“Peace to this house”! “The kingdom of God is near you”! These are the two simple messages that Jesus sends out the 72 disciples to proclaim (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20). Jesus has ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem,’ and tells his fellow-travellers that the journey requires their single-minded purpose. He sends the 72 ahead of him after preparing them for what lies ahead - the labourers are few and the risks are great. Jesus sends them in pairs with no provisions for the journey. No conversing with those they meet on the road. They will depend on the hospitality of strangers. He tells them to move on if a town does not welcome them, with a sign of judgment against that place. Those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ today do well to consider both the simplicity and the challenge of this mission and message.
Try to envision yourself as one of the 72. What would be the most challenging thing about this journey? Having to ‘Eat whatever is set before you’? Fussy eaters might have difficulty with this. Being told not to take any money even for emergencies; no change of clothes, and no snacks! Those of us who go on holiday packing everything but the kitchen sink might feel a bit anxious about that! How about having to depend on strangers for food and lodging; or not being able to choose your travelling partner; or wiping off the dust and walking away from people who did not accept the message? Simple message, difficult challenges!
If our message could be boiled down to just two things, it would be to proclaim ‘peace’ and ‘the kingdom of God’ that is so very near to us. As God’s people, this peace already resides in our hearts. But we don’t always sense this, because there are elements of our lives that we struggle mightily with; things that keep us from experiencing the peace of Christ. We’re all too familiar with the many forms of gluttony and greed, pride and envy, lust, hatred, and despair. We’re working against the tide of the coming kingdom of God when we nurture these elements. And we don’t fully experience the peace of Christ when we cultivate these sins.
In our first reading from the letter to the Galatians, Paul tells the disciples there, and by extension he is telling us, that when we feed the sinful desires that are ultimately harmful to ourselves and to other people, we are sowing to please our sinful nature. Then, says Paul, we reap destruction in our lives – and in so doing, we reject the peace that God gives to us. But even St. Paul had this inner conflict and struggle which is part of the human condition. He describes this well in Romans 7 where he says: ‘21When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
Our strength comes from the Lord, whose Spirit helps us to overcome. And when we ‘sow to please the Spirit’, then from the Spirit we reap eternal life and peace. How are we helped in this? Paul gives us an answer in verse 2 of Galatians 6 when he pleads with us to ‘carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ’.
Similarly, the apostle James says in his letter to the new church in Jerusalem, and by extension he is saying to us, ‘confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed’. God has given to us, his church, ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ and it’s to enable our healing.
I recently went on a day course for curates about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, otherwise known as Confession. Unlike in the Roman Catholic church, the Anglican edict is not that we must formally confess our sins to a priest, but that all may, some should, and none must. On the course, we were shown an example service for the Act of Repentance and Reconciliation which comes out of the Methodist Worship Book, and after the absolution the minister ends the act most powerfully with the words: ‘Go in peace, pray for me, a sinner, and remember the mercy of God. Amen.’ This acknowledges that we are all sinners - it's one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread - it's the bread of life that gives us the hope of peace. That hope of peace rests on the promised mercy of God and our life within the body of Christ – and it is borne out when we experience the ministry of Christ through one another.
It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy. The difficult challenge to each one of us here is to be open with one another, to be humble and to be vulnerable, and to share our lives. This is the counter-cultural way of living that speaks against everything we hold dear; and especially in this age of individualism and when our culture imparts a high value to the superficial image, seeking temporal perfection. But we have the hope of Christ within us, and we must trust that even when we wrestle with God, or are struggling with sin, Jesus is faithful to us.
Being a disciple of Jesus comes with a cost. It’s up to us, as members of his church, to be the disciples that go out and transform the world in the Lord’s name. Jesus wants us to rely on him, and to be faithful to him. It’s only by his Spirit that we’re enabled to do this. As St. Paul says in our Galatians reading, ‘14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...’ We must not boast in our own achievements, we should only boast in the cross of Christ. It’s not for our glory, but for the Glory of God.
The glory of God is a human being fully alive – what counts is a new creation - the reconciled humanity of Jesus Christ and the community of new relationships that is His body.
We are to form a radically different community, living in equality and in loving service in Christ. In Galatians, Paul speaks of following Christ in terms of our relationships with one another: correcting each other and sharing burdens, taking responsibility and doing good for all. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends out his disciples to share the message of God’s peace and the nearness of his kingdom. The labourers are few because we are all distracted by other things.
When the disciples return from the mission field boasting that the demons submitted to them, Jesus leads them not to focus on their own achievements, but on the ultimate demon-conquering, peace-giving and love-sharing achievement of his death on the cross. Let us boast in nothing else. And let us rejoice that our names are written in heaven. Glory be to God... and peace be to this house. Amen.