In the gospel story today Jesus sends 70 of his followers on a mission.
It sounds like Mission Impossible.
Go as lambs among wolves – the radical message of Jesus is not always welcome
Carry no purse, bag or sandals
Remain in one house, eat what is set before you, and cure the sick
Who would take such a mission?
Take nothing with you – are you crazy?
You want us to heal the sick?
Yet these 70 go as they are told,
and return to Jesus “full of joy” at what they have done in Jesus’ name.
It sounds crazy.
But I think there are things we can learn from this story, as followers of Jesus today.
When Jesus sends out the 70, he requires that they be completely dependent on others -
especially their one partner, and on the strangers to whom they go.
Not an easy thing for us to imagine.
In our culture, independence and self-reliance are paramount virtues.
We have convinced ourselves that our wealth can buy us security.
All our earning and planning and buying and saving, preparing ourselves for the future –
it works for a while –
until suddenly it doesn’t.
Wealth evaporates in a stock market crash just when one plans to retire.
A medical emergency eats up one’s accumulated savings.
Or, the day comes when we realize all our wealth and security means little
in the face of loss or addiction
The gospel story lays out the possibility that what is important on the journey
is not what we have, but who.
That the most valuable thing is to be part of God’s family.
Seminary President David Lose goes so far as to say that the greatest gift Jesus gives the 70
is not the power to work miracles,
but the gift of vulnerability and interdependence.
The truth is, we are vulnerable.
To face life as it really is –
to admit that we are not in control –
And admitting our dependence on others is not weakness,
but a true expression of our life in Christ –
we are all in this together.
This is a challenge for us.
I have seen first hand how ready you all are to help, serve, and give to others.
And how difficult it is for most of you – of us – to receive help or be served.
Most of us here are much more comfortable cooking a meal for someone who needs help,
or sharing food at the food pantry,
than we are getting a meal to help us out after surgery,
or taking a box of groceries to tide us over in a difficult month.
How many times have I heard,
“I can handle it. Someone else needs that more than me.”
But the invitation to live in community is an invitation to receive help when you need it –
to give someone else the gift of helping you.
To admit we need one another.
I was recently at an event where my Lutheran bishop, Jim Gonia, spoke.
He began with these words:
“Those of you who know me know I have a saying. We are church . . .”
Here he paused – and those of us who do know him finished the phrase “better together.”
We are church – better together.
When we work together as the followers of Jesus,
and rely of the presence of the Spirit among us,
we can accomplish so much more than any of us can do alone.
The second challenge in this story is similar, but has to do with our work as a church.
We spend a lot of time talking about hospitality – about how to make this place welcoming for people to come here, to join us, to eat at our table and share our fellowship.
And that’s a vital, valuable conversation, which we need to always keep in front of us.
But this story asks for something different.
Jesus doesn’t tell his followers to stay here and prepare a feast for all the people he will send to eat with them.
He tells them to go out, to receive the hospitality of others –
even to make themselves dependent on that hospitality –
and in that way to share the good new that the Kingdom of God has come near.
I am reminded of a summer I spent studying in Africa – with a program from Luther Seminary in Zimbabwe, and with the Maryknoll Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, which trains people for missionary work in Africa.
Both programs, while centered in cities where we took classes from local university professors, also included the chance to go out to visit rural villages.
In Zimbabwe, we visited LWF development sites.
We heard the stories of people in the villages, saw their pride in the dams and other projects they were building with relief funds to make their lives better, and ate cola and roasted goat meat in their homes.
In Kenya, we each had an assistant who helped us navigate Nairobi, and we each spent one weekend visiting that person’s family in a rural village. So I went with Lucy to stay with her parents, worship in their church, eat avocados from the trees around their home and drink the punch they made with local water that I wasn’t sure I should drink but knew I could not refuse.
In both places, I received a gift from the people which changed the way I think about Africa and the people who live there.
It was a lesson about being in relationship with people who will receive our help –
seeing, first, their gifts and strengths, rather than only their needs and struggles.
There is a movement in contemporary theology and church circles called Missional Church.
We often talk about the church’s mission –
the mission we share to spread the gospel;
the mission statements each church writes to guide our ministry.
The Missional Church movement turns that around a bit, saying that God has a mission in the world, and Gods’ mission has a church.
A basic tenant of the movement is to get out of the church –
out of our buildings, our outreach programs, our comfort zones – to receive hospitality from people we might call other, and see what God is already up to there.
I have some ideas of how this might work – ministries I’ve been part of or heard about.
Such as marching in the Pride Parade.
Sharing “Ashes to go” on Ash Wednesday at the corner of 4th and Montano.
Susan Allison Hatch has told me about a program in downtown Albuquerque where anyone who comes – wealthy or poor, housed or homeless – sit down side by side to create art together.
I have read about two churches in Washington DC which do Church in the Park.
One morning a week, they prepare sandwiches and take them to a park in DC where many homeless people gather.
They share a Eucharist service, and then lunch, with the people who are there.
Ideas such as these are just the beginning.
Missional churches are still exploring what it means to move outside what we know,
to meet people who know nothing of Jesus and the church,
or who know only the Christianity presented as a set of rules and boundaries
from which they are excluded.
We are still learning what it means to receive hospitality, as well as offer it,
and in that way create community and perhaps learn what God is up to outside our church walls.
We have taken first steps –
and I hope St Michael’s might take on this mission more and more.
It’s hard, and more than a little scary.
But we know, as did those first 70 who went out with no purses or sandals,
that Jesus is with us.
And that is all we need.
Thanks be to God.