Tuesday, September 10, 2019

13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - September 8, 2019


Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
September 8, 2019
Luke 14:25-33




There are some Gospel texts that are super uncomfortable. Ya know, the ones that end and we say “the Gospel of our Lord” and “praise to you, O Christ” - and in our heads and hearts we’re thinking “The… Gospel… of our… Lord?” and “Praise to… you... um. O Christ?” And today’s Gospel lesson is certainly one of those texts. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” “The... Gospel... of our Lord.” “Praise… to you… O Christ?”

To those of you who are joining us as our guests today or who are joining us again after a summer break, I’ll admit that it isn’t the easiest text to come back to. To those of you who’ve been with us recently, we’ve had a lot of these texts lately. Sometimes we want a word of comfort. And we get this - a command to hate the ones closest to us - instead today. I know how tricky this text is; this happened to be the Gospel text for the Sunday of my first sermon at my internship site. It is super uncomfortable. I love my folks. I love my family. As I admitted in that first sermon on internship: I have a really hard time getting past Jesus telling me that, to be a good disciple, that I have to hate my Mom and my Dad. I have a hard time getting past that to the rest of the passage.

There are two approaches to dealing with these kinds of texts. One is to explain it away. “Jesus didn’t really mean that we should hate our parents. He’s using hyperbole.” Another is to dig in - into both the text and the discomfort - and figure out what the text is saying to Luke’s audience and to us. The problem with the first option is that it allows us to stay firmly within our comfort zones. Sometimes texts are intended to make us uncomfortable. Sometimes Jesus intends to make us uncomfortable. So when we explain it away, we often miss the point of the text. And the Gospel of Luke is really good at pushing us outside of our comfort zones. When Jesus pushes us outside of our comfort zones, our instinct is to walk, run, crawl as fast as we can back to what makes us comfortable. The temptation is to soften Jesus’ words so that we’re never really challenged.

My hope today is to take the second option. To sit in the discomfort a bit to try to see what Jesus might be telling us today. To be challenged by the Gospel. Because the Gospel both unsettles us and frees us. Often in preaching circles, we talk about how the Gospel - the Good news of Jesus Christ - afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. And today, in this particular Gospel reading, we get much more of the afflicting of the comfortable. So today is an invitation to sit in the uncomfortable for just a bit. Sometimes to hear the Gospel - the good news not just for me but for all people - we need to be shaken out of our places of comfort. These words were and are challenging.

For Luke, that good news is that Jesus comes to bring about the Kingdom of God in this world. And this is a Kingdom of God that is drastically changing this world. As Jesus talks about banquets (as a metaphor for the table of the Kingdom of God) in our Gospel reading from last week, Jesus makes it clear that the places of honor in the Kingdom of God belong to the people that we least expect. The table is for everyone, but especially the poor, the outsiders, the sinners, the strangers, and foreigners. The people that we might least expect to be around the table, not only are welcome there, but hold a place of honor. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus proclaims this Kingdom of God that turns the world upside down. Those currently with power and privilege will be brought down and the lowly will be lifted up.

As I said to those in the Adult Forum on Luke back in November, Luke’s lens on Jesus is one of social justice. It is a lens that says that we cannot be whole until all of us are whole. The ways of this world as it is, the ways of this empire are harmful and death dealing, especially to the most vulnerable around us. The Kingdom of God is one that brings wholeness and healing to the people and the places that need it most - so that we all can finally live in a world that God intended from the very beginning - one where everyone is in right relationship with God, with the fellow human being, and with all creation. This is indeed Good News. But it doesn’t sound like Good News for everybody. For those with power, for those who typically sit in places of honor, for those who have privilege, it sounds like very bad news.

And today, the Gospel can sound like very bad news. To dig further, I’m actually going to start at the end of the passage: “so therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions.” And, in the context of this passage (and the Gospel of Luke), I think Jesus is talking more than about just material possessions. These are the things that we hold dear - particularly the things that can get in the way of following Jesus. I have a hunch that Jesus is talking about those things that we hold onto to that keep us tied to this world as it is, those things that lure us into the ways of this world rather than the ways of the Kingdom of God. Of course that can include material possessions, but includes so much more than that.

In Jesus’ world, following Jesus often meant leaving family behind. The first disciples left their nets (and all their familial commitments) to follow Jesus. In the community of the Gospel of Luke, becoming a Christ believer often meant separation from family and a rupture of family ties. Following Jesus meant risking alienation from the people closest to them. Families did not want their loved ones to follow Jesus. And in this time in Christian history, do you really blame them? There’s a martyrdom text from the early 3rd century, the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, in which we meet a jailed Perpetua. Several times, Perpetua’s father begs her to renounce her faith because he knew that the cost of following Jesus would be her own death.

Families knew that following Christ - this messiah who died on a cross - meant possibly meeting a similar fate. Because preaching about the Kingdom of God - this kingdom that brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly - is a threat to those who hold power and who hold those places of honor. Jesus doesn’t end up on the cross because he was a nice guy; he was crucified because the message of the Kingdom ran against the message of the Empire, ran against the message of those with power. Who wants to be the one brought down? That kind of message needed, in their minds, needed to be extinguished - so that they can preserve their own place in the world. Thus family - mothers and fathers, spouse and children, brothers and sisters - could become roadblocks to following Jesus and roadblocks to living out the kingdom of God. This good news seems anything but good. They miss that, to quote one commentator this week, that “The way of discipleship is the way of life, real life, life that does not deny the reality of death but instead overcomes it through the power of resurrection. And that is good news that the world needs to hear” (Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Choose Life, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5376). So while I don’t believe that Jesus calls his followers to literally hate their families, I do think Jesus is pointing to the risks of being a disciple. I do think that Jesus is calling his followers to turn away from anything that might hold them back from living out their call to be kingdom builders, their call to live out the freedom they’ve been given through Jesus.

