Sermon for July 7, 2019 | Proper 9 | Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
If you and I lived in the one of the many villages of ancient Palestine, we would experience a measure of safety within its the borders. We would know and be known by everyone in a community of people who watched out for each other. But venture beyond this well-known place, and we would enter the landscape of danger and insecurity. Indeed, were you and I to depart from the protective embrace of our village community, we would enter a foreign and hostile world: no state patrol; no rest areas; no agencies to come to our aid; no GPS to guide us; no rule of law on the road – we would be vulnerable to muggers, bandits, and kidnappers. You and I would need to travel with a group or in a caravan, hoping that a sufficient number in our company would stave off a potential threat. And once we entered the next village, we would be at the mercy of an elder, an elder who could extend hospitality and protection to us on our journey.
Thus, when Jesus says that he is sending out his disciples as lambs in the midst of wolves, he was expressing what everyone knew to be true: entering the world beyond the security of one’s community was risky if not dangerous. If you are received with peace, he says, in what was a truly violent world, then let your greeting of peace be extended to those who offer you peace. Stay there, he says, and heal those afflicted by troubling spirits. Accept whatever food and drink are given you, and let this gift of food and drink – not gold or silver – be the compensation you receive for your commitment to healing and to peace in a society marked by torment and conflict. See, he says, I give you authority over scorpions and snakes, popular symbols of evil intention and painful misery in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Consider this, then: contemporary Americans – you and I – have been taught to view life largely through the lens of scientific objectivity: what truly matters is what can be seen and quantified. Believe me: I am grateful for modern science when it benefits human and ecological flourishing. But, then, what of spirits and demons: isn’t that the stuff of fantasy films and horror movies? The rationally minded might easily dismiss such things as ancient superstition. And yet we would miss the point – yes, miss the point – that mention of demons and spirits symbolizes any force in life that diminishes, degrades, distorts, and needlessly ends life. And for evidence of that, we have warehouses of scientific and personal experience, do we not?
Thus Luke sets before you and me the conflict between the Dominion of this World in which voices and forces degrade, distort, and demonize the stranger and the vulnerable, and the Dominion of God where there is healing, peace, and hospitality for the traveler, for the refugee. Of course Luke’s implicit question is this: in which Dominion, in which Way of Life, do you desire to dwell? If we took a survey today, I doubt we would find any among us who would elect to dwell in the Dominion of distortion and demonization. After all, who among does not desire healing and health, peace over torment, and welcome over exclusion? And yet: the One who sends his followers into the world – not into synagogue or church but into the world – clearly recognizes that living into the Dominion or Reign of God is no easy thing. You can think about it, teach, argue, pray, preach, and sing about it, but – if these lovely spiritual exercises do not lead to action, how helpful are they?
The Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security reports grave abuses of migrants and asylum seekers detained at the southern border: that, for instance, fifteen asylum seeking women are confined to a cell with no running water and no access to restroom facilities, a cell intended to hold four people. Separated from their parents, vulnerable children have received no hot meals and no change in clothing. Overcrowding is so severe that agents of the Inspector General have received notes from asylum seekers begging for help as they, the jailed, cannot move without trampling on another detainee. Single adults have been held in standing-room-only conditions for more than a week. And to add insult to grave injury, some employees of Customs and Border Protection created a Facebook page filled with degrading images and sarcastic remarks directed at migrants and their children, as well as death threats to any member of Congress, to any journalist, to any citizen who questions their work and the deplorable conditions in which people are detained.
Not all Christians and all Americans share this core Episcopal conviction: that each and every human being, regardless of their condition in life, bears the image of God and is thus deserving of respect and the conditions that honor their dignity. Not all Christians and not all Americans share this core Episcopal conviction: that the disciples of Jesus Christ are called to seek out and serve their neighbor in need regardless of their condition in life. And so, I wonder: when our sisters and brothers, when other human beings are degraded and demonized, can we not discern a troubling spirit at work, a demonic force that distorts what God has created with an eternal dignity?
I wonder: does their plight impinge upon our conscience and thus beg for some clear action no matter how great, how small? After all, Jesus did not ask his disciples to hold a seminar, or take a quiet retreat for personal reflection, or hand their responsibility off to someone else. He sent them, as he does us, into the world where there are scorpions and snakes, to actually do something: to be his healing and peaceful presence.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”