The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
An old friend, retired, formerly Dean of Student Affairs at an Alabama university, waits to board his flight home. He notices three or four people loudly arguing at a couple. The ruckus ends. He looks up to see them head his way. They stop in front of him. One asks Rick, “Are you a Christian?” If you are ever asked that, answer, “Yes,” and maybe they’ll leave you alone. Rick answers, “Yes,” but they don’t leave him alone. They invite him to pray with them – and since he’s a Christian, how can he refuse? They circle around Rick and bow heads. The leader must think God is hard of hearing, for he prays loud enough for the couple and half the airport to overhear: “Strike down those vile heathen pagans over there who reject Jesus. Make them an example, so others will accept Jesus.” The prayers end. Rick’s asked to add a word, “Lord, forgive us from hardness of heart, so that we can love others as you love us. May your love through us awaken love in others for you. Amen.” Rick looks up and asks, “Have you ever thought of loving people and letting them know God loves them, instead of condemning them? “Nope” – and they walk away.
Jesus sends seventy disciples into towns he’ll soon be going – sort of a pretest for carrying on his mission after he’s gone. His demands are tough: “No money, no luggage, no shoes, and don’t greet those you pass.” Would you go on a mission trip without make-up, your credit card, at least a bag for your clothes, because you do need to change something, a hair-dryer, or your new iPhone? And when you get to your mission location, would you dare knock on a stranger’s door and say, “Peace to this house!” The occupants might stare at you like you’re from another planet. Regardless, insist you’ll stay with them anyway. If their town welcomes you, take their hospitality. They owe you even if they didn’t invite you. Cure the sick. Tell them, “The Kingdom of God has come near.” If unwelcomed, knock the dust off your sandals and tell them, “God’s Kingdom has come near. Sorry you missed it.” Jesus expects some will reject his peace and turn down application for kingdom membership. Neither condemn them, nor absorb their negative energy. So — just walk away.
Are you ready to go on mission for Jesus? For some reason these seventy do. For us, though, Jesus’ mission is impractical – we couldn’t do this, with airport security, letting strangers in your house, mooching off the generosity of others – just won’t work regardless of who sends us.
We are sent out though. Each Sunday we come here to listen, sing, pray, listen some more, eat bread and drink wine – and then we’re sent out. We leave worship and have coffee, chat with visitors, and wish folks a good week. We leave. Do you remember you are sent? We begin our worship of God, and we continue our worship as we are sent. We pray: “Send us now into the world in peace; granting us strength and courage to love and serve you.” We’re sent to continue the seventy’s work – to offer peace, to embody and proclaim God’s nearness and love to all. We worship and serve – two sides of the same coin.
When I was in children’s Church School classes, our names were listed on a chart on a wall in our classroom. We had about nine things to do each week– read our lesson, bring our Bible, give some money – but most of all show up. You do it, you get a check mark. The more checks, the higher your religious rating. For years I thought all God wants is – read your Bible, be nice, show up and act semi-interested. I’m afraid the church keeps us stuck at this place – act nice, do some religious things, and show up.
No, God’s asking more. We gather to worship, pray for and with, care for each other, be reminded we are forgiven, and receive the Sacrament, so we can be sent out into the world. God wants more than us going through some motions, getting our check marks. We are here to be shaped and transformed so we can offer God’s peace, healing, love, and grace, with the world as our destination – same place the seventy were sent. And if some look at us like we’re from another planet, we won’t give into discouragement, or get angry and condemn them. We leave them with God’s peace, and love them anyway.
The seventy return and they are joyful. Regardless of how the good news is accepted, the demons at least get it. Jesus is joyful, too because, he sees Satan fall from heaven. In their world, powers in heaven are greater than powers on earth. To translate – when God’s peace is given and received, Satan’s power is broken. People are set free from fear, anxiety, guilt, and anything that keeps us apart from God. In other words, sin’s hold is broken. Evil and destruction still exist. Yet we know at a deeper level – we’re on the winning team. God will prevail on earth as is already in heaven – and so will everyone. That’s the conviction with which we are sent and they need to know God’s reign is for them, too, so you and I are sent. How they respond to the news is God’s concern. And God has much more love and patience than we do.
We are here because we are continually being formed into God’s visible presence on earth. In a few moments, we’ll be sent out there with an urgent mission – a mission of love. We need to be focused as we go, not giving into distractions and excuses. Keep God’s love before you. And really – you have to admit it’s pretty amazing. Can you believe God trusts us this much? God does and we can do it, because God’s life and love are so alive within us and among us. Get ready to get sent.