While families or other relationships can still hold us back from living out our call to be kingdom
builders, I’m not sure that in today’s world that is as relevant. For the most part, family and friends are thrilled when those they love start going to church. That being said, there are things in this world that hold us back and keep us from living out that freedom that we’ve already been given. What are the things or the systems that we hold onto that get in the way of living into the Kingdom of God? What are the things that keep us from being Kingdom builders? Do we hold onto our stuff, our money - trusting in material possessions for safety and security above placing that trust in God? Do we hold onto our prejudices that divide us from our neighbors? Do we hold onto American individualism that tries to ignore our interconnectedness? Do we hold onto our place in the world, in our communities, because we don’t want to be the ones who are brought down? Do we hold onto our fear - fear of change, fear of those different from us, fear of loss? This answer could be different for each one of us.

But whatever holds us back, the good news today is that Jesus comes to free us from those things as well. Because as long as we’re holding onto power, privilege, prejudices, we aren’t living out the Kingdom. But these things keep us stuck in the ways and the narratives of this world. We’ve already been given salvation. We’ve already been made right with God. These things keep us from being in right relationship with our fellow human and with creation. But because we have the promise that we are made right with God, we are free to turn out to our fellow human and to the stranger. Thus, Today Jesus calls us to give up those things that we hold onto, to be freed from those things we hold onto; this is a call to live into the freedom that God has given us through Christ. And that is the Gospel of our Lord.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - Sept 1, 2019

12th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
Sept. 1, 2019
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Our readings each week come from the Revised Common Lectionary, released in 1994. The readings for today were planned since the Lectionary was released in 1994. I *may* sometimes adjust the beginning and ends of readings, but the readings are, for the most part, given. On the whole, I am thankful for the lectionary. As with any lectionary, there are pluses and minuses. Sometimes the readings may feel distant and maybe at times irrelevant in our current context. Sometimes something happens in our world, and I yearn for one of the readings to speak directly to it. Yet there are other times where the readings hit so close to what is going on in our world. There are these times when one or more of the readings force me (sometimes kicking and screaming) to take an honest look at myself and at the world as it is that I currently live in.

Our second reading from Hebrews this morning gives us a vision for what it looks like to live as people claimed by the gospel, as people who are living out citizenship in the Kingdom of God. It is about living the abundant life that we have already been given through Jesus Christ. It is an invitation to live the life we’ve been given. These few verses serve to create a vision for what it means to be the body of Christ. And, if I’m honest, it is a tough invitation this morning. This is how the author (whose identity is unfortunately lost to history) begins the conclusion to the letter to their community.

“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” (Heb. 13:1-3)

These themes are themes found throughout the scriptures. There are fewer things that the Bible talks about more than these themes, summed up so succinctly in today’s second reading.

“Let mutual love continue.” Let philadelphia continue. Let brotherly/familial love continue. This is love within the particular community. The kind of love shown within these walls to one another. That kind of love that is there in the good times, in the bad times. That kind of love that sees each other as integral parts of the body of Christ and the mission we share - even in conflict. That can be hard. But because we have existing relationships, it is easier to see each other as beloved children of God. We can more easily see each other’s humanity. We live and grow as community together. And even in disagreements, we affirm each other’s humanity and place in this family. The author of Hebrews assumes that philadelphia is happening and is encouraging that to continue. It is that kind of love that strengthens the bonds of the community and pulls us together as the body of Christ. This love is what feeds and strengthens us for what comes next in the letter.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The word for hospitality here is philoxenia - the love of strangers (it is the opposite of xenophobia). The love of foreigners. The love of immigrants. The love of the ones that don’t look like us or sound like us. The love of the ones that don’t worship like us. The love of those outside the boundaries of the community, outside the boundaries of citizenship, outside the boundaries of the law. The love of the enemy. The love of the one who stands as a threat to us and to everything we hold dear. The author of the letter to the Hebrews turns out - not to neighbor - but to the stranger, the migrant, the foreigner. It is a call to break down the boundaries built by xenophobia and move from xenophobia to philoxenia - to move from fear to love. To see those most foriegn to us as worthy of love and worthy of hospitality. To see those we too easily perceive as a threat as having a place at the table.

By showing hospitality to strangers, we do take a risk. We risk serving someone who *could* in theory be a threat to us. But by showing hospitality to strangers, we also risk entertaining angels. We risk serving messengers of God in our midst.

The author then moves to those in prison and being tortured. This is one of those times where the Greek is so much stronger than the NRSV translation. Here’s how I’d translate verse three: “Remember the ones chained/those in prison as if you were chained with them. Remember those being tortured as if you yourself were also being tortured in your body.” As if you were were chained with them, as if you were being tortured in your own body. The author calls us to look into the suffering of our fellow person as if we were the ones suffering ourselves.

A video surfaced this week of a woman who went into labor while in jail at the end of July 2018. She repeatedly told guards that she was having contractions. She told them when her water broke. Medical care was not provided. She ended up laboring and giving birth alone in a cell. Only after the baby was delivered did someone finally enter the cell. It was terrifying. You could see the fear and the suffering on her face. Now, I *know* better, but I ventured into the comment section of the article. Most of the commenters were sympathetic to the woman. However, some (more than I’d like) said things like “well, if she hadn’t committed a crime, she wouldn’t have been in this situation. It is her own fault.” As if committing a crime strips the woman of her humanity. She did it to herself. That kind of reaction serves to give permission and space to look away from her suffering.

We hear similar arguments against so many people in chains, behind bars, in cages. If they didn’t cross the border, they wouldn’t be in cages (side note: seeking asylum is legal and one has to be on US soil to do it). If they didn’t commit a crime, they wouldn’t have encountered the police. If they worked hard, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, they’d have enough food and enough to survive. Sometimes we do not see the suffering - we’re often a bit removed from it. But As people, we find all sorts of ways to blame people for their own suffering, while giving ourselves permission to look away from the depths of human suffering. They’re illegal. They’re in prison. They’ve committed a crime. They’re drug addicts. They didn’t “plan” enough. They deserve what comes to them. They did it to themselves. If they’re to blame, we’re off the hook. And we can look away.

