Monthly Archives: July 2016

7-24-16 IN THE CLASSROOM OF CHRIST

— sorry, sermon audio is not available —

IN THE CLASSROOM OF CHRIST
Luke 11: 1-13

In the summertime, children often want to leave school behind; to forget about classes and assignments. But when I was home dealing with my father’s funeral in June, I went down to the basement of our family home and found what my parents had stored for me; papers from elementary school, junior high, senior high, and even college. Sometimes being a “saver” can turn a person into a “hoarder.” But I was grateful that they held my papers until I, myself, could choose what to keep and what to toss! One day in June, while others were napping, I triaged the old cardboard boxes of papers and notebooks, deciding what to keep and what to pitch. In fact, I recycled more than three-fourths of my papers. But my trip down memory lane reminded me of things I was taught and the teachers who taught them. People like Mrs. Harris, my second grade teacher; like Mrs. Kerth, my Junior High Sunday School teacher; and like Miss Glick, my High School Music Teacher. I began to remember them all, and what I had learned. One thing that was important was what I learned; but another thing that was hard to quantify was how they made me feel: appreciated; valued; encouraged.

Years ago Robert Fulgham captured the country’s warm glow about early childhood with his book All I Really Need Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
In it he wrote:
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School.
Then he made a list and it included:
Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. And say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

I have witnessed and heard about teachers in our church and in community schools teaching those values; Nursery Teachers in our church exemplifying those values; and I have learned those values from many of the teachers who have molded me. I thank people who have been, and continue to be, good examples for living.

Today we are invited to re-imagine our learning experiences, not with book bags or with chalkboards, but with a relationship to a teacher, and a listening ear. If we imagine that we are with the Twelve Apostles, we find in our text from Luke today that “Jesus was praying in a certain place.” Luke doesn’t find it important enough to say where, or perhaps he wasn’t sure of the location. We know that when Matthew reports the same teachings he says they are on a hillside on the northern bank of the Sea of Galilee. It is not a mountain, nor is it flat farmland. It is a slope. Generally a teacher like Jesus would sit at the top of the slope to be seen and heard by all. There was no man-made amplification; and there were not slates or notebooks or books. It was just the teacher, also called Rabbi, who said, in effect, to people who were learning from him: “Let’s talk. I have some things to teach you.” So the classroom of Christ is more like a gathering, like listening to a sermon outdoors. What is the first thing the disciples wanted to learn: Jesus’ position on issues? What he thinks about Samaritans? How to honor the Sabbath? No. They want to do what he is doing; they want to emulate their teacher. They want to learn how to pray the way Jesus does. Disciples in that day and in our day practice prayer. You may have your way and others have their way. The last time our grandson Calvin was here in May, I talked him and other boys and girls through a line by line prayer for the Children’s Sermon. That night before dinner, he said to us “We have to let us pray!” I asked “What?” And he repeated, “We have to let us pray!” He’s four. So I asked, “Would you like to pray?” And he said: “Yes!” Then he folded his hands the way I showed the children to do. “Dear God Jesus: we love you. Keep us safe this summer. Amen.” And I said, “And thank you for this food?” And he said: “And thank you for this food! Amen.” He was trying to pray like I had taught them. And he moved us all. Boys and girls were learning to pray that day and today. Adults sometimes need a refresher coarse too. When you read what Jesus taught his disciples, you’ll probably recognize it as the prayer we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” But it is likely different from the version you usually say. That’s fine. We all say it a little differently. In Matthew it says Jesus told them to “Pray like this.” In Luke Jesus said, “Pray this.” Regardless, this is his example for prayer. It is where we start taking mental notes. As I said to the children, there are some things they should memorize in their lives, and the Lord’s Prayer is one of them. It’s the prayer that, in times of crisis, many people recite and they find comfort in the experience, even with the different ways of saying it. So the way to pray in Luke is likely not exactly your way. That’s okay too. Pray; talk with God. Do it often, not just when you are in need, or when there is a crisis, but when you are glad or want to celebrate. God wants to be included in your sorrows and your celebrations.

