160703 – Torchlight

Yr C ~ Pentecost 7 ~ Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Go – create community – meet needs – and proclaim the kingdom of God.” That’s it. That’s the program Jesus gave to his followers. He sent them out in pairs without supplies, without a guidebook, and without any visible means of support and told them to create community, meet needs, and proclaim God’s kingdom. torchlight-candle

There were 70 of them. It wasn’t just his inner circle – it wasn’t just the 12 – but 70. It seemed like the core 12 duh-sciples barely had a clue as to what was going on with Jesus and here are 70 more being sent out on a mission trip.
When Jesus calls, he doesn’t just call a select few, he calls us all.
The number 70 here is significant. It symbolized the number of known nations in the world in their time – so sending 70 apostles symbolized sending God’s message of presence, forgiveness, and love to the whole world.

And now, nearly 2000 years later, we find ourselves in a remarkably similar situation. You’d think that with Christianity being around for so long that the whole world would know all about it by now.
But do they?
I mean, yeah, they’ve probably heard of Christianity, is it an accurate perception that they have? If a person’s only experience of church is from a brief stint in Sunday school when they were little or from any TV ministry do they have any real sense of what it is to be a person of faith? How could they?

And so we look at today’s text and we find that while the 70 were sent out into a pre-Christian world we are being called and sent out to a post-Christian world. And in some ways, the post-Christian world is more difficult to navigate because not only are we faced with people who may not believe our proclamation but we’re also faced with people who may be predisposed to outright dismiss us before we even get started. The days where everybody went to church are long gone – which means that Jesus’ command to “Go – create community – meet needs – and proclaim the kingdom of God” is more important and more relevant now than it has been for generations.

Mission is a big word in church circles these days. The Latin word for mission means the same basic thing as the Greek word for apostle – they both mean “to send”.
We are being called be missional – to be apostles.
We are being called to be missional – to be apostles.
We are “the 70.”

We have the same basic mission that followers of the Way of Jesus have always had – to “Go – create community – meet needs – and proclaim the kingdom of God.” That’s our mission – and our mission field is not in some far away land – it’s right outside our front doors.

Surveys and opinion polls tell us that the majority of people out there believe in something More. That’s an open door. That’s our mission field – these are the people to whom the 70 (you!) are sent – they have an inkling about God but they’re not connected to the source of their inkling.
What are we going to do about that?
What would Jesus tell us to do if he were here right now? “Go – create community – meet needs – and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Here’s how he said it in Luke 10:3-9 (with some amplification) – Jesus said, “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. (It’s dangerous out there – but that’s where you’re needed.) Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. (It isn’t about comfort or sight-seeing – you’re on a mission – you’re on my mission. Focus on it.)

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’  And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. (Begin with God’s shalom and use that as a gentle way to create community with people.) 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.  Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; (Make friends. Be polite. Learn how they live and why.  And be in it for the long haul – don’t just spew out the religious words and move on to the next spot.)

“…cure the sick who are there, (or, in other words, help them out with what they need as best as you’re able) and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

That’s the main message for apostles of Jesus – because that’s the secret that we’ve discovered and they don’t yet know. “The kingdom of God is near to you!!!”

Imagine what it was like when electricity first became available. Tall poles would’ve popped up across the landscape of the countryside with huge electric wires strung from pole to pole to pole. But initially at least, not everyone trusted electricity and so not a few families opted (for a time) to not hook up.

The electric company told them how much easier life would be with electric washing machines replacing hand-cranked wringers and electric vacuum cleaners bringing to an end the old practice of hauling heavy carpets outside to have the dirt beaten out of them. People heard these promises but did not trust or believe them.

So in a sense, you could have said to those folks, “My friends, electricity is at hand!”
But if they opted to not tap into that power that was running right over their heads, then the nearness of the power would do them no good.

Maybe the message of the kingdom’s nearness is like that.
The kingdom of God has come near to you!
All the goodness and glory and power of that kingdom is right here, but if you keep it at arm’s length, it does you no good. You end up in the unhappy (and unnecessary) spiritual situation of staying in the dark when the light of the world is right here.[i]

God’s kingdom is something like electricity. If you don’t plug in, it can’t help you. There may be obvious signs all around – poles, power lines, plugs, cords – but if you don’t know much about it why would you think to plug something in? Electricity is kind of hard to describe – but those who’ve experienced the benefits of tapping into it can at least speak positively about their own experience.

Let’s change metaphors.

