Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays

Sermon: “Travel Light”

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Doing some catch up today.  Here is the sermon from July 4th.

The text is Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.

“Travel Light”

Over 15 years ago, author and minster Robert Fulgham write the book, All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  The essay with the same title became what today we might call viral – -spreading on t-shirts and posters for classrooms and dorm rooms, postcards and graduation cards.  It was a New York Times Non-Fiction best seller, and is still in print today.  As I was reading the words from today’s Gospel lesson – Jesus sending the disciples out into the world to tell all they would encounter about the Kingdom of God, I was reminded of one of the lines from this famous essay, “When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.” [1] Sticking together is one of the things Jesus tells the disciples to do when he sends them out this time – -he sends them in pairs to proclaim the good news, not one at a time, alone, but in pairs, two by two, out into the world.

Who was Jesus sending out this day?  As the Gospel of Luke unfolds, the numbers of people he authorizes to carry out his ministry increases over time.  The way Luke writes his Gospel, all the action begins with Jesus at work.  In the early chapters, Jesus is the main actor, the main one who preaches, teaches, heals, and performs miracles.  Then he adds in the 12 disciples and authorizes them to do the same in the 9th chapter of Luke.  They go out and preach and teach and heal, and perform miracles, in his name.  Then others are authorized to do the same as well.  In today’s reading, there are more than 70 sent out in pairs to spread the news of the coming kingdom of God to the countryside.  It is a continual expansion that anticipates what will come in the book of Acts when the responsibility for the mission of the church is given to all who receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus sending out the 12 disciples in pairs to extend his ministry, but it is only in Luke that we see Jesus sending out the 70, or 72.  This number is one of those unsolvable mysteries – -the septeguant says 72, other manuscripts say 70.  The number 70 implies all of humanity was included in the sending out – it is either an allusion to the seventy elders in Israel (Exodus 24:1, Numbers 11:16), or the table of nations in Genesis (10:2-31).[2] Luke shifts the focus to include the salvation of Jesus to everyone by using this number – he includes everyone.[3] The number of disciples included men and women, and the news they shared was for all who would hear it.  They did not limit the scope of their mission to a particular place or a particular people.  Jesus wanted everyone to hear the news about the coming Kingdom of God.  Luke foreshadows the expanded scope of the mission to a time when the disciples will bring the message of the kingdom to the ends of the earth.  Jesus has known since he set his face towards Jerusalem that the time he had to spread his word was limited, and so he enlists the help of his followers to reach as many people as possible.

What does he tell them before he sends them out?  What does he want them to know?  In the language of his day, he tells them, “I’m sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  And here is your packing list:  That purse – you won’t need it.  Your bag – leave it behind too.  No, you won’t need your shoes, leave those as well.  Really, don’t take anything at all.”  I wonder how that would go over today – next time you travel, don’t take anything at all.  This week seems to be a busy church travel week. Over 3,000 Presbyterians from all across the country headed to Minneapolis this week for General Assembly, the Worship and Music conference just finished at Montreat, last week was the Young Clergy Women’s Conference at Candler School of Theology.  This week students moved into student housing at Columbia Seminary and begin Greek School and their time of training for work in the church. There are countless mission trips – our youth just returned from Clinton, SC and Thornwell Children’s home.  What if we said to all of these people – -don’t bring anything?  No shoes, no clothes, no Blackberries, no reading material, nothing to gather wealth in – that was the purse Jesus told the disciples to leave behind – no money, no social networking.  I think about what I usually pack in my carry on for a plane flight – -laptop, reading material, knitting, my quart bag of toiletries, a water bottle to fill up after passing through security, a snack, iPod, cell phone – -wallet, purse, medicines, a change of clothes for when the airline inevitably loses my luggage.  I can be almost totally self sufficient for days if I get stuck someplace along the way – or at least entertained if there is a long flight delay.  With the state of air travel these days, you pretty much have to be, right?  When we travel for mission trips we bring our own food so we know we will have something to eat we will like, the proper tools for the job, and clean clothes to wear when we want them.  We want our familiar objects and items to be comfortable.

Jesus tells the disciples to forget about all of that.  They are sent out to go rely on the kindness of strangers, and on each other.  He tells them flat out that they are going to territory where they will not always be well received. They will not always be welcomed warmly, but they are to persevere.  If they are rejected, they are to move on to the next place.  The goal of this mission is to tell as many people as possible before Jesus enters Jerusalem about the Kingdom of God that is coming.  Marilyn Salmon, Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN tells about an exercise she does with her students when they read this text.  She invites them to read the text and imagine themselves as one of the 70.  What would be the most challenging part of this journey, she asks them. “Many responses were predictable: not taking any money even for emergencies, no change of clothes, no food, depending on strangers for food and lodging, not being able to choose one’s traveling partner, judging people who did not accept the message. But one student who had not spoken in class previously said, “Eat what is set before you.” (verse 8) Silence, then a bit of nervous laughter followed. He repeated, emphatically, “Eat what is set before you,” conveying by his tone that he was serious.  When I invited him to elaborate, he told us that his father had been a pastor in a rural, very poor area in South Dakota. The family was often invited for dinner by parishioners, most of them farmers. He recalled that he and his siblings were admonished to eat whatever was served. I supposed that he referred to a child’s finicky tastes or disdain for green vegetables. But he went on to say that people on remote farms often relied on whatever they could kill or catch nearby for food, even for company. He added, “We just never knew what we would have to eat.” Then I understood. I recalled my father’s stories of growing up in such a place during the Depression. As a young boy, he often hunted squirrels, rabbits, and other wild creatures. I could not imagine eating such things, but they did.”[4]

Now, I cannot imagine serving squirrel to any of my guests, but what if it was the best I had to offer?  How many times have we hosted someone and taken joy in the preparation, in the cooking or shopping, in the planning and setting the table?  If hosting a party is not how you show hospitality, then translate it to your own situation.  When we offer what we have to friends and strangers, we are showing God’s love to others, we offer a glimpse of the abundance that God has to offer.  In serving, we can find delight.  And so, in accepting what is served, we can allow others to have that experience as well, we participate in it with them.

