Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and our Friend. Amen.
Imagine it’s 1850, somewhere in the west, the circus train just rolled into town. While most of the circus people are busy setting up the big tents and preparing for the show, a few of the circus acts and the ringmaster go to the town square, and say, “Hear ye, hear ye, the amazing circus has come to town. For five days only see acrobats and fire-eaters and clowns and elephants and tigers! Bring your money and bring your family!”
And then the acrobats would perform a little something right then and there, and onlookers would ooh and aah, and the people of the town got excited about going to see the circus.
Of course these days we have ethical issues with the treatment of animals in circuses and we also have ethical issues with the way old time circuses made human beings with medical conditions into sideshows, but in 19th century America as settlers pushed West, the circus was a popular form of entertainment.
I don’t know if you ever thought about Jesus and his entourage of oh, three hundred or so people as a circus, but there are similarities. If Jesus, the famous and incredibly popular prophet, preacher and healer, rolled into your town, he drew crowds of thousands of people.
This was a boon for the local economy, for those who sold bread, figs, wine, and the like, and it was very exciting, but it created a lot of issues for the village to consider, like crowd management and the mess that five thousand men plus women and children having lunch on your lawn would leave behind. Most of all, however, the village elders had to decide if they wanted the kind of scrutiny that this particular circus would bring from the Romans and from the religious authorities in Jerusalem.
So when Jesus appointed seventy of his followers, as Luke tells us in verse 1, and sent them out ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go, he was sending out an advance team to see which towns, given all that his arrival set in motion, would welcome him.
These teams presumably looked into where Jesus and his followers could stay, who would feed them, and they performed many healings, which gave the villagers a taste of and built expectation for, what would happen when the main event arrived, which of course was Jesus.
However, there are ways in which Jesus’ preparation for his arrival in these various towns, and his instructions to those who were going out before him, was very different from how people would prepare for a tour today, whether a politician on the road, or a music tour playing arenas, or even the circus.
Jesus said, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…” He told them to stay wherever hospitality was offered, to eat what was placed before them, and if in any place they were not welcomed, to wipe the dust off of their feet and move on, and yet to say, “Know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
Among those who research and write about mission and the future of the church, one of the current emphasis is this: “It’s time for us to move beyond being a welcoming church.” Did you get that? I’ll say it again. It’s time for us to move beyond being a welcoming church.
At first that sounds pretty strange. Isn’t it our goal to be welcoming? But the point is that we need to stop focusing so much on preparing our home to receive guests, expecting others to come to us, and go outside our doors, into the neighborhoods, and be guests in their homes.
It is no longer true for the Christian church in North America that if we build it, they will come. No, instead they will say, “What a pretty building. I like the flowers,” and drive on by. We in the church are re-imagining and re-learning how to do outreach, with a focus on the “out,” as in, get out, as in, Jesus sends us out.
Let’s think about the fact that Jesus sent his disciples out ahead of him as an outreach strategy. Instead of trying to get people to come to us, we go to them. In a way, we become their guests.
In order to be someone’s guest we kind of have to get to know each other right? Be friends. Outreach makes a whole different kind of sense when it’s about creating relationships around friendships, shared interests, emotional and physical needs, the fight for justice, and of course, that which is common to all humanity – our spirituality, that desire inside us for something greater, for meaning, for God.
In our day and age, the invitation to revive one’s childhood faith and become part of a religious community, or to believe in the divine for the first time, only makes sense or is compelling when there’s a human connection, when people have a taste of what that might be like because they see it…in us.
Patty Sanders is going to share with us later/shared with us earlier in the service about the Pedal for Protein fundraiser. I am so pleased that Knox hosts this event every year. The money that is raised does good far beyond the ability of the members of one small congregation to do. Feeding hungry people is a worthy thing to do, in and of itself, for no other reason.
But in addition, it’s also a really good outreach. The Presbytery organizes a bike ride and reaches out into the community, inviting people to participate. Knox hosts the bike ride. That’s an outstanding witness about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
And many people take part who aren’t members of the church, so it’s also an opportunity to reach out and be friendly. See if the water is warm. Make a connection. Whatever any individual person’s response to our offer of friendship and community might be, know that when we help our neighbors, and when we reach out in Jesus’s name, the Kingdom of God has come near.
I keep thinking about how strange it was for Jesus to de-quipped his followers, his advance team, sending them out with nothing. No money, no bag, no shoes. No cell phone.
It reminds me of baptism. It reminds me of how we come into this world, and how we go out of it. With nothing. Absolutely nothing but the grace of God and the promises of God.
In a couple of weeks my son Elijah will be baptized right here. In his baptism he will receive the greatest gift conceivable – God’s promise that he is God’s beloved child forever.
And Elijah doesn’t even know that this is going to happen. He didn’t ask for it. He’s not involved in the planning. All he has to do is be is own sweet baby self. Everything else is being done for him.
How much more so does our God receive us? We don’t need to bring anything. No money, no bag, no sandals, no good works, no moral perfection, for God to love us. We bring nothing to our baptisms but ourselves, and when we’re babies we don’t even do that. Our parents bring us.
When we are baptized God receives us as a guest in God’s house, and God brings out the food and wine, and God washes the dust from our feet in the waters of baptism, Noah’s cleansing flood. The living water that Jesus gave the woman at the well in Samaria God gives to us, in our baptisms, and each day of our lives.
God’s love is a gift. God’s home is our home. The food of everlasting life is our food, and through the water of baptism we are raised to new life with Jesus.
Then God sends us out, in pairs, not alone, to be someone else’s guest, to accept the gifts they offer, to eat the food they make, and to know them as they truly are in the details and specificity of their lives.
Gathered around the table of the Lord, and every day of our lives, we share this marvelous love we have received with one another and also with strangers who may soon be friends, so that all may know and feel that indeed, the kingdom of God has come near. Amen.