Hebrews this morning invites us, for the sake of love - that love that we’ve received from Jesus, to not only look at the suffering, to see our fellow human being in chains, but to be in solidarity with them, feeling their suffering and their pain as if it were our own. Who is Jesus inviting us to see today? Whose suffering are we invited to see today? We’re invited to look into the cages. We’re invited into the prison cell. We’re invited into the disaster area, the areas hit by hurricanes, by flooding, by drought - maybe the farms of Nebraska or the Bahamas or Puerto Rico. We’re invited to look beyond the fences, the chains, the bars, the walls (and whatever else binds a person - literal and metaphoric) and see the real live human being - the beloved child of God beyond it. Running contrary to the individualism that has become such a part of American culture, Hebrews points us to the ways that we as humanity are deeply interconnected. The truth of today’s passage is: when one part of humanity suffers, we all suffer. When one part of the Body of Christ hurts, we all hurt. We cannot be whole until we all are whole. Don’t look away. Feel what they feel in your own body. Do something to free them from that which holds them captive.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus takes what we find in Hebrews a step farther. Not only by showing hospitality to strangers, to those imprisoned, to those being tortured do we risk entertaining a messenger of God, by showing this kind of hospitality we show hospitality to Jesus himself. Jesus says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger/foreigner (xenos) and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me... Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40). He goes on to say that the converse is true: what you don’t do to one of the least of these, you do not do to him. Jesus places himself firmly with the members of his family that are suffering.

Why do we do this? We are empowered for this work because we have a God that does this. We have a God that risked everything to become human. The God that seemed so distant, far off, crosses the border between divinity and humanity (a border that seemed so permanent), making Godself known in Jesus. We have a God, in Jesus, that not only looked into suffering, but lived it, suffered it in his own body. We have a God in Jesus that was a refugee, fleeing violence as a child that threatened to end his life. We have a God in Jesus that lived by the hospitality shown to strangers. We have a God in Jesus who was imprisoned, who was tortured, who was crucified. We have a God that doesn’t look away - from our suffering, from the suffering of humanity. We have a God that sees and feels the suffering of God’s beloved children. We have a God in Jesus that stands in solidarity, and remains present with the suffering because God has been there too. We have a God in Jesus that risks suffering to free from suffering, to free us from that which holds us captive. This is Good News.

Today, in Hebrews we are invited to live out that Good News. We are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God that is breaking in - not for our own sake, but for the sake of our fellow human. Because Jesus has freed us, has suffered for us, has died and risen again for us, we are empowered to look at suffering, to feel the suffering of others, to work together as a body of Christ to relieve their suffering. We live out our freedom that we’ve found in Christ by freeing others.

Amen

Monday, August 26, 2019

11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - August 25, 2019

11th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
August 25, 2019
Luke 13:10-17, Isaiah 58:9b-14

Running through the first reading from Isaiah and our Gospel reading from Luke this morning, is Sabbath and what it means to keep the Sabbath and keep it holy. In the tradition of Martin Luther, this week, I found myself asking, “What is this?” or “What does this mean?” For Luther, when talking about Sabbath in the Small Catechism, he writes “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise God’s Word of preaching, but instead keep that Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” As much as I love Luther, and have gained so much from the Small Catechism over the years, I find that his answer to “What is this?” falls a bit short - at least in in so far as we’re digging into today’s passage. There’s nothing “wrong” with Luther’s definition of Sabbath. It fits well when we think about church or bible study, but I think that today’s passages are dealing with a different aspect of what it means to observe the sabbath. In other words, Luther’s definition in the Small Catechism gives us a piece of what it means to observe Sabbath, but we’re dealing with something else today. Afterall, Jesus was in the synagogue teaching and people were there to encounter God’s Word (perhaps not quite in the way they would expect). Yet this question of observing sabbath remains. So again, I ask, “what is this?” “What does this mean?”

As most of you all know by now, my background is in Biblical studies, so that’s the logical place for me to start. In the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, we get not one - but two - different listings of the Ten Commandments. One in Exodus. One in Deuteronomy. And they’re slightly different.

Exodus 20, when talking about the Sabbath says this:

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

My guess is that this is what most of us were taught when we were taught the Ten Commandments. At least this is the version I learned. And it fits really well with Luther’s answer to “what is this?” when talking about Sabbath. It connects Sabbath rest to the first creation story: We rest on the Seventh Day because God rested. It is a day to dwell in relationship with our God, the one who created us. It is a day to the Lord your God.

But this is only half of the story of Sabbath. When Deuteronomy talks about Sabbath, it says this:

“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Out of the two “versions” recording the Ten Commandments, this one, scholars believe is the more ancient of the two. Here, remembering the Sabbath is about Liberation; it is grounded in God’s liberating work, bringing the Hebrew people out of the land of Egypt, claiming them as God’s people. This mode of keeping the sabbath connects us intimately with our neighbor. Because God brought you out of slavery, because God brought you liberation, you give others rest and freedom. It is a weekly reminder of their independence and their freedom, a weekly reminder of God’s work of liberation for them and for others.

Looking at Deuteronomy and Exodus together, the Sabbath commandment orients us both to God and to neighbor. These two views of Sabbath are intimately connected. “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday… If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable… then you shall take delight in the Lord.” These two go hand in hand. We don’t live in the light of God without offering food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted. We don’t honor God without honoring the neighbor, made in the image of that God. We don’t love God without loving the alien and the stranger, made in the image of that God. This morning, Isaiah connects these two parts of Sabbath so beautifully.

In an article for the Christian Century this week, Shai Held puts it this way, “Both of Isaiah’s requirements—social reform and sabbath observance—thus share a common religious and ethical vision: a society worthy of receiving God’s light is one that recognizes the inestimable worth of every human being, even and especially the vulnerable and downtrodden. It is a tall order, and one shudders to think how far we fall from it. But we are not free to desist from the spiritual and political work God places before us: to serve God and to embrace human beings are two tasks that are eternally and inextricably intertwined.” This is what it means to keep the sabbath and make it holy: to serve God, to worship God, and to embrace and liberate our fellow human being. These go together.
(Shai Held, https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/sundays-coming/dignity-and-rest-isaiah-589b-14).

