"Closing the Gap"
Luke 10:1-11, 17-20
7 July 2013
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Luke 10:1-11, 17-20
After this 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.’
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.”
The X, Y, and Z planes are quite easy for most of us to comprehend.
If I remember my high school and undergraduate mathematics correctly,
X gives width
Y gives height
and Z gives depth
to a three-dimensional world.
“Ah, yes; but what about time?” some might ask.
Yes, of course.
When one adds the element of time passing to a three dimensional space
The world comes to life,
a two dimensional photograph is converted into a three dimensional movie.
Instead of a looking at a snapshot,
it is as if George Eastman had a stack of Kodachromes
or Walt Disney had a stack of cartoons
and by the magic of stop motion,
a continuous sequence of frames over time gives the illusion of real life.
X, Y, Z, and Time gives us four dimensions,
but is there a fifth?
Rod Serling seemed to think so.
He often opened episodes of The Twilight Zone speaking about a fifth dimension,
a parallel universe,
and the gap between our world and the other was narrowing.
I wonder if Serling was familiar with our Gospel for today?
It appears that the closer Jesus comes to Jerusalem,
the closer the gap is closed
between the kingdom of God and ourselves.
Jesus had just been transfigured right before the eyes of his disciples.
He had preached, teached, exercised, healed
and even foretold of his own death
(as if that did any good).
Immediately preceding our text today,
Luke reports “When the days drew near for him to be taken up,
he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)
If you were a Samaritan,
this meant you weren’t Jesus’ vacation destination;
he planned to travel through you
to get where he was going.
Where he was going was to the Temple in Jerusalem,
whose authorities had questioned Samaria religious authenticity for the past 500 years.
Being the spurned and shunned step sister of Jerusalem based religious authorities,
disdain and resentment festered throughout the Samaritan countryside.
At best, Jesus could expect a cold shoulder from the locals.
At worst, Jesus probably expected to be tarred and feathered
and run out of town on a rail.
Isn’t discipleship boatloads of fun?
Yet, the closer Jesus comes to Jerusalem,
the closer the gap is closed
between the kingdom of God and ourselves.
“Pair up!” Jesus commanded,
probably reminiscent of Noah organizing the world’s animals.
One would think that Jesus would have had six pairs,
totaling 12 disciples,
however, it appears that his traveling salvation show
had picked up some interns, kling ons, and hippies along the way.
Some had wanted to follow, …. just as soon as they got their father buried.
Others wanted to follow, …. just as soon as they finished plowing their fields.
But Jesus rejects such nonsense
like Alex Trebek dismisses a late ring in to a Jeopardy answer.
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
In spite of the high barrier for entry,
Jesus still has 70 willing, eager volunteers
for his next missional foray.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;” Jesus observes. (Luke 10:2)
Some things never change; do they?
I mean, look at ourselves.
We have 30, 40, 50, 60 people here today
(some with Alice’s curiosity to evaluate the new preacher, of course)
and we recognize,
that we are a tiny island in the midst of a seemingly unlimited ocean of unChurched neighbors.
You know the statistics;
I don’t need to quote them.
But the fastest growing religious demographic are
those who have no religious affiliation or backgrounds.
Today, Jesus is sending thirty-five pairs of willing disciples
into a hostel and foreign land,
where the risk of rejection is just about at 99 percent.
Who would think of walking away from 99 to go after that lost one percent?
Pairs are a beautiful thing.
Especially in the face of rejection.
The message was the problem.
On top of blue-bloods traveling from the north,
the mixed breed Samaritans were going to have their world turned upside down by the message:
Sick, who they’d grown accustomed to excluding,
would be healed and would have to be reassimilated.
Demons, who they’d cast as the antagonist for every one of life’s malize,
would be cast out.
If they couldn’t blame the demon possessed people from across the tracks;
Now who would they blame?
Peace proclaimed on every house?
How could this be,
unless debts would be forgiven, jails emptied, and the dirty washed clean?
And, oh, by the way, expect free room and board.
Yea, like that is going to happen.
If you are not received, simply walk away.
Apparently rudeness is cross cultural, multi ethnic, and speaks many languages.
“We won’t stand for it!” I can hear the Samaritans howling
as they hurl the 35 teams out of their villages
and shut their doors
to keep the night out.
“What? Does Jesus expect us to change?”
With embellished hand gestures:
We reject you!”
So, “wipe the dust off your feet and move on,” Jesus instructs his disciples.
In a world of self-promotion,
self-made men and women
struggling to climb the ladder of social success
or employment ranks,
the thought of taking on a lab partner
or a project collaborator
just rubs our rhubarb the wrong way.
We might be raised dependant upon our parents,
but if there is any lesson to be learned in our adolescence,
it is the idea that adults have to stand on their own two feet.
We don’t depend on others.
Dependence is almost a dirty word
reserved for the poor, the last, the least, the lost, the left behind;
yes, even the widow.
Pairs are a beautiful thing, Jesus teaches us by his example.
Pairs teach us humility,
The professor of preaching, David Lose, correctly recognizes
“When one falters, the other can help.
When one is lost, the other can navigate.
When one is discouraged, the other can hold faith for both for a while.
That’s what the company of believers does
- we hold on to each other,
console each other,
encourage and embolden each other,
and even believe for each other.”
When it comes to pairs,
nearly everyone is eligible to pair up.
All are welcome to the table.
Pairs might even teach us the value of dependence upon God.
With every new village Jesus visits,
where the way has already been prepared by his ministry teams,
- in the face of ridicule and rejection
and in an environment whose foundation is -
on the one hand, total vulnerability,
and on the other hand, complete and utter dependence -
we get the picture
that the gap is closing
between heaven and earth,
between the kingdom of God
and the kingdoms of this world.
Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem where the gap will be closed
once and for all.
“The kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus repeats twice today
to his willing ministry teams.
Pay close attention to what Jesus repeats,
an old seminary professor once taught me.
“The kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus also proclaims to us today.
With every new town visited,
with every passage of every one of our life events
- marriage, children, career, retirement, and the final twilight -
the gap narrows
until it closes in on the cross of Jesus Christ,
we meet Jesus in his death,
and are washed clean by his complete and total redemption.
Sometimes, I know, we feel so alone.
So isolated from God.
There are times I feel the same way, too.
Yet, today, we are given the encouragement to
Everyone take a partner
with whom we can share the spiritual journey,
a friend we can lean on,
a confidant with whom we can depend.
and move forward.
Because when we faithfully lead the way for Jesus,
we draw nearer to the cross,
the gap is lessened,
and the kingdom of God comes near.