To Go Ahead of Jesus, A Sermon by Pastor Fred
I have to say, I love traveling by car, on vacation. Not just because I am apprehensive about flying, which I kind of am, but because, cars are the ultimate in personal freedom, which is sort of appropriate during this 4th of July break – don’t you think?! Even with just the 2 of us in our modest VW diesel Jetta, Kim and I have more than enough room to bring along whatever we want. It takes me half as much time to pack for a week’s vacation by car, even though I take 3 or 4 times as much luggage, as it does to pack for a week’s vacation by plane, with only a carry-on. Paring down takes such incredible preparation and planning! But in the car, I can bring every pair of shoes I own, if I want, and decide which ones to wear later! I can bring every tie I’ve worn in the last 20 years, and it hardly takes up any extra room at all! Not sure about which shorts and t-shirts to wear – throw ‘em all in!
But I wondered, was the Lord sending us on this trip to the south, or were we on vacation from God? Personally, I don’t mind a Good Shepherd along for the ride! God can see everything, right?!
In our gospel, Jesus sent out 70 of his followers, or Disciples, as Apostles, meaning “the Sent ones,” on a trip “ahead of him,” giving them instructions on proper hospitality. Hospitality isn’t just a nice smile and a warm handshake – though surely it is that – but hospitality is about living without much of what we are used to, outside our normal routines – and being totally focused on living within the world offered by the other, with all its possible surprises – that we might find the fissures in our own personal universe where the Spirit wants to enter in.
“…the Lord appointed seventy… and sent them on ahead of him… to every town and place where he himself intended to go,” says Luke. “Go on your way.… Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' ... Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, … cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'”
Here in this place, this place called Sanctuary, we provide hospitality as best we can, beginning with a generous gathering area to welcome first time guests, or old familiar faces; to offer peace and a cold drink of water; to hear or tell a story of concern or joy, as we fill this Sanctuary with laughter and tears, song and praise. We hear God’s word, listening attentively, and through the blowing of the Holy Spirit, discover its fresh and new message washing over us, changing and bathing us from above. In the Prayer Area here, we receive prayer and anointing for healing and wholeness, and at the table we are offered the real presence of Christ’s body and blood, sharing a meal of sacrifice and love, communion and forgiveness, health and nourishment. This gracious and life-giving hospitality, however, is only birthed here, generated by Our Lord’s motherly and fatherly parent by a blessing and with peace. Which only comes to fruition, then, in the Final Act of our weekly Good News Drama, as we are Sent out to be a blessing and sign of peace in our neighborhoods and community. Just as Jesus asked of the 70 Apostles when he sent them out, he still asks now of us as well, that we go on ahead of him… to where he himself intends to go.
Jesus comes after us to bridge the gap between the diverse, and as yet, un-reconciled communities we live in. Fear not, you don’t have to be Jesus – only, wherever you go, you go ahead of him with a welcome and healing, in the sharing of peace or a meal – and there the presence of Christ will follow.
Are we able to go ahead of Jesus? What do we need to bring? How much depends on us? When are we Disciples, the followers of Jesus, and when are we Apostles, the Sent ones?
In Jesus time, indeed even to this day, Palestinian hospitality is legendary. Here in Chicago, I know of no pastor who would send his people out to knock on doors if it was dangerous out there – and increasingly, you can’t enter a secure high-rise building even if you want to, or find very many single family dwellings willing to open their door to you. But arriving at a Palestinian home, then or now, you can depend on a warm and hospitable reception, a cold glass of water and something to eat, a sharing and welcome, even for a complete stranger.
We enact this kind of hospitality today, I think you could say, with Mission Trips. Our Youth who went to the ELCA Youth Gathering a year ago, found such a welcome in homes and even in the streets of New Orleans, as they offered a helping hand in rebuilding, and even when they just met a stranger on the way. It was partly the mission, I guess, and partly just the charm and hospitality of New Orleans!
In the “Leisure and Hospitality Industry,” as it is called – which include, arts and entertainment jobs, as well as, hotel and food service jobs, employment grew in June, helping to lead the decrease in the unemployment rate. Of course, this is nothing new. These “hospitality” type jobs have been leading job creation all during this recovery period. High paying jobs, like construction jobs that include benefits, declined again. As we get closer to the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, and the requirement that those whose jobs average 30 hours/week or more be given health insurance, the work week of the “hospitality sector” now averages 26.5 hours a week, not enough for health coverage. The rest of us, of course, end up paying for health care for them one way or another, which isn’t much of a burden for the executives who design and control our economy, and whose salaries have been rising at some 16% a year. The upshot is, society as a whole cannot avoid the consequences of our collective failure to offer, in a hospitable way, the basics we all deserve, some simply pay for it in very unjust ways, poor health for the poor, declining services, and higher premiums for those lucky enough to have health insurance!
As Kim and I arrived in Columbia, SC, by car, last week, we were invited to the wedding couple’s rehearsal dinner party, even though we hadn’t been part of the rehearsal itself. And what a gracious offer it was! Arriving at the friends’ of the wedding couple’s home, we didn’t have to worry that street parking was as jammed as it sometimes gets around here, because Valet Parking attendants jumped out to greet us. And as we walked into Jim and Randy’s home, we were astounded at the transformation of their old brick house, so tastefully decorated, walls adorned with original paintings, antique furniture refinished, gentle fans blowing in the Carolina heat. The party was outside, though. And in the back yard a beautiful garden gave way to a secluded pool now filled with gleeful children splashing and diving in the cool waters. And there on the west side of the house a huge tent covered a lush green lawn surrounded on all sides by more gardens. As we entered, tables of food, adorned with the southern classic, Beaufort Stew, greeted us, while on the far end a funky live swing band from Asheville was playing, and sounded to me like a mixture of Klezmer and New Orleans Jazz, but what they called, Gypsy music.
We were fashionably late, and the wedding couple, Shauna and Jennifer, were just beginning their welcome and instructions for eating – which, I thought, was perfect timing!
At such occasions, it’s difficult to determine who’s the host and who is the guest! Hospitality was flowing back and forth from wedding couple to friends and family, from the hosts to the party goers, and back again.
Jesus sends us out ahead of him to where he intends to show up himself! We are emissaries, hosts, and at the same time, we are guests and honorary family and friends. Gifts are given to and from the wedding party. And surely this is how it is for us as givers and receivers of hospitality in the places we are, the places we are sent to, the places where Jesus himself intends to go.
As apostles today, appointed to go ahead of Jesus, hospitality is about being totally focused on living within the world offered by the other, and the Spirit’s surprises – not just about our freedom, but about what is just and makes for peace for all, what makes for healing and reconciliation. Jesus says, in most cases that will mean, not coming by car expecting Valet Parking, though that’s always nice, but paring down, planning and preparing. We come in the spirit of hospitality, to depend on the hospitality of others. We don’t bring our culture and “baggage” to “them”, as much as we let ourselves be ministered to and cared for, and in doing so, learn about what God is up to. This is a preparation we live out daily, knowing that Jesus follows us – a kind of preparation of the soil for seeds to be scattered, the formation of a safe place, in the Lord’s name, who in following, completes the fullness of healing, we have broached, and who accomplishes peace and salvation, in the creation and strengthening of our communities, the nearness of the kingdom and realm of God.
The good news is that we are not, and do not have to be, Jesus, but wherever we go, we have the privilege of going ahead of him, where he himself is about to go. And so, wherever we find the sharing of peace, the welcome of water and meal, the gift of healing, then, the kingdom of God has come near. And, we can rejoice – that this great commission is love’s true measure – and that our names are written in heaven.