A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

The Kingdom of God Is Near But the Road Might Be Rough Sermon on Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 July 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 7, 2019. The texts were Galatians 6: 1-17 and Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Children’s sermon: Have a large poster board with the words written largely: KINGDOM OF GOD. Have crayons, stickers available for the children to use. Ask them if they have ever felt left out. Talk about today’s gospel from Luke and Galatians where Jesus sends the 70 missionaries out to everyone about God’s kingdom being near and how that message is for everyone, even people who don’t believe it or like it. And how Paul talks about how we are to work for the good of all, we are all together. And this all together-the 70 working with Jesus and Paul telling people about the Kingdom of God, is what joy (Luke 10:17) is all about! It’s not about if everyone we tell about Jesus comes to OSLC or is our friend, but that we are all together in God’s love no matter what! Then ask the children (and adults as a prayer station) to write under each letter of KINGDOM OF GOD names of people, or groups of people who are included in God’s love (hint: everyone! This poster board should be full!)

I asked the children and now I’ll ask you all: have you ever been left out? Rejected? Yep, we all have! Sometimes it’s dramatic such as a break-up or an argument with someone you love, or you didn’t get a job you really wanted, or into a educational program you dreamed about. But sometimes it’s less obvious. You can simply be ignored, or in a place where there is an expectation that you will behave a certain way, or like certain things and when you stay true to yourself, the people around you don’t accept your differences and so don’t accept you. Being rejected, ignored or unaccepted, can make you reexamine yourself and wonder if you should change your thoughts, actions, words, or completely change who you are to fit in.  We all experiment with our identity growing up particularly in the teen years, but if we’re honest even as adults, it’s easy to think that who we are isn’t enough. Or we can judge others by their behaviors, likes and dislikes and criticize them for not being like us. We can subtly and not so subtly, send the message to people that they should change to conform to what makes us comfortable. It takes courage and vulnerability simultaneously to stay grounded in what matters and as our sign for today warns us, it can be a rough road.

Rough roads are not always to be avoided as they can also be a path that leads us to a deeper truth and can help us keep “the main thing the main thing” in our lives. Rough roads can be focusing as if you get distracted, it can lead to even bigger challenges. If you’ve ever driven or hiked on difficult terrain, you know what I’m talking about.

In our Luke passage today, the 70 are sent out to proclaim a very important message. And Jesus is clear that the road will be rough. They will be completely dependent on the people they meet, they will eat food they don’t like, stay in places for an uncomfortable amount of time (Jesus is telling them to overstay their welcome!), they will work hard, curing the sick, and they will more than likely be rejected. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? Sign me up Jesus! But Jesus is clear that the main point of their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to unequivocally declare that the Kingdom of God has come near to all-the welcoming, the strangers, the sick, the unbelieving, the unaccepting. The Kingdom of God is near to all whether they know it or not. This Kingdom is for all.

And when they return to Jesus full of joy, it’s not only because they had some successes (isn’t interesting that they don’t name their failures? Which I’m sure there were many!), but because they experienced this Kingdom of God for themselves in being together in community no matter how rough or smooth the road. Now, they also had a bit of ego tied into this: Jesus, you’re right we can do anything, even the demons submitted to us! Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years…Jesus tempers their egos by reminding them that their successes and failures are nothing, what is everything is that they are part of God’s mission to bring the kingdom off love to the world. This is the main thing, even in their own mission.

It seems so simple doesn’t it? All we have to do is proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Done. And yet…We know that it’s a rough road to do so, even in the 21st century, or maybe especially in the 21st century. We set up a table at Venture Out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near and some people love that we are there, and some people walk very quickly past our booth. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we house families experiencing homelessness and we know that four families at a time is only a drop in the bucket. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we welcome and accept all people of every race, color, gender, sexual orientation into this family of faith and there are people who will reject this promise for God’s love for all people. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near when we strive to steward the earth with care and there are people who will deny this as reality. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near with our daily lives, with generosity of time, words, talents and gifts for people we don’t know well or have never met, and there are people who will shake their head at our naivety.  But Jesus declares to us that when the road is rough, God’s Holy Spirit is guiding us and continually reorienting us-through community, bread, wine, water and word-to the main thing of God’s mercy, hope and love for the entire world.

