Sermon delivered by the Rev. Cristina Rathbone
July 3, 2022
Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
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.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘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.’ “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
One of the things Jesus does a lot is send his followers out into the world to help spread the good news of the closeness of God. He does it at the beginning of his ministry, and he does it, as here, in the middle of his ministry, and he spends a lot of time and energy doing it at the end of his ministry too — each time empowering the people who surround him to continue in his work of love.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” is one of the most famous lines of the New Testament, and in so far as it is used as exhortation and encouragement for birthing love in the places that really need it — the dark and jagged places both inside our own hearts and in the hearts of our communities and towns and cities and nations — this is good and right. Lord knows we need all the exhortation and encouragement we can get right now don’t you think?
But there’s a snag. Often – too often, I believe – this sentence: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” comes to us cut off from the sentences that follow it, and this is important because these following sentences are the ones which explains just how it is that we are supposed to walk out into the world in the name of Jesus. The fact is that despite the way so much of the church’s history has played out, we are not instructed to go out and fix or correct the world, or even to approach it from a position of power, or strength. Instead – with quite some specificity and every time – we are told to encounter the brokenness and pain of the world from the vulnerable place of our own poverty.
“Go on your way.” Jesus tells 70 of his followers in our Gospel reading today. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…” Carry no purse, that means no money I’m guessing. And no bag, that means no extra clothes, or gear of any kind, right? And no sandals – well that one is clear: no shoes at all. I checked. It doesn’t say no extra sandals, just no sandals. Go bare foot then, and with only the clothes on your back, into places you don’t know and in which you know no one, and from there – from that place of need and utter poverty – love the people you find around you – young and old, weak and strong, rich and poor.
Be a healer, yes, yes, and a listener, and a lover, and a bringer together of the lonely and the lost. But do it through the incalculable richness and exquisite vulnerability of your own self, revealed.
As Christians, we are not sent to conquer, then. Or even to convert, if by conversion we imply even one iota of triumph over others. No, as followers of Jesus, we are sent out instead to become one with others in their need; to leave behind all that separates us, (even that which is so clearly right, or useful, or just plain better) in order that we might choose togetherness over supremacy of any kind. And to do that, of course, we need to dare become one with our own needs as well.
This, I think, is why Jesus sends his followers (the seventy in our story today and you and I too of course) out into the world this way, with nothing. To open us to others, of course, that we might serve them in love however we can. But also to open us to the richness of our own true selves. Unguarded, unveiled, open and needy as we were born to be, and fulfilled as we were born to be as well; carrying, at last and like the seventy, “no purse, no bag, no sandals,” but only the truth of who we are in all our frailty, just the way God godself did through the incarnation – shedding God’s own limitless power in order to be one with us through the very real vulnerability and gentleness of Jesus.
But even so — this is the last thing in the world most of us want to do – right? Given the circumstances, we want to fight! And we want to convince! And we want to arm ourselves with every tool we can find that will help us win! And even the idea that we are being called to sort of drop all that and approach naked and vulnerable instead is counter-intuitive to the point of incomprehensibility.
Even in the security of our own homes, we many of us fear our deep vulnerabilities more than anything. More than death itself, some of us. More than life even. And it is scary to walk around in the world undefended – especially when it is as charged with hatred and division and exclusion and violence and the kinds of actions from our leaders that seem to be leading us backward in time instead of forward, as it is today. But Jesus’ instructions to us are both clear and simple nonetheless:
‘Go, on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves,’ he says. And he doesn’t say it because it is his wish for us to suffer, or because he thinks we have it too easy and need to learn a little about life, or even because he’s overburdened and can’t manage on his own. No, he invites us to head out almost naked into the real violence and division and grief of the world because he knows that it is through the love we can only be filled by when we are undefended, that we ourselves will be healed – and so become able to bring that same healing to others as well…
And this is what Jesus longs for after all, isn’t it? Not praise and glory for himself, or for his followers, but the healing of this gorgeous and irreplaceable world he suffered so much for. And what he’s trying to tell us today, and what he tries to tell us every day, is that love – and love alone – is the only power that can bring this healing about. And that love – and love alone – is what rushes in to uphold and unite us whenever we drop our defenses, and allow ourselves simply to be, for with and among the other.
Jesus knows – of course he knows – about the truth of violence and rage and injustice that course through his creation – how could he not? He suffered the brunt of it all on the cross! And yet this message never wavers – not through his life, not through his death, not through his resurrected presence to the disciples and all the way down to us: first put down your weapons, he says every time; then let drop your facades of self-sufficiency and competence and rightness; and finally open your arms to even the very worst the world has to offer and let love, and love alone, sustain you.
Because it will. It simply will. It is what Jesus himself promises and to my knowledge at least, Jesus never lies.
So we need not be afraid. We are called, each one of us, and each in our own way, not only to transform, but also to be transformed through the power of the one who sends us; the power not of force to vanquish or crush, but of love to create and renew. Which is exactly how Jesus himself lived after all: The son of God, living among us not as a king, proclaiming, but as a beggar gently and continually inviting us through his all too human vulnerability and eventual woundedness to step more fully into life by loving one another as he loved us.
This then is our charge, and this our call: to climb out of our costumes and reveal the truth of who we really are, walking towards others like lambs among wolves vulnerable and open and unafraid.
Again — it doesn’t have to be dramatic, this stepping out. We don’t have to up and leave here and head straight for the Ukraine. But for today – or for part of today, for an hour, maybe, or a meal if you can, try shedding whatever layers of protection you yourself have accrued over the years and allow yourself simply to be – just as you are: celebrating, or mourning, or afraid, or tired, or lonely despite all the evidence that suggests you couldn’t possibly ever be any of these things.
Try it and see what happens. Why not? Just try it, today…