The Work To Be Done (Luke 10:1-11; 17-20; Gal 6:2, 7-10)
Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest. There is much work to do and few workers to do it. But even as we ask the Lord to send out workers, maybe we should give some thought to the work that needs to be done.
Answers will differ. Perhaps there was a time in our lives when we could assume that all Christians of a particular stripe would agree on the work to be done. If there was such a time, those days are gone. One of the interesting things modern biblical scholarship has exposed is how much diversity there was even in the early days of the Jesus movement.
What does Jesus sent out the the seventy to do? For one thing, he sends them out to heal the sick. One of the primary works of Jesus that the living Christ calls us to do are works of healing. Heal the sick, says Jesus. The word that we often translate as “heal” or “make whole” in the Gospels is the same word we translate as “save” in other contexts. Salvation in the Gospels is a restoration to wholeness. It is about healing. In the Gospels salvation is healing.
Fred Craddock tells about the time he was acting dean at Phillips Seminary. It was a short stint, he says. One day a woman stopped to see him. She wanted him to follow her to the parking lot and to her car. He was a little nervous, but he did. Slumped in the back seat was her brother. He had been a senior at the
He had been in a tragic car wreck and was in a coma for eight months. She had
quit her job as a schoolteacher to take care of him. All of their resources had
been exhausted. She said to Dr. Craddock, “I want you to heal him.” University of Oklahoma
He told her that he couldn’t do that. He could pray for him, but he couldn’t heal him. He said that he did not have the gift of healing. She got in the car, looked at Fred, and said “Then what in the world do you do?” And she drove off. Dr. Craddock said that afternoon he went back into his study, starred at his books, and tried to forget what she had said. Of course, we know the kind of healing she was wanting, which, of course, could not be given. But that question gave Dr. Craddock pause. “If you can’t heal, then what in the world do you do?” she asked.
What do you make of all the healing stories in the Gospels? We live in a different time and place. We have different perspectives on healing. We have different understandings of the causes of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sickness. We have different understandings of the anti-human forces at work today that diminish our lives, which destructive powers we need deliverance and healing from.
But healing is still the great need we have as human beings and a society– on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. We have made great strides in some areas of healing, but still have a long way to go. I think most of us are more aware today of the connections between physical, psychic, and spiritual sickness, which can be very complex. And it is not just individuals who need healing. Our relationships need healing; our communities need healing; whole societies need healing. There are inseparable connections between works of healing and works of justice, which works we are also called to do as disciples of Jesus. The two kinds of works go hand-in-hand. When we work for justice, for what is right and good and just and fair, we are engaging in works of communal or societal healing.
Quite a few people had gathered at the large house for the reception. I don’t know the occasion, but there was a punch bowl, and some cake and peanuts and little mints and some sandwiches. You know the standard fare. Everyone was standing around, having the kind of conversations you have at such occasions. “I guess we’re going to get some rain this week.” “Did you see the game last night?” That kind of stuff. And then Brenda Williams walked into the room. And there was something about the room that changed when she walked in. It wasn’t her beauty or her appearance or anything like that. It had to do with who she was and what she was about.
She spent much of her time writing letters, making calls, going to see important people in high places about the way the law treats juvenile offenders. Seven days a week she worries the authorities to death. Someone asked her, “You enjoy doing that?” “No, not really,” was her reply. “You get paid for all that work. Do you have a position or title? Are you on a pay roll?” “Oh, no,” she said. “You have children in trouble with the law?” “No. My children are not in any trouble.” “Then why in the world do you spend your time doing that. It’s no fun. You’re not getting paid. None of your friends are doing it. Why are doing it?” Her answer, “Because I have to.”
She feels compelled. She has a calling. She has a commission. The Spirit of God inspires her and drives her into the wilderness where she confronts the powers that be on matters of justice for juvenile offenders. That kind of work is just as important as the works of mercy and kindness we do when we walk with someone in their time of grief or loss, or when we help in the soup kitchen or at the Simon House, or when we give generously of our resources and time to minister to those in distress or in personal or financial need.
Do you find it interesting that Jesus tells the seventy he sends out to stay at one place and to proclaim to that house that the kingdom of God is near. There is to be no shopping around for the best room and board. Jesus says, “Go to whatever house welcomes you.” And he tells them to eat whatever is set before them. Why is that? Remember that Jesus himself sat at table with all sorts of people. The table meal in the life and ministry of Jesus became an important, if not the most important symbol for the kingdom of God. All were welcome. No distinctions were made. All were on equal footing before God. The disciples are sent out to convey that same message. There can be no hint of privilege. It may be Jewish food or Gentile food set before them – it maybe a full course meal or trifles – it doesn’t make any difference. The kingdom has come near to all. That’s why Jesus instructs them to be servants of all, because the kingdom has come near to all. And that was the message Jesus said to proclaim to whoever would welcome them into their home and to their table. The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God has come near.