And we can forget that we need to be grounded in God’s community and kingdom as we try and navigate the rough roads alone. We can put our own human egos, rules and boundaries into this mission work as Jesus cautions. We can get stuck in thinking that the success or failure of this message is dependent on us, our own abilities and talents. Jesus reminds the 70, and us, that all power and authority belong to God alone that God gives away for the sake of including all people into this unconditional and transformative love. We are not only recipients of this love but participant as well. This is the good news that the coming of the Kingdom of God is for all, those who accept it and those who reject it. The promise of God coming near isn’t dependent upon the ability of the person to receive it and it’s not dependent on the messenger. God has written our names in heaven, on God’s own heart to declare that our worth in God’s kingdom isn’t dependent on our abilities or gifts but is simply found in belonging to God. This is our true identity that never changes, no matter how we try or what other people might want us to be. We are never left out in God’s kingdom and neither is anyone else.

Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 6. After six chapters of breaking down why Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised to be brought into the new family of Jesus followers and being clear about the subversion of the law, at the end of the day, Paul soundly ends this letter (writing in large letters) that none of that human stuff matters. Follow the law, don’t follow the law, whatever, but just know that you are made new in the love of God through Jesus Christ simply because God loves you. This unconditional love always surrounds you  at all times and in all places-especially when the road is rough. God’s kingdom, where all are made whole, where all are included, where power and authority are turned upside down and where all names are written and known, is for the whole world, no matter what. We can rest in the peace that the Kingdom of God has come near, includes you and will stay. Thanks be to God.

 

Be A Free-Loader! (Or Accepting What is Given) Mark 6: 1-13 Pentecost 6B, July 5th, 2015 July 5, 2015

True confession time: I love the reality show The Amazing Race. I know, I know, it’s not necessarily deep, intellectually stimulating and a bit voyeuristic of other people’s relationships but it intrigues me on a lot of levels. One, is that I love to travel and they go to some pretty cool places that are on my bucket list. Another is that they travel in pairs, competing against other paired teams of people for prizes.  In the early seasons, they were given no money and they had to figure out how to get money to travel, eat, etc. They travel light with just a backpack of essentials. What’s more, because of all the exotic places they go, they never speak the language of the country that they are in. They have to rely on strangers who might have limited knowledge of English to help translate, to help get them going in the correct direction and keep them safe. I was astounded at the number of people who would help with transportation or money for the teams. It kind of bothered me, actually, that these teams just expected people to help them-felt like free loading a bit. But time and again, complete strangers with the barriers of language and culture are willing to help them. And the people helped them joyfully, happy to be hospitable in their country. Many of the people loved being invited to share in the journey with the team.

The teams also have to rely on each other-every so often the teams are given tasks that they have to complete in order to get their next clue of where to go and what to do. The team members sometimes work together but sometimes have to pick which one of them will complete the task before even knowing what it is. For example, the task could be to climb something and the person who is terribly afraid of heights will have to complete the climb.

It’s interesting to watch the teams navigate the tasks and the challenges together at each step determining who has what skills, knowledge and which of their gifts is needed in that moment. And yes, some arguing ensues.  The teams always get to a point in the race where the façade drops and the vulnerability is revealed. People have to admit that they don’t think they can make the climb, walk the tightrope, eat weird food, run the distance or whatever uncomfortable situation they encounter. The teams that do the best learn to give up on control and focus on encouraging each other, comforting the other and finding a way together when it seems impossible. Even when it doesn’t work out and they are eliminated from the race, I have never seen a team leave the show fighting with each other or ending the relationship. They walk away with a deeper understanding of themselves, others, the world and the gift of community from having to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is at the heart of our Mark reading today on so many levels. Jesus comes to his home town and preaches, shares with those who know him what he’s been up to and it doesn’t go that well. One would think that Jesus’ return home would garner a good old fashioned potluck picnic celebration; a little Galilean hospitality– some pita, olives, hummus and the like. But hospitality is not exactly what happens here. Jesus unabashedly is vulnerable with the people he grew up with, he doesn’t hide any part of his identity or what he knows about God and the crowd questions his abilities, as well as his legitimacy. Naming Jesus as Mary’s son and not Joseph’s son calls his birth into question. This carpenter’s kid teaching like a rabbi offended the people and they reject him. The writer of Mark is showing us Jesus in his full human vulnerability; Jesus is astounded at their rejection and doesn’t have much he can do about it. He had to admit that he couldn’t even do all of the healing that he had done other places. One could call this trip a failure for Jesus.

So what does Jesus do? Well, he calls and sends his disciples to go and do what he just failed at. Huh.  Much like the Amazing Race, Jesus pairs the disciples off and tells them to go and take nothing with them. The disciples had to wonder about the wisdom of this, particularly in light of what had just happened to Jesus with people who actually KNEW him. How is this going to go with strangers? Jesus had removed any speck of self reliance from the disciples. When one enters a house as a guest, one steps completely into the world of someone else. You eat their weird food, you accept their customs, you sleep in a strange place, you smell weird smells, and you delve into their worldview.  It’s uncomfortable at best; disconcerting and stressful at most. It reveals the things that you’re good at, not so good at and even afraid of. As a recipient of hospitality at this level, you give up all of your control and you are left utterly vulnerable and it may not go well.

We, too, are sent, we are vulnerable and we just don’t like to talk about it. We, as the 21st century church, like to think that programs, buildings, pastors, staff, chairs, flowers, robes, candles and the like will guarantee proclamation the word of God and will share the love of God with the world. We believe that those things will help us to control and legitimate our ministry, that we are the self sufficient resource- the host in the community of the community and we will give the community whatever they need. It’s much easier to be the host than the guest. There’s less at risk.

Jesus knows that left to our own devices, we will hide behind extra tunics and bags of money to cover our vulnerability, mitigate the risk of rejection and use them as barriers to protect ourselves from needing other people, so that we can go on believing that we can control our lives and the lives of those around us.  We don’t need their hospitality but they need ours. And our culture of self reliance and autonomy backs us up. It’s not socially acceptable to be a “free loader” even if we come bearing this life giving message of life forever and being created in the image of the One who is pure love, grace, mercy and hope. We forget that God was first vulnerable with us, emptying Godself  to be fully human, to risk and to know what it is to be rejected, scared, and alone. Jesus vulnerably called friends who were less than perfect and would eventually scatter when times got hard and fully loved them anyway. Jesus wasn’t afraid of his vulnerability but embraced it as part of being with God’s people.

Jesus calls us to remove those barriers and brings us back to the reality that who we are as messy, imperfect, and broken humans is exactly who we need to be to proclaim God’ love. When we are able to be authentic, drop our façade and admit our brokenness is when we are most able to connect to one another and share what God has given us so freely. God has already equipped us with what we need for the journey: Jesus and each other, including the stranger, and this grace is sufficient. Our imperfection and vulnerability means that we have to invite others to journey with us because we need them as well. We need those who make us uncomfortable, push our boundaries, will walk with us in pain, wrestle with us in justice for all people and remind us that Jesus gathers us all to God. This isn’t a gospel of “go it alone” self sufficiency but one of radical inclusion where all people with their differing points of view and gifts are not just tolerated but needed for the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God.

God declares that we are never alone and we are already uniquely equipped by God to do whatever God calls us to do-we are enough just the way that we are, even when we are weary, afraid and rejected. Proclaiming the gospel only requires the willingness to vulnerably speak the truth about how the good news of Jesus Christ turned your world upside down with the promise of being made new each and every day, with the promise of unconditional love and forgiveness no matter what, that promise of God’s community, that the promise of eternal life, the reality of abundant life through Jesus, that is available not just someday but today. It’s proclaiming the good news that death is never the final word in God’s kingdom, that the meal of bread and wine we share is a not a pious ritual but the love of Jesus actually going in your ears, your mouth and your heart, and not just yours but your neighbor’s too. And this promise is for all people, in all places even if it’s risky. Amen.