Saturday, July 2, 2016

Can't Stay Here

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Ordinary 14
July 3, 2016
William G. Carter

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.’ 

My good friend Al says something at the end of his concerts that’s guaranteed to bring a chuckle. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” It’s a funny line. People come out to hear Al and his band make some music. After it winds up, the night is still young. “Let’s go explore other dark corners, when it’s time, we’ll go home.”

But I’ve wondered if that might also be a good benediction for the end of a church service. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” We call this room a “sanctuary.” It is a place of prayer, but it is not a hiding place. We gather here for worship, for learning, for Christian community, but then we are dispersed into the world. We can come here, but we can’t stay here. Christ sends us on.

The Gospel text is a sending text. A chapter ago, Jesus sent his twelve disciples ahead of him. Now he sends seventy more – or seventy-two more, if you noticed the footnotes. Why seventy – or seventy-two? Because, depending on what you read, there were either seventy or seventy-two known nations in the world. The Hebrew Bible said seventy, the Greek Old Testament said seventy-two, but no matter. Two by two, there are enough for you to take all the people on the globe.

Even before the miracle of Pentecost, when all the nations are gathered for worship in Jerusalem and the Spirit of the Risen Christ comes down upon them, now the Jewish Jesus says, “Go on your way. Take no money, take no bag, take no sandals – just take a word, a single word: shalom.” The word of peace is all you need. Eat whatever they give you. Stay wherever they put you up. Heal their sick and say ‘God is coming close to you.’” Jesus sends them out.

The seventy, or the seventy-two, do what the twelve disciples were sent to do, which is what Jesus himself has set out to do. He has no home, no regular place to lay his head (9:56). His ministry is transient. He is on the go. And to follow Jesus, in this regard, is to do what he does. If he is on the move, his people must be on the move. The charge is not to sit around in a conference room and rearrange the committee structures. It’s to go into the world on behalf of our Lord.

Here are a few details to notice about his charge. First, it’s not about getting people to come to our church, and it certainly isn’t about making our church as big as it can possibly be. No, it’s about service, specifically, serving people that we don’t even know yet. Jesus sends the seventy (or the seventy-two) with words of peace. This is their ministry: to walk into somebody else’s life and say, “Peace be to this house.”

The entire focus is upon the people to whom we are sent. Who are they? What do they need? How can our blessing for peace be translated into tangible service for them? Not for us, but for them.

How refreshing! If a church stays within its own walls, it can get pretty stale. Habits become institutionalized. The faithful flock can be reduced to a private club. Somebody new walks in, and we say, “That’s my pew, get out.”  Somebody young walks in, and the old-timers say, “Fresh meat! Let’s pounce.” Somebody naïve and willing walks in, and the tired people quote Jesus, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

We need the second half of his teaching: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” It’s his harvest, not ours, and his people are sent out. Which is to say, if we’re sitting around waiting for people to show up here, we are not doing our job. Or as a wise, old minister once said to me, “The pastors who can always be found in their offices are not doing their jobs.” Christ sends us out to serve a world full of needs.

The second detail: it’s all about those people, it’s not about us. Please repeat that with me: it’s all about those people, it’s not about us. This is the fundamental rule of good listening; we listen to another person without injecting the conversation with a lt of noise about ourselves. It is the fundamental rule of true compassion: we care to that person, not we might feel good about ourselves, but to provide some sympathy and relief for them. It’s about them.

Jesus says to the seventy, or the seventy-two: go to them. Stay with them. Speak my peace to them. Eat what they give you. Drink what they provide. Don’t hop around from place to place. Stay with these strangers until you can heal whatever distresses them. It could take a while, and it’s going to happen on their timetable, not on yours. For the true servant knows that in the moment of need, these people are more important than me.

Once again, it’s not about building ourselves up. It’s only about those to whom we are sent.

And the third detail of this charge: ministry in the name of Jesus doesn’t need a lot of props. It doesn’t need a lot of technological gadgets, nor flashy sales techniques, nor whiz bang marketing campaigns. Service in the name of Jesus is not a high pressure campaign to win souls and grab more wallets. It’s not a boastful claim of how wonderful we are or how many assets we have stashed away. We go with a word of peace, a word that we inhabit with our own gentleness, our own humility, our own patience. Success does not rise or fall on any of us. We simply go to serve, to be present alongside other people and to serve.

So we can’t stay here. That’s the word of the Lord that I hear today. It’s good to be here. It’s good to sing the praises of God. It’s good to break open the bread of Holy Scripture. It’s good to pass the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. I need to be here as regularly as I am able, and I wish for you to feel that way too. But we can’t stay here, as if this church is our hiding place. It’s our deployment center.

And that’s why, this fall, we are going to do what a growing number of Christian churches are starting to do. We are stepping into the world from our own doorstep. On September 25, the last Sunday of September, we will gather here for worship at 10:00. We will sing our hymns, listen for Christ to speak in scripture, and we will pray – and then immediately we will leave this building to go do Gospel work for other people. We may know these people, we may not. All of them are our neighbors, and we won’t be able to serve them if we stay in here.

This will be our first-ever Worship through Service Day. There will be something for everybody to do, and we want to put about two hundred people on the streets of this community to take the peace of God beyond these doors. Why are we doing this? Because the text tells us that Jesus Christ sends his people into the world.

You know as well as I that the world needs the healing love of Jesus. Behind the high hedges of this community, there are people who are lonely and disconnected. They come and go, unseen to many of us, but all of them, whether they know it or not, are the precious children of God. They’ve been bruised by broken promises and afflicted by diseased relationships. They are intoxicated by fear, or stuck in self-defeating patterns, or overextended in every possible way. And these are the ones that Jesus loves. 

According to this week’s Scranton Times, people buy houses in this community so they don’t have to send their kids to the Scranton city schools. Or they send their kids to private schools so they don’t have to mingle with the public schools. I will let you ponder if that’s true, while I ponder what so many people in this town are trying to outrun.

You know, there is a dark side to affluence. Families don’t eat at the same table. Everybody is too busy to enjoy the “good life” that they are hustling so hard to attain. Some guy is grumbling because the next door neighbor’s dandelion seeds are blowing into his lawn. And every week, one more suburban kid secretly slips off to heroin rehab, because nobody else is available to help him constructively deal with his pain.

This is our mission field. Jesus does not let his people wring their hands and say, “Let’s put up taller fences and withdraw from a terrible world.” No, he sends them ahead of him. He sends them in the power of his name. He sends them regardless of how they will be regarded. He sends them, because their ministry is really his ministry, and his ministry is done through them.  

I like how William Temple said it when he was the Archbishop of Canterbury: “The church of Jesus Christ is the only group in town that exists for the benefit of its non-members.”

When the service is over this morning, after the body and blood of Christ is given to sustain your spirit, after the final hymn stirs your soul, you don’t have to go home. But you can’t stay here. Jesus is sending you to serve the broken world that he loves.  

(c) William G Carter. All rights reserved.

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