Sermon for Sunday, July 3, 2016 || Proper 9C || Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
During the summer, I am preaching without a text, so what follows is an edited transcript of what I said Sunday morning at the 8 a.m. service at St. Mark’s.
Last week, we started a sermon series on being “born again.” We talked about this new life of Jesus Christ, this unreasonable life of love and service. And today, we are going to move on to the next part of the series – and I’ve added a couple things by the way – new hands, new feet, and new eyes. We’ll get to those in just a few minutes.
But first, I want to talk to you about something that happened to my cell phone a couple of years ago. (This is going to tie in, it’s okay.) After one of those updates, the version of the operating system changed, and when the phone restarted, it restarted in Greek. I’m not kidding. For some weird reason, the phone was in Greek. Thankfully, I speak Greek – a little bit from seminary, enough to at least get through the menus to find the language setting to turn it back to English.
But in the midst of me trying to maneuver through the menus to get it back to English, I got a text message from somebody. The message came in English, but the keyboard was still in Greek. So I couldn’t respond. But something was really cool. The word for “send” in Greek, even in modern Greek on the phone, is apostole, which is where we get the word “apostle.” It means “to send.” To send a text message. Or to send out seventy from Jesus’ own circle out into the towns ahead of him to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near.”
So that’s what the word “apostle” means – to be sent. You and I are disciples of Jesus Christ because we learn from him. He is our teacher. We are also apostles of Jesus Christ because we are sent out by him, who is our Lord. So the questions are I have are: to where are we sent, to whom are we sent, and what are we supposed to do when we get there?
I want to read for you a quotation from this book I’ve been looking at recently by Alan Roxburgh, who was the speaker at our clergy conference a couple of weeks ago. He’s writing about the passage I just read, and it really started to change my understanding of what our mission might be. Listen to this:
The sending in Luke 10 isn’t about becoming social works or fixing people’s needs; the instructions leave them few means by which to help people or meet needs. The seventy are sent to embody and announce God’s reconciling, healing future in neighborhoods…
The practices involved in this sending are critical to discerning what it means to join with God in our neighborhoods. The seventy are sent to practice dependence on the hospitality of the neighbor… They were not go as those in control. They had to discern what the Spirit was doing. The practices they learned involved dwelling, working, eating, listening, and healing with and among the people of these towns.
The locale of God’s activity is clear: in towns, in homes, around tables, in the fields at work, in the meeting places of everyday life of ordinary people.
Did you realize that’s where the kingdom of God was? In the ordinary life of everyday people? That’s incredible. So the question is: how do we see it? How do we name it? And how do we participate in that kingdom?
When we claim our identity as born again followers of Jesus as being born again in this new life of Jesus Christ, we take on these new hands, new feet, and new eyes as we go forth from this place out into the world. The red doors in the back are open right now, which is fantastic because I want this place to be permeable; not a silo where we just come to escape from our problems, but a place where we come for refreshment and renewal in order to go back out into the world and witness to God’s reconciling and healing love, not just in this place but out there.
(There’s now a long digression in the audio that this written transcript is skipping. I accidentally slipped into next week’s sermon for a minute. Then I got back on track…)
The people that Jesus is sending out are going lightly burdened. They are not going out just to fix problems. They are going out bear witness to what God is already up to out there. We can get into a bit of a sticky situation when we think that God is only active here in the church. God is active everywhere. And when we are born again to the new life of Jesus Christ, we take on the new eyes to see God’s activity, not just here in the church but out there in the world: at our work, in our homes, in our relationships, and in those situations where we might be able to help people in need. Our goal is to use these new eyes to see that work in the world, to see God’s mission and how we can participate in it. That’s step one.
Step two is naming God’s presence, and this is the really challenging part for us who are living in a modern world where Christianity just isn’t the dominant language that it used to be. Where we see God’s presence, we can name it as such. Not just coincidences or serendipity, but the movement of the Holy Spirit. Not just good luck, but blessing. Do you see the difference? God is active, and when we use our new eyes to see that activity, we can then proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. And when we see that kingdom and name God’s presence, we can then participate in that presence in our own neighborhoods.
One more thing from the passage. Did you notice that Jesus invites his friends that he sends out to say that “the kingdom of God has come near” twice? Say it to the people who welcome and feed you, and say it to the people who say, “I don’t want you hear.” I think too often in our modern day, we hear the phrase “the kingdom of God has come near” as a threat. Whenever you hear that in the media or on the street corner, it’s not good news. It’s a threat. THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR! REPENT!
No! Jesus is saying, “The kingdom of God has come near: bear witness to the love, the peace, and the reconciling hope of God.” This is the good news, and it is our duty and our joy as born again followers of Jesus Christ to be sent out to see, name, and participate in God’s presence, so that we can be vessels of that kingdom of God that has come near.