Sermon–July 3, 2016


7 Pentecost 9-C

July 3, 2016

William Bradbury

2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:1-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

When I was doing my seminary fieldwork at St John’s, Georgetown, I became good friends with a woman who in the 1980s would be part of the advance team for President Reagan. When the president was making a visit to some city the advance team, which also included communications and Secret Service, would check out every detail for the upcoming visit. They’d go to all the venues, test the equipment, eat the food, and meet the people so everything would go smoothly when the President showed up. My friend saw herself as an extension of the President and the important work he was doing. The advance team was given every resource they needed to ensure the success of their work.

In today’s gospel Jesus sends 35 teams of two, to do this same advance work for him as he travels towards Jerusalem for his showdown with the Powers that Be.  Of course there is one striking difference in how Jesus’ people were to perform this work: As he is sending off his teams Jesus says, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals….”

Instead of giving them every resource, Jesus sends them off with no resources: no food, no money, no weapon, and no footwear that might give the appearance of wealth and status.  They are to go as beggars, entirely dependent on the kindness and hospitality of strangers and the grace of God.

 In our status-conscious world this makes no sense! Companies want their salespeople to look prosperous as a sign of the success and power of the company. Who is going to buy the message of beggars?

A buddy of mine who used to have his own advertising business says he had to drive a Mercedes in order to impress potential customers. We all get this—this is Common Sense 101 and it also applies to the church. When we elected our new bishop did we choose the one who looked like he needed help or the one who we thought was able to help us?

After I’d been in my parish in North Carolina for five years the vestry got concerned that the old junk I was driving around would one night leave me stranded, but also my old car didn’t reflect too well on the parish so they bought me a new car.

What Jesus is doing is counterintuitive. 1200 years later Saint Francis would tell his friars to go in exactly the same way: they were to wear plain woolen robes with a simple rope around their waists instead of a belt, because belts also functioned as wallets. So no belt, meant no money.

 So what in the world is going on here?

There are two wrong answers that many have given. One is that the things of this world are evil and must not be handled. The second is this poverty is to show they are willing to suffer for their sins, with the hope that the angry, judgmental god might one day have mercy on them.

Both of these mindsets, neither of which come from Jesus, create unhappy women and men who do not know the free gift of grace given to all people through the cross and resurrection of Christ the King.

But Francis and his friars were known for their joy: Joy in living, joy in other people, joy in creation flowing into a hurting world.

And Jesus’ advance teams, who started with nothing, come back overflowing with great joy! They had nothing yet, God worked through them!

In the world we live in this makes no sense, but even a quick look at the gospels shows that this is perfectly consistent with what Jesus taught: he says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”, and “When you go into a banquet seek out the lowest place”, and he says “You must become like children” who have no status if you want to see the Kingdom of God. From beginning to end Jesus chooses the unsophisticated and uneducated to be his disciples, and he spends time eating with the last, the least, and the lost.

Jesus would often say, “the last shall be first and the first last.”

So what in the world is going on here?

Saint Paul, who was given a new life by an encounter with the Risen Christ, says today: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”  

The only way to find our true lives is to give up our death grip on the false identity the world gives us and receive our new self from God.

Thomas Merton puts it this way: we must come to the place of the cross where “the ego-self is no longer the principle of our deepest actions, which now proceed from Christ living in us.” Zen and The  Birds of Appetite, page 56

As long as we are ego-driven we cannot be God directed.

And notice there is a big difference between having a strong ego, which is a good thing, and having a big ego which is not.

A big ego will never give up its throne. A strong ego, when it finds it is not strong enough and finally collapses in exhaustion, can receive the good news that the end of our resources is the beginning of God’s resources.

One simple mantra from Ian Thomas shows a way forward:

He writes, Breathe out the phrase: “Lord Jesus, I can’t; you never said I could.” And to breathe in the phrase, “Lord Jesus, You can, and always said you would.” The Indwelling Life of Christ: All of Him in All of Me”, page 119

What Jesus is doing with his advance teams is having them practice trusting God, instead of going to their default setting of controlling everything themselves. Fortunately life provides all of us plenty of opportunities to experience the futility of living from our familiar reactive patterns.

Pastor and author Steve McVey in his excellent book, Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian life, says that he moved to Atlanta to lead a large church, but after a year he found that all his proven strategies for success didn’t work. New membership was down and income was down. On October 6, 1990 he was on the floor of his office in tears because he didn’t know what to do. His whole life had built on “production and performance.”

The breakthrough came, however, when the truth of the gospel broke in upon him. He realized that

+“Busyness in serving Christ can block intimacy with Christ”    

+“Resting in Christ is the sole responsibility of the Christian. Everything else flows out of that….

+Christ isn’t interested in what we can do for [God]. Christ is interested in living his life through us.”  Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian life, Page 39  

Every day we are sent out as representatives of Jesus. Most days we will have money in our pockets and shoes on our feet and be fairly confident of what the day holds, yet each still presents three choices for which mindset we will carry with us:

First, we can ignore God and live for ourselves.

Second, we can seek to serve God through our own gifts and in in our own strength.

Both of these strategies will eventually lead to the same old life we’ve always had, because it is the same old person living it.

The third mindset is the one Jesus offers us: Go through your day saying “Lord Jesus, today you can do whatever you want to do through me.”

Of course, we are all novices in this kind of living, therefore we trust in the faithfulness of Christ and His ability and so we rest in him, and not in our wealth and power, but in Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.