The Kingdom Of God Has Come Near: Pentecost 4

The Kingdom Of God Has Come Near: Pentecost 4

Fourth sunday After Pentecost: July 7, 2019

Year C, 2 Kings 5:1-14;  Psalm 30; Galatians 6:[1-6], 7-16; Luke 9:51-62       

There is no recording available for this sermon. Please read the text below.

In last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem. The next thing in the Gospel of Luke is today’s reading.  Jesus appointed seventy “others.” It doesn’t really describe them, but they were definitely not the twelve apostles.

We assume they were Jesus’ disciples, people we like to call his followers. But Jesus didn’t have them follow him, he sent them on ahead, to places where he had not yet been.

What were they supposed to do?

We can assume a lot of things, and describe their mission, but here is what Jesus actually told them: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be with this house!’” These thirty-five pairs of people were supposed to go and pronounce peace for these houses—to be specific: “whatever house.”

These people who Jesus sent out were ordinary people, not geniuses, or orators, or great salespeople. Jesus sent these ordinary people to the places where he would be traveling with one mission: bring peace to the households they visited.

Those people were out there, and Jesus hadn’t cleared the way for them, they were ahead of him, and it was frightening.  Jesus wasn’t naïve. What he was asking them to do was not easy or safe: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Going out without bag or purse, without wealth, or power, or any office or standing makes you pretty vulnerable when all you have to offer is peace.

This is another passage linking us to discipleship like last week’s passage, but what we hear in Luke is a rather unorthodox way to gain a following.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about leadership and following someone I want to be inspired. It doesn’t sound like there is there was any inspirational speech for sending out Jesus’ followers. “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves!” That is not and warm and fuzzy or inspirational is it? I don’t know about you, but, really, who wants to play that role?

And that isn’t all the bad news for these missionaries.  Jesus commands them to go empty-handed, without even the most basic provisions for the road. No purse, no bag, no sandals. Jesus pushes them beyond their comfort zones and into the world without a safety net. They must travel lightly and depend upon those whom they meet, as well as upon God, for their needs. They should even avoid greeting anyone on the road. Lambs in the midst of wolves, indeed.

Such seemingly harsh restrictions (how many of us would undertake such an arduous journey), only make sense if we understand the urgency with which Jesus is speaking. The “laborers are few” (Luke 10:2) and if we recall last week’s Gospel when we heard that Jesus “set his face to Jerusalem, then we can begin to understand that Jesus knows that the time is short.

Jesus knows that these are crucial moments, and there is a sense of great urgency. In other words, there is no time to prepare for this journey. Instead, Jesus calls on them to rely upon the generosity of those whom they would touch with the good news and the healing touch of God.

As the seventy disappear, two-by-two, into the dusty roads ahead of them, Luke tells us that they are empowered to share in the work of Jesus. “Go on your way.” Christ’s followers are sent out to share peace and fellowship, eating and drinking whatever the townspeople provide. 

They’re also sent to cure the sick and to proclaim the kingdom of God. In short, they were to live out and practice the faith they had come to know through Jesus Christ. And it is in the doing that the seventy are transformed from bystanders to participants in the work of God. The seventy are armed only with a message. “The kingdom of God has come near.”

“The kingdom of God has come near.”  Luke tells us that they are to speak these words to those who offer them hospitality and those who do not.

These disciples are to be the bearers of Christ’s good news. They are to live into God’s vision for the world. They are to practice peace, do justice, and to live the faith in word and deed.

We might be tempted to disagree with Jesus in so strongly asserting that the kingdom has come near. All we have to do is open the morning newspaper or scan the headlines online to conclude that we do not live in such a kingdom. Poverty and hunger claim the lives of so many while others live in comfort with more than enough. Many are unsafe even in their own homes, while others enjoy the security of gates and fences. Political divisions deepen and distrust is the word of the day. These are not the signs of the kingdom we expect. In fact, if the kingdom itself knocked on our door with no sandals, no food, and no money – sharing so-called “Good News” we might be tempted to ask the kingdom to leave us alone. Now, I just talked about events in today’s world, but they were much the same in Jesus’ world.

Yet Jesus is insistent. The seventy are to proclaim to those who receive them and to those who do not that the kingdom is near. How could they do such a thing?

Let’s look again at the instructions Jesus gives to the seventy missionaries: they are to enter a town, and where welcomed, they are to stay – a sign of hospitality. They are to eat what is given to them – another sign of hospitality.  They are to cure the sick – showing compassion and care for all. And finally, they are to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.

Last week I talked about a German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This week I’ll talk about a first-generation German American, Walter Rauschenbusch, who was a theologian and a social reformer considered by many to be the voice of the Social Gospel Movement in early 20th-century America. He pastored the Second German Baptist Church in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City; Hell’s Kitchen was an apt description for the neighborhood then; today it’s very expensive and basically atop the teeming lights of Broadway and Times Square.

Pastor Rauschenbusch believed that Christian principles must be translated into actions that promote compassion, justice and social change. Proponents of the social gospel took on issues of economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, an unclean environment, labor unions, poor schools and the danger of war. No, it was 2019, but 1919 when these discussions were happening.

Pastor Rauschenbusch took seriously the quality of love embodied in the gospel. As he witnessed the economic insecurity that so many experienced in the late 1800s, he developed an understanding of discipleship that made the spirit of Christianity the core of social renewal. For Pastor Rauschenbusch the kingdom of God was always coming, it was always on the way – and the actions of the faithful would be the sustaining acts of hospitality that brought the good news.

Self-giving love and explicit exchange of mutual peace are the marks of disciples’ mission, our mission. It seems that the disciples were slow to learn this as we saw from last week’s gospel in which they respond to Samaritan rejection of Jesus (who had “set his face” to go to Jerusalem) by their shocking proposal “to command fire to come down from heaven” and consume those Samaritan villages. One wonders if the sending out of the seventy isn’t a direct response by Jesus to his rejection of the disciples’ proposal; and it is a mission to be conducted in peace and love and a mission that is clearly not intended to be fleeting: “Remain in the same house.”

There are those who use their faith as a way of presuming they are absolutely certain of the right answers and remaining in their comfort zones. We can do that if we choose, keeping ourselves safely above the issues of faith that call out to us.  But if we do that I the question we have to ask is, “have we lived out fully what Christ calls us to?” That is the kind of question that Walter Raushenbusch asks of us.

The road Christ calls us to is dangerous and more than a little fearsome.  There is great risk in following Jesus. But remember this – God is good to us beyond all measure. In turn, that goodness must impel and inspire us to move and to act. Faith can move us. In the long run, Satan or the forces of evil cannot match the creativity and healing presence of those faithful to the future that God promises.

You might ask yourself if you have felt the kingdom of God come near in your own life. As you ask that remember always that our names are “written in heaven” for God will always give us the energy and insight we need, providing us with possibilities for growth and healing every step of the way.

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