A sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2016
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”
In last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem. The next thing in the Gospel of Luke is today’s reading. Jesus found seventy “others.” It doesn’t really describe them, but they were definitely not the twelve apostles. We assume they were Jesus’ disciples, people we like to call his followers. But Jesus didn’t have them follow him, he sent them on ahead, to places where he had not yet been. What were they supposed to do? We can assume a lot of things, and describe their mission, but here is what Jesus actually told them: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be with this
house!’” These 35 (or maybe 36) pairs of people were supposed to go and pronounce peace for these houses—to be specific: “whatever house.”
These people who Jesus sent out were ordinary people, not geniuses, or orators, or great salespeople. Jesus sent these ordinary people to the places where he would be traveling with one mission: bring peace to the households they visited.
Those people were out there, and Jesus hadn’t cleared the way for them, they were ahead of him, and it was frightening. Jesus wasn’t naïve. What he was asking them to do was not easy or safe: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Going out without bag or purse, without wealth, or power, or any office or standing makes you pretty vulnerable when all you have to offer is peace.
But that’s how Jesus sent them out. “Peace be with this house.” What is this peace? It’s clearly more than just a greeting, because Jesus continues: “If anyone there shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” Peace is a gift from God—the God who is love gives peace to those whom he loves. Peace is the knowledge of dwelling in God’s love—it is the foundation for compassion and for trust. If you’re going into someone else’s house and you want to talk about the Kingdom of God, you have to have some basis for trust. To share God’s compassion, you have to know compassion and share it. That’s a big piece of those instructions that Jesus gave: “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…” When you come in carrying all these tools and resources, that’s what the host will see.
But there is only one thing that Jesus gives us to share: his peace. It surpasses all understanding—and it doesn’t make sense in a world of transactions and power. It is frightening. And note: living in God’s peace and offering it, doesn’t always work out, people won’t always receive it. Jesus gives instructions of what to do in that case: “Say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off…”
Here’s what they found: in living in the peace of God, and offering the compassion of God to those they met, when that peace found the peace within others, tremendous and surprising healing power was unleashed. Even the demons, those spiritual forces that tear apart and destroy society and people were cast out by that peace of God in those ordinary people who went out like lambs to share the Kingdom of God. And as they come back to Jesus, they were are all excited—they had never witnessed such a thing. And the thing they witnessed was them! How exciting! And Jesus rejoiced with them—indeed, he said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” The transformation and the healing were pretty remarkable as these ordinary people focused and lived in the compassion of God, sharing peace with those they met.
The power is greater than we can ask or imagine—yet Jesus says something else: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” It’s not the spiritual power, no more than it is the purse and bag that make the difference. Jesus did not send them out so that they could gain powers and do wonders. He sent them to bring peace, to live in compassion and for their lives to be a source of healing in the world.
We find that peace and healing here in this place, Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania. At least I do. The Kingdom of God is here. Jesus sends us out to bring peace. We gather here and share in Christ’s peace in the Eucharist. You know that peace is real and is of God because it helps others to be healed and grow, and we have no power to control it or make it happen. We live our lives going forward, and we don’t necessarily know what will be there when we reach the place that Christ is sending us.
But Jesus says this: “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Rejoice that God’s Kingdom is here among you.
As our lesson from Isaiah says:
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants.”