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Sermon for July 3, 2016

Anna V. Copeland, Preaching

Text: Luke 10:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

10 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.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘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.’

                                                Travel Lightly

The rules of hospitality are unwritten but everybody knows what they are. When you visit someone’s home for the first time, you always bring a present. Depending on the occasion, it can be a gift-wrapped picture frame, or a loaf of homemade something, or jam, or coffee or wine. On subsequent visits you can bring something simple as a hostess gift, but you don’t have to: Flowers from the garden, or a poem, or newspaper clipping, or even a note card. Oftentimes invitations these days say: “Your presence is your gift”, and we show up with a warm, embracing smile and we are graciously received by those who are so very glad we’ve come.

Just as we all understand the unwritten guidelines for hospitality in our homes, Luke outlines for us in today’s story, Jesus’ guidelines for hospitality in God’s home. This particular story from the gospel according to Luke extends God’s hospitality to the Jesus party, the party of abundant life in God’s peaceable kingdom. Jesus provides for us here a prototype of what to expect when we R.S.V.P “yes” as followers of the way of Jesus.

When the disciples said “yes”, Jesus sent them out as bearers of God’s peace. His instructions on how to share God’s Good News of abundant life were simple.

Go

Notice Need

Stay Alert

Travel Lightly

Bring Gifts

Stay Put

Heal People

And Know When to Leave

         Just as Jesus made it clear how to arrive at the party, he also made it clear when to go home. “But, whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome the gospel of peace, do not stay. Shake the dust from your feet.” Move on.

Jesus understood that hospitality is not always extended to the gospel of peace when we arrive. Thirty years ago we were invited to visit relatives in another state. The husband of the couple set the appointed date and time. Long before cell phones or email, we arrived as anticipated, and the wife opened the door to our knock. Then she closed it and walked away. We waited. We rang again, and then we waited. Sometime later, she opened the door and again walked away. We were neither welcomed nor received. Eventually the husband came downstairs and invited us in off the stoop.

We asked if we had been mistaken about the date or the time, or if something had happened that perhaps a later visit would be better. He assured us that all was well and we proceeded to spend among the most unpleasant of afternoons in a home where we were clearly not welcome. We suspect we walked in on a fight between the two of them, but we’ll never know.

When the disciples said “yes”, Jesus sent them out as bearers of God’s peace to a world held captive by Caesar that was anything but peace-filled. He sent them out into this uncertain, troubled, and violent world, knowing that many people would reject the invitation to a peace-filled abundant life, even though God’s hostess gift was free. Jesus warned the disciples that he was sending them out as sheep among wolves who would devour them, even though peace is the very thing people wanted the most.

Jesus understood that the gospel of peace would not be received well by everyone and he prepared his disciples for it. In another version of this same story, Jesus in fact told the disciples that if the gospel of peace were not received, they were to shake the dust from their sandals and move on to another place where they might be welcomed.

Jesus understood that unless there is receptivity to the good news that God is with us, that God is present and available to transform our lives, that Jesus came to set us free from all manner of things that get in the way of our living full and meaningful lives. Unless people want to be healed of their addictions to whatever keeps them from fullness of life, you just can’t make someone welcome a healthy life. We have to want it. We have to invite life to come in. Abundant life comes as free gift from an all-loving God. Nevertheless, God’s gift of life is like an organic garden. We feed and weed abundant life if we want what God has planted in us to grow, we share abundant life if we want to feed others, and we attend to practices that sustain abundant everyday if we expect it to flourish.

Jesus invites us to live as Good News people in just such a way as this. But remember again the catch to this message. The critical factor in whether or not peace reigns on earth has little to do with how well behaved we are as God’s houseguests on this small blue planet. To listen to me preach, most preachers in fact, you might think otherwise. So much of our sermons sound like a tutorial on the moral life, as if you didn’t already know that love, peace, joy, forgiveness, hope and mercy are good ideas, as if you didn’t already know that drinking to much, or taking what belongs to someone else, or being mean or cheating is not a God thing and can’t give you life. You already know that. You’ve already known that for a very long time, most likely since you were children.

The most important thing that happens in today’s scripture, in most gospel stories in fact, is the very thing we cannot see. Before Jesus sent the disciples out into the world, he changed their lives. Before Jesus asked them to go visit homes, and talk to people at the market, and heal the sick, discouraged and broken along the traveling road, he said this.

“Stop what you’re doing for a moment and pay attention. Stop fishing”, he said to Peter, “And stop collecting taxes he said to Matthew. Stop texting and driving and drinking and striving and playing sport and making money and cooking dinner. Stop what you’re doing, and come, follow me. Do whatever it takes to focus your attention on what God is doing in the world and in you.”

For some, Jesus said, stopping is temporary so that we can take stock of our life and consider whether or not we need to move in a new direction. To a few, Jesus said, “sell all you have and give it away.” To others, Jesus said, “pray” and then he taught them how to do it. To still others, Jesus said, “you can do anything, even walk on water, even move mountains, heal the sick, raise the dead, bind up the brokenhearted, set the prisoners free, if only you will keep your eyes on me. I’ll show you the way.”

This is where God’s story starts for us. God’s things that make for peace don’t start with our personal justice-making actions, important as they are. If we could make the world a better place by being good and wise and generous, we would have done it a long time ago. And if we were successful, our ego would be satisfied and we could go to God and say, “Look at this great work I’ve done.”

When we join the Jesus party, when we eat at his table, and drink of his life, the rules of hospitality turn upside down. Jesus is the both the host and the hostess gift, his own life given to us as example and guide. Instead of having to buy Tupperware or makeup or jewelry, we receive free presents that make abundant life possible. Then well fed and well nourished and well rested at Jesus’ welcome table, we can’t help but go out and offer the same free gifts to everybody else. The supply is endless. It is not given to us because we’re special, or smart or for secret gain. We get to participate in the Jesus party simply because God invited us to come.

God’s rules of hospitality are different than ours. God’s hospitality and extravagant welcome to the peaceable kingdom does not judge others. It doesn’t exclude others. It doesn’t proclaim who’s in or who’s out as if we knew. We don’t second-guess God. We don’t sit around wondering if this person or that person is welcome at the table. It’s none of our business who God invites to the table or how. The only decision we get to make is whether or not we will open and respond affirmatively to the invitation God sent through Jesus to us. God invites us to Jesus’ house party. Then God asks us to bring our friends and invite all our neighbors to come too.

When I was very young and asked my mother what it was like to be in love, she said, “It feels like the fourth of July.” The Jesus party looks very much like the fourth of July. You wake up expectant that anything can happen. There might be parades and you get to hang out with people you love. There’s always a feast of your favorite foods: barbecued chicken and potato salad and home made ice cream. Sometimes there’s swimming and games. People laugh and have fun and feel happy. At night there’s fireworks, and everybody is invited to gather on some hillside or at the beach, awestruck and surprised.

The Jesus party looks a lot like the fourth of July. Its success does not depend on how good WE are. Most of us are good people most of the time. Some of us are good people some of the time. God is great, ALL the time. The transformation the world needs always begins with God. Amen?

Amen