“Finding God’s Kingdom Here and Now”

July 7, 2019, 4th Sunday after Pentecost Year C, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

As I thought about our Gospel reading from Luke this week I thought about how often following Jesus calls us to live in a way that is in conflict with the ways of the world. We see it in our Gospel reading as Jesus appoints seventy to go out ahead of him and share the good news he offers with the residents of the towns and places they will go. However, he doesn’t tell them to pack a big bag filled with all they will need for a lengthy and extensive trip. Which I think is what I know I would do – and I think most of us would instinctively do –if we knew we were headed out on such a trip. After all, I was a Girl Scout, so I like to be prepared for almost anything. You should have seen how I packed for my recent trip up to Maine for just four nights. There wasn’t a lot I left at home as I tried to prepare for any kind of weather or issue I might encounter on my trip. However, instead of telling the seventy to be over-prepared in a similar way for whatever they might encounter on their journey, Jesus tells them to travel light. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals,” he says. And rely on the hospitality of those whose homes they will go to – to eat and drink whatever they provide.

It seems counterintuitive to us to do this according to what we know about survival in the world. It seems to go against our common sense and our instincts for self-preservation and self-sufficiency. Jesus calls them to take what seems to be the simple route in packing light and relying on the hospitality of those they encounter in their mission, yet this simple way for us seems like it is such a more difficult way to go. Why is it that this simple way seems so wrong to us?

I was thinking about that question this week as I read the book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted, by Shannan Martin. In the book, the author tells the story of how she and her husband, Cory, had the life they always wanted. Or at least the life they were always told by society’s standards that they should want. Good jobs. Kids. Their dream farmhouse in a great community in a much desired school district. Financial security. Membership in a great church. By most standards life was good and they should have been happy and satisfied. But in spite of it all they felt something was missing.

That feeling of missing something led them to follow where the Holy Spirit led and they moved from the country to the inner city. They gave up their financial security and good jobs working in government as Shannan stayed home with the kids and Cory became a prison chaplain. They traded the best school district in the state for one rated among the worst. They went from a community where almost everyone looked the same and valued success and achieving the good life to one that was incredibly diverse and where poverty, crime, and mere survival of society’s inequality seemed to be the focus.

As they took the first leap of faith to make this a reality as they put their farm on the market they discovered no one in their original community understood or offered support to them. Instead, Shannan said most “people were concerned and skeptical” and others thought they “were straight nuts.” You’d think at least their church community would understand, wouldn’t you? Especially when they tried to explain that they were simply trying to live out the gospel more fully in this radical move. However, Shannan writes, “The overwhelming message we received was that God didn’t actually want us to do this upside-down thing of abandoning more for less. We were getting it all wrong. He simply wanted us to prove our loyalty by being willing.” (Falling Free, page 9) Members of their church told them their situation was much like how God tested Abraham by seeing if he was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but then God told him not to kill Isaac at the last minute. Like Abraham, their friends told them that they had proved to God they were willing to do this crazy leap of faith and now they could return to life as normal.

I think most of us can relate to how Shannan and Cory’s community felt. We don’t doubt God calls people to live out their faith in extraordinary ways where they put all their trust in God to provide, but we tend to think that most of those people who are able to do that are to be found in the Bible. It is a nice sentiment to want to do something like this, but does Jesus really call ALL of us to follow him in such radical ways? Even Shannan wrote in the book that she used to see the message, “God is all we need!” regularly on the sign of a nearby church. Yet, she wrote of the message, “I can’t argue with this one, but I sure want to.” (Falling Free, page 1)

And I join her in that feeling. Because I think we would all like to think we rely fully on God and would like to do whatever crazy thing God seems to be calling us to, but in reality instead we try to wrestle control of our lives from God and put our trust in ourselves and the ways of the world to provide for us. We listen to the world’s ways and think money and power will give us the security we seek and so we follow those. We can’t fathom that letting go of everything like Jesus tells us to in our gospel reading and relying on God alone will give us the security we crave. We feel like we need more. Yet, he promises that is in fact all we need and calls us to follow. In spite of their friends offering them a way to rationalize a way to ignore this call by Jesus, Shannan and Cory took the leap, leaned fully on God, and followed where they heard God’s call in the city and walked into a new way of life.

As the seventy others, Shannan and Cory, and so many followers of Jesus have discovered throughout history, following him isn’t easy as it often puts us in direct conflict with the ways of the world. Often it is the culture and its values, like the seventy and Shannan and Cory discovered. However, it can also be society’s laws we run up against as Scott Daniel Warren found out when he was arrested in January for providing food, water, clothing, and shelter to two undocumented immigrants traveling through the Arizona desert. While in June his trial resulted in a hung jury, the prosecutors still felt he had broken the law by providing aid to immigrants entering this country illegally. Yet, as Christians, the Bible would have us say that what Mr. Warren did was simply to answer Jesus’ call in chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel where he says that we serve Jesus himself whenever we serve the least of these, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Our human laws might want to put restrictions on the people and ways we answer that call, but Jesus doesn’t. Instead, he says it is our calling as his followers to serve whoever we encounter who has such a need and if we fail to respond to that need we are failing to serve Jesus himself.

Back in 2014 ninety-year-old Arnold Abbott along with two pastors had their faith come up against the law in a similar way when they violated a local ordinance in Fort Lauderdale, Florida by feeding the homeless in a park. The city felt feeding the homeless simply enabled them to remain in their situation and so they passed an ordinance prohibiting public food sharing. However, Arnold and his feeding ministry, Love Thy Neighbor, had been feeding the homeless since 1991 and he refused to stop because he felt called by his faith to help the most vulnerable in their community by providing the food needed for their survival and so he found himself very willingly facing arrest and a $500 fine.

Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel reading that following him will not be easy just as we see in the these examples, as when we follow him we risk being rejected for the message we carry of God’s saving love and grace for all found only in Jesus. A message the world rejects because it so different from the message the world offers of security in our own self-sufficiency and the ways of power and money and its priority of care for ourselves and our own first and foremost. Yet, Jesus says that when we follow him we carry his peace and the way of the kingdom of God, the way of God’s love for all. He doesn’t promise us success in following him and this way, he simply promises us his presence and his peace. He promises us that relying on him and his way of love, we and the world will be changed as God’s kingdom comes near and becomes real for us all in the here and now and not one day far off in heaven.

The times in which we currently live are times where in this country and in the world at large we are incredibly divided politically and socially. As such, it seems more and more, whether we like it or not, we find following Jesus and his ways putting us in conflict with the ways of the world as Jesus’ call to prioritize our Christian values of love of God and love of our neighbor above all else are rubbing up against what our culture and society tell us we should value, care about, and trust in. However, we aren’t left on our own to navigate these difficult times. Jesus reminds us today in our gospel that although these other ways will make us promises about providing us with safety, security and success, only Jesus alone can offer us what we seek and most importantly what we actually need. Only when we follow Jesus and his way will we find that his peace goes with us wherever we go and will never leave us no matter who or what we face on life’s journey. Only when we follow Jesus and trust in him alone to provide all we need, will we not be let down and will we find we indeed have exactly all we need in life even if it’s so much less than we’d expect. And only when we follow Jesus and his way of love will we find God’s kingdom has come near in the here and now and we, all those we encounter, and the entire world are changed and transformed through God’s hope and promise of salvation and new life for all in Jesus Christ because of it. Amen.

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