July 8, 2007
Text: Luke 10: 1-11
Last week’s reading from Luke found us with Jesus turning towards Jerusalem and challenging his followers with the stark realities of the journey. When you are a follower of the Holy One, prophetically called to bring in the beloved community, there is no turning back once you set your face towards the road ahead. No turning back from the path, from the way Jesus teaches us.
No sooner has Jesus reprimanded both named disciples and anonymous followers alike for turning aside from the way of love and for seeking excuses to veer off the path in last week’s reading, than Jesus sends 70 folks off ahead of him to do the holy work in today’s reading. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “OK, let’s get really clear what we’re doing here, and what it means, and what kind of commitment it takes” – last week – “Now, off you go!” – this week.
There’s so much good stuff in today’s reading, so many things we could dig into and explore. There’s Jesus telling them he’s sending them out like lambs among wolves, getting them ready for risk and rejection. There’s the heavy emphasis on the role of hospitality as evidence of the beloved community. There’s the repetition of the phrase “the kingdom of God has come near to you” with its strong implication that the kingdom of God is not necessarily somewhere else in some otherworldly realm of time, but right here and now, lived out in our actions of healing and relationship.
But one thing in particular really jumped out at me this week. You can chalk it up to my excellent education as an English major, followed by my excellent education as a biblical interpreter. Because one of the first things you learn about interpreting texts, biblical or otherwise, is this: What is left out is sometimes just as important as what is left in.
Listen to the first verse of chapter 10 again. “After this Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”
Do you notice something missing there? Perhaps not missing, exactly, but something that is not...there.
Well, I suppose there are a multitude of things that aren’t there – a recipe for tuna casserole, for example. But then, you wouldn’t expect a recipe for tuna casserole, would you? But you might expect something else, and that’s the “what’s not there” that struck me: What’s not there is any sort of identification or description of who these 70 people are and what makes them worthy for this appointment. Jesus just picks them, and sends them.
Now think about this. If you’re going to send out some folks to do a job on your behalf, don’t you want to be sure they have the right skills and credentials? Isn’t that what we do? We check the resumé and call the references and review the transcripts and hold an interview and then maybe, maybe we offer the job.
But that’s not what happens in Luke’s story. Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them. There is no checking of credentials. In fact, there is no checking of anything. There is no Jesus standing at the front of a long line with a clipboard and ballpoint pen x-ing out little boxes.
Partner’s gender? Uh-huh, check.
Rich? No? Oh, sorry.
Partner’s gender? Good, check.
Do you have the proper documents? No? Oh, sorry.
Male? Oh, too bad, sorry.
Partner’s gender? Oh, sorry, no.
Nice to your parents?
Young...but not too young?
Educated at the best schools?
Reference from the high priest? Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.
There is none of this in Luke’s gospel. Jesus appointed 70 others and sent them. If it were important – to Jesus, to Luke, to the early church – to define who these seventy were and what their qualifications were – if it were important whether or not they were men, or straight, or married, or single, or old, or young, or disabled, or illiterate, or Roman, or from the “right” families, or from the “right” synagogues, or from the “wrong” side of Jerusalem, or...whatever!... then the text would say so.
But it doesn’t. We have no idea who these 70 were. We just know that they were Jesus’ followers. Jesus sends them off with an encapsulation of all the teaching he’s given them so far: bring nothing but your self...offer peace to all...practice giving and receiving hospitality...heal folks...and if you’re not welcomed, just keep moving. In short, Go be the beloved community of God.
I guess that’s all the credentials they need, really: to be willing to go live the beloved community. That’s all that seems to matter. Not their status, or their gender, or their education, or any other of those markers we use to decide whether or not someone is “worthy” – you know, the kinds of claims and categories the church still fights over to this day.
I’m reminded of a sermon of Dr. Martin Luther King, his famous “Drum-major” sermon, preached two months to the day before he was assassinated. He describes that drum-major spirit as the drive and desire to be great, great really meaning better than everyone else. But Dr. King reminds us that Jesus had a different idea. Dr. King says –
Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that [the one] who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.
And Dr. King goes on:
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
Everybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. That’s essentially what Jesus told the 70 in this morning’s reading.
So...now I feel a little embarrassed for quietly bragging about my “excellent” college and seminary education. Because the truth is, that excellent education means squat if I’m not willing to serve. All my classes in languages and Shakespeare and Bible and Dante and theology and T. S. Eliot and pastoral care...none of that, ultimately, matters, when it comes to following the way of the Holy One. Do I have a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love? That’s what matters.
And...I feel a little bit better, because you know what else doesn’t matter? It doesn’t matter that maybe (I’m just saying maybe) sometimes I can be a little moody. And sometimes, I might watch a little too much baseball on TV. And when I lose my temper, well, let’s just say I’m not much fun to be around. There is a long list of reasons why I’m not worthy, but apparently, that doesn’t matter, either! Do I have a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love? That’s what matters.
If it mattered to Jesus, to Luke, to the early church who these 70 were, and that they met some sort of standardized version of the perfect human being, with just the right qualifications, – you, yes, you, no, you, definitely not! – If it mattered, the text would say so. But it doesn’t.
Because everybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
Everybody can serve. Do you have a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love?
I have been here long enough by now to know that indeed, you do.
So the question is, how will you serve? Remembering the instruction of Jesus – bring nothing but your self...offer peace to all...practice giving and receiving hospitality...heal folks...and if you’re not welcomed, just keep moving – remembering that, how will you go live the beloved community of God?
All you need for the journey? A heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
How will you serve?