Scripture – Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 3, 2016
This is a very tricky day. For worship leaders, for preachers, this is a very trick day. The first Sunday in July always lands us either on or near the Fourth of July, the day we celebrate our nation’s independence. A giant day on our secular calendar; absolutely non-existent on our liturgical calendar. There are those who maintain that upon entering these doors, we need to leave that red, white and blue, fireworks stuff outside, that it’s irrelevant to what’s happening in here, in the church of Jesus Christ. But today also offers us an opportunity for alignment, for reconciliation in a way, between the allegiance we pledge to our nation and the commitment we are bound to make to Christ…and how existing in the tension between the two provides instructions for how we are to live, both as citizens of the United States of America and Christians in God’s world.
So Jesus has provided some instructions this morning. He appoints seventy “advance men” and sends them out in pairs to all the cities and towns he intends to visit himself on his way to Jerusalem. You might think of them as campaign workers in the upcoming general election…but with a twist. This sending forth indicates the expansion of the mission up until now undertaken by Jesus and the Twelve. Many agree that the number 70 indicates the expansion of the mission to all of humanity, harkening back to Genesis Chapter 10 in which all 70 of the nations of the world are named. This is an expansion of the current movement and a foreshadowing of Jesus’ later instructions to his disciples after his Resurrection to go forth to the ends of the earth.
Here’s the part of his instructions which I think captures all of our attention during our time of GPS and cupholders and travel mugs and prepackaged snacks and cellphones and hotels.com and travel insurance and credit cards with airline miles. Jesus says: “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…eat what is set before you.” Well that certainly rules out the lip gloss and the hand sanitizer, not to mention the inflight meal choices.
These instructions can mean several things: the urgency of the mission is one – Jesus doesn’t have much time left. Professor James Thompson of Abilene Christian University comments that the seventy need to get on the road right away and that there’s “no time to exchange pleasantries” on the route. I wonder about their impending lamb-like vulnerability and the wisdom of leaving one’s valuables at home. But Professor Elaine Heath of the Perkins School of Theology allows us to put these instructions into the perspective of our own lives as Christians today:
“…the apostles have the same authority for these ministries [preaching, teaching and healing] that Jesus himself has……Having apostolic authority in this text means having the power to cure the sick, exorcise demons, bestow peace, and announce the kingdom of God. It also means having the courage and freedom to go forth in vulnerability and intentional poverty, to travel lightly, and to depend on the hospitality of others. It means a nonviolent response to rejection at the hands of others [shaking dust off one’s sandals is hardly an act of war]…. Even the “normal” expectations of religious dietary law are to be set aside for the sake of the gospel…All aspects of life are subsumed to the central task of the mission.”
The mission? To prepare people for the coming of the kingdom of God. Two thousand years later the kingdom of God is still “near”, is still “at hand”, but we seem to have lost the immediacy of the mission of those first seventy apostles. Yet we can all agree that it is no less important, maybe even more important now that we consider what we must do in order to continue that mission. Our advantage is that we live on this side of the Resurrection, unlike those seventy lambs, so we know even better the truth of the gospel, the saving power of Jesus and the necessity of our taking on the way of Christ – its teachings, its values, and, to be realistic, its subversive nature in a competitive, consumerist culture. Christianity is counter-cultural!
Today we can bring in to this sanctuary our red, white and blue celebration and thank God for it, but then we must examine the intersection of the coming kingdom of God and all that means and the history and future of our country as a nation in the world. Is the message proclaimed in here of peace and acceptance and hospitality and simplicity and vulnerability and interdependence repeated out there even in the face of rejection? And do we have the single-mindedness, the dedication, the willingness to immediately take to the road to labor to deliver Christ’s message of giving our goods away and turning the other cheek in today’s adversarial domestic climate? Are we willing to let go of any of the things we hang on to which give us a sense of protection and security, however false in reality, in the midst of the wolves of status and selfishness in the face of our poor and marginalized?
Yes, this is a tricky day. This is a tricky day because as we celebrate our great country’s independence, the freedom of our republic, and rightly so, Jesus calls us to become like lambs, paring down, giving up, taking risks, becoming humble and preaching peace. But they need not be opposed, my friends. The trick is to take to the road, not with all our comforts, but with our petitions, our letters to the editor, our brave voices – even at cocktail hours and dinner parties – and our votes: to labor for the future of our “nation under God” with the same values with which we labor for the coming kingdom of God: inclusion, generosity, nonviolence and love….and liberty and justice for all. Happy Fourth of July. Amen.
 James W. Thompson, Feasting on the Word Year C Volume 3, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 219.
 Elaine A. Heath, Feasting on the Word Year C Volume 3, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 216.