Proper 9c, July 7, 2013

July 8, 2013

Passing the Peace
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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. 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.’ 16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

One thing that I’ve done since I’ve been here is to eliminate the moment in our service when we officially greet one another. I know this is something some people miss – this was probably the moment some people felt was the best thing that we did in worship and those people probably aren’t here anymore. I didn’t eliminate that section of our service lightly. I actually sort of liked watching the chaos break out in the sanctuary for a moment, but I wasn’t convinced it was a great experience for everyone, and I try to be sensitive to the feelings of shy people.

In a perfect world this passing of the peace would be a moment in which we all just grab each other and remind each other that we are loved by God and everyone else in the room, and it would be a great experience for everyone, but that’s not our world. My sense was that it was not very pleasant for the introverts in the room. I really am sorry if you miss that moment in our worship service. I recognize that eliminating the official opportunity to extend grace to one another seems sort of anti-social on my part, but I hope that what this looks like is not what it is.

I honestly want to promote warmth within our community, and I want to do things that will enhance the connectivity between us. I actually like the visiting that goes on before our service begins and I want to encourage you to get in touch with one another during that time. It doesn’t put me off to have to yell at you to get quiet so we can get the worship service going. What I want is for our interaction with each other to be more than ritualistic. I want us to actually pass the peace of Christ to one another.

That’s what this passage of scripture is about this morning – the way in which the profound sense of peace that Jesus brought is actually shared. And it is something that was meant to be shared. What Jesus says in this passage is that he realized there were all these places he had intended to go in order to share the good news of God’s love for everyone, and he needed help to get this message out. We’re told that he recruited 70 people to go out in pairs to offer his peace.

This number, 70, is a special number. It’s one of those numbers that represents a concept not an exact number. It’s a number that harkens back to the 10th chapter of the book of Genesis. That chapter identifies the descendants of Noah’s sons, and there are 70 names listed, and according to that story that was representative of the entire population of the Earth. Later in the Book of Exodus there is the story of how Moses received the stone tablets and in that story God told Moses to assemble 70 elders to be on hand. God wanted everyone to know how to live together in peace, and this number 70 represents everyone.

Jesus wanted everyone to experience the peace that he came to bring, and that’s why we’re told that he called seventy people together to go out and share his peace. But I also think it’s significant that he didn’t send them out by themselves. He certainly could have covered more territory if he hadn’t sent them in pairs, but I think part of the message of Christ is the importance of living in community. An important aspect of the Kingdom of God that Jesus wanted us to experience is that sense of not being alone. The peace of Christ is something to be shared with others. So he sent them out in pairs.

He sent them out in pairs, but he didn’t send them out well equipped. He sent them out with some intentional vulnerability. They didn’t show up in foreign places with good contacts in mind. And they weren’t automatically welcome. They weren’t to manipulate their way in to the hearts and lives of the people they met on the road – they didn’t have anything to offer other than the peace of Christ, and they were received in a variety of ways. Some people immediately welcomed them and provided for them and this peace of Christ took root in the hearts of new people. Other people didn’t want to have anything to do with them, and while they weren’t to retaliate against anyone for their lack of hospitality, they were to publicly shake the dust from their feet in order to show that the people of that village had squandered the opportunity to experience life in the Kingdom of God.

There are no guaranteed outcomes in this business of seeking to spread the peace of Christ. The only thing that’s for sure is the value of trying. The disciples didn’t have universal success, but they did have some powerfully good experiences, and Jesus said he saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening because of what they had done. The effort to spread the peace of Christ doesn’t require as much expertise on our part as much as it simply requires us to try. The language of faith is very mysterious. We don’t even know the good we do sometimes, and other times we sort of bungle the job but spread the peace anyway.

I was talking to my friend Lewis Chesser the other day. Lewis was the director of the Wesley Foundation in Fayetteville when I was a student there in the 70s. The Wesley Foundation is the United Methodist campus ministry. Lewis had a powerful impact on me, and one of the best things he did for me was to reveal how well God works with imperfect people. I like to describe Lewis as someone who provided opportunities for God’s grace to abound because he often created situations that were repaired by the grace of God.

After leaving the Wesley Foundation, Lewis spent some time at a church in Ft. Smith. He then went to Waldron for a few years and then he spent the last few years of his ministry in Charleston before retiring and moving to an old Victorian house in Ft. Smith that they’ve been in the process of restoring for several years. People love Lewis and his wife, Mazie, and one day this couple who were members of the church in Charleston dropped by their house in Fort Smith after a doctor’s visit.

Lewis had always had a hard time remembering the husband’s name. The man’s name was Don and Lewis always called him Bob. Lewis had once again called him Bob on this day, and he had been reminded that his friend’s name was Don. And after laughing about that Don went on to share the bad news he had just gotten from the doctor. He had been diagnosed with melanoma, and he was going to have to have 10 weeks of radiation treatments.

Don and his wife were really frightened by the diagnosis, and they talked about it for about an hour. Lewis knew they would want to have prayer, and as they spoke he realized that he had once again forgotten if the man’s name was Don or Bob. Lewis kept hoping the man’s wife would say his name, but she never did, and finally Lewis asked if they wanted to have prayer. They did and Lewis invited them all to get on their knees and they joined hands as he prayed. And Lewis went on to pray a very heartfelt prayer that things would go well for Bob.

As soon as he finished the prayer, Mazie said, “Lewis, his name is Don!” But before Lewis could utter an apology Don said, “That’s ok, God knows me as Bob” – which is an indication of how gracious Don really was and how the peace of Christ is often communicated. The good news is that this passing of the peace of Christ is powered by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t really depend on how well equipped we are, but it does take some willingness on our part.

Spreading the peace of Christ isn’t effortless. I think it’s something we can practice in our lives and it’s something we can become more effective at doing. This is the wisdom of Methodism. To be a Methodist is to engage in the practice of faith, and the truth is that whenever you practice something you generally get better at it. Maybe it would be good for us to spend a minute trying to be nice to each other in worship, but I think it would be better if we spent a few more minutes each week trying to be nice to someone who isn’t in our worship service.

It takes effort to extend the grace of God, but it’s worth it. I hope I haven’t gotten in the way of practicing God’s hospitality by terminating our ritual of passing the peace of Christ, but what I know is that this is something you really have to practice on your own.

My friend Lewis could have done a better job of paying attention to his friend’s name, but the truth is that Lewis is a genuinely compassionate person, and somehow things like compassion get communicated when we try to share it.

I think this morning’s story of the 70 people going out to share the peace of Christ is the story of what good things happen when people are willing to step up and reach out. In fact one thing that occurs to me is that even on a poorly attended Sunday we have more than 70 people in the room. We’ve got more people here this morning than God told Moses to assemble on the day he went up to get the stone tablets. We’ve got more people here this morning than Jesus needed in order to cause Satan to fall from heaven like lightening.

It’s a beautiful thing that we’ve been called to do. Pass the peace of Christ to someone next week. They’ll be glad to get it, and it will warm your heart as well!

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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One Response to “Proper 9c, July 7, 2013”

  1. Mary Henry Says:

    Great sermon. I remembered to “pass the peace” in an authentic way today.


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