Proper 9: July 8, 2007.
Psalm 30 or Psalm 66:1-9
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
With wonderful, warm, maternal imagery, the covenant people are called to rejoice for God's rich providing to Jerusalem. The consoling breast and glorious bosom suggest gentleness, nurture, and care as well as a sense of safety and more than sufficiency for God's people. There will be a relationship of intimacy between God and people, given through God's saving work for the city. These words were spoken for the post-exilic community as it struggled through adversity, hardship, and deprivation. The Lord promises an end to harsh and painful conditions, supplying the city with prosperity and wealth. With the image of a stream overflowing its banks, the prophet pictures how the people will be inundated with good things. As a mother cuddles and comforts a baby, so God will carry and care for the people. They will see God's promises fulfilled. They will rejoice and flourish when God brings an end to their suffering. The passage ends with a declaration that God's wrath is directed toward God's enemies. The remainder of the chapter makes it clear that these enemies are not primarily foreign nations that threaten Jerusalem but syncretistic Judeans who engage in superstitious faith practices (see Isa 65:1-9, Proper 7).
Paul addresses the Galatian community as "friends," revealing his warm feelings for them. The harsh words sprinkled through the rest of the letter (1:6, 3:1, 4:16, 5:12) indicate the depth of his concern. He concludes his letter with a series of loosely related admonitions and instructions. He urges the members of the community to live with genuine love for each other. For example, in the case of a member whose conduct has alienated others ("detected in a transgression"), there is no room for any reaction that suggests feelings of superiority, such as judging, shunning, or gloating. Instead, those who are spiritually mature in the congregation must work to restore such a person with gentleness. This is one example of how love is expressed by sharing another's burdens. Such love requires humility, not pride.
Without knowing the particular situation of the Galatian congregation, many of Paul's exhortations feel somewhat slippery. It is sometimes difficult to tell exactly what is being addressed or how one statement leads to another. We presume that the original recipients of the letter would have recognized right away the object of Paul's concerns. It is clear, though, that Paul desires the congregation to be strong and faithful. The final verses indicate that Paul had been dictating but at the end writes with his own hand. He hammers home his main concern. Circumcision and obedience to the law do not provide entrance into God's new community, founded in Christ, of Jews and Gentiles together. In the execution of Jesus, God has acted to judge and condemn the old world, the life that is captive to flesh and sin, and to bring a new creation into being. The person belonging to Christ experiences this dramatic rupture not as a promise for the future but as a present reality. Living fully in this present reality, by faith in Christ, is the only thing that matters.
Luke reports the mission of seventy emissaries sent by Jesus to announce the nearness of God's reign. The story is surprising because Luke narrated the mission of the Twelve only a chapter before. The similarities between the two stories include references to power over demons, instructions to heal the sick, restrictions on traveling equipment, and directions concerning how to receive hospitality (or what to do when hospitality is refused). The repetition should probably be seen as an expression of Luke's concern for inclusiveness. Just as he includes stories about Jesus' ministry and teaching relating to both men and women (8:26-39 followed by 8:40-56 or 15:3-7 followed by 15:8-10), these two stories picture the mission of Jesus going out to both Jews and Gentiles. The twelve disciples represent a mission to the twelve tribes of Israel. The seventy anticipate the church's mission to all nations, based on the idea that there were seventy (or seventy-two) nations or language groups in the world.
Jesus tells the seventy that there is great need as well as significant danger waiting for them. In order to extend Jesus' mission of peace, they must be tremendously vulnerable, like sheep among wolves. The reign of God will be present wherever the seventy act out Jesus' way of peace, specifically through healing and sharing table fellowship. The lectionary omits Jesus' warning that rejecting his way of peace leads to judgment. When the seventy return, Jesus greets them with joy. He shares with them a heavenly vision that identifies the meaning of their successful mission. In every place where the healing work of Jesus and been received and open table fellowship has been shared, the powers of evil are being broken. He encourages them, though, to not congratulate themselves on these past successes but to rejoice that they have been taken up as participants in God's great work to redeem creation.
The instructions Jesus gives to the seventy as he prepares to send them out may seem at first to be a strange relic of the first century, entirely untranslatable into our world. We rely on e-mail, cell phones, credit cards, and automobiles to make our way in the world. What can we learn from the command to carry no purse, bag, or sandals? We may have much more to gain from these obscure requirements than we would guess. As Jesus sends his emissaries out with his message of peace, he instructs them to conduct themselves in a manner that is congruent with that message. They will be like lambs in the midst of wolves. In our time, when the word Christian is heard by many as a label for self-righteous cultural warriors, a lived witness to peacefulness is greatly needed. The seventy did not trumpet their arrival with signs of power. Their manner was humble, needy, and vulnerable. This is the proper demeanor for a post-imperial, post-Constantine, post-established Christianity.
Jesus also requires the seventy to create a new community in every place they go. Wherever they act out Jesus' message of healing, welcome, and acceptance, the citizens of that town or village are invited to become part of God's great work of healing for the whole human family. The invitation is profoundly personal, as it comes from someone who has received hospitality and shares table fellowship. It is my conviction that in a culture that seems to be becoming increasingly suspicious of and even hostile toward religious institutions, Christians need to learn a similarly personal style of invitation. Slick evangelism programs that carry no personal risk and entail no personal relationship seem to me to be worse than useless. They smell of marketing and manipulation. They are the opposite of a style of evangelism that grows out of shared life and shared gifts of God. The recipient of such a genuinely personal sharing may know before being told, whether they have the words to describe it as such or not, that the reign of God has come near to them. AJC
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Author:||Couch, Aaron J.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2007|
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