This intermingling of serving God and embracing human beings is what Jesus draws on today. It was a seemingly normal Sabbath day, which had begun Friday at sundown. Jesus is in the middle of teaching. He is interrupted by the sight of this woman that was bent over. He stops preaching. He interrupts the flow of the service. He sees her in ways that likely no one has in many years. He sees her worth; he sees her as a beloved daughter of Abraham. He calls to the woman. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” And when Jesus is confronted by the leader of the synagogue, he doubles down, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” The call to observe Sabbath is deeply intertwined with setting this woman free from that which has held her captive for so long.

From the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that this is his mission. Describing his own mission, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). And for this woman, Jesus liberates on the Sabbath - the day in which they gather in remembrance of God’s liberation. Jesus doesn’t abolish Sabbath law, but Jesus acts faithfully on the Sabbath, enacting God’s liberation that they gather to commemorate. In other words, Jesus lives out the Sabbath command, as he tells this woman that she is set free.

In Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus sets us free. As we gather for worship each Sunday - the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection, as we gather around font and table, Jesus sees each one of us - really sees us fully as we are -, Jesus calls us worthy, and Jesus says to each one of us “you are set free.” Wherever we are, wherever we’ve come from, whoever we are, “you are set free.” Free from sin. Free from our turned-in-on-self selves. Free from death. Free from the powers of this world that may try to keep us down. Free from the need to make ourselves worthy before God. We are free. That is the good news today. Jesus came to liberate us, and that liberation belongs to us. It cannot be taken away.

As people set free by the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ, we get to free others. We don't
have to, we get to. Who among us still needs to be set free? Who in our society and in our world still needs to be set free? Where do we see oppression still keeping our neighbor from living in freedom? Where do we see the weight of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, of xenophobia (or any other phobia or ism) weighing down our siblings, others made in the image of God? Today, we hear a call to live out that sabbath command that links serving God with liberating those around us. With the help of God, we get to loose the bonds of injustice and set the neighbor free. In freeing others, we live out the liberation that we’ve already found and experienced. Because Christ has freed us, we can imagine and live into a new kind of world - that Kingdom of God that is continually breaking in - a world where everyone finds liberation, freedom, and healing.


Amen.

Monday, August 5, 2019

8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - August 4, 2019

8th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
August 4th, 2019
Luke 12:13-21

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible labels today’s parable as the “Parable of the Rich
Fool.” As I read the parable again and again this week, it struck me as an odd title for the parable. What the rich man does makes - at least to some extent - makes good sense. One might call it “saving for the future.” I have a retirement account. I have a savings account. Life insurance. These things that are supposed to create security and well being into the future. Arguably the rich man does both the responsible thing and the wise thing - at least for himself. Save for a rainy day, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Beyond saving for our future, a common push in our culture is to have the latest and the greatest and to accumulate stuff and money. Think about how advertising so often works: they work to convince us that what we currently have isn’t enough so we need this other thing in our lives. I recently saw a commercial for a washing machine. It was better than all the other washing machines out there. Why? Because it held enough laundry soap for 40 loads and automatically dispensed it - so you wouldn’t have to. Something that I never even saw as a problem (putting soap into a washing machine) is lifted up as a problem that only this machine can solve. To be clear, there are good reasons for this kind of technology: there are folks for whom putting soap in a washer is a actually a difficult thing. For instance, my Gram, if the top is screwed too tightly on a bottle of detergent can’t get it open again. But that commercial wasn’t directed toward my Gram, it was directed at me. The actor was someone about my own age with seemingly no issues that would make the process of putting soap in a machine a difficult one. The message is: what you already have isn’t good enough - you need this other thing to make your life better. There’s something better out there. Keep up with the Joneses.

I fear that sometimes the parables are over sanitized. This parable is often boiled down to - in the words of Matthew Skinner - “you never see U-Haul trailers behind hearses.”(Skinner, “Poor Fool,” https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5368). In other words, that shiny new phone or the latest greatest washer and dryer set won’t follow you into heaven. Or it gets turned into a lesson about spending our time and energy differently. A lesson about spending time with family because life could get cut tragically short. Those both are good lessons to learn, and I do, for instance, value spending time with my loved ones over buying “stuff,” but I think those interpretations of today’s parable aim to keep today’s parable a little too close to our comfort zones. But I think this text today pushes us to wrestle with something… deeper.

This text pushes us to think not just about our stuff, but to think about our deepest fears and insecurities. It is important to note: in this story, the rich man is already rich. This is not a parable aimed at people who don’t have enough, who experience real poverty. This man already has, not only everything he needs, but he has an abundance already. He then produces this crop that is so abundant that it can’t fit into his barns. So what does he do? He builds new barns. While that may seem, at least to me, a bit impractical to build a new barn from the ground up in time to store the harvest - that isn’t too far from what we do. Think about it: when folks accumulate “stuff” that no longer fits in their spaces, we tend to rent storage units or purchase bigger homes and apartments. I know, at times, I’m guilty of this. But what, for the rich man (and perhaps for us too) underlies this?

Pastor Mary Anderson suggests this: “we’re more afraid of scarcity than we are of the devil. The advertising world counts on this fear and constantly plays on it. Before there’s greed, before there’s hoarding of stuff, there’s fear and anxiety about our future. This needs to be named out loud” (Anderson, Sundays and Seasons: Preaching Year C 2016, 215). In other words, the rich man kept the harvest for himself because he was afraid that there’s not enough to go around - and that one day, he’ll find himself without enough. And with that anxiety, he turns inward. Did you catch all the first person pronouns in the passage? “And he thought to himself, ‘what should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ then he said, ‘I will do this. I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Anxiety about not having ample goods laid up for many years turns him to think only about himself. It is fear that turns into self-preservation.

