Early this morning, I read the lessons for Sunday and thought, “Hmm…this could be tricky.” I’m preaching this week, and I can usually tell by 8am on Monday whether sermon writing will be easy or difficult. At first glance, I knew I was in trouble.
Although I really like the OT lesson (Isaiah 66:10-14—we’re a “Track Two” parish), I’m not exactly sure how to write a sermon about the joy of breastfeeding: “rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her--that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.” It’s beautiful poetry, but it will be a fun (hopefully not laughable) challenge to work that into a sermon.
I love Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and we’ve been hearing a lot from it lately. Part of me read these concluding remarks about circumcision—“For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything”—and thought that this is a good time to wrap things up on this book of the bible and talk about circumcision, but I’m not sure whether that’s any easier than “drink[ing] deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.”
The gospel lesson (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20) is familiar to me—sending out the seventy. There’s a sharp, black-and-white message here of “if they won’t receive you, shake the dust off your feet in protest.” That’s a scary thing—to have an apostle protest against you. But I read and reread this passage and thought, “What in here will preach?”
Fortunately, my friend Steve Pankey is back at St. Paul’s, Foley, after a few weeks in the D.Min. program at Sewanee. Before I had a chance to finish my reflection on this week’s lessons, he wrote a blog post about them that gave hope—not just to the preacher but to the gospel as it’s supposed to be read and preached. I hope you’ll read his post here.
As Steve points out, there is good news even in the midst of the threatening language of protest. Regardless, the kingdom of God has come near. Stand in the streets and proclaim, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” If the people refuse to hear it--even if your message doesn't have the desired effect--leave but still you should say, “the kingdom of God has come near.” The kingdom is coming. Even if you don’t want to be a part of it, it’s coming. It’s drawing near to everyone—to the believers and unbelievers alike. Whether the kingdom comes to your doorstep has very little to do with whether you’re willing to receive it. That’s good news for the apostles, who are charged with proclaiming that message despite the frequent rejections they will encounter. Perhaps that's not so bright for the audience who rejects it, but I'm still looking for good news in there, too.
I also think there’s a beautifully anti-psychological message here. So often, I find myself thinking that the only thing that really matters is the psychology of religion. “If God loves all of us, is salvation anything more than understanding and appreciating that love?” There’s a fallacy in that logic that suggests that the kingdom is our own doing. If you want it, you can have it, but, if you don’t want it, you can ignore it. Not true, says Jesus. The kingdom is beyond our control. It isn't the apostles' job to make the kingdom come. All they can do is preach it and trust God to do that work. And it isn't the hearers' job to decide whether the kingdom is coming or not. God is in control of God's kingdom. Good news? Yes--for both the preacher and the congregation. Why? Because even if either of us gets it wrong, the arrival of the kingdom is assured.