“Eat what is set before you.  Sleep where you are given a place to lay your head.  Spread my word where they will hear it, and move on from the places where they will not listen.  Rely on the hospitality of strangers, and upon each other.”  Those were the instructions Jesus gave the disciples.  He did not send them out into hostile territory alone, but in pairs, to look for traffic together, to have someone with whom to share their experiences.  They preached the kingdom of God to those who received them, and to those who did not, and then every night they ate what was set before them and slept where they were given a place to lay their head.

Every Tuesday night, we host a meal.  We offer hospitality to strangers who come in the door.  Some of the folks who come are no longer strangers – we know their names, and we know their stories.  As I was thinking about the disciples this week, I was thinking about the individuals and families who come to eat here, in this space where we worship today.  When they arrive, they eat what is set before them.  Be it beef stew over rice, hot dogs, taco casserole, or any of the other meals we plan and rotate through.  And then they go and rest their heads where they find a space.  I wonder about us, how our interactions with them, as they live pretty much as Jesus called the disciples to live, change us?  How has their acceptance of what we have to offer touched our lives?

What the disciples were learning while they were on their journey, was reliance on the kindness of others, and vulnerability.  We don’t like to be vulnerable.  We don’t like to admit we need help, that we can’t do something, that we cannot do it all by ourselves.  As people living in our context, we pride ourselves on self-sufficiency, the times when we can do it ourselves and not need to ask for help from anyone.  And yet, this text shows us that we do not have to do that.  The disciples were sent out in pairs – -they were called to rely on each other for help along the way.  We are not called to live out our faith alone.  We are not in this alone – -we have a community to be with us.  Even when we are away from our community, there are others to help us out along the way.  The disciples learned this first hand – -they did indeed have places to sleep and food to eat, they came back to Jesus and did not complain about the lack of accommodations, but rejoiced in the work they had done in the name of Jesus.

My experience is that most of us, if we had a choice, would rather be on the giving end of hospitality.  Perhaps it is because we can be in control of our own destinies then, perhaps it is because we feel like if we are giving, we do not need to receive.  We share our hospitality from a place of wanting to help, of wanting to show God’s love and our love to those we know who could use help – be it a meal, the offer to run errands, or a place to lay your head.  And Jesus does call us to show hospitality to all we are able to – in kindness to all we meet.  But today, he also calls us to receive it.  Not to say “no, I’m OK” but “Yes, I do need to rely on you for a bit.”  We, as a church are blessed in the ways we offer hospitality to one another, and I invite us to cultivate ways we can be just as blessed in receiving that hospitality from each other.  For when we receive the hospitality of others, we allow someone else to experience the joy in giving.  The feeling you have when you make a meal for someone who is ill, or are able to visit someone who is in the hospital, can you give that gift to someone else?  When we participate in hospitality, we get to experience a glimpse into the radical love of Christ’s abundance, and be on the receiving end of God’s grace and love.  In serving each other, and in being served by each other, we bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  We heard those words in our reading from Galatians.  We are not sent out alone into this world to proclaim the Gospel, but with one another so that we can bear one another’s burdens, so that we can together be the body of Christ.

The disciples come in peace – -they make no demands, they make no claims on what they think they are owed or entitled to.  They come with open hearts and a willingness to accept what is offered to them.  By coming without a desire for wealth, by staying in one place rather than moving from house to house in the same village building up a political network, by focusing on the word of Christ rather than on their own comfort and personal gain, they are living examples of the Kingdom of God they have been sent to proclaim.  The hospitality is an openness to hear and to respond to the Gospel (move to table).

We have an opportunity today to receive the hospitality of Christ.  We are coming to the table – -this table of the Lord.  It is here that we can open ourselves and receive the love of Christ, that we can lay aside our own desire to serve and simply be served.  By coming forward to receive, we can think about the journey of the disciples, the road they walked as they proclaimed the Kingdom of God to all who would hear.  We come to this table to remember as a community – -as a people who are bearing the burdens of one another, coming not alone, but together.  We also come to remember that just as the ministry of Jesus expanded from Jesus to the 12 to the seventy to those who were present at Pentecost, we too are now included in that ministry and mission of the church.  To serve and be served.  To hold hands and stick together, to receive the hospitality offered by one another, and by Jesus Christ, as we serve him.

Each of you are invited to this table – this table of Christ, this table of welcome.  You are invited to come and eat the bread and drink the cup and experience Christ for yourselves.  The only requirement is a belief in Jesus Christ, the one who sets the place for you here and at the table in the Kingdom of God.

Let us pray…


[1]

[2] Feasting on the Word, Year C volume 3, p 215, Exegetical Perspective, James W. Thompson

[3] Feasting on the Word, Year C Volume 3, p 214, Theological Perspective, Elaine A heath

[4] www.sermonbrainwave.com

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