+ A sermon for Pentecost +4C/Lectionary 14C at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on July 7, 2019 +
Texts: Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Audio: LINK (Note – first few seconds of the recording was accidentally cut off)
Last week, on the Fourth of July, our country celebrated our Independence Day.
That morning, Ryan and I were relaxing, drinking our coffee, and turned on an appropriately patriotic documentary series on the History Channel called America: The Story of Us.
In this particular episode, they were looking at the westward expansion of the 19th Century and the different explorers and pioneers that opened the West to White settlers.
And this documentary was making the argument that it was these explorers that helped inspire that quintessential ethos in this country of rugged individualism—the idea that with perseverance and a good work ethic, a person can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do extraordinary things.
And while this ethos may have originated on the western frontier, it has permeated nearly every aspect of life in our national identity from our economy to our social support systems to our understanding of that mythical American dream.
And yet, as hard as the filmmakers tried to hold tried to hold up these frontiersmen as exemplars of rugged individualism, paragons of independence, they couldn’t help but show how they needed the support of people around them:
Daniel Boone could not blaze the Wilderness Road alone.
Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery would have been lost without Sacagawea.
Jedediah Smith couldn’t have explored the Rockies without a Crow guide.
And wagon trains required community to survive the long trail West.
And yet, the idea that we can do it ourselves, that we can be independent of each other, has become a hallmark of our national identity.
And in many ways, this rugged individualism has come to define our understanding of being a Christian in this country.
We hear some people talk about individual salvation, the importance of being born again, and having a personal relationship with our savior.
We talk about “my faith,” and “my belief,” and “my church.”
And yet we know that there is more than just ourselves.
That being a Christian is about much more than my own faith.
Because when we are baptized, we are joined into a family that is so much larger than ourselves but includes an entire congregation and really even the whole universal church.
When we pray, we pray for each other, for the life of the church, and for the care of all creation.
And when we come to this table, we join in a communion of saints spanning all time and space.
No, it quickly becomes clear that Christianity is not about individualism but about building a community that supports each other, helps each other, and loves each other.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that we hear the importance of community in our scripture readings today.
From St. Paul’s conclusion to his letter to the Galatians, we hear him sum up his points from the previous five chapters: that the Church is to “bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and that we should “not grow weary in doing what is right” to “work for the good of all.”
Now, if the law of Christ is rooted in love and if we fulfill the law of Christ by bearing each other’s burdens, we bear these burdens by loving each other.
But this is more than a superficial love, this is love that forms community, that breaks down every last barrier that divides people, that actively works for the well being of those around us.
This love is costly, the love that calls us to work for each other, to give up something of ourselves to benefit our neighbor.
This love defies any assertion that we can be independent, that we can make it on our own, but shows us the joy of community, of living interdependently.
This is the love that Christ has for us and the love that he has called us to share with the world.
And in our gospel text, when Jesus sends out his followers to go ahead of him, when he charges them with preaching and teaching and healing, it sounds like an impossible mission.
He basically says as much: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”
Go out with no food, no money, not even a good pair of hiking boots to do the work of Jesus?
With such a large demand it seems like there’s no way for me to do it on my own.
And maybe that’s the point—there is no way for me to do it on my own.
Independence is not going to work here.
But remember that Jesus did not the send disciples out on their own, he sent them in pairs.
Two-by-two, out to support each other, walk with each other, encourage each other.
And more than that, they’re not only in pairs, but go with a whole company of 70.
A band of ambassadors, friends in the faith, workers in the field, supporters when the times get rough—a reminder that they are in this together, that even when they go without Jesus, they have each other.
And so they go, they heal those who are sick, they bring a word of peace, they proclaim the nearness of that coming reign of God when a new community of interdependence, rooted in pure love, will take hold in the world and all people will live in harmony with God and each other.
And then the 70 come back to Jesus overjoyed, amazed at what they had done, having witnessed how this small band had overcome the forces of evil, marveling at how they could do the work of Jesus as they journeyed together.
My friends, we know that this mission is still ongoing, that we too have been called by Jesus to go into the world and to preach and teach and heal, to proclaim that the reign of God is near.
And we also know that this mission by definition takes us outside of these walls.
Jesus does not call his disciples to go to their places of worship to do this work, but into the towns and villages, into the streets and field, into the homes of neighbors they have yet to meet.
Jesus calls us into the world that God so loves, to the places where he is going to see the work that is to be done, to prepare the world for his coming and to see where God has already gone ahead of us.
This work cannot stay in this place, but yearns to go out to a world longing to experience it.
But as our Lord has told us, this is not always easy work.
While we may have an opportunity to at least change our shoes, we may still feel like lambs in the midst of wolves or uncomfortable with the tasks set before us.
We may face challenges we have not yet seen, our work may be rejected and opposed by those who are offended by it.
Just last weekend, I had the opportunity to march in the Anchorage Pride parade.
This is one area where I have committed myself in the past years to do this mission work – to wear my collar and stole and speak a word of welcome and peace, to work for the healing of wounds the Church has inflicted upon the LGBTQ community, to proclaim the radical and inclusive love of God.
So I marched with a band of members and clergy of welcoming congregations and not even 100 yards into the march there were a few street preachers with megaphones, spewed vile statements about the LGBTQ community and who focused his ire on these communities of faith who marched to proclaim God’s love.
One singled out the clergy calling us nasty names and deriding us as false prophets.
And honestly, if I were alone, these verbal attacks may have shaken me and made me doubt my ability to continue Christ’s mission.
But as I looked around and saw our group proclaiming the strong and powerful love of God, as I saw the joy and relief of the crowd experiencing that love, I was confident that I was not alone, that we were doing God’s work and I had the strength to continue on.
And this is why Jesus does not send us out alone, but together.
We go in pairs, we go as a congregation, we go with the entire band of apostles that spans all baptized Christians, all people who have heard God’s call, because we are all in this together.
And we no longer have to try to pull ourselves up in a family of faith where we bear each other’s burdens.
We no longer have to stand by ourselves on the frontiers when we go with this community that is always going with us.
We no longer have to strive for independence if we live into God’s perfect commonwealth of love and interdependence.
So, people of Holy Cross, where will we go?
How will we continue Christ’s mission in Factoria, in Bellevue, and beyond?
Where is Christ calling us today?
How will we use this congregation to proclaim God’s love?
This is the question we get to explore, together: in our future planning committee meetings, in coffee hour conversations, and even in worship as we hear Christ’s call to us.
And then at the end of our liturgy each week, we hear how Christ is sending us out from this place to join the mission to which he has called us.
We go to preach a word of peace, to heal the sick and feed the hungry, to proclaim in word and deed that God’s reign is near.
And we know that this is a weighty call.
But when we realize that we are not alone in this work, that this weight is not just on our own shoulders but is a calling that we share with these fellow disciples around us, we find that we are able to do amazing things.
We realize that we have been equipped by our God by beautiful gifts and tools for ministry: we have been gathered around this table of bread and wine to sustain us on this journey, we have been gathered into a community that walks along with us on the way, we have been given a word of gospel to preach to a world that is so in need of hearing it, and we know that we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowers us and motivates us and moves us beyond ourselves and into mission.
And then we discover the power of God’s love, a power that we didn’t even know we had, a power that casts out demons and vanquishes evil.
And then we come with joy again to this place, back to the feet of Jesus, back to this feast of triumph, back to this community of saints before we are sent out again into the mission field.
So we go, confident that we are never alone, that our companions walk with us, that our fellow disciples are there to support us, that the God who has sent us will never abandon us.
That we are never alone in this mission.
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