Next, like any good teacher, Jesus doesn’t just give content; he gives examples. Sermons too are supposed to have “windows” in them, which are human illustrations. And Jesus knows it is unlikely anyone is writing down what he says. They are listening and will try to remember. So he helps them. “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.”” Can you imagine such a scenario? If you get a knock on your door at that hour, are you not frightened who it might be, and if it turns out to be a friend, are you wondering what crisis has befallen them? What is a crisis to one person may not be to another. This neighbor wants three loaves of bread. But in those days, people got up early in Israel to make the household bread, because bread gets stale quickly. Who would have three loaves of bread still stored? As we listen, we learn that this window into Jesus’ teaching is not mainly about bread. He goes on. The neighbor wakened from his sleep says “Don’t bother me! I’m in for the night and my children are with me and sleeping. I cannot accommodate you.” That’s what you want to say, wakened up out of a sound sleep. But what many people will do, but only for a friend or neighbor, is respond to them. That’s the point of this lesson.

Here’s an example. On June 5th my mother was wakened from her sound sleep by the telephone ringing. It was the nurse at the Rehab Center who was caring for my Dad. It was 2:30 a.m. “Mrs. Sumner, do you have someone who can drive you over here? We’re having some issues with your husband. “No,” my mother replied in sleepiness, “I’m alone.” Then she thought of something. She had a relatively new next-door neighbor who knew of my Father’s health condition. She was a married woman with children, yet she still had said to my mother, “Carolyn, if you ever need any help, night or day, you call me.” My mother didn’t think she’d have to take her literally. At 2:30 a.m. She called and woke her neighbor out of a sound sleep. She explained what the nurse had said. “Give me 15 minutes to get ready” Lisa, the next door neighbor said. “Watch my house. When my front porch light comes on, I’m on my way over to help you across the grass and into my car.” And that’s exactly what she did. She drove my mother to see my father, and the two of them were there when he breathed his last. She is still the next door for my mother. And I thanked her at Dad’s funeral. What a neighbor. When Jesus was telling his story, was he thinking about that kind of “above and beyond neighbor?” Perhaps so. But what’s the classroom lesson there? Is it about bread? No. It’s about being a good neighbor, about helping where help is needed, because who knows what night you might have to call in a favor. That’s the second thing Jesus taught that day.

But all his lessons in that brief time were leading to this: “Persistence pays off.” Or as it is put in the King James Version, “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” This sounds like a guarantee of results. But instead it describes the heart of God. God hears what we ask, but wisely gives at the right time, in the right way, if the request is a good one. God, like a good parent, loves his children unconditionally, but sometimes appropriately he does not grant some requests. Have you seen how children turn out when they have parents who give them everything they want? I have, and they grow up spoiled and with a warped sense of entitlement. Cautionary tales through the years have warned about what happens when you are given everything for which you ask. Although the story of Aladdin and the [Magic] Lamp appeared in the 1889 edition of Englishman Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book, the tale has roots as far back as 2400 years Before Christ! It tells what can happen if wishes are granted according to one’s own greed or limited ideas of what would make life terrific. In no case does a person, when given the chance to have whatever he or she wants, make good choices. But a loving father or mother will not substitute a fish for a snake either! Jesus says, in so many words, that his Father is love; if we ask, the response might be yes, or might be no, but we will always be heard and will receive what is best. God is not locked by time and can see far beyond what our senses reveal. That’s why the Bible says, in one of my favorite passages of a good father teaching his child: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insights. In all your ways acknowledge the Lord, and he will make straight your paths.” [Proverbs 3: 5-6]

