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Sun, Jul 07, 2019

I Cannot Imagine

Duration:20 mins 46 secs

Our second reading for today comes from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10, verses 1-11. Jesus has turned his face toward Jerusalem and begun his journey there. At this point in the gospel, as commentator Fred Craddock has written, “Perhaps Luke has in mind the reader who is being drawn into a pilgrimage with Jesus in an unfolding and deepening way, not only to the passion but into the kingdom of God.” Let us hear this Word of God.

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. 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. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 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. 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. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 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.’

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I am sure that they told him stories about his birth because I have heard them too. An emperor in a foreign land wanted a count of all those in the empire. So he sent an order that everyone must return to the place of their birth to be counted. In obedience to the government’s command, his father went. His mother was pregnant with him but she went too.

When they arrived, the time came for her to give birth, but there was no room in the inn. Apparently no family or relatives offered a place. No kindness extended by strangers. So he was born in a stable. His mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.

Surely they told him stories about his birth.

I wonder if he remembered when his family fled a few years later? Strange visitors from a foreign land had come bringing extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. His mother had welcomed them to their home.

But not long after they left, his father had a dream. He learned the boy’s life was in danger. The government sought to kill all the children who were two years old and under. These little kids were a threat to peace and prosperity. So, his father got up and took him and his mother by night. Surely he remembered that journey. What he felt in that moment. What they took with them. Did they take anything at all? They left the nation of his birth and of his father’s birth and of his mother’s birth in fear, by night, seeking safety in a foreign land.

I wonder if they had to cross a river? I pray the boy, scared to wait alone, never jumped back into the water after his father. Because fathers will do anything to save their child, right? Or give their own life trying. There are some pictures that once I have seen them, I will never forget.

Yes, this family, a father, a mother, and a two year old boy told in a dream that their lives were in danger, went by night to a foreign land in hopes that they might be safe. If you know that story, you will recall that they made it. They lived in Egypt for several years. I am sure the boy was profoundly shaped by living as a stranger, an alien, a refugee, a sojourner in a foreign land. I am sure it also shaped the ways that others treated him when one day it was safe again and his family returned to Israel and settled in Nazareth.

Yes, that is his family’s story. Yet, the roots go back even farther. The Torah spoke of a wandering Aramean as their ancestor. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are each promised a land and yet all of them seem to continue to wander without a home, relying on the hospitality of strangers. The children of Jacob make their way to Egypt for food and shelter in the midst of famine in their own land. They are welcomed until a Pharaoh arose over Egypt who did not remember how the immigrant Joseph had saved the Egyptian people from their own famine. So Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews until God delivered them. Even then, they wandered for forty years in the wilderness. Foreign nations, violence, and idolatry threatened every step of the way until they found themselves once again in the land of promise.

God was with them every step along the way. Yet, when they became settled and kings sat on thrones in palaces of gold and cedar, the people cried out and foreign enemies emerged to destroy these symbols of power and prestige. Despite the promise of land, perhaps the people best knew God on the road. Yes, I am sure that Jesus knew these family stories well too.

So as he begins his own ministry, Jesus leaves his home to be baptized at the Jordan River. Then the Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness. Once he returns to Galilee, he refuses to set up shop in a single place. He says there are other towns to which he must go as he proclaims the good news that the Kingdom of God has drawn near. He calls disciples to follow him not to stay with him. In verses recorded just before our text today, Jesus tells those who promise to follow him wherever he goes, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Yes, the one who was born in a stable, forced to flee to Egypt, from a wandering people, continued as an adult to be homeless, with nowhere to lay his head.

Now as he turns to seventy of those who traveled with him, surely he remembered his own family story, and the story of the generations who came before him. He sends them in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He must know the danger they will face. Lambs among wolves, he says. Yet he tells them to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals and greet no one on the road. They are to take nothing on which to survive even one day on their own. Jesus knows, he has always known, that to live on the road, depending on the hospitality of strangers, is a great risk. And yet, it is a risk they must take. They will rely upon God and the towns which surely will welcome them.

I read this text today and I cannot imagine what it must have been like. Just like I cannot imagine Jesus’ birth in a stable. All my kids were born in a hospital.

I cannot imagine the fear that would make a parent get up in the middle of the night and flee with their wife and toddler in hopes of finding safety in a foreign land. Sarah and I have lived in an apartment and four houses in the 22 years we have been married. Every time we moved it has been a huge, time-consuming ordeal of packing and planning and trucks full of our stuff. To simply get up and flee for your life in the middle of the night, I cannot fathom that.

And then in this text, to be sent ahead of Jesus, even in pairs, taking nothing with me? I cannot imagine that. We put 4100 miles on our minivan in June on our various trips to Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, and New York. I had every stop - for gas, for coffee, for lunch, for dinner, for the night - planned out ahead of time. And we took the minivan every time because we took so much stuff. I myself am mostly to blame for that. When we were packing to return from Chautauqua, we put all of our unworn clothes in one suitcase. I nearly filled it up myself with the extra clothes that I had packed.

So, to walk in pairs with no purse, no bag, no sandals, no wallet, no cash, no credit card, no cell phone. To have to rely entirely on the hospitality of strangers. To make myself completely vulnerable like that. I cannot imagine it.

I wonder if I cannot imagine this text because I, like the people of Israel in the generations after they reached the promised land, have become too comfortable with my place. I am just fine in my home and with my things. I have time and ability to plan and prepare. Safety for my family is a chief concern.

Now there are many, many blessings in our lives and we should definitely celebrate them this holiday weekend. And yet, I wonder if some of those blessings also blind me to the true challenges facing so many others in our world? To those who are literally born without access to modern medical care. To those who flee in the middle of the night out of fear for their lives or the life of their child. To those who would literally give their own life to save their son or daughter. To those who travel with just what they can carry or even nothing at all. If I cannot imagine myself in that place, do I suffer from a lack of compassion for those who do? It might just be me.

Scripture texts like ours for this morning invite me to see, to really see because there are places in this country that I cannot imagine being myself. So I pray that I will not be blind to the needs of those who come seeking aid. I pray that my arms are not so full of stuff that I am unable to offer a hand of assistance. I grieve, I lament the humanitarian, heart-breaking mess that is happening right now on the border of our nation. There are worthwhile debates and disagreements about the “how” of welcome, but I know that Jesus sends disciples to prepare the way for him. I pray that we are not ones who hear: “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.”

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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