Pentecost 4 C: Peace Mission with No Excuses

The readings for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost are

Old Testament & Psalm, Option I

Old Testament      2 Kings 5:1–14

Psalm                    Psalm 30

or

Old Testament & Psalm, Option II

Old Testament      Isaiah 66:10–14

Psalm                    Psalm 66:1–9

New Testament     (Galatians 6:1–6) 7–16

Gospel                   Luke 10:1–11, 16–20

We will focus on Luke 10.

More and more people I talk to are saying how pessimistic they are for the future of the church. They are devoted. They are true Christ followers. But they are discouraged by the way the church is becoming just one more battle ground in the political battles we have raging all around us.

We feel more pessimism because we see less and less common ground. Fights are breaking out about abortion, guns, race, school lessons, immigration, public health measures, taxation, and just about everything—and it’s all spilling over into the church pews.

And because it’s in the pews it clouds our idea of what church is, what the Christian message is, and even who Christ is.

I believe Christianity has always been a minority religion. Even in the imagined golden age of America around the Revolutionary War and the framing of the Constitution, church attendance was very low. And even in the heyday of church attendance, back in the 1950s and 60s, people filled the pews not out of conviction, but as a way to be seen and to get ahead in business. So true believers have always had an important job to do—to remind the world that this faith of ours must be marked by nail holes. Our leader is a peasant healer who gave his life to fight the status quo of hate with the message of love.

Yes, I still think it: The world needs our witness more than ever.

So, today’s Gospel is one we need to hear, loud and clear. It is Jesus telling us, we live our mission with no excuses.

Jesus is telling his followers then and now that low numbers are reason to give up.

If you look at the career of Jesus it was a one of a collapse of numbers. Sure he had those fishermen from Galilee, and massive crowds built up on his way to Jerusalem. But by the time he hung on the cross the core of disciples were nowhere to be seen. Peter, the rock, had denied even knowing him, and only a handful of women were left—watching from the distance. And, keep in mind, Luke’s Gospel story of Jesus was written when the first mission field of the Jews of Judea had dried up when Roman legions burned the Temple and Jerusalem and taken thousands into slavery.

We get that lonely-around-the-cross feeling in churches today. All the mainline churches are losing members. The pandemic has dealt the death blow to countless congregations, and those hanging on are facing a dwindling corps of women and men willing and able to become pastors.

 But today, just when we feel discouraged and ready to throw in the towel, Jesus says to us something audacious:  “The harvest is plentiful.”

The Spirit of Jesus was calling people out of their silent depression and sending them out into new territory, well beyond the home ground of Galilee and Judea—to places like Egypt and Ethiopia and Iraq and Asia Minor and Rome, and all over the world.

Get off your rear! Quit feeling sorry for yourselves. The harvest is plentiful.

It’s the same message Jesus has for us today. Yes, this generation says “I’m spiritual but not religions and they are turned off by Jesus talk,” But never forget,  it’s  because they haven’t yet heard or seen or felt the REAL JESUS.  They have been seeing a White Evangelical Jesus who loves guns, hates welfare, and finds the idea of repentance repugnant. They hunger and thirst for Jesus of the cross.

And if we are disappointed  with the core of the leadership—if the disciples were nowhere to be found at the cross, it is remarkable that Jesus manages to find not 12, but 70—a number, by the way, that coincides with all the nations of the world after Noah, in Genesis 10. 

And today Jesus is saying,  “Don’t underestimate the Spirit’s power to raise up witnesses—God can make stones and flowers to praise him—God can inspire all kinds of people to become witnesses. Seventy is still a good symbolic number today. If seminaries are emptying out, it’s time for us to broaden our vision of who is being called and how they are licensed and sent out.

And there is no excuse to turn away from freaky people—people who look and behave and think so differently from us.  Jesus gives the 70 no excuse for turning away or keeping a distance from those who are different. He says, “Go into their houses. Accept their hospitality. And eat whatever food they prepare for you.” Bold words for these Jewish Christians who made up Jesus’ mission crew. They were taught never to eat with Gentiles, and certainly never to eat food that wasn’t kosher. But Jesus says now, sharing peace is more important even than your ethnic identity and your quibbles.

The world today is filled with people you and I might think of as freaks—with people we might roll our eyes at before we talk to them about Jesus. I know roll my eyes at bodies plastered with tattoos, and piercings, and neon hair. I’ve had a hard time staying for lunch with someone whose house is filthy. When the guys I worked with at a mechanical engineering plant boasted about their nights with prostitutes I ate my meals away from them and soon found I had no one to talk with.

But Jesus says there’s no excuse to turn away. No different customs, different religions, or different ways of life altogether are an excuse for not sharing peace, the healing, and the assurance—“the Kingdom has come near.”

And then there are the excuses we find for changing our message from peace to resentment.

Resentment is the devil’s venom seeking to kill off the Gospel. It has been coursing through our veins forever. Resentment is what drives all the sick politics and sick religion we see swirling around us.

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are the antidote to this resentment. He instructs the 70 to say the same thing to every person they encounter: “Peace to this house.” They are not to sort people out as friends or enemies of God, and change their message accordingly. They are to judge or curse no one but to leave all judgment up to God by leaving it up to the final effect of their witness.

Speak only peace. If a child of peace opens the door—your peace will remain there to bless. If a child is there who is not ready for peace and shuts the door, you have the exact same message: “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

Today we can recognize the bearers of the false gospel by the way their message changes when the listener disagrees with their politics. Their words then are poisoned with resentment, and turns to false witness. Remember how Martin Luther explains the eighth commandment by saying we are to not only not lie about people, or destroy their reputations,  but we must come to their defense and put the best construction on what they say and do. But there are many out there today who say they follow Christ, but do just the opposite of what Christ commands. “Peace to this house” says Jesus, but people filled with the poison of resentment say Joe Biden is an illegitimate president who hates God. Instead of “peace to this house” they lash out at those who disagree with their politics, and call them names like Marxist or Satanic. Instead of “peace to this house” they make death threats.

No matter what, we who follow Christ are not to judge or curse. We share peace and healing, and we say,  “The Kingdom has come near you” with conviction.

Followers of Christ have no excuses to give up, to keep our distance from people who are different, or to let resentment build up and lash out.

No excuses—that’s the Law part of this reading from Luke. But what is the gospel message? Jesus says he doesn’t want us to make excuses but bring peace and the Kingdom to people’s homes. But how does Jesus help us? Where is the good news in all of this?

The gospel message of this Gospel reading is in the message Christ followers bring to the world: “The Kingdom has come near you.” You do not go to the Kingdom. You don’t earn the Kingdom. You don’t even understand the Kingdom. The Kingdom has come to you.

And so, Jesus will say in the following passages of Luke that even though this is the second string of the Christian movement–the 70 who come off the bench (the twelve of the first string don’t exactly light up the mission field)–Satan falls like lightening. Moreover, God has hidden all of this peace, kingdom, and lightening, from the wise and intelligent, and revealed these things to infants.

Because God is not the object here, but the subject. None of us climb up to God. God and the Kingdom have come to us. That’s the good news.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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