Today we have been in the classroom of Christ. Good students observe what Jesus does and they emulate what he did in their lives moving forward. Good students remember the first point—that Jesus, and followers of Jesus, pray regularly. Good students will never forget the story about a neighbor coming to another neighbor at midnight-it means that when we have a prior relationship with someone, they will often go the extra mile for us. And we can do the same for our neighbors and friends. And finally, good students trust what the teacher Jesus is saying: that in our prayers we can ask, and ask often, even be persistent in prayer: but we should also trust that God’s response—yes, no, or not yet—an answer that comes from the source of pure love, not tainted by jealousy, envy, or anger. What a God we have! And what a friend we have in Jesus! Today Jesus has been our Rabbi, teaching like all good teachers do: with his actions and his words.

Let us pray:

Whether it is in the words of the so-called “Lord’s Prayer,” or just a conversation describing events, feelings, hopes, or needs, you certainly love to hear from us, dear God! We communicate so much on our phones; today we are reminded of the way to stay in touch with you, and that you love to hear from us! We begin today, renew prayer relationships, believing with new reassurance that you love us unconditionally and that you will never stop caring. Thank you for that reassurance. We pray as Jesus prayed.
Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner July 24, 2016

7-17-16 PROPER C11

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

That is the question that echoes through our first passage for this morning. Indeed, that question can sum up much of the Bible as a whole. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? Is anything impossible for God?

And yet, the passage we come to here is the end of Abraham’s story. Abraham, and with him Sarah, first come into view when Abraham is called by God to leave their home and family in Ur in Chaldea. Full of hope and expectations of a better life, they set off to find the new land and found the family God had promised to them.

And then time goes by. They are side tracked in Egypt and finally end up where God told them to live. Years have passed and still Sarah is childless. They (mostly) did as God told them to do and lived good and faithful lives and yet still Sarah is barren. How are they supposed to have descendants that outnumber the stars if they never have a single child? Both Sarah and Abraham try to come up with descendants through other methods, but God is having none of it.

At that time Sarah’s whole sense of worth depended on how many sons she would be able to bear. Having and raising children is the only thing that women are expected to do at this time. And being barren in those days was always seen as the woman’s fault. She had to suffer the disgrace, the curious looks and questions, the expectations and the pressure of family and society, and often being put aside by her husband. Men had the right to send their wives away if they didn’t give birth to children – had the right to marry another or a second wife and have children with her. Abraham had never did set her aside, but Sarah had long since ceased to hope for a child.

The Bible comes right out and says“…it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” She’d stopped bleeding and it was clear: Sarah would never have a child of her own. She was very clearly just too old.

And these visitors come along and say “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

Of course Sarah laughed. Who wouldn’t in her situation? It is absurd to think she would have a child at her age. We would laugh just as much if we were put in her position. And if we are being completely fair, Abraham laughed too. He just laughed in an earlier passage when God first told him Sarah would have a son in their twilight years.

God tells them they will get what they always wanted and they laugh. They laugh because it’s too much. Too big a promise to follow or accept. Not now God. Earlier when we planned on having a child would have been one thing, but to expect a child now is just too much. And so Sarah laughs from deep within herself when she overhears the news.

God would not let her shrink from the honest emotion of disbelief, seeing through her lie of “I did not laugh” with the simple rebuttal, “Yes, you did laugh.” I don’t think this was said as a reprimand, so much as an acknowledgment of how crazy it sounded. In a way, maybe what God was saying to Sarah was that, “I know it’s hard to believe what I have promised. Everything about this seems topsy-turvy to the ways of the world. You did laugh, but that’s okay. You’re not the first, nor the last, to laugh at what seems impossible. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

Yes. It can happen. God’s plans, no matter how huge can come true.

It seems impossible that a virgin would have a son, but she did. It seems impossible that God would become flesh and dwell among us, but God did. It seems impossible that Christ would rise from the dead, but Christ did. It seems impossible that a tiny movement from one small province of the Roman Empire would become a religion that would span the globe long after the Romans were gone, but it did.