If we think about it, fear of insecurity, in general, has this tendency to turn us inward. Greed, as a friend Pastor Marissa Sotos said so well last night, is “the drive to have whatever we believe we can possess that makes us not need God or other people.” Greed can be about hoarding money and resources. Greed can be about accumulating power and privilege. Greed can be about collecting “things” in order to make us feel safe and secure.

So the problem today is not wealth in and of itself, but it is how anxiety about not having enough leads to self-centeredness - and how wealth or greed in particular can push us into buying into the idea that we don’t need God or other people, feeding the myth of the self-made person. It turns us in on ourselves, seeking to put a bubble around ourselves. This rich man misses a really awesome opportunity to serve the neighbor in need. But instead, he hoards crops (which are likely perishable) for himself. Not because he’s evil. Not because he’s a terrible person. But his anxiety and worry about the future has turned him inward, giving him tunnel vision, so he only sees the possibility of not having enough and it puts him into self-preservation mode. And his greed - his hoarding of food for himself - keeps others from having enough. Poverty is real. There are people in his community that don’t have enough, and if he shared the abundant crop, the community could have enough.
Sadly, the Revised Common Lectionary stops a bit short. So all we hear from the Gospel reading is this heavy, law-driven passage. So to get at the “grace” or Good news for today, I’m going to do something I normally don’t do: I’m going to read the next part of the Gospel of Luke, which serves as a sort of commentary on the parable:

“22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:22-31, NRSV).

The Good News today is that this kind of fear is not what God intends for God’s people. This kind of greed is not what God intends for God’s kingdom. We are stewards of what God has created. It isn’t ours; it is all God’s. God intends for there to be enough for everyone. It frees us from the cycle of keeping up with the Joneses and the fear of not having enough. It frees us from the fear of scarcity and insecurity. We’re freed from our turned-in-on-self selves so that we can turn outward - sharing the resources that God has entrusted to our care.

“Instead, strive for his Kingdom, and things will be given to you as well.” Living in this world as it currently is, I’m not giving up my retirement account (and I’m not encouraging that either), but we can strive for the Kingdom. We can look around us and see that as a society, we have enough. We pay athletes millions of dollars to play a game. Americans waste 150,000 tons of food per day. There is enough to go around, if the abundance of resources are shared. No one should, in this country, go hungry. So the parable today encourages us to shift how we think about what we have. It is a shift from thinking in terms of scarcity to seeing the abundance of God’s gifts, sharing the resources entrusted to our care, striving for that Kingdom, so that all have enough.

Amen. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - July 21, 2019

6th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
July 21, 2019
Luke 10:38-42

Encountering a text (especially a familiar text) anew is a difficult task. One that we wrestled with last week with the parable of the Good Samaritan. While we have the gift of having a text in front of us that we can pick up and read anytime, again and again, a piece of me wishes that I could hear these stories like it was the first time I had ever heard them. Those of you who were drawn into the Gospel later in life may remember the first time you’ve heard these texts or maybe today is the first time hearing it. I was a cradle Lutheran; these stories have been part of the waters that I grew up in. Neither is better or worse, but when we hear stories again and again, it is easy to forget or miss the power of them. Or to just take them for granted. They become sanitized. And we can stop listening, really listening to the text, thinking, well, we’ve heard this all before.

One way we can encounter a text in new ways is to put ourselves in the story. Where do you see yourself in this story today? Do you see yourself as Mary, content sitting at the feet of Jesus? Or do you see yourself as Martha, working hard, trying to do everything “right”, being the best host, the best disciple you can be, frustrated and maybe a bit tired? Do you see yourself as a bit of both? Or neither?

Earlier this month, I celebrated my birthday. For the first time in my adult life, I was near friends on my birthday. So I threw myself a bit of a party. I like to host. And I go into full host mode. Those of you who like hosting probably know what I’m talking about. Earlier in the week, I cleaned - like deep cleaned - my apartment top to bottom, making sure that it was not just presentable but at its best for guests. I even vacuumed my couches (which, if I’m honest, usually isn’t a part of my ‘normal’ cleaning routine - at least not as it should be). With the help of a friend who was visiting, I baked my own cake the night before - vanilla with strawberry buttercream icing. The day of, I put the chicken in the crockpot, so it could be shredded. I made the lasagna. Made sure we had bread. And side dishes. And drinks - red and white wine, cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, soda - diet and regular (just in case). I put out the good napkins and used the good wine glasses. At least, when it comes to hosting, I get Martha. I really do.

When I host, I want my guests to feel welcome. I learned hospitality from the best of the best of them - my Tanzanian friends. These friends who once welcomed this stranger into their homes, gave her plenty of food and drink, who made a place so far from home feel like home. I feel this sense of duty in hospitality. Doing for others what I once experienced myself. I want to be sure that there’s enough to eat - and that it is good food. Enough to drink. Plenty of games and things to do. I want my home to feel like home. So I tend to go over the top with hospitality. Sometimes to the point that I stop experiencing the moment. I fail to experience the sacredness found in relationship and community because I’m too busy “hosting” and ensuring that everything is “perfect.” (I will say that, for my birthday, once everyone arrived, a friend took over the “hosting” so I could just be in the moment - but so often when I host, that’s not the case).

I think for most of us, we have varying degrees of Martha and varying degrees of Mary in us. We tend to use this story to chastize the Marthas and praise the Marys - as if we are all only one or the other (though we may at any given time identify more with one or the other). We hear, “Martha, Martha” as a rebuke or in a tone of disappointment. Perhaps almost like the Brady Bunch’s, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” - today, “Martha, Martha, Martha.” We tend to, using this passage make Martha into a caricature. She becomes someone who is frantic, distracted, who is too concerned with the things of this world, not concerned enough with the things of the Kingdom, missing what seems to be right in front of her face. She becomes almost cartoonish, in the words of one commentator this week, too concerned with “silly womanly things” (Brian Peterson, Commentary on Luke 10:38-42).

