Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2016

Giving peace is a real thing. When we pass the peace on Sunday, we are passing on an almost tangible gift from God. We are wishing the other wholeness and restoration of relationships and trust in God.

Packing for a trip can be exhausting, even a short one. There is luggage to get out, clothes to launder and collect and a laptop to put in a case. You have to remember your toothbrush and your comb, especially if you are going to places where those are not readily available. If you are flying, you have to remember the 3 oz. liquid rule. In my case I often have to pack food as well.

The disciples have none of the problems we do about packing. They aren’t to take anything but the clothes on their backs with them. They are to be dependent on the hospitality of the cities and towns they visit. They are to be vulnerable. Jesus wants the disciples to go now because there is a sense of urgency for the mission. He has already sent out the 12 to heal and teach and preach and now he is sending 70 more people out into the world to prepare them for Jesus’ coming. Reaping the harvest is a symbol for the day of judgment and Jesus wants everyone to receive the good news before that. He goes beyond his emphasis on the Jewish community and includes Jews and Gentiles, beginning the Christian mission to the whole world (Elaine A. Heath). His message, given through the 70, is that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near, the kingdom where good wins and evil is destroyed, the kingdom that is a complete reversal of everything the world stands for.

So Jesus sends out the 70, with very specific things in mind for them. First, the vulnerability, which the world stays as far away from as it can, but is part of kingdom life. But Jesus is sending out the disciples as lambs among wolves, open to being preyed on. They have nothing to protect themselves but the hoped-for hospitality of others. If a town rejects them and it is close to evening, they may not have food or shelter for the night.

Jesus also sends out the disciples two by two, signifying the importance of relationship in the Christian community. It is not a game of who can get the most power. It is a pairing of equals, for mutual support and encouragement along the way. They are to remind each other of the message Jesus has given them and be confident in their teaching of it. Even two people are much more convincing than one person alone and they are living the kingdom life value of relationship.

Jesus also has one more word for them as they set out. They will meet hostility as well as welcome. There will be towns that will shut the door in their faces when they try to tell them that the kingdom of God is coming in the person of Jesus. They don’t want their ordered world upset. Perhaps they are secure in what they feel is kingdom life. This rejection from the wolves will hurt, but that is the way of the world, when people are living in direct opposition to the kingdom values of love, mercy, peace and justice. It is hard to be that vulnerable in all ways, but they have one another for support and encouragement to remember what the kingdom is about, which is Jesus and all he stands for.

Jesus has three instructions for them as they set out for their journey, and they are to do three things. They are to give peace, heal people and preach the kingdom of God. Giving peace is a real thing. When we pass the peace on Sunday, we are passing on an almost tangible gift from God. We are wishing the other wholeness and restoration of relationships and trust in God. Some of us shake hands but are not in our hearts able to receive the peace, and that is what the disciples will find too. Jesus says it is perfectly normal that some will receive peace and some will not. Some will be open to accepting God’s presence in their lives as a source of love and grace and some will not. Peace is a power the disciples have. If they find a house where the peace is accepted, that is where they are supposed to stay. If they find a town that is receptive, that is where they are to work Jesus’ work. Yet to both accepters and rejecters, they are to say the kingdom of God has come near you.

The disciples are to heal the sick and proclaim that this healing is possible because God’s reign is approaching, where evil will be defeated and health will become the order of the day. People who welcome Jesus’ peace also welcome Jesus’ healing.

The disciples return, flush with their mission’s success and Jesus has three more words for them. First he exclaims that he saw Satan fall from heaven, indicating the beginning of the downfall of Satan. The disciples’ work has been important, perhaps more than they realize (David J. Lose). As Satan falls, the reign of God begins its in-breaking into the world.

Jesus has also given the disciples power in the strength of the kingdom to conquer evil, represented by snakes and scorpions. They shall tread on them and not be hurt. “Nothing will hurt you” he promises, and we must take this as a sign not that they will never have problems – most of them are persecuted and killed for the sake of the gospel – but that life will triumph over death.

Finally, Jesus reminds the disciples that pride in their accomplishments is not the goal of the exercise. They are merely laborers in the field, doing the work God has given them to do to bring in the kingdom and their names are written in heaven because they have done God’s will.

Our work today is the same kingdom work that first the 12 and then the 70 did. Who among us in not moved by the plight of so many people today, who are threatened with eviction and tell me on the phone that they are “so hungry”. It is almost inconceivable to us that people cannot afford the food they need to survive. And what about the immigrants and the refugees, fleeing from hostile forces in their own lands and arriving in other countries, sometimes welcomed and sometimes not. The sick and the suffering. The bullied and the abused. The social institutions that divide our nation into rich and poor. The indifferent and the hostile. We are the laborers that God sends to harvest this crop before it is too late, before people grow cynical, critical, bitter, depressed or hopeless and believe that God’s kingdom is not alive in the world, giving a message of healing and peace for those who need it most.

Like Jesus’ disciples, we are called to go out in our vulnerability, relying only on God for the empowerment we need to heal those who are hurting and to speak the truth to power. It is hard to be rejected, which we will be, because we all want the acceptance of others. It is hard to believe that God will give us the words we need to tell our stories and invite people to come join us as laborers in the harvest. But we go in the power of community, supported and upheld by our brothers and sisters in faith.

Our resources are a true gift to those who need them but so is our peace. We are to bring the peace of Christ to all that we encounter as we work to heal the world and its people. The peace that brings hope that they will be provided for. The peace that says that God’s reign is here and now and working for justice for all those who are oppressed. The peace that says to every human being, “You are mine, and I love you”. It may not seem like much in the face of the horrors of the modern world, but Jesus thought it important enough to send the disciples out to give it as a sign of the kingdom of God.

After we have served as laborers in the harvest, we come back, fulfilled. We have made, with God’s help, some inroads into the evil that still pervades the world and have played a part in Satan’s downfall. Our names are written in heaven because we have helped bring in the kingdom of God.

Works cited:
Elaine A. Heath, Feasting on the Word, vol. 3, Year C, Theological Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 218
David J. Lose, Feasting on the Word, vol. 3, Year C, Homiletical Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press 2010), p. 219