Once again, it is an honor to be here on this 4th of July Sunday! Before I begin, let me say happy 4th of July. While this is not a church holiday—not a holy day—it is still a day that is important to us as we remember our history and take pride in our country and pray God’s blessings on it. So, happy 4th of July.
The text I want to focus on this morning is Luke 10:1-11, a text that focuses on an important moment in the ministry of our Lord. Luke’s gospel is constantly reminding us of the universal purpose of Jesus’ ministry, as Jesus welcomes the poor and the outcast, includes women, and challenges his fellow countrymen to recognize that God’s love has no borders, that God’s favor is not just for the people of Israel. Prior to this passage, Jesus has just reminded his disciples of the high cost of following him and now he sends 70 of his followers on a mission.
10:1 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.
10:2 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.
10:3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
10:5 Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!'
10:6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
10:7 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.
10:8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;
10:9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'
10:10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,
10:11 '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.'
Jesus continues reminding his followers of the high cost of following him. He sends them out completely empty handed—no backpack, no extra clothes, no money, no food. He sends them out poor to greet the poor. And what are they to say? “Peace be on you” “The kingdom of God has come” It sounds a bit like the Psalm we read this morning; “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” These ordinary people are going out to the poor villagers of an oppressed nation and bringing peace and good news.
In Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, the statue of Liberty on Ellis Island is called the “mother of exiles.” We all know the famous words; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” On this Independence Day, it is fitting to remember these words. They represent the best spirit of our nation, a call of welcome to all, a call to turn mourning into joy. Perhaps we have not always lived up to our highest ideals, though many have indeed found this country to be a place of welcome and refuge.
Jesus said similar words once; “Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest.” If we haven’t always lived up to our ideals, I think many of us can testify that Jesus does live up to his promises. In the gospel we read this morning, Jesus calls for a new order, he is inaugurating a new kingdom. He is not building a political kingdom, though his new kingdom will shake politics to its core, he is not sending ambassadors or political leaders. He has no army, no defense budget, just poor villagers whom he has transformed into warriors for love. The 70 individuals sent out by our Lord were charged to bring a message of peace and a message of joy to the suffering people of ancient Israel. These people went out committed to healing, to love, to bringing joy where there was pain. The kingdom of God has come near. Jesus says this over and over. What does he mean?
When our founding fathers met in 1776 to proclaim a new nation, they were starting an earthly kingdom. As wonderful as that was and as grateful as we are for it, especially today, here Jesus is starting a kingdom of a totally different sort. A kingdom built on love, that crosses all dividing lines among people. Some Latin American theologians like to call this a kin-dom. A system based on love and brotherhood, instead of on kingship and a desire for power. A system where every person is my brother and sister because he or she is created in the image of God. A system where we are all ‘kin’, all relatives, and Jesus Christ is our brother. Where everyone is our neighbor, everyone whose lives touch our own.
Much of the New Testament is dedicated to explaining this new kingdom, this kin-dom. In Galatians 6, Paul gives us words like this;
“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
“So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for the family of faith.”
It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t send out people to have a conversation and then leave. They are supposed to stay in a community and to share their lives with the people they meet. They are supposed to forge relationships and share community.
Perhaps the best example I have seen of a Christian community that lived out this message was in a very unlikely place. I have been privileged to be part of a rotating group of church volunteers that visit the county jail here in Montesano to conduct Sunday services. I was nervous the first time I went in and wondering what on earth I could do, how I could help these women. Instead, they inspired me. I found a vibrant group of women who embraced each other, comforted each other, and held each other’s hands. It was a community there, each bearing each other’s burdens.
We have a problem in this modern world—we feel fragmented and cut off from each other. I think many of us mourn the loss of closer communities and feel more and more distanced, as cars and technology reduce meaningful human contact. But if we really think about it, this is an illusion. Many lives touch mine in this world, even people I will never meet. There are the people I meet in the grocery store or on the street, the people I work with or go to school with. Then there are the women in Nicaragua or China who make my clothes, the farm workers who harvest the fruits I enjoy, the men and women around the globe that assemble the technology I use and the car I drive. People throughout the whole world touch my life and I touch theirs.
The former archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu once remarked; "A self-sufficient human being is subhuman. I have gifts that you do not have, so, consequently, I am unique--you have gifts that I do not have, so you are unique. God has made us so that we will need each other. We are made for a delicate network of interdependence." We all are interconnected.
