With CPE, I have gotten a little behind on posting here. So today I’m doing a little catch up and posting my two most recent sermons.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about how hard it is, how demanding it is, to be a follower of Jesus. As I continue my summer hospital chaplaincy internship, as I prepare for my senior year of seminary, as I reach new milestones in the ordination process I cannot help but think, “What, in God’s name, have I gotten myself into?!” On good days I am energized by the challenge, and on not so good days I find the burden completely overwhelming.
As we have been reading our way through Luke this summer, particularly these past three weeks, I am uncertain if these passages are supposed to be comforting or troubling. Since I know some people have been on vacation these last couple of weeks, I want to take a step back and look at the narrative progression that is taking place.
Two weeks ago we heard proclaimed the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. We heard the story of a man plagued by so many demons that they go by the name legion. In an amazing, awesome act of power, Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a heard of swine. In that instant this man – one who has be exiled to live in the tombs among the dead, to be alone, naked, vulnerable, and violent – is restored to health and is seen in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus. When the town’s people see this miracle that has taken place they are plagued with fear. They rush and gather the people in the city and in the countryside and they come back and demand Jesus to leave their community. They are unable to accept the radical, restorative, transforming love of God.
Last Sunday we witnessed Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem – Jesus setting his face towards the Cross. In the first half of the reading, we hear that the people of the village in Samaria do not accept Jesus – and while James and John want to call upon God to rain fire upon that village – Jesus rebukes them and instead he simply leaves the village without another word. He wastes no time and continues on his journey to that great and holy city.
The Gospel passage continues to describe the conversation that ensued along their journey: A conversation that includes incredibly harsh words from Jesus. We hear Jesus say, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” We hear Jesus say, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” We hear Jesus say, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” There is incredible urgency. There is no second chance. Jesus is clear, get on board or be left behind.
Building on this narrative of radical transformation, rejection, and urgency we come to today’s reading from Luke. What we hear from Luke today is incredibly important in Luke’s Christological and Eschatological narrative – in other words Luke’s story about Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom of God. We hear of transformation, hospitality, vulnerability, rejection, urgency, and judgment.
The first words of this passage make clear one of Luke’s most important points: “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him.” The Lord did not appoint Peter, the Lord did not appoint the twelve, the Lord appointed seventy others. This number is incredibly important, and holds great significance not only for Luke, but other parts of Scripture as well. In the Book of Genesis – the 10th chapter to be more precise – all the nations of the world are listed. There are seventy in number. This is why Luke uses this number. Seventy is the number of the nations of the world, it is the number that represents all of humanity, and that is what is so important to Luke. For Luke, the message of Jesus is not for a small, specifically chosen group. The mission of Jesus is not just for those who wear fancy robes and have the best seats in worship. Salvation and the mission of God are for absolutely everyone – they are gifts freely given to all of humanity. Luke highlights this point over and over again in the Gospel and continues the motif in his second book the Acts of the Apostles where the followers of Jesus are sent out to “all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So when the Lord appoints seventy, the Lord is appointing messengers to the whole world.
These messengers have a very particular charge and warning. Jesus says to them, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Jesus is warning them that they will be rejected; that this road is hard, demanding, and dangerous. While in the Kingdom of God the sheep and the wolves will lie down together, the Kingdom of God is not yet.
Not only will this journey be dangerous, they are also required to rely solely on the generosity and hospitality of others. They cannot take anything with them; they cannot take anything with them that will allow them to accumulate support or possessions. They are to stay in one place and only eat what is set before them. They are completely and totally vulnerable and at the mercy of those whom they visit. Ultimately the way these seventy are treated has eschatological implications for their hosts. For those who accept the disciples and the message of Jesus that they bring – they will be rewarded for the Kingdom of God has come near. And for those who reject the loving message of God – beware because the Kingdom of God is at hand.
As the Kingdom comes near there is great urgency for “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are full.” God has provided for an amazingly abundant harvest – a harvest beyond our wildest dreams. And yet, there are not enough people to do the work of harvesting. There are not enough people to spread the Good News of God to all the ends of the earth. So we are to pray for more laborers. We are to welcome everyone into our midst – particularly the least and lost of our society. For it is only when we are all united together in our diversity – it is only when the seventy are appointed – that the Kingdom of God comes near.
As laborers sent out into the harvest, we often face the same dilemma that Paul writes of in his letter to the Galatians. We set up boundaries and divisions between “us” and “them,” between those who are in and those who are out. We create litmus tests as a way of determining who is worthy to be harvested – who is worthy of the radical, restorative, transforming love of God. What Paul makes clear, is that our litmus tests are total garbage. Paul preaches the same message that Luke does – all of humanity is worthy of the divine grace of God. It is easy for the Galatians to fall away from the gracious nature of the Gospel; just as it is easy for us to fall away.
When we fall away we must remember that everything is a new creation. All things have been made new through the power and light of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It is only when we accept that fact that we will experience true freedom: freedom from oppression, violence, and hatred. Freedom from putting ourselves first at the expense of others, freedom from the burden of a zero-sum society where the only way I win is by you losing; Freedom from the shackles of individual-selfishness so that we may truly be members of the Body of Christ. For true freedom only comes from complete and total vulnerability, trust, and obedience to God.
There is a daily meditation I subscribe to from the Society of St. John the Evangelist titled, “Brother, give us a word.” Each meditation is a few sentences in length and focuses on the meaning of a single word. Yesterday’s word was Body, and this is what Br. Mark Brown writes:
We pray as a body, on behalf of the body. The prayer Jesus taught us is an “our, us, we” prayer. “Our Father . . . give us today . . . forgive us as we forgive.” In our prayer we lift up the whole human condition, from one end of the spectrum to the other. We pray as a body – we are a body.”
Like today’s Gospel, Br. Mark reminds us, that Jesus calls us to be part of the Body. To come together, to pray, participate in the Sacrament of his Body, and to be sent out as part of the seventy. To proclaim his radical love to the world – to preach, teach, and heal; to bring comfort to the comfortless, to be beacons of hope in a dark and scary world.
Dear people of God, I stand before you and ask you the same question I repeatedly ask myself: “What, in God’s name, have we gotten ourselves into?”
We have gotten ourselves into the greatest journey we could ever be part of: A journey that will push us to the boundaries of our very limits, a journey that will be filled with transformation, urgency, rejection, and judgment. In God’s name we have gotten ourselves into proclaiming what the world cannot give: true peace and perfect freedom.