(Homily given at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, July 3, 2016)
In the name of one Living and Loving and Saving God. Amen.
It was the 1960’s and there was this family. They were an average family in the sense that the parents worked hard and saw to it that basic needs were always met. The mom and dad were raising 3 sons. The boys were relatively close in age. In fact, only 11 months separated the two older boys and the youngest was less than 3 years younger than the oldest. They lived in an average house in an average suburb of a larger city. The dad was a printer by trade and the mom never worked outside the home until the boys were all in school. Well, as you can imagine, three boys this close in age… the competition was tough. And the older they got, the greater the competition was for everything.
In their generation, mini vans were non-existent. A family of this size either had a sedan or a station wagon. Imagine these three competitive, close-aged brothers all sitting in a row in the back seat. The order was typically the same, oldest behind mom, middle child in the middle and youngest behind dad. Car trips were most times uneventful. There was no air conditioning in the car and windows were rolled down. Oh yeah, no power windows either, and this was the 60’s and the kids’ windows rolled down all the way! How they survived, no one will ever know.
So, three boys in the back seat and then, there were the imaginary lines. You know what I mean, you had to sit in your space between the line or your loving, caring brother would proudly announce, “Mom, he’s on my side, he is across the line,” as the line was reinforces by one’s hand running back and forth along the seat. The follow up instruction was always swift and simple, “You boys better leave each other alone.” Well, that was the ‘mom’ instruction. The ‘dad’ instruction was always more to the point and typically included a not-so-pleasant promise. You know, like the one that involved pulling the car over to the side of the road to fix the lines and attitudes too!
One time, on an all-day trip to the Outer Banks nearer to the end of the day, these boys had tested the lines and the youngest one had the ingenuity to not only notice something, but also to share it in a most demonstrative way. You see, while each boy owned his particular physical space and all the Matchbox cars that could fit on his lap, young Einstein figured out that no one owned the air and proceeded to bug the other two, particularly the middle brother seated next to him by waving his hand in the face of the other pronouncing this new-found knowledge as to the ownership of the air.
“Nobody owns the air,” was the chant. Well, that is, until dad’s arm and hand swinging back over the seat owned the air. Fortunately, I had great reflexes and Einstein, while a mighty powerful thinker, was not so nimble.
So here are these three brothers. And, as you can see with their competitive nature and closeness in age, life was not always a bowl of ice cream. One would get picked on or there would be a fight over a certain toy or… you can fill in the blank for yourself to create a situational conflict and likely be spot on. And, most times, this conflict occurred out of the presence of a parent. After all, when a parent is around, there are consequences. So how do you solve conflict like that you ask? The brother being victimized runs off to check in with mom or dad. Said brother then returns shortly and says, “Mom said you have to share.” Or, “Dad said if you don’t share, it’s going to be his toy.” [Dad was not a patient as mom.] And then, the other 2 brothers had to ponder this and determine for themselves if victimized brother really consulted with a parental unit or is simply coming back with his own solution and the power of the word!
Let’s leave the 60’s and 70’s and move back in time to the time of Jesus and today’s gospel reading.
“The Lord appointed 70 others and send them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”
Let’s pause there first for just a minute.
Those in training to become deacons just completed a class on the New Testament. The course was introduced by the concept of being a “Readerly Reader,” meaning that one not only reads the words for understanding of the text, but also for taking the time and effort to ponder the words in both large and small scale.
So, let’s explore this sentence for a minute. Think about it. The Lord adds 70 new disciples and then he sends them off in pairs to the cities and towns and villages of which he plans to visit.
I have some trouble coming to grips with that. There are no station wagons with a place for them to ride. And further, think about how far they would have to travel to find the 35 towns in a land that I imagine is not densely populated at all.
You might say that I am reading too much into this. And, you might be right. But I am trying to imagine this and having difficulty for sure. However, is it not important to have some grasp of it to truly gain meaning?
So Jesus appointed the 70 and then we read that you can’t talk to anyone along the way and you can’t take anything with you.
“Carry no purse (meaning no money), no bag and no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”
Would you do that? If we all decided that we were going to go to Detroit, let’s say, for ministering to the community and the instruction included taking no money or luggage; would you go?
These are only two of the various individual parts of the reading that gave me pause. There is a third and it ties back to the three brothers in our average family that we learned about a few minutes ago. Remember how one of the boys would report to the others that mom said or dad said? I could not help but think about that in the context of the words from verse 16 where Jesus says, “Whoever listens to you, listens to me…” as if to say that Jesus sent me and he said…
Let that sit on your mind and heart for a minute. Whoever listens to you, listens to me.
Travel ahead in time now to today. Jesus was crucified and arose from the grave. The seventy disciples have become too many to actually put a number to and the three brothers are grown men and likely do not think about the imaginary lines that once defined their space.
But, ladies and gentlemen, if you hear nothing else but this, during our time together this morning…
…this large number of disciples that we speak of in today’s world; we are those disciples. We hold the same gift that the 70 did thousands of years ago. You see, I believe that Jesus empowers us to the same degree as he did the 70, that whoever listens to us, listens to Jesus. We have that same gift and it’s reaffirmed to us in the very words of our Baptismal Covenant.
• Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
• Will you persevere in resisting evil, and when you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
• Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
• Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
and the last one;
• Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?
The times are very different and so much more complex. The rhetoric we hear and face is often unbearable.
There is so much evidence of the lack of the love of Jesus Christ among our society instead replaced by disrespect and hatred controlled by the powerful and the prosperous. It is beyond our control. But there is one thing we can control.
And, that is who we are…
…and what we say and do.
We are each; one of those disciples. We are not alone; we travel in pairs at the very least. We have companions on this journey and we draw strength from each other. We are the agents of Jesus and whoever listens to our words, and sees our actions and experiences our compassion and love; it is as if they are, through us, in the very presence Jesus.
Would you pray with me please?
Gracious and loving God, it’s a big responsibility you have given us. It too, is a gift; that we are so empowered to be your words and your ministers by how we live, and how we love, and how we care.
What we say in words and actions are to be your message. We beseech you for your help that you are present with us in this work.
We pray this morning, the words of St. Teresa of Avila as she reminded of us of our carrying on the ministry of your Son, Jesus: