Year C; Proper 9; 7.7.2019
Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
Welcome to St. Paul’s today for our annual Outdoor July Eucharist! It’s a beautiful morning! Thanks be to God!
This Sunday is an extended Holiday weekend from Thursday’s celebration of Independence Day. Parades and fireworks have been happening all weekend. This is the weekend that summertime in Maine begins in earnest. Forget summertime starting on Memorial Day when, at least this year, I still was firing up my electric blanket at night!
The pace of summer is dramatically more leisurely than in winter. We are outside now a lot! I finally planted my flower boxes last week. As I was sweeping up the winter silt and sand from my front walkway, two neighbors at different times slowed down, greeted me and stayed for a long conversation. I had seen these neighbors maybe once or twice over the winter months. But last week, we reconnected in a deep, meandering and wonderfully unhurried way.
Our gospel reading from Luke this morning introduces the story of Jesus sending the 70 followers out to engage in deep conversations. They go two-by-two. The story begins with these words, “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.”
I think Jesus meant for his followers to share in deep neighborly listening and friendly conversations when he sent his 70 followers out into the world. I imagine he must have said something like this,
“Travel in pairs so you can connect deeply with each other. Take your time to get to know each other. Take time to get to know the people you encounter in every town and village. Travel lightly, so you are not encumbered and worried about your ‘things.’ Travel lightly, so you can travel nimbly and hospitably. Assume good-will from people wherever you go and be generous in passing God’s peace to households. Your hospitality is the ‘peace of God.’ Perhaps in expressing your hospitality of ‘peace to the household’, those in the household might extend their hospitality to you. Peace is good news for those who are overwhelmed by the uncertainties of their lives. Your prayer of peace upon the household will surely be proof that you possess the heart of God and wish to share it.”
Scholars suggest that the number “70” is biblically significant. Those listening to this passage would have heard the number 70 as quite large and full of meaning; 70 possibly correlates to the 70 nations of the entire world listed in Genesis chapter 10. So, in Luke’s gospel, the only gospel that incudes this story of the 70 going out in pairs, we would hear the urgency of sharing the good news that God’s peace is here and now, and that God’s peace is for EVERYONE.
“Go! Go everywhere, enter as many households as you can and share God’s heart and peace with them. Assume good will, but know that you are vulnerable. Whether or not they accept your peace, share the good news of God’s love, that God’s realm is here and now and that means God’s peace and love are with you.”
Not all people can hear this, though, and accept it. Sharing God’s peace is risky. That’s why Jesus said to them, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Jesus is saying that God’s peace sometimes brings conflict and rejection.
Still, Jesus reminds them that those resistant forces can’t shake the good news of God so easily. Followers of Jesus are to keep telling the world of God’s peace and love, for this is the good news of God’s kingdom.
Today’s lesson teaches the followers that sharing God’s peace with others is an act of hospitality. Elaine Heath, theology scholar writes about the hospitality of the 70 in this way, “The role of hospitality in the mission cannot be overstated. The hospitality of the seventy is shown in their mission of peace, in which they [reject] all forms of exploitation, self-centeredness, and personal gain. Their single purposeis to prepare others to encounter Jesus. This is done peacefully, through grateful presence and conversation. The apostles must be relational and respectful in order to be invited into others’ homes, where they might share the gospel of the kingdom of God.”
I wonder about neighborly presence and conversation. One neighbor I chatted with last week has a college aged child who engaged in deeply inappropriate behavior at school and has spent the majority of this year making amends. I’m pulling for her kid, and indeed have said my prayers for the entire family. So, why did I refrain from sharing the peace of God with her in our conversation? Why couldn’t I have said, “Oh, I want God to reveal the deepest peace and love to you and your family as you live through your nightmare.” I would have risked rejection. But I also would have shared a truth that has helped me through some of my own nightmares. Surely, God’s peace and love are things as a pastor I can share with my neighbor.
And I HAVE experienced a neighbor sharing God’s deep peace with me. My neighbor in New Jersey, Tom, a deacon in the Catholic Church came over to visit me the day after I came home from the hospital after John died. Tom sat with me in my den and shared with me the work he had done and the many friends and patients in his care who had died of AIDS. We wept together and he shared the promise of God’s love with me. He wanted me to know that I could trust that John is ok and that God’s peace was surrounding us both. His was a most hospitable sharing of God’s kingdom with me.
At St. Paul’s, we’ve been talking a lot about deepening our practice of hospitality. We wonder how we can expand our welcome and share Jesus’ way of love meaningfully and deeply. We desire to share our joyful, generous hospitality with all people.
The gospel lesson for today calls us to adopt the attitude of those 70 followers of Jesus. Wherever we go, we might say, “Peace to this house…peace to this sad-looking person…peace to this neighborhood…peace to this grocery store…peace to this angry protest…peace to this park…peace to this military parade…peace to this body of elected officials….peace to this enemy…peace to this nation…peace to this world…peace to these people fleeing their homes…peace to separated and sick children…peace to lonely and aging people…” “peace to…fill in the blank…”
What if, as this National Holiday weekend winds down, we embody the hospitality of God’s peace by declaring peace wherever we go?