When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, which was the central theme of his ministry, he is talking about God’s will for the world, and that includes both healing and justice. Paul tells the churches of Galatia to not be weary in doing what is right. He says that whenever we have opportunity let us “work for the good of all.” The common good is central to God’s kingdom and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
As most of you know several years ago I raised my voice along with many other voices, and we did what little we could do to help get the Fairness ordinance passed here in Frankfort. The irony of that is that while there were other Christians and clergy like myself (I wasn’t alone by any means) advocating and speaking for that legislation, many more Christians were opposed to it. Far more Christians opposed it than favored it. One of the arguments that always baffled me, which was one of the most common arguments advanced against it by Christians was, “You can’t legislate fairness.” Personally, I think that argument was just a way for them to disguise their prejudice against the LGBT Community. And when you think about it, it’s a silly argument. Of course you can legislate fairness. We did it when we abolished the laws of segregation on a national level. We legislated fairness. And while many still broke the law, the law itself was helpful in bringing about change. Now, what you can’t legislate is individual transformation or the healing of a person’s or group’s racism or prejudice. Only the law of Christ can do that, which is the law of love. Only the love of God working in a person or community can heal racism and prejudice. But, yes indeed, we can legislate fairness, and we who are disciples of Jesus should demand that our representatives enact legislation that promotes fairness and justice. The healing of a society depends on it, and it’s a key part of the process.
Author Nikos Kazantzakis was walking along a dusty path in his native Crete. An elderly woman passed by, carrying a basket of figs. She paused, picked out two figs, and presented them to Kazantzakis. “Do you know me, old lady?” he asked. She looked at him puzzled and said, “No, my boy. Do I have to know you to give you something? You are a human being, aren’t you? So am I. Isn’t that enough?”
I wish to God it were enough. I’m sure you have been reading and hearing about the deplorable conditions where asylum seekers and migrants seeking safety from unsafe conditions are being held and how they are being mistreated. It’s tragic. Instead of allowing them to stay with relatives or friends or people or communities that would take them in until their papers can be processed and they can get a hearing, they are being imprisoned in overcrowded detention centers where conditions are inhumane and deplorable. And now our nation’s leader is talking about more raids on the undocumented gathering up even more people and placing them in those same conditions, or separating families and sending them back to places where they have not been in years and are unsafe. Isn’t it enough that they are human beings? God’s daughters and sons. God’s children loved by God. O no, it’s not, because there is no compassion, no concern at all. Just hate and prejudice and fear. That’s what guides the immigration policies and practices of our nation’s leaders today.
Paul says to the Galatian Christians, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right (that is, what fulfills the law of Christ, the law of love, the law of love your neighbor as yourself), for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Generally, in that culture those who constituted the family of faith were those who were the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society. Not all of course, but many. Certainly the majority. When Paul writes to the Corinthians he tells them that not many of high status or wealth or those in the high standing of society have accepted the call to be part of the community of Christ. He tells them that God chooses the “foolish” things, and “low” things, and the “weak” things of the world to confound the wise and the strong and the rich. Paul doesn’t say “not any” well-to-do people and powerful people are called, but he does say, “not many” are called. And we know from story after story in the Gospels and from the teachings of Jesus that Jesus had a special interest and regard for the poor and vulnerable, as well as the outcasts and excluded in his society.
In the Hebrew scriptures three groups of people are singled out as worthy of special consideration, compassion, and care: strangers or aliens, that is, non-Jews, widows, and orphans. Scholars point out that the legal mandates for caring for these were quite unique among other known judicial systems in the Ancient Near East. Israel’s covenant with God, Israel’s law required consistent and outspoken advocacy and care for the weakest, least protected, and most disadvantaged in their society.
There is a story told about William Booth, the founder of the Salvation army, who spent many years reaching out to the poor and needy on the streets of London. Every Christmas, London churches sent out representatives to the streets to invite the poor to their Christmas celebrations. They would typically say, “All of you who are Anglicans, come with us.” Or “All of you who are Catholics, come with us.” Or all of you who are Methodists or Lutherans or whatever, come with us.” When all of that was done, there would still be left a large crowd. William Booth would shout out, “All of you who belong to no one, come with me!” Who do you think captured best the spirit of Jesus?
Jesus told the disciples to announce the kingdom of God has come near, when they sit down to table with all kinds of folks and when they engage in works of healing. We need a new vision of the kingdom of God. Actually, it’s an old vision we need. The vision that inspired and compelled Jesus to welcome all and heal all is the vision we need today. It’s a vision he died for on a Roman cross. The vision is captured beautifully in a poem by Cynthia Kirk titled “Kin-dom without Walls.”
Imagine a place / Where mercy resides, / Love forms each heart, /
Compassion lived out with grit and determination. / A place where lavish signs / Mark each path barrier free.
Imagine a place / Where skin tones are celebrated / Like the hues of tulips in springtime. / Where languages inspire / With symphonies of diversity. / Where Respect schools us / In custom and history / And every conversation / Begins with a bow of reverence.
Imagine a place where each person wears glasses, / Clarity of vision for all. / Recognizing each one, everything / Made in the image of God.
Imagine a place / Where carrots and pasta / Doctor’s skills and medications
Are not chained behind barbed wire- / Food, shelter, health care available for all.
Imagine a place where / Every key of oppression / Was melted down to form public art / Huge fish, doves, lions and lambs / On which children could play.
Imagine a place where / People no longer kept watch / Through the front window / To determine whether the welcome mat / Would remain on the porch.
Such is the work / The journey / They destination / In the kin_dom of God.
O God, inspire us to imagine, to dream, to pray, and to work for the kin_dom of God – where we all belong and we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Amen.