The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Leave your baggage behind

Pentecost 7C, Proper 9
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


Grant us, O God, the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another through Christ.  Amen.

It’s now less than three weeks before I leave for this adventure in Kenya that you’ve been hearing about.  In fact, tomorrow is one month from the day I return to the US.  The trip is right around the corner, and I’ve already begun to get ready.  I’ve even started to think about packing.

When it comes to trips like this - I usually pride myself in traveling pretty light. I once spent 10 days living in a tent in southern France, and only took with me a carry-on sized suitcase.

But as I read the gospel lesson for today, it occurs to me how much I really do take with me.

As I’ve prepared for this trip, I’ve had four vaccinations.  I’m taking two visas with me - for the two countries where I’ll spend some time - Ethiopia and Kenya.  I’m taking four prescription medicines with me: a “just in case” antibiotic prescription, one to protect me from getting malaria, and a couple of prescriptions for pain medicines, since I have a bad back.  I’ve purchased special strength mosquito repellent.  I’ve bought a hat to protect me from the sun.  I’ve borrowed binoculars and I have a huge supply of batteries for my camera.  To say nothing of clothes, and books, and iPod, and, and, and…

The Lord says, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…”  I’ve got all of that and more.

By most standards, I tend to travel light.  But by Christian standards, it seems I have a lot of baggage.

Of course the things we’ve packed away in our bags aren’t always the only baggage we carry.

On my upcoming journey, some of the baggage I carry includes things like fear and anxiety.  As a Westerner in an African nation still reeling from the often-damaging effects of globalism and colonialism, I carry some baggage.  To be a white person in Africa, and in a global system that still oppresses Africans and their descendants, means that I’ll have baggage.

Whenever we go out into the world - whenever we leave our own comfortable, trusted environs and we meet God’s people where they are - we’re likely to have a lot of that kind of baggage.

And Jesus tells us to leave that kind of thing behind.

It gets in the way of proclaiming the kingdom.  It gets in the way of God’s mission.  It gets in the way of the ministry to which we’ve been charged.

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.  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.  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; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’  But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.  Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’”

Of course any biblical scholar worth their salt will tell you that everything I’ve said so far today is bunk.  At least sort of.

Of course that’s not really what the text is about.  It’s not about some 20th-century, pop-psychology interpretation of the word “baggage”.  At least that couldn’t possibly be what Jesus had in mind.

If you read the scholar’s interpretations of this story, they’ll tell you that this is a story of stepping out in faith - faith that God will provide for our needs when we’re doing God’s work.  They’ll tell you that this passage instructs us to develop the spiritual disciplines of vulnerability, and of accepting the hospitality of others.  They’ll tell you that these spiritual disciplines free us from the chains of dependence on the physical world, and that once freed, we’re more available to experiencing the gifts of the spiritual world.

And of course they’re right.

But while our physical attachments - that literal “baggage” - do affect our spiritual lives, they’re not the only things that do.  Our spiritual baggage holds us back, too.

Our presuppositions about others often keeps us from really experiencing them.

Our anxieties about people who are different from us keeps us from learning from them.

Our fear of all that is unknown can cripple us from becoming vulnerable enough to really be “united to one another” through Christ.

It’s telling to me, that in these instructions from Jesus, whether the messengers are welcomed or not; whether they’re greeted with gracious hospitality or deep disdain; the message is the same: “The kingdom of God has come near.”

We’re not called to go out to the places that welcome us.

We’re not called to go where they’ll give us what we want.

All of that is extraneous.  We’re called to show and to say that the kingdom of God has come near.

We might be welcomed or rejected.

We might be met with peace or with anger.

Whatever the case, the mission is the same: to spread the word of God; to be the hands and feet of Christ; and to be a sign of the Holy Spirit still moving through the world.

"Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now." (St. Teresa of Avila)

To do all of that, we’ll need to leave some baggage behind.  There won’t be room for fear, or for anxiety, or for presuppositions about who and what we’ll find.  The message and the mission are enough for us to carry; and, they’re enough to carry us.  Amen.

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