The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
July 7th, 2019
This Sunday’s Readings are:
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Click here to access these readings.
Last week I spoke a bit about “mission.” We read a section of Luke’s gospel, as we’ve been doing all year since the start of Advent, and we heard a few stories that Jesus told about going out into the world and doing God’s will. And, last week, we talked about how doing mission isn’t just about going to the four corners of the world or to the most dangerous parts of a country, but it’s also about seeing the person in front of you, whoever it is, and bringing to them the hope of God. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks backwards is fit for the Kingdom of God. Or, in other words, look in front of you. Minister to the people in your life, whether they’re out on your doorstep or a thousand miles away in Tanzania. And, whatever you do, be present with the person who you are with. Be present with the Life of God in the life of others and the world.
And now, in our gospel reading this week, we see a bit of what Jesus thinks that will look like. For here he is the sending out of the seventy, who will go into every town and every place that Jesus was thinking of going to as well. And, in a way, Jesus is teaching these seventy how to say hello and how to say goodbye. It reminds me of how we teach children to say thank you. Kids don’t know how to be polite, so we kinda have to prompt them, right? When someone gives Gwendolyn something, whether it’s a gift on her birthday or her dinner when we go out to eat, often she’s so consumed with the joy of the gift or a plate of yummy food that Helene and I have to say, “Gwendolyn, what do you say?” And she looks up at the person and says “thank you”, then goes back to the gift. Jesus is doing some of the same stuff. When you enter a house, he says, make sure to say, “Peace to this house!” You seventy might be so ready to do the fine work of the Lord among these folks, you might be all excited and rearing to go, but don’t forget to say hi first.
Now, Jesus doesn’t say this just because he wants the seventy to be polite, but because the way a person says hello and goodbye matters. I don’t want Gwendolyn to say please and thank you because they’re just empty gestures that make social interactions more smooth. I want my children to say please and thank you because I want them to be gracious and thankful adults when they grow up. You know, in the U.S., when we meet someone, we often say, “how are you doing?”, but there are those people who, when they say it, they actually mean it. Not that they’re pushy or nosey and want to get into your business, but that when these people say, “how are you?”, they actually care about your response? These folks can be tough for introverts who just want to stay below the radar, but even so, when you meet someone who actually cares about how you’ve been, it changes the conversation. At least for me, it changes my day. The world is a bit less drab and work-a-day. It’s full of people who care. That’s one of the real reasons to be polite.
Now, when Jesus sends out the seventy, he’s kinda saying that you have to be like this person who really asks, “how are you?” For, when you go into a town, and they’re all happy to see you and give you food (which is good, ‘cause you’ve got no money), and they sit and listen to you, make sure to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But when they don’t welcome you, when they kick you out of town with a dirty look, man, then you can look back and wipe off the dust of that town that clings to your feet, you know what you get to say then? “The kingdom of God has come near.” Nope! You don’t get to return those dirty looks, or come up with some pithy remark that’s gonna sting just right. You wipe off the dust and say just the same thing as you said to everyone else: the kingdom of God has come near.
Because you know what you’re doing out there? You know what we’re doing out there in the world? We’re not out in the world to join in the fight. We’re not out there to get angry or choose sides or help draw battle lines. We’re out in the world as Christians to preach the hope and the peace and the Salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re out there to tell people about the goodness of the Lord, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has drawn near to us, that he, not some empire or program or group, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Salvation of the world. And we need to see the person in front of us and speak that love and that hope into the fabric of their lives. And sometimes that means just saying “how are you” like we mean it, though at other times it means that we should love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, help the sick, the poor, the lonely, the destitute, anyone who is right in front of us and who needs our love and hope and joy. But in the end, all that is quite a bit like saying “how are you” like you mean it.
Now, living the Good News of Jesus Christ can certainly get us into trouble. There are people out there who think that just in being Christian that we’ve chosen a side, or just because we serve at our local food bank and keep our doors open so that anyone can come inside for a warm meal or just some coffee, that we’re in the thick of the battle. And hopefully we’re not. We’re followers of Jesus Christ, and through our study of his life and his teachings and the further teachings of the Church throughout the ages, we’ve come to understand that our duty as Christians is to do things like volunteer at our food bank. And this study and experience and prayer has led some of us to different groups or parties. And, with an election coming up, it’s important to remember that our Christian vocation has led some of us to be Republicans and some of us to be Democrats (and some of us to try to weasel out some space in the middle), but, if we are true to our faith in Jesus Christ, we are doing so because we are founded on God, not on a single party or side. Our Christian vocation, our life in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, is what should dictate our actions, always and everywhere.
The work of the seventy was to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God. And when they did, what happened? They found that they had a power that they had never imagined. And what happens when we, we Christians living in the 21st century, go out and do the same? What happens when we go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed? What happens if, instead of getting lost in some vague and vain debate, we simply love the life of Jesus Christ in others and try our best to nurture it within them? Well, to be quite honest, we’ll probably get hurt. We all learned back in elementary school that doing good doesn’t always turn out good for us in the end. But at the end of the day, it’s not about us. Doing the right thing, loving our enemies, and listening to and caring for the person in front of us, none of that is really about us. But they’re the right things to do. Because it isn’t through bickering, hatred, or divisions that the kingdom of God will draw near, but through love, and respect, and an open, praying heart. For it is through Jesus Christ alone, and no other, Jesus Christ who went to the cross so that we humans could be reconciled to God, it is through such love that we humans, and our world, may be saved.