Sunday, July 03, 2016

Sermon; 7 Pentecost, Proper 9C; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Luke continues with the theological itinerary of Jesus in today's gospel.  Jesus is moving toward Jerusalem, but before he gets there, he sends out the advance scouts.  Today Jesus sends out 35 pairs of disciples to every town that he himself is intending to visit.  The purpose of this is to have the disciples proclaim the arrival, or the nearness, of the kingdom of God.  It could be that Jesus is using the information that the disciples will bring back to determine which towns he will visit; or it could be that he will visit them all, but he wants to know what the theological climate of the town is.

One of the questions that comes up is, “Why 70?”  We obviously can't know the mind of Luke, but there are several hypotheses about why he used that number.  First, 70 is the number of elders that Moses chose to assist him in the leadership of the Israelites as found in Numbers 11 (Eldad and Medad being the most famous).  Second, 70 is the number of Gentile nations in the world as recorded in Genesis 10.  In the first example, we are reminded that the kingdom of God cannot be handled by one person – it takes many people to make the kingdom of God a reality on earth.  In the second, we are given an idea that the kingdom of God is for all people, not just a select few.

That last one also plays into the notion that it's not only the few named disciples who are part of Christ’s mission, but that even the many anonymous followers of Christ are to be apostles and missionaries.

I personally don't think it matters whether Luke had in mind the 70 elders that Moses chose or seeing the 70 Gentile nations as the mission field.  What's important, I think, is that 70 were sent out with a particular mission, and that mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God has come near.

Within that mission of proclamation, and today's reading, are a few things we need to pay attention to.  The first, and most obvious, is that we are sent to proclaim the kingdom of God has come near.  This isn't a job for Jesus alone.  This isn't a job only for professional church people (i.e. clergy).  This is a job for all of Christ’s disciples.  Everyone of us here today is asked to participate in the mission of proclamation.

The second thing we need to pay attention to is that it is not our job to judge.  Notice that Jesus sent the disciples to all the towns ahead of him; he didn't send them to a few particular locations, or only to those people who would accept the message.  The disciples are not instructed to prejudge who may or may not be worthy.  They are instructed to proclaim the message to everyone.  As St. Augustine said, “Since we don't know who is a son of peace, it is our part to leave no one out, to set no one aside.”  Those who reject the disciples and their message do it of their own accord.

There's a third thing we need to pay attention to, and while related to what I just said, it's also a little more complicated.  Today's lectionary selection can be compared to a certain radio version of Piano Man where the line about Paul, the real estate novelist talking with Davy, who's still in the Navy, gets cut out in the interest of time.  You may have that same feeling that something is missing from the reading.

What's missing are verses 12-15 where Jesus bemoans the fate of those towns who refuse to hear the message being proclaimed.  He basically says that Sodom had it easier than they will on the day of judgment.  And he goes on to proclaim a woe on Chorazin and Bethsaida (two Jewish towns), saying that Tyre and Sidon (two Gentile towns) will fare better.

Even though the lectionary chose to omit those verses, we still need to know how to deal with them.  When reading this passage, it's easy to mistakenly assign the role of judge and jury to the disciples, and to us.  But that's an incorrect reading.

The instructions to the disciples being sent out end at verse 11.  Those instructions basically end with, “Proclaim the message, and if they choose not to listen, leave.”  The next four verses are Jesus' words to the disciples/apostles as to what the consequences will be for unbelief.  These words of woe, destruction, and judgment are for Jesus alone to speak.  It is not our job to pronounce judgment.

The final thing we need to pay attention to is consistency.  The message given to the disciples to proclaim is this: the kingdom of God has come near.  It is the same message proclaimed to those who accept it and those who reject it.  For some, it is a message of hope.  For others, it is a message of fear.  But whether people see it as hopeful or as fearful, we need to be consistent in its delivery.  And how we ourselves view the arrival of the kingdom of God – with hope or with fear – will determine how we proclaim the message.

There are plenty of Christians who, while saying they are hopeful for the kingdom of God, are really living and proclaiming a gospel of fear.  Their main message is to fear our neighbors, fear people of color, fear people of other identities, fear other religions.  All that fear leads to, among other things, dire predictions for the coming wrath of God.  All that fear leads to a hopeful destruction of others.  Unfortunately that message of fear and wrath seems to be the preferred message of the dominant group through history and into today.

On the other hand, there is a message of the kingdom of God that can bring hope, and that message is based in love.  Love the Lord your God with all your self.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  These two commandments have massive implications.  What would it look like if we loved our neighbors as ourselves?  What would it look like if the people of this country loved its people enough to provide health care, both physical and mental?  What would it look like if we loved each other enough to ensure everyone had three meals a day, or earned a living wage?  What would it look like if we actually treated everyone equally, regardless of religion, race, gender, or orientation?  This is a message that is hard to live into and hard to proclaim.  But it might be that this is ultimately the narrow road Jesus talks about.

The ironic thing here is that, while a kingdom of God based in love is hopeful for many, for others it is rife with fear.  The fear of equality for others.  The fear of losing what's mine.  The fear that someone somewhere might get something I don't think they deserve.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he is sending you out ahead to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, of a kingdom that is based in love.  The message of the kingdom that we proclaim should be this:  love God, love one another, and abide in that love.  Some will hear that message and find peace.  Some will hear that message and find fear.  Whether that message is accepted or rejected, we are to proclaim it without judgment.  Whether that message is accepted or rejected, we must always be consistent in how we proclaim it.  And whether that message is accepted or rejected does not change the fact of the matter that the kingdom of God is near.



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