But the simple truth is: We need Marthas. Think of all the wonderful things this congregation does. Motel ministry. Casserole caravan. Route 66 night. Lenten community meals. Spaghetti dinners. Council and committee meetings. Clean-up days. And so much more. The Marthas in and around us get things done. Hospitality is an important part of discipleship. We just talked about the radical hospitality of the Good Samaritan last week. And that’s important. We need Marys. The Marys in and around us are the ones that remind us that - in the busy-ness of life and of ministry - we are centered by Jesus and centered in the Gospel. They remind us that sometimes we need to take a moment to breathe. To sit and to dwell in that relationship with the one that created us, that forms us, that calls us. And I would imagine that most of us have a bit of both Mary and Martha in us. And this community has plenty of both Marys and Marthas around us. And for that I’m incredibly grateful.
What if Jesus today isn’t rebuking Martha? Greek language *works* differently than English. Just for an example, in English, a double negative reverses the negative. So if I say, “I don’t not want ice cream,” I’m saying “I want ice cream.” In Greek, the double negative intensifies the negative, so “I don’t not want ice cream” becomes “I really don’t want ice cream” (and that’s how translators will translate something along those lines).

Those of us who use and work with the Greek text expect Greek to sometimes *work* a bit differently than English. Yet, sometimes we put our English expectations on the Greek language. We expect, when a name is repeated in this way, it is a gentle way of rebuking and admonishing - perhaps with a gentle shake of the head. It can, in English, indicate a deep disappointment. But when Jesus says, “Martha, Martha,” in Greek, it isn’t a gentle rebuke. There’s a fancy name for the construction (that we don’t need to know and one that I can’t pronounce), but by repeating her name, Jesus, instead of indicating that disappointment, is indicating a deep compassion for her. Jesus sees how frantic she is. Jesus sees her anxiety. Jesus sees her need to be perfect - to have everything “just so.” Jesus sees her frustration. Jesus sees her distraction. In that moment, Jesus sees her. He sees that a thing that can be so life-giving becoming something that is tearing her apart.

And in that moment, Jesus frees her. He frees her from society’s expectations of hospitality. He frees her from the need to be perfect, to get it right. He frees her from her anxiety. In the words of a colleague, Pastor Kari Foss, it is as if Jesus is saying “what you’ve done is enough. Don’t worry about being the perfect hostess or how people perceive you or Mary… Be at peace.” In other words, you are loved exactly as you are. And Jesus invites her into the Kingdom of God that has come near to her in himself. He invites her into relationship. Into sitting with the one who forms her and calls her.

Whether you identify more strongly today with Mary or with Martha, I think we all have anxieties and distractions that can get in the way of dwelling with the one who creates us, who forms us, who calls us. I know I do. It is easy to feel the weight of what we feel like we “should” be doing. We can feel the weight of feeling like we need to be perfect before God, that we need to put the best version of ourselves forward. Doing all the “right things” and being “the right way.” Luther felt this struggle his whole life, feeling like he could never live up to who God called him to be. And early in his life, he literally beat himself up over it.

Today, whether you feel more like Martha or Mary, Jesus sees you as you are - with the joys, the celebrations, the struggles, the distractions, and anxieties that come with you. Today, Jesus invites you into the Gospel - that you can’t work our way into the Kingdom of God. We can’t earn Jesus love. It is a free gift. And nothing can separate you - or any of us - not our anxieties nor our frustrations, not our need to be perfect nor our desire to get it right - from that love we’ve found in Jesus. Today. Jesus reminds us that we are enough. We are loved as we are. Today, Jesus reminds us that we have done enough and are worthy of sitting at his feet. Yes, we’re called to discipleship, but not in an attempt to make us worthy or to earn love, but our call to discipleship is a response to the love that we’ve already been given. Today, Jesus is our host and the Kingdom has come near. And today, Jesus invites us into relationship with him, invites us to dwell deeply with him, and to center ourselves in that love.

Amen.

Monday, July 15, 2019

5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - July 14, 2019

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
July 14, 2019
Luke 10:25-37

“Who is my neighbor?”

Today, we hear one of the most well-known parables of Jesus - the so called “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” It is probably one of the first stories or parables of Jesus that most of us learned as children. We know the story. Jesus tells a parable of a man who was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The Levite and the Priest walk by without helping the man. The Samaritan, on the other hand, is the one who takes the time, the care, the money to truly care for the person who was left on the road. The genius of Jesus’ parables is that parables cannot be boiled down to one simple moral point. Rather, these stories that Jesus tells should grow with us and continue to challenge us each time we encounter them - even with these stories that are so familiar.

That’s admittedly a harder task for a story - like the Good Samaritan - that we’ve heard time and time again. That task may require us asking different questions of Jesus and of the text. Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar of the New Testament, proposes this question: what do we look for when we encounter one of Jesus’ parables? Are we looking for the nice, moral point? Or are we looking to be challenged? She writes “What makes the parables mysterious, or difficult, is that they challenge us to look into the hidden aspects of our own values, our own lives.” Luther would call that the mirror use of the Law - the parables do something to show us something about who we are. Levine continues, “They bring to the surface unasked questions, and they reveal the answers we have always known, but refuse to acknowledge… Therefore, if we hear a parable and think, ‘I really like that’ or, worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough” (Levine, Short Stories by Jesus, 3).

So this week, I asked myself. What challenges me in today’s text? As I think about the challenge of the text, I find myself returning to the same question:
 “Who is my neighbor?”

It seems like a simple question. Growing up, I thought it was an honest question, completely missing the fact that the lawyer is “testing” Jesus and wanting to “justify himself.” By asking who my neighbor is, I’m trying to define who I must love as myself. As an inquisitive kid, I thought it was a fair question. Are we talking about my literal neighbors - the people who live literally next to me? In close proximity to me? Who are my neighbors?

