Sermon-Am I Present to Presence? July 7, 2019


4 Pentecost—Proper 9—C  July 7, 2019

William Bradbury

Isaiah 66:10-14, Psalm 66:1-8, Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“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.” Jesus is sending out the 70 in two-person advance teams to make ready his visit. But they are not just arranging lodging and a lecture hall, because they have also been empowered to bring to the people a taste of the Realm of God, even before Jesus shows up in person. I want to suggest that that is also our role as followers of Jesus. We are an advance team for the Master preparing for his visitation by letting God’s Presence shine through us.

So, let’s look at Jesus’ instruction on how we are to play this role in our own lives. First, Jesus starts with the positive: the harvest is plentiful. There are many people out there who are ready to respond to Jesus’ eternal, infinite, and unconditional love and who are longing for someone to invite them to a party filled with such love.

Then the less positive, i.e. the negative: “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.” Others don’t want to hear about Divine Love, even though we are bringing exactly what their souls are thirsty for.

Okay, so, crucial question: how should lambs respond to wolves? Should they arm themselves with swords and knives? Or should they let the Good Shepherd be their protection?

Jesus tells them to travel light and defenseless. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” We prove Christ is trustworthy by showing we rely on Christ.

It reminds me of the day when all our trips were made without cellphones to access Waze or Google Maps. How did we do it? We had a map in our lap and a dime in our pocket if we needed to call for help, once we found a phonebooth, that is. No problem, no big deal. Young and old did it all the time.

Jesus is asking us to practice trusting God’s Presence when we want to talk to others about trusting God’s Presence.   always been hard to represent Jesus as our icon of God, who said last week that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, when we give the impression we can buy everything we need.

And then Jesus gets to the heart of his teaching: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ Jesus says we are bringing not just information about the Realm of God but a taste of that realm too.

But then this surprising word: “And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

The disciples will run into people who already have the peace of God in their lives. God’s Realm is not the exclusive property of the disciples or the church. All people are created in the image of God and all people have been elected, chosen, by God in Jesus Christ. And the Spirit touches whomever she wills.

We pass the Peace in our worship as a symbolic action to remind us that the peace of Christ is always with us and between us. As we practice sharing peace on Sundays, we grow in our ability to pass God’s Peace the rest of the week.

But here’s the thing: passing peace is different than merely being friendly. To pass God’s peace requires us first to access God’s Presence in our hearts which requires intentionally going beyond the usual noise of our minds. The greeters can offer their welcome at the beginning of the service, but we don’t offer Peace until after we’ve opened ourselves to God’s Word, prayed for ourselves and others, and then confessed our sins. Then we are in position to access Presence and Peace and share them with others.

It requires the same intentionality when we’re, say, in line at the grocery store. Some days we’re in a hurry, tired, and out of sorts. The check-out person seems surly and slow. What a day! But  then sometimes we are able to take a moment to center ourselves on the Presence and share in its Peace. And we find that often the check-out person responds in a way that returns that Presence to us and we realize Peace has been shared in that short encounter.

I experience this when I go to the chapel in the prison in Concord: I am not taking the Presence and Peace of Christ to men who don’t have it but sharing Presence with men that do. And this is true not only of the Christian men who come to the Catholic chapel.

After the correctional officer—the CO–calls movement and as the men leave the chapel I go out into the hall to wait for the CO so he can take me to the main building. As I stand there waiting, the men who have been in the mosque, which is further back in the building, walk by and invariably they pass signs of peace to me: some with handshakes, others with gestures and words. I don’t know any of these guys and they don’t know me.

And of course, the COs often pass on the Presence of Christ to the men and to me.

The Presence in us encounters the Presence in others.

This reality helps us understand how the disciples are able to heal the sick, even though Jesus is miles away.

At its heart the healing ministry involves bringing the sick and suffering into the Presence of Christ. Praying for the sick is not a matter of saying the right words or touching the person in a certain way.

Healing happens in Presence.

Eckhart Tolle in his book The New Earth tells a story that happened before he became an international guru of living in Presence. A neighbor who lives in the apartment below him starts banging on his door one night. He lets her in, and she is obviously quite distressed. She says the landlord is going to evict her for no reason and she brings out a bunch of letters to prove her point. Apparently, she hasn’t paid some fee and they are threatening her.

Tolle listens to this distraught woman ramble on, but instead of engaging her verbally, he accesses inner Presence to remain present to the woman. After about twenty minutes the women looks up and says, “you know, I guess this isn’t as serious as I thought.”

“No, it isn’t”, Tolle responds.

Finally, the woman asks him what he has done to her and he says he hasn’t done anything to her. All he has done is sit with her in deep presence.

Presence heals, because Presence is Love, and Love heals.

Going to Presence doesn’t sound like we are doing much, and we aren’t. All we are doing is resting in the Presence, which is always there, and letting Presence do whatever Presence wants to do. This is letting go and letting God.

But on the other hand, going to Presence does require something from us. It requires the willingness to let go of our mental agenda to judge, control and fix, and to repeatedly go back into Presence.

And most of all, and hardest of all, it requires that we look at the other, not as an object, a thing, to manipulate, but as a human being to love—not as an IT, but as a YOU.

When the 70 come back they are ecstatic! They saw how trusting and walking in Presence even had a healing effect on suffering people.

But Jesus reminds them not to celebrate their success, but rather to celebrate the fact that they are beloved children of God, filled with the Presence of Christ.