July 3, 2016
Deacon Sue Nebel
I have a question for you. When you visualize Jesus, what images come to mind? What do you see? Jesus as a newborn baby in the manger. Jesus moving through the events of Holy Week. Jesus gathered with his disciples for a last meal. Jesus on the cross. Jesus in his ministry, on the move. Healing, teaching, speaking to crowds. We find these images in religious art: stained-glass windows, paintings, pictures on church walls or bulletin boards. I remember some from posters on the walls of Sunday School rooms of my childhood. As I search through my memory files of images, I can’t find one for this morning’s Gospel lesson. Jesus speaking to a group of seventy of his followers. Getting them ready to head out on their own to various towns and villages. You might remember seeing a picture of that one, but I can’t.
It is a wonderful image, Jesus and the seventy. An important moment in Jesus’ ministry. In the Gospel lesson last Sunday, we heard that Jesus had “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The beginning of his long, painful journey to the Cross. Then, right after that, comes today’s passage. Another part of the story. Jesus may be focused on Jerusalem, but he knows there is work to be done. More than he can do himself. So, he gathers a group of people who have joined up with him, seventy of them. We don’t know anything about them, but I think we can assume that they come from the ragtag bunch of folks who have been drawn to Jesus. Some Scripture experts tell us that many of them were probably women. We don’t know how Jesus chose them. We have no indication of a long vetting process. No interviews, no background checks. Their commitment to Jesus and his teaching seems to be enough. There is no also elaborate training program. No handbook or manual. Instead, Jesus gathers them together and gives a simple set of directions:
· Travel light
· Greet those you meet with a message of peace and accept their hospitality.
· Cure the sick and teach about the kingdom.
· If you are not welcomed, move on
What is left unspoken—it is what I find most striking here—is Jesus’ confidence in the people he is sending forth. He has taught them what they need to know. He has given them the basics:
· the commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor
· a vision of the kingdom, or the reign of God, where love rules and everyone thrives.
Jesus believes in the ability of these seventy followers i to move beyond the places that they know, out into a wider, unknown world. To places that may welcome them and places that may be hostile or indifferent to them. Jesus’ silent message to the seventy faithful ones who are about to set out? I believe in you. You can do this.
Now, let’s fast forward to this time and this place: St. Augustine’s on a Sunday morning in July. A gathering of probably less than seventy people, but still a good-sized group of followers. A part of the Body of Christ, joined together by a commitment to Jesus. A commitment we made in our baptism. As part of that commitment, we made promises. One of those promises was to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” That is what we do when we gather here on Sunday. We listen to the Word of God. We pray together in community. We break bread together and share it. But this is not a simple social gathering. We don’t just participate in these things and then walk out the door with some nice memories. At the end of our gathering together, we are sent. Sent forth into the world with instructions. Just like those seventy followers in the Gospel lesson. We are sent out in Jesus’ name. Shaped by what we have been taught about and by Jesus. Emboldened by Jesus’ confidence, we are sent out to do the work. To show forth God’s love to the world in our individual ways, in our words and in our actions. We are sent out into a world that is hurting and so in need of love. A world that is anxious and fearful, wearied by repeated acts of hatred and violence. This week it is the victims and their loved ones in Turkey and Bangladesh that weigh on our hearts. A nation that on this weekend celebrates of Independence Day, but we are painfully aware that not everyone shares in the freedom and justice that we claim to honor. A community that on this holiday weekend worries about the violence of shootings in our streets.
What can we possibly do in the face of all this? We can take action. We can support measures that limit access to guns. We can work to recognize and eliminate prejudice, inequality, and injustice. But we are left with the questions: Will anything that I do have an impact? Remember Jesus and those seventy faithful followers. Jesus makes no promises of what impact that they will have. There is no talk of big or little effort. Jesus simply tells them to go out and do the work.
I have been keeping company this week with a woman named Hannah Coulter. She is the central character in a novel whose title is her name: Hannah Coulter. The author is Wendell Berry. Hannah is the last years of her life. She is looking back, remembering the events of her life and reflecting on them. Her language is simple, her insights often profound. Hannah married in her twenties, in the early years of World War II. Like so many young men of that time, her husband Virgil Feltner was drafted into the army and sent to the battlefields of Europe. Hannah lived with his parents. Some men returned from the war; others did not. Virgil was one of those who did not return. Of the time of grief after learning of Virgil’s death, Hannah writes this:
"A sort of heartbreaking kindness grew then between me and Mr. and Mrs. Feltner. It grew among us all. It was a kindness of doing whatever we could think of that might help or comfort one another. But it was a kindness too of forbearance, of not speaking, of not reminding...Kindness kept us alive."
Hannah goes on to say of kindness, “It made us think of each other.” She acknowledges that she could think only of herself, but she didn’t. She was keenly, deeply aware of the feelings of those around her.
"We knew, always, more than we said. One of us lying awake in the night would know that the others were probably lying awake too, but nobody ever said so. In the daytime, it seemed to me that we were all kept standing upright, balanced ever so delicately by our kind silence. . .Love held us. Kindness held us."
It is this love and this kindness—its words and gestures, it silences—that enable Hannah to move forward into a new part of her life. Another marriage, a new family, new joys and sorrows.
When we leave this place on Sunday morning, we often take with us something that has touched us, something that has made an impression. A story, a phrase, or an image. Maybe a single word. Something to hold onto. Today, I ask you to take with you the word “kindness”. Hold onto it. Make it yours. Then, be kindness. Do kindness. It is our work. It is what we are sent out to do.
Proper 9; Year C
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Luke 10:1-11,16-20