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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 7, 2013

When I get ready for a trip, I have a packing list that includes items I need specific to that journey. When I went toHawaiifor my niece’s wedding, I took a bathing suit, sunscreen, flip-flops and suitable clothing for a beach wedding. When I go on a trip to see my sister on the farm, I take my knitting, so she can fix my errors, good shoes to go walking on the New River Trail and lots of books because they don’t watch television. A few weeks ago, when I went to a continuing education seminar, I packed a friend’s laptop, paper and pens, and a small briefcase to put in the notes and other items I had been told I would receive. If you saw the extras I had packed you would be able to tell where I was going.

Jesus gives the disciples a sort of packing list for their journey. They are to go ahead of him to prepare the way everywhere he plans to visit. They are to heal and preach that thekingdomofGodhas come near. Jesus’ instructions give us some clues about what thekingdomofGodis like and how the disciples should act to exemplify it.

ThekingdomofGodis universal. The number 70 is symbolic; it is the number of nations listed in Genesis 10. The mission has worldwide significance, and sending out the 70 is just the beginning. It is a scouting party. Jesus tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful, but there are few laborers. One of their jobs is to pray that God will send more laborers into the field. In their mission, they will hopefully find more who will carry the message with them.

Being part of thekingdomofGodthat is beginning to grow in the world is to be vulnerable. Jesus tells the 70 he is sending them like lambs into the middle of wolves. Jesus knows he is a lamb in the middle of the wolves of religious and political structures that are interested in maintaining their stability. They do not welcome thekingdomofGod. Jesus knows that he will be put to death because of it, and he wants the disciples to know that they face the same dangers. I was talking to a colleague who told me a story of feeling vulnerable. When he was six, his father told him about two men near their neighborhood who had beaten up another man. Later he asked his son to go to the corner and get a paper. When my colleague came to the corner, he saw the two men. He felt vulnerable no matter what he did. He could either run and get the paper, afraid he would get beaten up too, or he could risk his father’s wrath. I have felt vulnerable on the playground refereeing a kickball game. I was the target of many detractors, who thought I made bad calls.

ThekingdomofGodis about community. Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs on their mission. When one is feeling low about rejection, the other can encourage him. It is as if someone went out as part of an every member canvass to deliver pledge cards and was treated badly. In community, there are supports to help that person feel better. When one is feeling weak, the other is feeling strong. If one stumbles along the way, another is there to pick him up.

ThekingdomofGodis a community of support. We love one another. We help each other along the way. I am fortunate to have friends who support and encourage me and I them. We bear one another’s burdens. We talk and listen; we have fun together. Once, I was doing an assigned writing exercise about my faults and I kept getting scared about doing it, so one of my friends offered to stay with me while I did it. That was all I needed. I finished the exercise in no time.

ThekingdomofGodis about tolerance and equality. The disciples are supposed to stay at one place, not go looking for a more comfortable place to stay, and they are to eat whatever is put in front of them, even if it isn’t kosher. Bridge building between different cultures to create a primary identity of being God’s child is an important quality of thekingdomofGod.

Healing and wholeness is another aspect of the kingdom. When the disciples heal, it will be in body, mind and spirit. Desmond Tutu is a good example of this characteristic. After apartheid was over, he set up Truth and Reconciliation committees to have victims meet with perpetrators of crimes against their families, so that forgiveness was possible. I remember seeing a film about some similar committees he ran inNorthern Irelandand being so moved by how remorseful perpetrators were and how much they wanted forgiveness from their victims.

ThekingdomofGodis about spiritual power, not temporal power. The disciples, who have been given their spiritual authority by Jesus, are to take nothing with them. They are to depend solely on the hospitality of the strangers they meet in the towns they go to. They are to rely on God to meet their needs through others. Hospitality is part of the kingdom as well.

Receivers and rejecters alike receive the message that thekingdomofGodhas come near, not only in the preaching, but in the example of the disciples themselves. In their traveling instructions, Jesus makes sure that nothing about how they behave will be incongruous with the kingdom they teach that is ruled by a loving God who works for peace and justice in the world.

More than two thousand years later, disciples are still bringing thekingdomofGodto the world. We receive the kingdom when someone goes with us along the road of our spiritual journey, when we are loved by our neighbor, when we come to church to receive forgiveness and to take in wholeness in the Body and Blood of Christ. We receive thekingdomofGodwhen we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to depend on God for our daily bread instead of on our own efforts. We receive thekingdomofGodwhen we eat whatever is set before us by taking on life’s challenges as they come to us. Sometimes we reject the kingdom of God by thinking we can do everything on our own, by isolating ourselves from community, by not accepting help when it is offered.

But we are not just receivers of the in-breakingkingdomofGod. We are bearers of it to others as the 70 were. They had received the kingdom in the teachings and the person of Jesus and they had a story to tell. We do too. We may not have the power to exorcise demons, but we can heal broken relationships with God’s help. We may not have the power to tread on snakes and scorpions unharmed, but we have the power to tell the story of the kingdom in our own lives and invite people to share their stories. We have the power to go into the world and exemplify by our behavior that we are God’s children and members of the kingdom, working for peace and justice and treating others as God’s creations, too, with respect and dignity.

Jesus not only preached the kingdom, he exemplified it in all that he did. He gave the disciples the instructions and the power to do the same, and he has given us that power as well. We need to offer the hospitality of thekingdomofGodto everyone we meet. Whether we are rejected or accepted, we can know that we have helped God to defeat the forces of evil, and rejoice that our names are written in heaven.


     - Rev. Ann Barker