Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 3, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 4

Pentecost 4, 2022
Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:1-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Such interesting readings this morning.  Especially in light of what is happening in our country these days.  For instance, that first reading from Isaiah, talking about breast milk, as we are still experiencing a baby formula shortage.  Hits a little too close to home for many parents I’m sure.

But I love that we get this nurturing aspect of God so clearly laid out in this passage.  To those just returned from exile, God gives comfort just “as a mother comforts her child.”  Plus, we all just learned the word “dandled.”  I think we naturally default to God being angry and powerful with a beard and lightning bolts.  (But, as I’ve told you many times, that’s not our God; that’s Zeus.)  And in this reading we hear nothing but comfort and care and consolation.  We would do well to hold on to this imagery when times are tough.  Which it seems they always are these days.

And now on to Paul.  As I’ve mentioned before, every Tuesday I meet with a group of clergy online to talk through the readings for the coming Sunday.  We read each lesson and then discuss it.  By this point I have a certain reputation for being the anti-Paul member of the group.  After someone reads the Epistle, I typically unmute to say, “I hate this reading.”  Sometimes people push back and tell me what’s good about it, and sometimes people say, “Yeah, me too.”  But I now I have become known as the guy who doesn’t like Paul.

And so today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians . . . well, as I say, I’m not the biggest fan of Paul’s letters.  He often says things that are too easily taken to mean something else.  Or, worse, people read his advice to a specific group of people in a specific circumstance at a specific time, and then declare that it is true for all people in all circumstances.  For example, his warning to the Corinthians that women should be silent in church was written to a specific group of people about a specific group of women in a specific parish at a specific time.  He was not writing to you and me.

So in the start of today’s reading, Paul writes, For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.  That passage can be read—and in fact, often is read—as being a sort of Ben Franklin admonishment of laziness and the need for self sufficiency and hard work.  But it could also just as easily be read as a Eugene Debbs socialist argument against CEO’s living off the sweat of the workers who actually produce the goods.  With Paul, your starting framework often determines what you think he is saying.  And that is why I’m not Paul’s biggest fan.  Sorry Paul.

However, the part about circumcision is important, and helps explain the Ben Franklin/Eugene Debbs portion.  The setup here is that Paul is trying to bring peace between the Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity.  The Jewish folks are saying the Gentiles need to be circumcised because that’s what the Law of Moses says.  But Paul writes, Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.  Like, they want to brag that they made you follow the Law, even when they themselves do not follow the Law.  In that context, Paul saying, “everyone must carry their own load” comes across less like “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and more like, “Mind your own beeswax!”  So, in this rare case, I agree with Paul!

And the idea of forcing our beliefs on others leads nicely into today’s gospel reading, from Luke.  But first, remember last week’s gospel?  Jesus and his disciples are walking past a Samaritan town, and James and John ask Jesus if he’d like them to burn it to the ground.  James and John’s idea of spreading the good news is to call down fire upon their enemies.  Talk about forcing your beliefs on others!  Well in today’s reading, which comes right after that, Jesus offers a different method of spreading the good news.

As we heard, Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs, and his instructions run to other extreme from James and John and their fiery vengeance on those with different views.  Jesus doesn’t equip them for a holy war where the gospel is forced.  In fact, he de-equips them, so they must depend fully on the one who is sending them, and the ones to whom they are sent.  Rather than offering them overwhelming destructive power, he removes power completely, and sends them out as “lambs among wolves.”

And it’s interesting that he doesn’t give them any content or material beyond “peace.”  There is no catechism, no discipleship workbook, no copies of “The Purpose Driven Life.”  Just . . . peace.  Remember how Luke’s gospel starts?  With the birth of Jesus?  And what do the angels sing when they announce that this baby has been born?  “Glory to God in heaven, and peace to God’s people on earth.”

It is baked in from the beginning that Jesus would bring peace, rather than fiery destruction.  That Jesus would save through surrender and persuasion, rather than dominance and force.  There are many Christians in our country right now fiercely arguing for forcing Christianity on our fellow citizens and . . . well, I’ll just say it again, Jesus saves through surrender and persuasion, not through dominance and force.  James and John and their fiery destruction belong with Zeus, not Jesus Christ.

But let’s look at that phrase from Jesus about peace.  He says,  “And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person.”  The actual phrase used here is “child of peace.”  It’s not just a peaceful person.  It suggests a person who personifies peace, who is born of peace.  It’s not in their actions or attitude; it is who they are.  Children of peace.  Jesus tells his disciples to go out and gather the children of peace.  The ones who desire and pursue peace.

Jesus saves through surrender and persuasion, rather than dominance and force.  Look at the instructions he gives to those he sends out.  “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide.”  Whatever they provide?  Can you even imagine?  What if I stayed with somebody and they ate peas every night and drank decaf coffee in the morning?  Or, given that those around Jesus were all Jewish, what if the hosts were serving pork and non-kosher foods?  The disciples certainly aren’t ordering out for pizza after the hosts go to bed.  This is some serious surrender and persuasion.

Rather than forcefully grabbing the levers of power, Jesus offers instead absolute vulnerability to spread the good news.  It’s safe to say we have a hard time accepting this as an effective strategy.  And yet, it is what Jesus tells them to do.  Not our will, but your will be done.  Not fiery dominance, but peace and persuasion.

And then here’s a surprising thing.  Jesus tells them to “cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you’.”  And, when a town rejects you, say to them, “Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near’.”  Whether they are welcomed or rejected, the kingdom of God has come near.  Which means, the welcome or rejection have nothing to do with whether the kingdom of God has come near.  You can do nothing to bring it nor reject it:  The kingdom of God is here!

However we react when the peace of God comes to us, the kingdom of God has already come near.  Our acceptance or rejection of it do not matter.  God’s kingdom still comes to us.  As the angels sang at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in heaven, and peace to God’s people on earth.”  Their song means that Jesus has been born, that God walks among us, that peace is with us, and the kingdom of God has come near.  Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us your peace.


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