February 4, 2011
What do you take with you when you travel? The last time I went overseas, I saw a family going to Brazil with two small children and about a dozen suitcases, boxes, and bags. They were trying to rearrange things so that nothing weighed more than 50 pounds.
I try to get what I need into a briefcase and a small carryon suitcase, but when I have to take vestments and that stick, then I have to check a bag. The government thinks that stick is a weapon, though they don’t understand that it’s intended to bring peace and end division, not cause violence or hurt people. It’s supposed to be a sign like the plowshares and pruning hooks Isaiah talks about. In any case, I don’t get to travel as light as I would like to.
I’ve been reading about the Native Americans in this part of the world, in a book that tells what the annual migrations were like among the Comanches (and Apaches?) in the mid 1800s. In warmer months, the hunters and warriors spent much of their time away from the villages, while the women, children, and elders did a lot of work processing buffalo and preserving food for winter. The great migrations to winter camps involved thousands of horses and long streams of people. Those great movements of people went on for centuries, until Spanish and English speaking settlers here and in Mexico arrived and began to farm and build houses, and until soldiers came to protect them and built forts. There weren’t any fixed borders or fences until our immigrant ancestors built them.
The people who migrate across that border today carry little more than a small pack, with some food, a few pieces of clothing, and a little water. They often run out of water in the deserts south of here. They come expecting to find hospitality among their friends and relatives who are already living here. There are many tragedies along the way, yet those who come usually do find welcome among those who speak this language and share this heritage.
The difficulties for all travelers and migrants come from barriers, whether it’s the great distance that lies between here and Brazil, or the armed and fortified borders along the southern part of Mexico and along the southern part of the United States. Another kind of border exists in the divisions between cultures and nations and peoples – and that kind of border did exist between the native American tribes. All those borders are what Paul is talking about in the letter to the Ephesians.
This body of people, this body of Christ, is a migrant company. We’re on a journey toward a land where there will be no more war, no more division or discrimination, where all kinds of walls will break down, where barriers no longer divide families, peoples, tribes, or nations. We’re supposed to keep on traveling until we’ve arrived there, and all God’s people live together in peace.
Jesus is sending his students out in search of that community, that promised land – but also to help build it. No one goes alone, and everyone travels light. It’s not terribly easy work, but it is simple and pretty straightforward – we’re supposed to share food together and heal the sick. When we do that, we will indeed know that the kingdom of God has come near.
Why does Jesus say, “eat what they set before you, and don’t move around from house to house?” Think about the last wedding feast you went to, or the last fiesta, or when a friend invited you to dinner. Did anybody leave because they didn’t like the food? When we are rejoicing, and sharing the blessings that God has given, there usually isn’t any place we’d rather be. Jesus is reminding his friends that every meal, every encounter with friends or strangers, is supposed to be like God’s great fiesta, the heavenly banquet.
Our task is to eat together and to heal sickness and division. That’s why God sent Jesus among us. Illness or division of any kind keeps us from enjoying the great feast that God continues to set before us.
Traveling light is essential. If we’re burdened with 50 pound suitcases, our hands are already full and we won’t be able to receive or enjoy whatever the next friend or stranger wants to share with us. It takes courage and faith to travel light, but it’s also the most joyous way to go – and it removes the temptation to load ourselves with weapons or excess protection. It’s radically countercultural in a consumerist society that thinks so highly of owning things, but it is the only real road to a community where the well-being of each person is the concern of all others. There’s an African word for that understanding that individuals don’t survive or thrive on their own – indaba. It is an understanding that our mutual welfare depends on how we care for every other person.
How will you help to heal the sickness and division right here in this city, state, and nation? The biggest barrier is fear – and some of it is well justified. It’s very hard to think about sitting down to dinner with someone whose hands are filled with guns or whose mouth is full of violent words. That’s why Jesus’ words are so important – “peace to this house.” We have to begin in peace, not just putting down our sticks and nasty words, but setting aside the violence in our own hearts.
Traveling light has much to do with letting go of hate and the fear that usually accompanies it. We won’t find the kingdom of God if our hearts or minds are filled with anything but the expectation of peace. It’s not easy to let go of the anger, but it is possible. It helps to have a bigger view of what is possible, like this ancient dream of a world of peace. What kind of a world do you want for your children and grand-children? We won’t get there unless we can find the courage to go lightly, setting down the bitterness between us, and getting past the old divisions. It starts here, in our own hearts.
Will you set aside your anger at another? Will you let that sword be turned into a tool for peace? Will you risk meeting a stranger, sitting down to eat together, and try to build a bridge over that chasm between you?
Yes, indeed, the kingdom of God has come near.
Empire of the Summer Moon. SC Gwynne