As I look at the world today, a lot seems to be impossible. In the last week alone we have seen a coup attempt in Turkey, a truck killing dozens during a celebration of freedom in France, a Pakistani social media star who spoke out for women’s rights was strangled by our brother, and there were thirteen more mass shootings in this country. And that was just last week. It seems every time we look we here more incidents of racism and violence and hatred running rampant in the world.

It seems impossible that we will find some sort of hope. That God will work good out of this mess. It seems like the world is getting worse and worse.

And yet, many things are actually getting better. The rate of extreme poverty in the world was at 37% in 1990. Today it is only 10%. The rate of undernourishment fell from 18.6 percent to 10.9 percent during that same window. The rate of child mortality due to preventable causes has dropped more than 50%. Life expectancy increased by 5.8 years for men and 6.6 years for women worldwide. Worldwide gender inequality has dropped 20%. The ozone layer is actually beginning to recover.

Now most of these things would have sounded impossible a few decades ago, but they happened. God can do the impossible.

God’s plans for the world is not about hatred, discrimination, vitriol and violence. God plans for love and hope. God plans for a world of peace and caring and mercy. And while anyone who watches the news may laugh the same sort of laugh as Sarah did at hearing it, God will bring about all things for good.

Okay great, you may be thinking. Why doesn’t God get started? Why does God let this keep happening?

Because God gave us the ability to decide for ourselves. We have free will. When we choose the paths of violence and hatred, or even when we turn a blind eye to it happening, that is our choice. We live with the consequences of our decisions.

Walter Brueggemann puts it like this: “What God will not (cannot?) do is circumvent the reality of suffering, hurt , the cross. Thus our text does not permit a casual triumphalism that simply believes everything is possible. Because of the character of God, everything is possible for those who stay through the dark night of barrenness with God. For Abraham and Sarah, there is no simple, painless route to an heir.”

There is no simple, painless route to good. And yet, we can choose to be the light in the darkness. We talk all the time about how we are the body of Christ in the world. We are the means by which God reaches out. And God will bring about all things for good through us.

The impact on the poverty rate and child mortality didn’t just happen. Those numbers changed because people did something. We raised money and sent aid and helped educate others. All of those things worked towards the good plan that God has. And while we are not there yet, look at how far we’ve come.

When we talk about racism and hatred and the problems of our country, we have to realize that God is calling us to action. We are supposed to do something about it. We are supposed to speak out and send aid and sign petitions and join campaigns and raise awareness. We begin by praying, and then we start working towards God’s plan.

And God’s plan is so much greater than even we can imagine. Frederick Buechner writes: “Sarah and her husband had plenty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plenty more of them still to come, but at that moment when the angel told them they’d better start dipping into their old age pensions for cash to build a nursery, the reason they laughed was that it suddenly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough.”

God’s plan for a world of love, for a world that looks like the Kingdom of Heaven sounds impossible. It sounds too wonderful for words. But nothing is too wonderful for God.

Startle us, O God, with your truth and your lively, life-giving presence. Come out of the nowhere into the here and now—this day, this morning, this time together. Touch our hearts with your grace; strengthen our spirits with your love in Jesus Christ, which comes to us in surprising ways. In his holy name we pray. Amen

07-10-16 Proper C10

— sorry, sermon audio is not available —

We all know this parable, don’t we?

 

We know the characters and we know how it ends and there is a comfort in its predictability. We learn this story as young children. Over and over again it is lifted up as a calling to how we are supposed to live. We have heard this story so much that we begin to become numb to it. It is hard to hear it and expect to learn anything new.

 

But there is a reason we have heard this story so much, a reason why it is one of the most well-known parables. In many ways it is the gospel in miniature, and it is worth another look. This morning, I’d like to focus our gaze on neighbors.

 

After all, that is the crux of the story right there, isn’t it? The lawyer, asking about eternal life, knows the answer is loving God and loving neighbor, but who is my neighbor?

 

That’s a question we all ask some days, don’t we? Who are we supposed to love God, because you can’t possibly mean that we are to love everyone. There have to be some limits. The world is just too big otherwise. So, who is my neighbor?

 

And Jesus tells this story. This story that we know so well that the phrase “Good Samaritan” has become part of our culture.  And the answer has nothing to do with distance.

 

Your neighbor is not just the person living next door, in a house you never have to enter, to whom you never have to speak. Your neighbor is not one who happens to be convenient for you to help. Your neighbor is not the one who meets the qualifications of your company.

 

Your neighbor is simply someone who, without a doubt, is experiencing pain, struggles, challenges, and sorrow. Your neighbor is someone whose need you see and do something about.

 

For Jesus then, there is no limit to who our neighbors are. Our world is large, but we are better connected than ever. We hear about travelers on the news every day. From the recent bombings in Baghdad and Istanbul that have killed hundreds, to our own country’s Philando Castle, Alton Sterling and the officers in Dallas:  Lorne Ahrens,  Michael Smith,  Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa and Brent Thompson. According to Jesus all of them are our neighbors and all of them have been killed in the past week.  We only have to look at the news to see dozens of travelers who are our neighbors.

 

To follow Jesus, to find life, we are called to love our neighbor; to go and show mercy and care and love to those we run across who need it. It is not about saying the right words, or following the rituals exactly. If it was, the priest and the Levite would have gotten it right.

 

You see, they believed that touching the dead would make them unclean. And while they didn’t know for sure if the traveler was dead, he looked close enough to warrant passing by to the other side of the street. Or perhaps they thought the traveler was a trap. After all, this is a dangerous stretch of road filled with bandits. Stopping to help could land them in a world of hurt, so they pass by on the other side.

 

In one of his more famous sermons Martin Luther King Jr talks about this passage. He said “ And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

 

Being a neighbor means you ask about the other first. You tend to the needs that are in front of you and you do it regardless of who that person is. Which is why Jesus uses a Samaritan as the neighbor. By the time he told this story, the enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans was ancient, entrenched, and bitter.  The two groups disagreed about everything that mattered: how to honor God, how to interpret the Scriptures, and where to worship.  Truth be told, they hated each other’s guts. Samaritans were the last people a Jew would ever want to talk to, let alone seek help from.

 

Think about it this way: Who is the last person on earth you’d ever want to deem “a good guy?”  The last person you’d ask to save your life?  Whom do you secretly hope to convert, fix, impress, control, or save,  but never, ever need?

 

Perhaps it is someone who is campaigning for that candidate you absolutely despise. Or maybe it is someone with a view point radically different from your own. Or maybe it is someone who you know well, but who has betrayed you in some way.

 

That is who Jesus is lifting up here. That is the person who Jesus says is being a good neighbor. And on the other side of it the Samaritan is helping the last person he probably wants to help too. After all, the Jews had been full of nothing by scorn and derision for them for years. And yet, the Samaritan goes out of his way to make sure the traveler is safe and well taken care of. That is being a neighbor.

 

A few years ago, Israeli soldiers shot 12-year-old Ahmed Khatib in the head during a raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army apologized and the camp did not erupt into violence over the incident which everyone assumed was the best possible outcome.

 

But it was the reaction of Ahmed’s parents that caught everyone off guard. As life slipped away from their son in an Israeli hospital at the weekend, Ismail and Abla Khatib decided that some good could come of his death. The Palestinian family donated Ahmed’s organs for transplant. The boy was in an Israeli hospital and his parents understood that their son’s body parts were most likely to save people routinely spoken of as “the enemy” in Jenin.

 

Ahmed’s heart was transplanted into a 12-year-old Israeli Arab girl, his lungs into a Jewish teenager suffering from cystic fibrosis and his liver was divided between a seven-month-old Jewish girl and a 58-year-old mother of two suffering from chronic hepatitis. The kidneys were divided between a three-year-old Jewish girl and a five-year-old Bedouin Arab.

 

“It was shocking to know that young boy died like that so Samaah could live,” Yusra Gadbahn, the mother of the girl who received the heart says. “I have lost a son and it is impossible to describe the suffering I know Ahmed’s mother is feeling. But I am also happy that my daughter has the chance to live. I am very grateful that in their pain they thought of our pain.”

 

Ismail and Abla looked beyond the lines drawn in the sand, looked past the long established hatred and resentment between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and instead allowed their suffering to help others. That is being a neighbor.

 

Your neighbor is the one who scandalizes you with compassion, Jesus answered.  Your neighbor is the one who upends all the entrenched categories and shocks you with a fresh face of God.  Your neighbor is the one who mercifully steps over the ancient, bloodied line separating “us” from “them,” and teaches you the real meaning of “Good.”

 

So, as we hear this old story one more time, let us take a minute to look at the world around us. It is full of travelers who are hurt and reeling: from violence and death, from injustice and cruelty, from sickness and disaster. The world needs neighbors right now. It needs us to reach beyond ourselves and care for others.

 

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise.

07-03-16 MINISTRY MARCHING ORDERS

— sorry, but there is no audio for this week’s sermon —

MINISTRY MARCHING ORDERS

Luke 10: 1-11

 

Last week the final message that we gave the children of Vacation Bible School was “God sends.” Our friends at the Methodist Church across the bridge did the Surf Shack Bible School the week before. On their outdoor sign all week of our Bible School, their message was “God sends.” Many times Christians don’t want to be sent; they want others to go; they want to stay in their comfortable seats and hear about others being sent by Jesus.

Today let’s we’ll hear about the original group that Jesus sent, and we’ll note the many reasons why the urgency to “go into all the world with the saving message of Jesus” is more urgent than ever.

 

