“Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”
This is a movement.
It is organized. It is purposeful. It is urgent. It is important.
In fact, the word ‘important’ actually understates the significance. This is a movement of cosmic importance, of ultimate significance. When the seventy have been sent out, Jesus, who is surely praying for them, has a vision of Satan falling from heaven like a flash of lightning. This is about God’s ways prevailing over the forces of evil. So the stakes are high.
And the core proclamation of the Jesus movement is this: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
It’s worth pausing to consider what this means. What is this “kingdom of God” that is being proclaimed?
The kingdom of God is a movement that changes everything. It is a powerful, transformative movement of love, grace and mercy, a movement that brings peace, that brings healing, that liberates people, that overthrows entrenched power structures and reverses the social and economic injustice of this world. The kingdom of God is the way of God, the way of love that changes everything.
When this movement comes near to you, will you get on board?
And if you do want to get on board, if you do want to be a part of this movement, then you really should pay attention to the instructions that Jesus gives to the seventy people that he is recruiting and sending out in today’s gospel.
Here’s the first heads up: if you really are going to be an agent of God’s movement to change the ways of the world, expect conflict and division. People don’t like change. Entrenched power structures resist giving up power. The privileged enjoy their privilege. You will encounter resistance and rejection. The resistance may even be your own, because this movement will change you too.
In last week’s gospel, we had an example of resistance and rejection. Jesus and his disciples entered a village of Samaria and were rejected. The village would not receive them. We don’t know exactly why, there’s a good chance that the historic enmity between Jews and Samaritans had something to do with it. What we do know is that two of the disciples, James and John, didn’t react well to rejection. “Lord do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus rebukes them.
Because his movement is not to be a movement of violence. His movement is not to be a coercive or threatening. It is to be a movement that embodies vulnerability. Jesus knows that he’s sending his disciples into conflict and division, they’re still in Samaria, they’re still in hostile territory. But he says, “I’m sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.” Take nothing with you, no purse, no bag; no money, no food. Make yourselves vulnerable, non-threatening and entirely dependent on the hospitality of others. Open yourselves up. Eat what is set before you. Get to know the people around the table. Listen to them.
That’s the first instruction. Make yourselves vulnerable and open to others. It’s a call to unilateral disarmament before we even begin.
The second instruction is that when you go into a town, whatever house you enter, the first thing you say is “Peace to this house”. The Jesus movement is a movement of peace, a movement that brings God’s shalom to whatever house is entered, no screening allowed. The people of that house may welcome you or not, they may feed you or not, they may share in your peace or not, but whatever the case, our first offer, prayer and desire for those we meet is God’s shalom: peace, harmony, wholeness and well-being.
The third instruction that Jesus gives is that we are to bring healing: “whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, cure the sick who are there.” The Jesus movement is a healing movement. There is a recognition that there is a need for healing in our world, that there are many who experience sadness and suffering, and that as part of the Jesus movement we are to bring healing in whatever ways we can. A kind word, a listening ear, a gentle presence, food, medicine, curing the sick, whatever we’ve got, we are to bring healing.
And then, once you have made yourself vulnerable and open, and offered peace and brought healing, then you are to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. Do you see how that works? Only after we have embodied the kingdom of God are we to proclaim the kingdom of God. I know that’s easier said than done, but by doing our best to embody God’s kingdom, we become more authentic when we proclaim God’s kingdom, and maybe then people will be more likely to listen and be receptive.
Or not. We still might experience rejection. Remember, God’s kingdom is a movement that changes everything, and most of us are highly resistant to change. We’re also highly sensitive to rejection. You remember James and John who reacted to rejection with anger, wanting to call down fire? Jesus knows that rejection hurts. He knows that when we’ve been rejected, when we feel that rejection as not just a repudiation of our words but of our very person, we tend to react strongly, with anger, and we respond by rejecting others in return.
Which is why I think that Jesus gives his disciples this little ritual of wiping the dust off their feet. Rather than respond negatively, rather than respond with anger and rejection in return, he tells his disciples to simply wipe the dust off their feet as a protest. We could all use a ritual like that to protect us from reacting angrily to rejection.