But by asking, who is my neighbor, the lawyer is getting at something else. It is a round-about way of asking - Who aren’t my neighbors? Because if I can define who is my neighbor, I can also define who is not my neighbor. Who do I not have to share love with? What boundaries can I place on love and still meet the “requirement” of my faith to love? Where is the line? The lawyer expects that there is a line somewhere. Or at very least he would like that line to be somewhere. Maybe for him, the line is drawn by faith. Maybe for him, the line is drawn by place/ region/ country of origin. Maybe for him, the line is drawn by long-held prejudices and conflicts.

Where do we want our “lines” to be? Who do we find hard to love and would rather Jesus give us a pass on loving? Said another way: Who do you want to not be considered your neighbor?
Because, if we’re honest with ourselves, there are people in this world that we don’t want to love. Maybe we want to put that boundary down in front of someone who has hurt us or our loved ones; we don’t want to love someone who hurt us so incredibly deeply or who took a piece of us. Maybe we want to put that boundary down in front of people that are different from us and thus hard to understand - in front of people who don’t share our language, who have different sexual orientations or gender identities, in front of people who have different skin tones, in front of people with different faiths, in front of people with differing political stances and convictions. Maybe we want to put that boundary in front of people who we’re afraid of, those people that we’ve been told threaten our values and our way of life (and supposedly threaten our lives themselves) - in front of people who are undocumented or incarcerated, in front of people who, we’re told, “are taking away our jobs,” in front of people who, we’re told, are our enemies.

If I’m honest with myself, I’m imperfect in loving my neighbor - even my neighbor that is easy to love. I want Jesus to give me a pass. I want Jesus to tell me that I don’t need to love the people that have hurt me. Even more for me, I want Jesus to tell me that I don’t need to love the people who have hurt my friends and my family. Most of you all know, at this point, that some of my closest loved ones are within the LGBTQIA+ community. And I am super protective and loyal of my friends and family; I have a really hard time loving people who say that my loved ones are subhuman or are deserving of hell. I want Jesus to give me a pass there, telling me that my love doesn’t need to go that far. I want Jesus to tell me that I don’t need to love people that I’m afraid of. I want Jesus to tell me that there’s a limit to who I need to love. I want Jesus to affirm a love that stops short - that stays in my comfort zones. I want Jesus to affirm a love that is easy and requires no risk. No danger. No actual work. So if I’m honest with myself, I too need the lawyer to ask:
“Who is my neighbor?”

Through this parable, Jesus isn’t content with giving the easy answer or giving me (or us) a pass. In Jesus’ response to the lawyer, Jesus picks not the people closest to us as “our neighbor.” But rather, in the parable, it is the enemy who becomes the neighbor. It is the one who is the outsider that shows mercy. The one who, according to the dominant narrative, threaten their way of life that shows unconditional love. Replace the Samaritan in the parable with whoever you thought about a few moments ago. In Jesus’ parable, Jesus redefines who the neighbor is. The very person I don’t want to love becomes the vehicle for God’s love and grace. That’s the challenge in today’s parable: the very person I don’t want to love becomes the vehicle for God’s love and grace. 

And it isn’t an easy love. It is an active love. It is a love that risks. The Levite and the Priest, contrary to most interpretations, don’t avoid the man left for dead because of purity laws. But they don’t stop to help because of fear: fear that if they stop they will face the same fate. Martin Luther King Jr., in talking about this parable puts it this way, “I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It is possible that these men were afraid… And so the first question that the priest and Levite asked was, ‘if I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ … but then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘if I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him.’” (Martin Luther King Jr., as quoted in Levine, Short Stories, 102). The Samaritan was, literally, moved in his guts (our text says, “moved with pity” - but the emotion is much stronger than that - he feels it in the deepest part of him). In this parable, Jesus puts a human face on the person most hated and demonized, as the Samaritan risks the same fate to show love, to bring about healing, to be the vehicle for God’s love and grace.   

The parables of Jesus have this way of inviting us, wooing us, pulling us - perhaps sometimes kicking and screaming - into the vision of the Kingdom of God. What a vision for the world! For a moment, let’s turn to the lawyer’s original question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” This is what inheriting eternal life looks like. Or perhaps better said, this is what it looks like to live in response to knowing that God, through Jesus, has already given us the gift of eternal life. Living life eternal looks like living out the grace and love that we have already experienced. Living life eternal has an impact on this world as we "love the Lord your God with all [our] heart[s], and with all [our] souls, and with all [our] strength, and with all [our] minds; and [our] neighbor as [ourselves]."

It looks like choosing life-giving ways over death-dealing ways. It looks like putting a human face on the person or group of people that we most demonize. It looks like crossing boundaries, going where, according to society, you shouldn’t go, loving who, according to society, you shouldn’t love. It looks like seeing our “worst enemy” as neighbor - as beloved by God and as a vehicle for God’s love and mercy - and loving them. It looks like showing a love - reflecting the love of God that extends to us - that has no limit, that doesn’t stop short. It looks like risking harm and stepping outside our comfort zones to bandage wounds, carry them, to bring someone half-dead back to fully alive - embodying and enacting love in real and concrete actions. It looks like the kind of love, the love of God, expanding the boundaries, expanding our idea of who is our neighbor, that kind of love, the love of God, that can transform lives and transform the world.

Amen. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

4th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - July 7, 2019

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
July 7, 2019
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

We continue in the Gospel of Luke - for the first time in a while - with the passage immediately following last week’s passage. A brief recap: Jesus has been doing ministry in the Northern province of Galilee. He has set his face toward Jerusalem and has begun to walk to Jerusalem - walking directly through Samaria, where the Gospel gets… um… mixed reviews at best. Messengers of Jesus face rejection. They ask Jesus if it was appropriate to call on fire to rain down from the heavens in response to that rejection. In short: no. Not appropriate. Now, in today’s gospel, Jesus continues this practice of sending out messengers to go into villages before him. This time, Jesus sends 70 others to go ahead of him to villages around the region.

