our listening ears. It is what Jesus is talking about in the text for today.
Jesus is very clear in the passage from Matthew as he commissions the twelve disciples. He sends them out, he tells them to go. It is exactly why we went.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you for sharing your tools, and supplies. Thank you for welcoming us home.
I wonder where else God might want to send us, you, me, our youth? Don’t get to comfortable and certainly don’t get complacent because God might just need you to go, to work, to listen, to care, to be His hands and feet in the world.
Let us pray: