July 7, 2019, The Fourth Sunday aftrer Pentecost
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper Nine (Year C)
July 7, 2019
The Rev. Anna C. Shine
Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strong rock and our redeemer.
Last week, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. As he is traveling, he sends forth seventy persons, in pairs, ahead of himself to prepare a place for them as well as send notice that the kingdom of God has come near. On their way, they are to carry nothing extra, leaving them dependent upon the hospitality, generosity, and welcome of the towns they are entering. They are armed only with peace and a message of the nearness of God’s kingdom.
Imagine someone coming to your door and saying, “Peace to this house!” How would you react? Would you open your door wide and say, please enter? Would you provide food and drink and shelter? As a young woman who lives alone, society has told me that I certainly shouldn’t entertain the thought of allowing a stranger to stay in my house. Especially in a day and age where we hear so many stories of the horrors that humans can perpetrate on one another. There is certainly a culture of fear of anyone who is unknown, of anyone who is other. I’m not commenting on whether or not this is the right way to behave, but rather painting the picture for how things are already understood. It is deeply vulnerable to allow someone to enter your space of security and privacy. Just letting them in is hard. But welcoming them? Providing for them? You might say, ‘Well, Anna, this was a different culture and a different context and a different time.’ And that is correct. There is especially within the Middle Eastern cultures a radical understanding of hospitality. But Jesus does not suggest that the task would be less difficult or vulnerable or dangerous for the seventy he sends forth. I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves, he states.
The imagery is important. Because we know that lambs and wolves are mortal enemies. We understand the peril of lambs in the midst of wolves. Jesus is not saying that following his way will be easy. In fact, he is suggesting that it will be possibly deadly. We know it will be for him. However, we also know that Isaiah paints a picture of the future where these two enemies will lie beside one another in peace. One obvious question here is: are we lambs or are we wolves? And the true answer is: we are both. We are simultaneously in our lives the ones who are sent out and the ones who are receiving. And we have times where we are open to the radical welcome of God’s love and peace, extended to one another. As well as times where we are shut off and unable to reflect that image of God within ourselves to others.
A few days ago, I met a young man whose story exemplifies these experiences of being sent out and receiving. He was telling me about his time on a mission trip in Haiti. He shared with me many stories and described the places he had seen. What struck me was that he never once mentioned what he did as a part of his mission. I’m used to stories about painting schools or building wells and houses. But that was not what he shared with me. Instead, he told me that he noticed that the Haitian people do something that, in his experience, he did not witness in the States. He said that whenever he would go to a person’s house and ask if they had time to hang out and talk, not only would that person immediately stop what they were doing, but the whole household would stop and welcome him in. They would talk for hours and eventually food would be shared and then music would play and the dancing would begin. The hospitality he found in the country of Haiti was staggering compared to his experience of the culture of busy-ness at home. It was clear to me that his experience had changed him.
Encounters like these are not ordinary. They can be scary, they take time, they interrupt. But it is these interruptions that often give us the greatest moments of transformation. Because the encounter is never a one-way street. When the seventy return to Jesus, we are told it is with joy. They have been empowered by Jesus’ call for them to go, speak the message, and heal the people. Even the demons submit to us, they say. But Jesus tells them that their rejoicing in the power they have is not the correct response. Rather he tells them to have joy in the fact that their names are written in heaven. I won’t preach my kindom of heaven sermon this morning, but to give you a sneak peak of my understanding, suffice it to say – it’s not a place. Jesus is talking of the transformative experience of radical hospitality, welcome, and love that are the pillars of Jesus’ message and his Way.
This is God’s house. And so we do not abide by the rules that human creatures have set up in our fears and insecurities. This is a house welcome to all. That is not to say that it cannot, nor will not, see violence within its walls. We have seen too many times in the recent years the hatred and violence that can be visited upon houses of worship, with shootings and bombings and stabbings and arson. And we cannot deny the fact that within houses of worship we have seen and heard of instances of abuse and violence perpetrated upon the people within it and those who are seeking shelter within.
I invite you to reflect upon the idea of God’s house. How is it to be understood? How do we define it? I just mentioned God’s house as the church. As the places of worship in all religions that hold a belief in a deity or many deities. But God’s house within the Christian tradition also exists within the body. After all, God housed Godself in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus calls the body the temple. Extending even beyond that, after the death and resurrection of Jesus we became, as his followers and disciples, the body of Christ. Thus, God’s house exists within the walls of institutions of faith, within the bounds of the individual human creation, within the unity of the community of Christ. And that community transcends national boundaries and identities. So what does it mean, then, to have that radical welcome and hospitality transcend the lines of human created borders?
Regardless of our failings as humans to uphold the invitation and welcome, however, the fact remains: God’s house is a house where all are to be welcomed. Where all are to be loved. And all are to seek peace.
What might it take to cultivate that peace within us so that we might extend it to the other? Part of that comes with going out. Allow yourself to be pushed out of the ordinary. Because it is in learning one another’s stories that we come to know each other better, that we come to learn of the multitude of ways of being in this world, that we expand our vision and broaden our minds to the beautiful diversity that God has created.
Part of cultivating the peace within us is in coming in to this space. Into this community. And continuously practicing that difficult art of welcoming and being received. Of truly getting to know one another.
Every week, during the peace at St. John’s, we sing the song “Let there be peace on Earth.” As we do this work of bringing peace, the final line of that song strikes me: Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me. As we are sent forth today, I invite you to find the ways to start this work. Go out. Come in. And most importantly, start now.