Let’s recap. These are the instructions Jesus gives to those who want to be part of his movement:
Heads up, there will be conflict and division.
Make yourselves vulnerable.
Proclaim that the kingdom of God, the way of love, the movement that changes everything, has come near.
All of which makes me think of General Synod which begins on Wednesday this week.
Heads up, there may be conflict and division.
General Synod is the national meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada which takes place every three years, this year in Vancouver. You have appointed and are sending a pair of us to Vancouver, Lizzy and myself, from this parish, along with other delegates from the Diocese of Ottawa and from across the country. General Synod will consider a number of important matters, including self-determination for our indigenous church communities and the election of a new Primate, the leader of the Anglican Church of Canada.
But the matter that is most prominent, and the one that may result in conflict and division, is the second reading of the motion to change the marriage canon to explicitly permit same sex marriage.
And so as I get ready to travel this week, I hear these instructions of Jesus to his disciples, and wonder how they might apply to me.
First, make yourself vulnerable and open. I am an advocate for changing the marriage canon and for same-sex marriage, and so it is tempting to go into General Synod armed with arguments and discussion points in the hope of winning the debate. But Jesus is telling me to lay down my arms, and instead to be open to others, allowing myself to be vulnerable, to listen, to engage with those who disagree with me, to seek to understand their points of view.
Second, offer peace. It is tempting to divide General Synod into advocates and opponents. But we are all siblings in Christ, bound to one another in love, and so as part of the Jesus movement, we are to offer peace to all, to those we agree with and to those with whom we may disagree, we are to seek harmony and well-being.
Third, we are to bring healing. Discussions about sexual orientation in the church have been going on for many years, and as you can imagine, there has been division and there has been hurt. There is a need for healing. But the greatest hurt, and the greatest need for healing is experienced by our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and siblings, people who for too long have been told that who they are is wrong and that they are not fully welcome in the church. These folks have experienced and continue to experience discrimination, rejection and violence in our society and around the world, and for too many years these prejudices have been supported and strengthened by the moral foundation against homosexuality provided in error by the church. As part of the healing process, we need to stand up and acknowledge our role in supporting and promoting homophobia, to acknowledge that we were wrong, to repent of these wrongs and bring healing to those whom we’ve injured. Concrete acts such as moving forward with same sex marriage will help, but this is just one step in a long process of healing and repentance that we need to engage in as individuals, as parishes, as dioceses and yes, as a national and global church.
Finally, we proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. That God is moving in our midst. Because I believe that we are in the midst of a great movement of God’s Spirit towards the full inclusion and indeed the celebration of LGBTQ people in our church. This is not the first such movement. In the first century, the church was divided over the inclusion of Gentiles, non-Jewish foreigners, in the church, but the Spirit moved and Gentiles were welcomed. In the 19th century, the church was confronted by the horrors of slavery, and there was another great movement of the Spirit which eventually led to the abolition of the slave trade. In the 20th century, the Spirit moved once more, and our church, which had excluded women from being ordained as priests, reversed itself and ordained its first women priests, and we are benefiting from their ministry today.
And now we are in the 21st century, and that powerful, transformative, Spirit-led movement that we call the kingdom of God is once again moving for justice and once again moving for liberation, and once again moving for healing, a movement that will slowly but surely lead to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life, leadership and liturgies of the church. In our diocese, we moved ahead with this in 2016 and this will continue, no matter what happens at General Synod. It’s time. This is our time.
Now, I may be wrong. No single person has the ability to discern and interpret correctly and fully the movement of God’s Spirit. That’s why we gather together in Synods, to pray, to worship, and to meet, to offer peace and to bring healing. It is together that we seek to discern the movement of the Spirit in our midst and how we are to respond.
So I encourage you to pray that this week at General Synod, we will indeed be led by God’s Spirit, that we will see where the Spirit is moving, and that we will have the courage to get on board.
Homily. Yr C P14, July 7 2019, St. Albans
Readings: 2 Kings 5.1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6.1-16, Luke 10.1-11, 16-20