After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
My sermon from the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (July 3, 2022) on Luke 10:1-11,16-20 and Psalm 66:1-9.
One of the fun things about summer in suburbia is that we, unintentionally, have created these little opportunities where we can wonder. Since this is the season when schools shut down and a lot of us head to the shore, we live in this strange reality where life is still busy but our urgent emails that need an immediate response go unanswered. We, together, slow down because we have to wait for someone else to answer. That’s a bit maddening but there’s not much we can do about it because so many folks have out-of-office announcements on their voicemail. We find ourselves living through these little gaps of space and time where we have to wait. And while we wait, our minds are allowed to wander. We could ponder one of the deep fundamental questions about our place in the universe. Or, if you’re like me, you might wonder why hot dogs are sold in packs of ten but their buns are sold in bags of eight. When I recently let my mind wander, I learned there’s something called the National Hot Dog Sausage Council and they’ve explained the difference between dogs and buns in this way. Around the year 1940, hot dogs were sold in packs of ten but, at the time, industrial technology required buns to be baked eight rolls at a time. Even though bakers today are not limited by that kind of technology, most still follow the old ways. If we wanted to make the buns and the dogs come out even at our next barbecue, we would need to be creative about how we use them. That creativity might resemble a recent article I saw by Jonny Sun where he imagined turning hot dogs into tacos or a weird kind of sushi or just throwing everything into a blender and making a really dense and bready smoothie. By giving us little moments when all we can do is wait, the season of summer grants us the opportunity to strengthen our spiritual imagination. All of us, no matter our age, can grow in wonder. And when we spend time wondering about big and small things, we learn how to see God’s word in a new way. That, I think, is a really helpful skill to have because we often stumble into some really weird things in our Bible like when Jesus said he saw “Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”
Now this one sentence has inspired a lot of people’s spiritual imagination over the years. I’ve seen it used to inspire some incredible paintings and even movies that depict a kind of cosmic battle between the devil and God. Scholars, theologians, and deep thinkers have used this line to create a framework describing how heaven, hell, good, and evil interact in our world. This one line has been used a lot but it’s a bit odd since Luke doesn’t give us any words to flesh what Jesus said. There’s no actual description of some kind of cosmic battle and Luke doesn’t interrupt Jesus’ speech with a description of the disciples seeing something divine happening around them. Instead, this one sentence is embedded in a series of sentences Jesus spoke after seventy disciples returned and told him all they had seen and heard. Jesus was already beginning his final journey into Jerusalem. Yet he sent his followers to visit the land of the Samaritans which really wasn’t on the way. Jesus was doing something strange and I’m not sure if this one line was about some comic thing he had seen in the past. Rather it seems to me that Jesus, while looking at those who he had sent into an unexpected place, knew that their work had, in small and big ways, changed the world.
So if my interpretation is correct, how did the seventy disciples actually do that? Well I think part of it was because they went into an unexpected place, met with people they weren’t supposed to, and created tiny moments to wonder. Since Jesus was Jewish, there was no expectation that he, or his followers, would hang out with Samaritans. There was a long simmering religious and cultural conflict between these two groups even though they had some similar beliefs about God. Jesus was supposed to visit other Jews yet he sent his disciples, two by two, into villages full of people not like him. He gave the one he sent special instructions, telling them to bring basically nothing including no bags, money, or even an extra pair of sandals. None of them would have control over the hospitality they received; depending entirely on people they hadn’t met yet for food and shelter. They would go into these villages, knock on a door, and the first word out of their mouths would be: “peace.”
For the Samaritans meeting these followers of Jesus, that experience must have been weird. The strangers at their door wouldn’t, at first, introduce themselves or explain why they were there. All they said was “peace” and then they stood there, waiting for a response. The Samaritans probably recognized these strangers as members of the Jewish community which made the whole experience even weirder. In the constant religious and cultural struggle between these two communities, rarely would one put themselves in a position where the other side has control. Yet here they were, creating this strange moment in time and space where they waited for the Samaritans to respond. The strangers at the door put themselves in a position where the people who weren’t supposed to like them would be the ones to take care of them. And in this strange moment, the disciples didn’t try to coerce the Samaritans to get their way or flex some kind of faith-based muscle to show how awesome they were. Instead, they offered “peace” and created a moment where the people they were talking to could wonder what that peace should look like.
And that, I think, is something we, as followers of Jesus, get to do. Since Jesus included us in his holy family through baptism and faith, we get to bring peace into everyone’s home. This peace is more than merely a feeling of being comfortable and at ease. Instead, it’s a peace that encourages vulnerability while letting people be exactly who they are. The barriers, fears, mistrust, and anxieties we put into the spaces between us and others are meant to be bridged by those who follow Jesus. That isn’t always an easy thing to do because it requires us to be vulnerable with others. We, in those moments, create tiny spaces where they, and us, are empowered to make their own choices. That can feel very risky because we have no control over what they might do. Yet when we let others choose, we show how Jesus has already made a difference in our lives. It’s a strange thing to be so beloved by God that we are able to let others be exactly who they are. Yet it’s through the grace we are given every day by a God who has claimed us as God’s own, that we are empowered to love and serve; to sing and praise; and to tell others about what God has done for us and for them. By letting others choose, we show how our spiritual imagination has changed our lives and invite them to imagine what their lives can be too. And that helps us eat together; spend time with one another; and learn how our story isn’t the only story that matters to God. It’s within those little gaps of time and space when peace begins to be made real. And as peace grows, everything that stands against the kingdom of God – including Satan and the myriad of ways we keep each other apart – all of that comes tumbling down.