Monday, June 27, 2016

Hard Road Ahead


Yesterday, I preached a tough sermon. It was tough for me and tough for the congregation, too. It embraced the urgency of Jesus' call to discipleship and his work to bring the kingdom of God to fruition. Using issues like gun control and sex trafficking and poverty, it contrasted our current society with the kingdom of God. It proclaimed that the world is desperate for the transformation that the kingdom of God will bring and that Jesus is asking us to be agents of that kingdom right now--without delay. There is, of course, hope in that message. Jesus' death and resurrection have brought the kingdom to us in an immediate way, but the hope that that kingdom brings comes in the midst of deep and lasting societal challenges.

On the way out of church, someone remarked, "I was really hoping to be comforted today, but I didn't get that." We both chuckled a little bit. I took his remark as a comment on my choice of sermon--that he would have preferred that I preach a feel-good message--so I put the challenge right back to him. "You know, Jesus wasn't comforting today. The gospel lesson wasn't comforting." He nodded in agreement. Then, I continued with a gentle warning: "You know, now that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, things aren't going to get much better. We've got some hard weeks ahead. But the road to the cross is supposed to be difficult."

And then I woke up this morning and looked at the gospel lesson for Sunday and thought, "I'm in the mood for comfort, too, but I'm not going to get it, am I?"

At the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy missionaries to go and prepare the way for him. As they leave, he tells them, "See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road." Fun times, huh? Jesus commissions them to be vulnerable. They go out underprepared, learning what it means to trust that God will provide. They are sent out to a world that doesn't really want them, making them sensitive to how the Spirit will help them make peaceful, nourishing relationships with strangers. They are given the same message to proclaim to those who will receive them as well as those who reject them: "The kingdom of God has come near."

Perhaps thankfully, the gospel lesson skips over verses 12-15 and the woes to unrepentant Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum. When it resumes in verse 16, however, we find the surprisingly hope-filled return of the seventy. They "returned with joy, saying, 'Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us.'" They marveled at what they were able to accomplish. When sent out with so little, they were still able to do great things. But, before they get the "big-head," Jesus calls them back to reality, refocusing their joy on the nature of their work: "See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

It's Monday. I've got five days to listen for hope and joy in the midst of challenge. Honestly, I'm still a little spiritually hungover from yesterday, and I'm looking for a little shot of joy to get me through this week. Perhaps I'll warm up to the reality of the challenge in the gospel lesson by the time I climb back into the pulpit. Or maybe I'll preach on the "glorious bosom" in Isaiah 66. Regardless, we're all on this journey with Jesus. For the rest of the summer, we'll be headed to Jerusalem. There's joy at the end of the road, but it's going to take us a while to get there.

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