How about the internet?
Are all of you online? Are some of you resisting?
Have people gone on and on telling you about how wonderful it can be if you’d just learn to access it?
Describe what the internet is. It’s a bit tough because we can’t exactly see it but we’re sure that it’s there – and that it’s transformed the way we live and work.

The internet has come near – electricity has come near – the kingdom of God has come near.
This is awesome news!
How can you not share it?

One of our core images of a church community is that of a great lighthouse shining brightly as a beacon of hope in the darkness.  And while that image is good and powerful and meaningful, it misses an essential truth that we’ve seemingly forgotten – that “the knowledge of the kingdom of God – the experience of faith – is diffused over the earth, not like sunlight or a lighthouse beacon, but like torchlight, which is passed from hand to hand.”[ii]

You are Jesus’ torch bearers – and your mission is to pass the flame on to others. It’s like Christmas Eve here when everyone has a candle and the flame spreads out from one central light – person by person – hand to hand. It’s awesome to be part of that. That’s what our faith life is supposed to be like.

So what does it mean for us to “go”?
Where are we to go?
To whom should we go and create community with, and try to meet their needs, and share with them the kingdom of God?

Who will you pass the torch light on to?

Jesus says, “I am sending you out as a lamb among wolves.”
To your neighbour’s house – to the guy down the street – to the lady you play bridge with – to the busy parent you see at the school bus stop – to the gang you have coffee with – to your brother’s place – to your kid’s place…

“I am sending you – armed with nothing but my message and your experience. Wish them shalom – peace. And if they accept it, and even if they don’t, somehow communicate to them that God’s kingdom – the ability to live life consciously connected to the wonderful and mysterious “More” that we can all sense but not define – is here – right here, right now – available – waiting – like electricity.

What does your next door neighbour need to hear about God?
Do they need to hear about your church? Why?
What does it do for you?
How does your church experience address their core anxieties and questions?

You see, people – your neighbour, friend, colleague, sister, child – probably don’t want to know about how an institution can help them – in fact, they may be hostile to the idea of institutions in general. And people aren’t really looking to churches for healing (we have doctors and hospitals for that) or for food and shelter (we have agencies for that) – no, about the only need they would ever look to us for is “do we have an answer for the core anxieties of life?”

Tom Bandy writes that the core anxieties of life are fate and death / guilt and condemnation / and emptiness and meaninglessness”[iii] – and the significant thing here is that these are also “kingdom” questions. If we can engage these questions people will listen to us.

What is the kingdom of God?
It’s the reality of living knowing God’s presence, forgiveness, and love. God’s kingdom answers the world’s anxiety questions.

For the anxiety of fate and death God answers with presence – we are not alone, we live in God’s world
– to the anxiety of guilt and condemnation God speaks forgiveness
– and for the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness God offers loving-kindness and a Way.

Sometimes we think the church has answers to questions nobody’s asking anymore – but today we see that in truth we have an answer to the questions that everyone is asking – the answer is found in the kingdom of God. Our mission is to proclaim that.

You – yes you! (and you, and you, and you…and even you!) – are called to be the apostles.
You are the missionaries. Where’s your mission field again?
Isn’t that why we’re here? – to experience God’s Presence, forgiveness, and love – and then to share that joy and peace with others?

It’s not just my job.
Yes, I get to be the one who stands here every week proclaiming this stuff – but this whole church thing is meaningless if it stops here.
Our job is not to create a great club – our calling is to share the love we’re immersed in.

candle-lighting-candleEvery single one of you is called to “go – create community – meet needs – and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Every single one of you– no matter what age, or education, or experience – each of you is called to walk out your front door and make a connection with someone – and when the time is right – when the time is holy – take the light that lights you up and light their torch.

You will not always succeed – despite how true and worthy and life-transforming your message of God’s presence, forgiveness, and love may be some will still reject it.
Some folks are still in the dark about electricity – and some will never try the internet.

But when you faithfully live out the mission Jesus has called you to – when your torchlight is authentically passed and willingly received your heart will soar – because you will have participated in the most important ministry there is – you’ll have helped someone feel closer to God – you’ll have helped someone enter into kingdom living.

Go – create community – meet needs – and proclaim the kingdom of God. Pass the torchlight – and feel the joy of journeying ever deeper into the Way of Jesus.

Your mission field awaits.

Amen.

 

 

[i] [electricity story from Dallas Willard]

[ii] [paraphrased from James Strachan, 1001 Quotes…, 58]

[iii] http://www.abingdonpress.com/search.aspx?scope=author&query=Bandy&pid=9780687335299