7 Pentecost C—7/3/16
Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11,16-20
Pr. Scott Kramer
This weekend we observe the birth of our nation, but what I notice in one of today’s readings is a hint at the birth of our congregation! As many of you know, 2016 marks Lakeridge Lutheran’s 70th anniversary.
In our scriptures the number 70 is significant. At the very beginning of today’s gospel reading, for example, Luke writes that in addition to his twelve core disciples he appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
Whether two thousand years ago or today, what is the work of Jesus’ disciples? Luke sums it up in a word: to announce that the kingdom of God has come near.
Now, we Americans are not familiar with or comfortable with kings and kingdoms! Isn’t that what Independence Day is all about—getting away from kings and kingdoms? On the other hand, all political systems have certain things in common—like laws, for instance. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians writes: Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Jesus himself said very plainly that there’s only one law we need to remember: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul and all your strength—and your neighbor as yourself. The kingdom of God is not defined by national boundaries. The kingdom of God is wherever self-giving love–the law of Christ–prevails.
Last Sunday a few of us from Lakeridge Lutheran joined over 200 other Lutherans from 28 congregations, as well as other Christian churches–some of thousands of others walking through downtown Seattle in the annual Pride Parade. Year after year what I find especially hopeful about this experience is that Christians have a chance to state publicly and clearly who we are. Our Christian vocation is the same as the seventy souls whom Jesus sent out two thousand years ago, and all whom he has sent out since. We proclaim the kingdom of God, bearing one another’s burdens—and not just the burdens of the Christian world but the whole world. We publicly proclaim the gospel of love.
But anyone can call themselves a Christian! You can be baptized and can go to church every Sunday. But as St. Paul wrote on one occasion, none of that matters without love: If I have not love I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Near the end of the parade I looked to one side of the street and saw a group of protesters, who are also at the Pride Parade every year. They call themselves the Hellshaking Street Preachers, but they weren’t holding signs proclaiming God’s love. One of the signs, in fact, read, Faggots are Bastards Who Will Burn in Hell! (It’s times like these that I feel like putting a bag over my head, embarrassed to be associated with other Christians.) Sometimes the disciples of anger, bigotry and hatred are more vocal and motivated than the disciples of love.
Which do you find more offensive: hearing such language in worship on a Sunday morning, or, knowing that there are Christians who so completely misrepresent the law of Christ? In today’s second reading St. Paul writes, For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride.
Love is not something we human beings get to define. God has already defined what perfect love looks like, and it’s this: the sacrifice of Jesus’ own life, even for the sake of his enemies, even for the sake of the whole creation, as an example for us to learn from…and follow!
When St. Paul says that “all must test their own work,” this is the standard he’s talking about. Not human rules, not so-called morals, because our human nature has a virtually limitless capacity to measure ourselves against others. Comparing ourselves to others practically guarantees that we will justify and rationalize and ignore our own bad attitudes and behavior.
One thing those Hellshaking Street Preachers got right. However wide of the mark, theirs was nevertheless a public witness. Christian faith is not a “private” affair! We may have a personal relationship with God–of course!–but disciples of Jesus Christ do not have the luxury of a private faith! Fortunately, in all times there are great individuals who remind us of our public responsibility, and the consequences of ignoring that responsibility.
The front page of this morning’s Seattle Times, for examples, announces the death of Elie Wiesel. Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. I had the privilege of hearing him in person back in the early ‘80s. Following WWII Wiesel dedicated the rest of his life to speaking and writing and teaching, keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.
Two of the factors contributing to the scale of the Holocaust were the convictions that national identity and Christian faith are the same thing, and, that faith is a private affair, separate from the messiness of the world.
How far from the mind of Christ! Jesus sent out his disciples—first the twelve, then the seventy—into a public ministry that involved a fair amount of risk, challenging certain “sacred” assumptions of the cultures and traditions they encountered–including their own!
Jesus has sent us into the world where, as Paul says, our work is tested against the law of Christ, the law of love. If God has anything to do with it such work will stretch us beyond what we think we can do, or even beyond what we want to do! Like the seventy, we may be amazed by the public opportunities to represent the law of Christ, the Kingdom of God.
That point was driven home to me this past week. A couple of days after the Pride Parade I met up with one of my colleagues. She and her adult daughter also had walked in the Pride Parade, but not with the churches. This friend has invested a lot of her gifts in health care research. The group she walked with focuses on health care and along the parade route they were passing out condoms to keep people safe and healthy. It wasn’t something she felt comfortable doing but she decided to join in and was surprised by how grateful people were. But the best part of this story was her daughter’s response: “Wow, Mom, I didn’t think you’d do this!” She was proud of her mom!
Christian love is not sentimental. It is hard and courageous work! Taking risks for the sake of love doesn’t guarantee gratitude but it can produce unexpected blessings in our own lives and the lives of others. Taking a public stand for the sake of love is what Christians do. Disciples of Jesus Christ continue to be called into new and maybe risky or uncomfortable situations to point to and practice and encourage love wherever we see it, to proclaim in word and in deed…that the kingdom of God continues to come near!