“Instructions for the Journey” Colchester Federated Church, July 3, 2022, (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20) Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

In our Gospel story, Jesus commissions seventy-two of his followers and sends them out in pairs to every city and place that Jesus himself was about to go.  Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem, but had the intention of visiting towns throughout Galilee.  Pairs of his followers (which would have included the twelve apostles and many women disciples) act as advance teams whose task is to prepare the people for Jesus’ arrival.  Now Jesus gives his followers specific instructions.  He tells them that he’s sending them out as lambs among wolves.  Jesus is honest that not everyone is going to receive them well, and some people will be outright hostile.  He tells them, “Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way.  Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’  If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you.”[1] 

The instructions for the journey are specific and curious.  We can debate if Jesus was sending these seventy-two people out in their bare feet to show that they were poor or humble or if this might mean that people were not to carry extra clothing, and therefore would have relied on the charity and good will of those they encountered on their travels from every city and place.  Either way, they are instructed to travel light.  Even the people that they encountered along the way aren’t to be greeted with typical chit chat.  Keep it moving seems to be the message.  Jesus is relating that his time is short and his messengers need to get going to find those who will accept Jesus’ message and help them keep spreading the good news of the realm of God.  “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers.”[2]  This is a time sensitive mission.  And here’s the kicker—Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’”[3]  Jesus is saying that if a village has nobody that will listen to the message or provide hospitality to his followers they are not to argue back and forth and engage in some lengthy debate, they are to head on down the road to find those who are willing to hear the good news.

Now I don’t know about you, but this July 4th weekend feels odd.  Let’s face it, our county is divided and deeply wounded.  Even here in our congregation, we will inevitably have varied opinions about what is going on in the world around us.  If we scan the newspaper headlines, we can see stories about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the ongoing work of the January 6th Committee, vaccines that are Omicron-based rolling out in the fall, people coping with long Covid, and the migrant tragedy in Texas as people died trapped inside a tractor-trailer.  Yet this national holiday we are celebrating this weekend is about freedom—it’s Independence Day.  The day we as a country commemorate that the Declaration of Independence was passed by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

How do we celebrate Independence Day this year when some people have experienced their personal freedoms taken away?  After all, one of the basic dictionary definitions of freedom from Merriam-Webster is “the quality or state of being free: such as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.”[4]  As a woman in my childbearing years, I am not feeling jazzed about all these freedoms I supposedly have as an American.  Not right now.  I don’t think that makes me unpatriotic to say so, and it seemed important to name this out loud if anyone else is feeling in a similar boat this July 4th

All of these national headlines, all of these current events affect us personally.  These stories may touch a place inside of us of deep personal pain.  Let’s face it, we can’t know the intimate details of everyone’s life story.  It may be that people know our stories and why we are in pain or we may feel like we are suffering in silence.  Remember that God is with you and you are not alone.  Take care of yourself and if that means limiting your exposure to the news and to the events in the world around us, please make your mental and emotional health a priority.  That’s coming from your pastor and she’s wise and loves you, okay?

Here in Colchester, we have even added on top of all these stories on a national level what we’re facing on a local level with the controversy about banning a book at Cragin Memorial Library right across the street from our church.  I wrote about this extensively in my Thursday Thoughts, especially coming from my personal perspective having worked at Belk Library all through college at Elon University, serving on the Board of Trustees of Cragin Library, and working with some of the wonderful library staff over the years.  Additionally, our Colchester Federated Church is Welcoming, Open and Affirming.  That is part of our identity as a Christian congregation.  When we say that everyone is welcome here, we mean it.  The fact that this book about the queer cultural icon RuPaul at the center of the controversy was located on the LGBTQ+ Pride display in the children’s section of our local library could make our antenna go up as a congregation.  Representation matters and access to books like Who is RuPaul makes a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ children and families.

So maybe this is harsh, but it personally gave me solace this week when Jesus talked to his followers about what to do when people couldn’t hear Jesus’ message and welcome his followers.  A message that we know came down to the greatest commandment—love— “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”[5] 

Jesus doesn’t tell his followers that they have to argue and debate.  Jesus doesn’t say that they have to listen to vitriol and be abused.  Because there will be people who do not show hospitality, who can’t hear the good news of God’s love for everyone.  And when that happens (because it will happen), we are allowed to brush the dust off our feet and move on.  We can debate about issues, but peoples’ inherent worth, dignity, and humanity must not be up for debate.  The love that God has for humanity is not just for some people, it’s for all people.  As you hear every week, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  If we face those who question our inherent worth and dignity as human beings, it’s okay to shake it off and keep on moving.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 10:4-6, CEB.
[2] Luke 10:2.
[3] Luke 10:10-11.
[4] “Freedom” in Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freedom
[5] Luke 10:27.

Photo by Anthony Shane on Unsplash