Edgewater has any number of ethnic dining experiences. Swedish, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, and African, to name a few. I ate at the Ethiopian Diamond restaurant as the guest of some of the Oromo leadership earlier this year. I love the spongy Ingera bread, and spicy meats and sauces. But I had never before eaten an entire meal with my bare hands. At least not in a restaurant! The four of us ordered separate dishes, but it all came on one large common plate that took up the center of our table. They taught me how to take the bread and grab the meat and soak up the sauces, all with your fingers. And I was invited to try some of theirs – anything I wanted from the plate. That was different, and slightly awkward for me. It took me out of my comfort zone. But I was reassured by my company, who obviously felt quite at home with it. This was their tradition, and there was also a closeness, a fellowship in “sharing the meal”. I was the guest. And, maybe it wasn’t all that different than a 4th of July BBQ of burgers and watermelon, which, after all, we eat with our fingers!?
“Jesus sends us out,” his fellowship, “to every town and place,” saying, “eat what is set before you.” Can you imagine that today? What about having a peanut allergy? What if you are a vegetarian and they serve meat?
There was a Law and Order episode where the DA and Assistant DA went out in their city finery to rural NY, to meet the family they were representing. The grandpa and his son lived in the proverbial shack in the woods. And these hosts insisted on sharing what they had, a stew they had prepared. As the cook handed bowls to the attorneys, the grandpa said, “We call it squirrel stew, but it’s really chicken.” You didn’t know if he’s trying to game them, or if he’s telling the truth.
Is this what Jesus means when he says, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you”? Do we have to eat squirrel stew to be a Christian? Or wouldn’t we say, the purpose is more in the fellowship and the cross-cultural exchange? A missioner, it turns out, is someone who acts like a guest, not the host! And isn’t this just the opposite of the way we have thought of “mission” in the past, where the missionary brings the message and the meal, telling the people more than engaging and inviting? Jesus sends us out to be guests.
When Jesus sends out “70 others… on ahead of him in pairs,” it was different than sending out the 12 disciples too. In the past, we might see the 12 as a sending out the clergy, or trained missionaries. The 70, however, are his whole band of followers, the whole congregation. Pairs, was a common tactic, and it’s still not a bad way to go today – Lennon and McCartney, Lucy and Ethel, Penn and Teller!
People have at least heard of Jesus, even here in Edgewater. But they may not have had an encounter with a follower of Jesus, or a first hand meeting with a Christian person. Edgewater is so religiously diverse. In addition to practically every Christian flavor, we have Jew, Muslim, Sheik, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, those who are practicing and non-practicing, spiritual seekers and atheists. All the more important that we learn how to be guests, wherever we go.
Jesus helps us to see that, we don’t need to set the cultural agenda, in fact, we really shouldn’t. To, “eat what is set before you,” and be a “guest,” means to receive as well as to give. All that we have to give is, “healing and peace,” signs that “the kingdom of God has come near.” It’s a message that is open to all. It’s a practive that we live, and a reality that comes through us. If that is rejected, no need to push it or force it. The Peace of Christ will return to you, and you simply move on. Our faith is made for cross-cultural encounters.
And it’s tailor made for us as Americans! On this 4th of July, we celebrate that we have, the freedom of religion, among other things. We cannot be persecuted for our faith, and we don’t have to beat it into anyone else either if they don’t want to receive it. Jesus says much the same thing. Religion is not mandatory, but the nearness of the realm of God is offered to all. So, we can rejoice in the “separation of church and state,” for it gives us the room to be who we are, and to practice and share our faith. And we can rest assured that no government official, no Rod Blagojevich, or anyone else, will set the agenda for teaching the faith, or telling us how to live it out.
Because “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” it’s okay to ask for help. It is all of our business! We are commissioned by Jesus; we go out, to prepare the soil; to make room for Jesus to drop in and grow in people’s lives. We offer healing and consolation, just as we enact Jesus healing at the healing station here every week. We are to be peace-makers in our lives, declaring that Jesus has brought healing and peace to all, because, the kingdom and realm of God has come near.
So, I want to give you a chance to process this for yourselves. Find a partner, and 2 by 2 talk about it for a minute. If we live lives of healing and peace, here is the question: What are the healing or peaceful traits that you have, that you like to share with others. Don’t be bashful! Or, maybe you can identify that in your partner – their healing and peace-making characteristics?!
So why does Jesus want us to act like guests when we go out? One answer is that we are to be in a two-way conversation about the ‘healing and peace of the realm of God,’ not just telling or preaching without listening. Everyone is called to be the incarnation, the physical, en-fleshed, people of God, the Body of Christ. The spirit lives in and through us, the realm of God comes near, in our lives of faith, out in the world.
It all comes back to the fellowship of the meal. Jesus welcomes us to this table, to host a meal, and we are the guests. Delicious bread and fine wine are served, and we share a fellowship that crosses over every generation and culture, a gift that overflows with love, and forgiveness, and life.
And Jesus says, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Amen.