So let’s set the scene: Jesus has just had several people say they would follow him as soon as they took care of some personal matters.  They were reasonable things to ask to do.  But as those who have spent some time in the armed forces have learned, when there is urgency to carry out a mission, personal agendas get set aside.  Our world is filled with people who make excuses. Perhaps the biggest social laxity these days is people who do not RSVP, even when there are reservations needed and often money at stake.  So many people hold out to see if the invitation is their best option for that day.  As the parent of three children who got married, it was a costly venture to have people send regrets after the money for meals was already sent in; and others who came unexpectedly because they were invited but had never responded.  Our Presbyterian Counseling had to pay almost $200 for meals prepared for people who failed to notify us that they weren’t coming to our last free luncheon. It happens. But Jesus wanted to be sure that his call held the top priority in their minds.  Although they were not battling malicious and diabolical terrorists like we are, they were battling paganism and ruthless regimes in other parts of their world. So Jesus had a plan: Our Lord has never been accused of being a military leader, but on that day long ago, he did give “orders” to seventy selected missionaries. Here’s how Luke puts it in chapter 10: After Jesus squelched all of the excuses people were giving him for not following him just yet in Luke chapter 9, here’s how Luke puts it in chapter 10: “The Lord then appointed seventy others, and sent them ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about the come.”  Let’s break that down. “The Lord appointed.” This was not a democratic vote or a group of volunteers. There were men who Jesus specifically chose. He “appointed seventy.” Why seventy? A first assumption is that 7 was considered the perfect number since the world was created in 7 days. Anything less than that, say the number 6, would be “close but no cigar.” In other words the number six was seen as a counterfeit substitute for the real God. But even that does not explain the number 70 that Jesus chose.  What does explain it is Jesus’ thorough knowledge of the Scripture of his day, our Old Testament. He could have had in mind the number of elders that Moses chose to help him with decisions in Numbers chapter 11: 16-25. The seventy were bestowed with power by God to assist Moses in his many decisions. But there is a second reason that is even more persuasive: according to Genesis 10, after the world was destroyed by a flood, the descendants of Noah numbered seventy who, according to 10: 32- “are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations; and from these nations, they spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” So it was assumed that there were seventy original nations that populated the world. Therefore, these seventy men were literally to go into “all the world.” And notice that verse one says specifically “the Lord appointed seventy others.” He passed over anyone who, in the verses before, made excuses about why they could not follow him right then. The church has spent its life listening to people making excuses about why they can’t volunteer, or give, or attend. But the church over the years has highly honored and appreciated those who joined the prophet Isaiah saying “Here I am Lord! Send me.” And the church has chosen those who have served before without complaint, or drama, or incomplete work. So Jesus has shown us how to chose those who will go out into the world in his name! Next, he sends them “two by two.” Some religious groups follow this guideline carefully, sending people “two by two” to our doorsteps. But the practical reasons are many: for safety, for corroboration of information, and for support. Jesus sent these persons “into every town and place where he was about to come.” Listen to that: part of our role is like that of John the Baptist: who said “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths!” In other words, the Lord is coming! He is coming soon; put your houses in order! Professor G.B. Caird, retired from Mansfield College in Oxford England, says this about the urgency of their work: “Their mission is urgent because they are harvesters: Israel is ripe for the sickle and must be gathered in to the garner of the kingdom while the brief season lasts. ‘The kingdom of God has come near you’ does not mean that the arrival of the kingdom about which the men must be warned during the interval that remains; it means the kingdom of God is present and [people] must be summoned to enter it before the opportunity goes by forever.”  Last week we saw what happens when people don’t study issues, are involved in their own personal agendas, and don’t pay attention to warnings. Great Britain exited from the European Union, which was their right to do by vote. But what we learned in the days after was how many people wanted a “do-over.” “Let’s try this again! We didn’t know what we were doing!” With colossal financial loss and huge changes in treaties with other countries, they want to “re-vote.” I can imagine, on the day that Jesus comes again, there will be people asking for the same kind of things. “You’re here already! So soon? We didn’t understand how we were supposed to change our lives! And we’re being left behind? Can’t we have a ‘do-over?’” But that ship will have sailed as Kingdom of our Lord replaces the kingdoms of our world. And some will be saying to the news media: “We didn’t know! Can’t we have another chance?” Jesus is looking to mobilize careful listeners and willing doers of his “marching orders.” Others need not apply.

 

We also learn that those who say, “Yes Lord, send me,” may be going into the wilderness of the world like lambs in the midst of wolves. Being Christian is not for the faint of heart or for the coach potatoes. We are preparing for the day when, as the hymn writer Arthur Campbell Ainger put it: “Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” Like when there is an emergency on a plane they say, “Leave your luggage! Just follow our instructions and depart!”  Like firefighters who warn people not to rush into a burning house to retrieve valuables when they are already outside safe. Jesus says to the seventy and to those with their eyes and ears open to him: (And I’m paraphrasing): “Don’t pack your car to the gills like you are going across country, or pack huge bags like you are going on a cruise! I just need you, and I need you to go into all the world and say, among other things, to every household: ‘Peace be to this house!’ Whoever welcomes you-stay. And whoever doesn’t, shake the dust off your feet and move on!”

In church we often sing: “Jesus Calls us.” But today there’s a different message: “Jesus sends us.” He sends those who don’t make excuses, those who don’t try to hide behind their neighbor, and those who do not say “Let me first do this, this, this and this, then get back to me.” No. Jesus sends those who say: “I’m ready, and I’m here!” And from everything I’ve read, you might be especially helped to know this: Jesus saves those whom he sends. Respond right away; don’t wait to see if this is your best offer. If you do, you might be stuck on the streets of a more deserted earth, talking to media, and asking for a do-over.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                                    July 3, 2016