Our Lectionary Does Not…, Proper 9 (C) – 2001
July 08, 2001
Our Lectionary does not include Luke 9: 1-6, which depicts Jesus sending out the twelve disciples, empowering them with authority over demons, the ability to heal the sick, all as they proclaim the good news of the nearness of God’s kingdom. They are to accept hospitality where it is offered, and to move on where it is not.
The symbolism cannot be overlooked: twelve disciples, one for each tribe of Israel.
Now in chapter 10 Jesus sends out 70, at the time thought to be the number of gentile nations. The mission is broadened, and the number of missionaries goes beyond the twelve.
At the very least 70 means a lot of people sent to a lot of places, representing every place imaginable. This time the 70 are sent out in pairs. No one is sent out alone. There is work for everyone to do, and best we team up with someone else to do the work Jesus sends us to do.
We are all of us people who are sent. Jesus needs us. The church needs us. The world needs us to accept our role as those who are sent. And we would do well to partner up with at least one other person to do the work Jesus is sending us to do.
We would also do well to note that we are being sent someplace else to do this work. We are to be someplace, anyplace, other than where we already find ourselves-so that we have some traveling to do.
Jesus is rather specific in giving us instructions for traveling. We are to travel especially light. No steamer trunks, no matched sets of luggage. No roof top carriers, no trailers or campers. No SUV’s crammed to the gills with “stuff.” We are to travel really, really light.
The Book of Acts is the best place to see this plan being worked out. The church is depicted as being very much like the wilderness sojourn depicted in Exodus through Deuteronomy. People on the move cannot carry a lot of stuff and get anywhere. So in Acts we read that everyone sold all their property and stuff and pooled their resources to fund the mission and take care of one another.
The Book of Acts also depicts the early church as those people who are blown upon by the wind of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus had said comes from we know not where and sends us we know not where. Throughout the Book of Acts the church is regularly invaded by God’s Spirit of vitality.
If we are to regard the testimony of the early church as a fair characterization of what being the church is like, it appears as if there were lots of people, more than 70, that took these instructions to travel lightly and depend on the hospitality of others quite seriously.
All together, our texts suggest that we might want to consider what traveling light and regularly being blown upon by the wind really have to do with one another?
The negative, of course, is traveling with lots or even all our stuff and never having any energy.
The importance of all this has to do with who we are. The corporate name for the Episcopal Church as a national organization is The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. That is, all of us are domestic and/or foreign missionaries.
Jesus seems to have had this in mind. He sent out twelve domestic missionaries and then teams of 70 missionaries to be sent to foreigners beyond the boundaries of Israel. He gives them instructions to travel light and depend on others for hospitality. Both of these ideas fly in the face of American cultural norms: to acquire, accumulate, and consume as much as possible, and depend on no one but yourself (the myth of self-sufficiency).
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus asserts that these cultural norms of ours lead only to endless anxiety. He was not alone in remarking on this. Isaiah had made this a theme some 600 years before Jesus. And others, as far back as Deuteronomy and Leviticus had made the same claims: stuff and self-reliance lead only to anxiety and an early grave.
Travel light and allow oneself to be blown on by the wind, and discover a life of interdependence. Experience the hospitality of others, even radically different others!
Anyone who has spent an evening or even a few days in a foreign household knows what an adventure in discovering new ways of doing things can really be like. And one need not even leave the country. There are enough foreign nationals in the United States who maintain households by the norms of other cultures for us all to visit.
If we are to live up to our church’s corporate name, The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and allow ourselves to be sent out the way Jesus intends us to be sent out, we may need to reconsider our own cultural norms.
Because what Jesus says is really as true today as it was 2,000 years ago: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way …”
As we pray for the Lord of the harvest to send us, we might do well to consider the farmers of this land. In recent years many areas of our country have been stricken by drought. The harvest is anything but plentiful in these places. Yet, if you were to take the time to drive through our nation’s farmlands, you will see those farmers out there every day and night tending to their fields, and harvesting even the most pitiful yields from their land. Care for the land and perseverance are the cornerstones of the agricultural life. It is a life of disciplined and steady labor.
What do we need to do to become as disciplined in our labor for the Lord as farmers are even in times of severe drought?
One suspects that the answer lies in part with our Lord’s instructions to us, his domestic and foreign missionaries: travel light, depend on the hospitality of others, and let ourselves be blown on by the wind.
Our faithfulness to this sort of lifestyle over and against what many of us still call “the American Dream” will, Jesus promises us, result in our having authority over demons, the ability to heal, and the capability of helping more and more people experience the nearness of God’s kingdom.
In this sort of life we will let go of anxiety and an early grave, choosing instead what Jesus often calls real life, true life, in his name.
Pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest and pray that we might become those people who say, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”
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