Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pentecost 7, 2013: Spiritually powerful lambs

Lectionary: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-8; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16); Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre de Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Author Marianne Williamson once wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure… We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

This, I think, points to a primary modern-day temptation: the temptation to be spiritually powerless; to look away from the power of the Spirit of God that dwells in us until we have ignored into non-existence.

You will often hear me say that what we believe is really true: that we have been reconciled to God in Christ and are, as we live and breathe, dwelling places of the very powerful Holy Spirit of God… that God chooses to work in and through us to cure the sick and set people free from whatever holds them bound… that we will dream dreams, have visions, and prophecy, that in the name of Jesus, we will bear one another’s burdens, welcome the outcast, and proclaim the Good News of salvation to the least, the lost, and the lofty… and all this as we live in the peace of Christ, a peace which surpasses our understanding.

Ahhh… but that’s what scares us, isn’t it? So we throw boundaries around the mystery, create laws and institutions that contain the wildness of the Spirit of God in us, and rather than building families of faith, we promote clubs of Christian certainty.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul warns us not to be fooled. There is no club, no certainty. And don’t be used by religious people who are only interested in boasting about their numbers saying, ‘Look how many have joined our church!’

What matters isn’t membership rolls or the ability to follow the rules a particular religious club prioritizes, because they don’t even follow their own rules. What matters for us, Paul says, is being the new creation we are in Jesus, who sends us out to manifest the glory of God that is within us, and to help those we meet learn to see that same glory in themselves.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is about to send 70 followers into the harvest, but first he tells them to pray for themselves: “…ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The reason is, prayer is where we learn and practice humility. It’s where we surrender ourselves and our wills to the will of God. Praying before they went would help the 70 remember that it’s God’s harvest, not theirs.

God has done the work: planting the seeds, growing them in the womb of the earth in secret, nourishing them, and bringing them to the moment where they are ripe and ready for harvesting. As the psalmist says, “Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.” (66:4)

Then Jesus sends the 70 out, two by two (because we don’t do the work of God alone) as bearers of God’s powerful, redeeming love into the world to transform it, to reconcile it, to re-create it… not by attracting new members into a church, or by coercing obedience to any doctrine or rules, but by sharing Christ’s own peace with everyone they meet – everyone, that is, who will receive it - because some won’t. When that happens, Jesus tells them to wipe off the dust from their feet in protest against them.

Some people interpret this to mean that Jesus is giving his followers the authority to determine who is worthy to receive the gift of salvation. If they receive you, they are worthy. If they don’t, they aren’t.

I don’t agree with that interpretation. What comes to my mind as I hear Jesus’ words is… trying to talk to members of the Westboro Church about the inclusive love of God for all of God’s people… or trying to talk to fundamentalists of any ilk who have closed their hearts and minds to faith in God, clinging instead to a certainty they have created and communally applied to a god of their own making.

What I hear is Jesus asking us to make our objection to their closed hearts and minds clear, then walk away – reminding them that the kingdom of God is here, whether they accept it or not, and no matter how they distort it. We are to entrust them to the redeeming love of God, then go about our work.

In Galatians, this point is taken even farther: when you find someone who is lost according to the law of Christ (which is love of God, self, and neighbor), “you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” In other words, do not be tempted to violence or coercion.

Bear the burden of their lost-ness prayerfully, for a burden it is. These lost ones have distorted the love of God until it looks like oppression or hate, trapping themselves in lives that lack the peace of Christ, doing harm to themselves and other children of God.

Speak the truth to them and pray for them. Today’s Collect is a good way for us to begin: “Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection…”

When the 70 returned, they were amazed and excited to tell Jesus about what happened: “In your name even the demons submit to us!” Or as I would say it: “This stuff is really true!”

In response, Jesus cautions them to remember that what they should be rejoicing about is the unity of their spirits with God’s Spirit and their wills with the will of God, not a newfound power over anyone or anything.

“Do not be deceived,” it says in Galatians, “God is not mocked.” In other words, if you make God unreal and claim God’s power as your own (or as it says in the epistle: “If you sow to your own flesh”), what you will reap will be your own corruption. 19th century historian and moralist Lord Acton said it famously like this: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Jesus calls them wolves and instructs the 70 to go out like lambs among those wolves. You don’t need to be powerful, you just need to be faithful. The power you carry into the world belongs to the Lord of the harvest, and this power doesn’t destroy – it transforms, it reconciles, it re-creates.

So I ask us, who are the laborers in God’s harvest today, will we trust the plan of redemption, lay down our defenses, and go out as lambs among those wolves? Will we throw off the boundaries we’ve placed around the mystery and let the wildness of the Spirit of God work in us to transform, reconcile, and re-create the world?

God’s plan of redemption is for the whole world, and it is already underway. Eternal life, which is life in the eternal presence of God, is ours right now – not after we die. The peace of Christ is also ours – right now. We have been reconciled to God in Christ and to one another making us one body, one spirit in Christ.

These are gifts given to us by our Savior. And this stuff really is true!

As believers, then, we don’t have to figure out how God will redeem those we think need it or demand when God should do that. We only have to surrender ourselves and our wills to God, trusting in the plan of redemption, so that we can be faithful laborers who bear a power beyond measure, the power of God’s redeeming love, into the world.

So the question for us is, how do we do that today? And the answer is – together.

Being reconciled in Jesus Christ makes us one body, one spirit. We live as a community, a people dedicated to our purpose of reconciling the whole world to God.

As Bp. N.T. Wright says: “There are no individual Christians.” We are a body… the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we breathe in the strength of the Spirit here at our spiritual home, the Church of the Redeemer, and breathe it out into the world through our missions and ministries.

We manifest the Jerusalem described in the Isaiah passage: a place of spiritual comfort, satisfaction, and nourishment; a place where the Lord God is met and provides succor to all who are wounded or hungry or exiled or hated.

Let it be for us, Lord. Let it be that we bear your redeeming love into the world. Make us instruments of your reconciling love, a spiritual home where laborers are gathered and strengthened to work in your harvest. Let it be for us, Lord.


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