A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out with authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Preachers, myself included, like to give the disciples a hard time. You’ve heard me say this before – that Peter, James, John, and the other nine so often miss the point of what’s really going on. Jesus says one thing, and the Twelve immediately do just the opposite – often to comedic effect.
Silly sons of Zebedee, don’t you realize that the first will be last and the last will be first?
But here’s the catch: from a human point of view, the Twelve really do have reason to boast.
In Saint Luke’s Gospel, the Twelve are called together at the outset of chapter nine, and Jesus “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases” before sending them out where — surprise! — they actually pull it off, “bringing the Good News and curing diseases everywhere.” Then, today, the Seventy are sent out and return after a another successful mission trip. It makes sense that they’re excited: “even the demons submitted”! And then Christ told them they have even the authority to tread on snakes and scorpions without coming to harm!
Yes, Christ keeps predicting a coming period of suffering and tells them to be servants of all – but in the meantime, they have superpowers!
Think of it. Who among us, given the authority to withstand merely mosquitoes or to cure only seasonal allergies, wouldn’t immediately go on the talk show circuit touting our newfound abilities?
At the Ed Sullivan Theater, Stephen Colbert would announce, “My next guest is a Lutheran pastor who has changed healthcare forever. Please welcome friend of the show Rev. Andrew Lewis!” The audience would erupt in cheers as Jon Batiste leads house band Stay Human in a jazzy version of “A Mighty Fortress.” Colbert and I would chat casually about faith and Tolkien,* and I would be so utterly charming that CBS would begin broadcasting our Sunday liturgies nationwide.
So, yeah, despite the homiletical mileage I get from them missing the point, when the Apostles come back, I begrudgingly admit that their pride makes sense.
The apostles are sent out with divine authority – and yet both Christ and Saint Paul tell us this is nothing to boast about. Miracles are impressive to be sure, but there’s more to the Kingdom of God, something so completely overwhelming that exorcisms and healing seem like party tricks by comparison. That’s the part the Apostles – and we – are missing.
No, we are sent out not to carry our own burdens, not to boast in ourselves or our own abilities, not to make a name for ourselves but to bear one another’s burdens, to boast in the Cross of Christ by which the powers of sin and death have been defeated, to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God and the New Creation.
We on our own – wonderfully made in the image of God though we are – pale in comparison to the coming gory of the restored creation. We, like the Seventy before us and the Church throughout the ages, are being sent out to proclaim this Good News of repentance, resurrection, and the Kingdom of God. Not to boast that ours in the best congregation in the ELCA or to pat ourselves on the back for having “the cute church on the corner” or for being part of a progressive denomination but to tell the world that the same God who created the cosmos and triumphed over the grave also loves them and desires to adopt them through Baptism into the Body of Christ. We are sent out to put love and justice into action – not that people may praise us for our good works but in order that, seeing our good works, they may give praise to our Father in heaven.
Lutherans aren’t known for our evangelistic zeal, but we – yes, even we stoic few– are sent out week after week. The words, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord,” aren’t merely a polite suggestion but rather an echo of Christ’s command all those centuries ago: Go! We, too, are apostles – sent out like those disciples in ages past to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Go!
Go, you who have been forgiven and strengthened by Christ through the Sacraments. Get out of here! This part of the liturgy is over, so get out of your pew and go put your faith into action!
Go feed the hungry as you have been fed!
Go welcome the stranger and refugee as God has welcomed you!
Go share the burdens of this world as Christ has borne your burden!
Go forgive as you have been forgiven and love as you are loved!
You have been made a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and that Kingdom is now breaking into this world through you! God has poured out abundant blessing upon you! Go pour those blessings out into the world!
So go proclaim the Good News to the nations! Not about how deserving you are but about how generous God is! Go tell the world that a new creation is coming and is at hand where the sick will be healed, the hungry fed, the oppressed freed, and the dead raised to new life! Tell them that they too can be a part of this new creation, that they too can perform such miraculous works as these, that they too can be royal ambassadors of this divine Kingdom, that they will gain everything for the small cost of their life! Go tell them that God is calling them to repentance and newness of life! Tell them that they can catch a glimpse of this world right here in these waters, that they can behold the Lord right here at this table! Tell them that here are the waters of life, the bread of heaven, and the cup of salvation!
Go on your way. The Lord Jesus Christ himself has sent you.
[*Author’s Note: Let’s be honest. Colbert would lecture me on Tolkien, and I would love every moment of it. I’d probably take notes.]