The question we are challenged with, recognizing this, is how are we going to respond? “Bear one another’s burdens,” the apostle Paul says, “and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Jesus made his point so clear—love one another. If everyone is our neighbor, if we are challenged to do good to all, then how does this kin-dom really work? It’s easy to love the people we are already friends with. We shake each other’s hands after church, we go to dinner with our friends, we support each other when things go wrong. And these are very important things, part of this call to bear one another’s burdens. But sometimes we are called, like the 70 Jesus sends out, to step outside our comfort zone and welcome people we would not ordinarily want to be associated with.
How do we bear one another’s burdens? Maybe by standing up for the poor and suffering among us. One of my personal American heroes is the founder of the catholic social workers, Dorothy Day. Beginning during the brutal years of the Great Depression, she took Jesus’ words “I was a stranger and you let me in” seriously. Not content to write about the needs she saw around her, her and a group of other workers, opened up their homes, and eventually the community they formed, to the homeless. She was criticized for letting people stay too long or accepting people who were not “deserving.” She defended herself by saying; "We let them stay forever. They live with us, they die with us…Once they are taken in, they become members of the family. Or rather they always were members of the family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ." This is the kin-dom that Jesus came to set up.
A minister in Seattle, after he was ordained, instead of settling down in a church, instead decided to minister on the streets. His name is Dustin Cross and he writes; “when we began spending time hanging out in the streets of Seattle with those who were non-housed, we began to see a great need to go above and beyond just ‘serving the poor’. We recognized the important significance of becoming friends with those who live outside. From building relationships, they have realized that those who are without houses are just like every one of us; they have amazing stories to tell, gifts to share, and love to give.” He realized that the most important thing about God’s kin-dom was forging relationships.
How do we bear one another’s burdens? Maybe by standing against injustice. Many people in our nation’s history have done so and continue to do so. They recognize that not only are individuals treated wrongly, sometimes whole groups of people are discriminated against. Only 50 years ago, it was not uncommon for black people and white people to be segregated. Many stores, hotels, and restaurants would not allow black people inside. Some of our own communities in this state would not allow people of color to leave in certain neighborhoods. While many Christians either did nothing or defended these practices, some courageous people realized that practices like this violated the very heart of the gospel. Martin Luther King was one of those. He called “for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation” and said that this “is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.” This is the kin-dom that Jesus came to set up.
How do we bear one another’s burdens? Maybe by being kind to an enemy. Jesus got in a lot of trouble in his hometown when he preached about the story of Naaman. Our OT reading this morning talked about Naaman, a foreign general, a man who heads up the army that would sweep down in raids on their neighboring Israel. Yet, Naaman was desperate enough to ask the prophet of Israel, Elisha to heal him. Now, no one would have blamed Elisha if he said; “I don’t think so. You think you can come down here, raid our farms, capture our family members, and then ask for healing. No way.” Nothing is more challenging in this new kin-dom than loving enemies. But Elisha does not say no. Instead, he, like Jesus does in the gospels, not only forgives but shows love and healing to his enemy.
One of the most moving films I have watched is Joyeux Noel, a film about WW1 based on a true story. As the German and French soldiers face each other on the battlefield on Christmas day, the soldiers declare a truce and both sides began to sing Christmas carols together about the birth of our Savior, who came to bring a kin-dom of love. Even in the middle of tragedy and war, the love Jesus came to bring was felt.
Paul closes his letter to the Galatians by saying; “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation is everything.”
Paul is saying—my first loyalty is to the kin-dom of God, my first loyalty is to Jesus Christ who brought peace through his cross. The fact that I am Jewish is not most important; my first loyalty lies with a new creation. In this new creation, what country you belong to is not important. What is important is the love of Christ.
So, does that mean that we should not be celebrating a national holiday today or that we cannot take pride in our country? Of course not. We should be proud of our country and we can celebrate that many of the people who have lived here have been able to live out the call to love. We can be proud that the words on the statue of liberty have been true for many people. At the same time, we can still remember that God’s kingdom—God’s kin-dom, is always of first importance. God’s kin-dom transcends all national borders, languages, and other dividing lines. It is universal. And we can also work in our wonderful nation for peace and love and stand with the long line of national heroes that have tried to be faithful to Jesus’ call to love.
I want to close with the words to a favorite hymn;
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
This is our challenge. Whether we volunteer in a jail, cook a meal with the homeless, or the hold the hand of a friend, we will find ourselves working for this kin-dom of love. We will be continuing the mission Jesus gave those seventy 2000 years ago. And we will never be the same. Amen.