Interestingly, we don’t get any information about the 70. No qualifications listed. We don’t know if
they’re men or women or gender non-conforming. We don’t know if they’re married or single. We don’t know if they have kids or are, like so many in the Scriptures, struggling with infertility. We don’t know what seminary they went to (spoiler alert: no seminaries back then). We don’t know if they liked public speaking or hated it. We don’t know if they were adventurers who were up to the challenge of traversing the countryside, or homebodies terrified for what comes next. We don’t know if they were Jew or Gentile. We don’t know if they were old or they were young. We know nothing of their stories.

As a pastor, as someone who is trained (and who loves) to hear people’s stories, a piece of me wants to know more about these people who were called. I want to know their names. I want to know their call stories (as I so often listened to those of my classmates and told my own). I want to know who they are, how they got there. But I think that goes beyond just me as a pastor. I think that’s a human thing. For the most part, we like stories. We build meaning of our lives through story. We build our perceptions of our world around narrative around stories - the stories we tell about ourselves, about our communities, about our world. I learned the story of how Norge got its name during my first visit here; well, the community wanted a post office. And they wanted to call it little Norway. But the powers that be didn’t like that, no you can’t name your town “little Norway.” So how about Norge? “Sure! That works!” As those who still are part of that Norwegian heritage know, Norge (or Norge) is the word for Norway in Norwegian. It is the story of how bright and cunning settlers in the area got their way, despite the powers that be. It tells us something about who we are here in Norge: we’re part of a people that is crafty and creative, undeterred by obstacles put in the way.

We get to know our friends and family through stories. We remember our loved ones through story. Remember that time when Gram accidentally left the windows down at the car wash? In her car with the rolly windows? There was water EVERYWHERE. I’ll forever be remembered at United, my internship congregation, as the intern who passed out one day in her office, as we now know thanks to a bad reaction to some cold medications. I learned an important lesson: when your blood pressure drops too low, so do you. We can laugh about it now because all turned out fine. Hopefully, I’m remembered for more than that, but when I talk to folks from internship, that’s a story that often comes up - one that becomes more dramatic with every retelling, by the way.

It seems to be part of human nature to tell stories and to create memories through them. We are formed by story. And we want to know the stories of other people. We learn who they are, how they’re formed, what brings meaning to them. And today, I wonder about the stories of the 70. What did they find inspiring in Jesus’ life, ministry, and message that inspired them to follow him? Did they go off, leaving their families like the disciples, or did they convince their families to come with them? How did they respond to Jesus’ command to only go with the basic necessities and trust that the rest would be provided? Why them? Why were they sent out? Did they have special gifts or characteristic for mission and ministry? Who were they?

Today’s gospel is silent on their stories. We just know that there are 70. The more I think about it, while it doesn’t satisfy my curiosity, I find freedom in the 70 being anonymous. The way the story is told, the point isn’t about qualifications, characteristics, or qualities. It isn’t about family structures or lack thereof. It isn’t about gender. It isn’t about courage. It isn’t about bravery. It isn’t about wit or charm. It isn’t about excitement or fear. There are no boxes to check. Degrees to get. Preaching styles to master. The call to follow and to spread the gospel isn’t limited by our own human categories. The point, today, is that Jesus calls. That’s the only qualification necessary to do the work of spreading the Gospel - the call of Jesus. Period.

To be clear, I don’t want to imply that our stories aren’t important. We know from the Gospels and from the rest of the New Testament that the call to spread the Gospel plays out in particular ways in the lives of real and particular people. God connects each of our individual gifts, our personalities, our stories to the larger narrative of the Gospel, grafting us into the Kingdom of God, calling us to the work of that same Gospel. We’re not anonymous for God.

And thus, our call to do the work of the Gospel will look different for you and for me - because our lives are made up of different stories, different gifts, etc. Some of us are called to be rostered leaders - pastors and deacons -, some of us are called to be teachers, some of us are called to international mission, some of us are called to serve more locally, some of us are called to share our gifts of music or other talents, some of us are called to serve on our council, others on our committees, others as helping hands that do so much of the behind the scenes work, some of us are called to care for others for their ministry. I could go on. And we’re called to different things at different times in our lives. Whatever form it takes, we are all called to do the work of the Gospel - sharing the love of God through word and through deed.

Yet, as Luke tells today’s story, by leaving the 70 as anonymous, the author provides space to place
ourselves in that crowd of people that are called to do the work of the gospel. 70 is a special number in the Bible; it represents all the nations of the world. And thus, the 70 messengers sent out represent a diverse people - of all walks of life - called out to spread the Good News. If the Gospel writer got too particular in the description of the 70, the temptation would be to only see people who fit those particular descriptions as worthy of being messengers, of carrying the Gospel from place to place ahead of Jesus. There is good news in the anonymity - we aren’t boxed into imagining the messengers of the Gospel in one particular way. We - in our diversity of gifts, of identities, of backgrounds, of education, of sexual orientation, of gender identity, of viewpoints, of jobs, of family structures - we, our full diverse selves, can fill in the crowd of the 70 and see ourselves there. We are all worthy of carrying the Gospel because we are all called by Jesus.

That call comes from Jesus doesn’t come without risk: again, this week, we’re reminded that those who are messengers of Jesus face rejection. They’re like lambs in the midst of wolves. A few words of comfort: we don’t do this alone. We do this within a community - as the messengers were sent out in pairs. Yet take note: whether there’s acceptance or rejection, the Kingdom of God still comes near. The Kingdom of God is still breaking into this world. And we get to be part of that; we get to follow in the tradition of the first 70, bringing that good news of the Kingdom, the good news of being Easter people. It isn’t our job to force people to accept it or to retaliate in response to rejection. But our call is to carry the message. Our call is to share the love of God that we’ve experienced ourselves. Our call is to shape our stories, our lives around the story that we’re grafted into; the story of Easter Sunday. Our call is to tell the story of the Kingdom of God coming into our lives in word and in action through our particular lives and stories. And that is indeed difficult but holy work that we get to do.

Amen.