Summary: A sermon for the Fourth of July
Pentecost 5: Cycle C; Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice can not sleep forever. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men. Almighty God has created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion.”
“No man shall be compelled to frequent of support any religious worship, place or ministry…. otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief…. all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion.”
These were the words of the good Christian deist Thomas Jefferson. His conclusions came out of a mind formed by Christian values, beliefs and worldviews. Even his conviction that every individual has the right to worship as he so chooses emerges from the construct that Almighty God has created the mind free.
Jefferson’s commitment to establishing a form of government that insured these kinds of liberties was not the result of non-Christian or anti-Christian bias, but more accurately the result of his thinking being shaped by the values affirmed in the Scriptures. Jefferson expresses greater confidence in the power of beliefs and values than in the establishment of constitutional laws and guidelines. On a national level, Jefferson appeals to the power of ethos as greater than the highest form of institutional or governmental authority. Jefferson was a pioneer in the establishment and preservation of our national e-motion, that powerful ethos that has become to be known as the pioneer spirit of Americans. The force of this ethos, this e-motion would give way to the unstoppable force of a small band of rag-tag soldiers that began the American Revolution and eventually gaining our independence from an oppressive government.
Ethos is the way a community feels reality. It is what happens when many individuals make autonomous choices that create a unified movement. Ethos moves us when nothing else will. It is the fuel of our caring and the fire of our passions. Ethos is the e-motion of a community. It is the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs beliefs, customs and practices of a group or society. When something happens, everyone feels it in the same way. It’s an uncommon commonality. No empire is more powerful than ethos.
That’s what we see in the Scripture today. About 2000 years ago the Jews were involved in ethos themselves. They were caught up in a fire and passion of community of their own. And now that this Jesus, the new Messiah had arrived they were thinking revolution too. Their hopes for a better life were now focused on this new king who would restore their good fortune. Was Jesus promising something better? Indeed he was. A pioneer of Spirit. He said he had come to bring in the kingdom of God, the rules of righteousness in the world. For 900 years, Jews had been hoping for a restoration of the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon.
But Jesus, as always, was the revolutionary. Little did they know that the revolution Jesus had in mind would not only transform the community, but individuals and a nation would emerge anew as well. They presumed the promulgation of a Jewish exclusivism to address the needs of the past. They were defining the future by the past. But now Jesus appoints soldiers in this revolution to go to all peoples-Samaritans and Gentiles included. His kingdom-God’s kingdom-was to be inclusive, not exclusive; universal, not provincial. This wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. And I don’t think our forefathers did as well.
He has assembled his rag-tag soldiers and now gives them their marching orders. “ I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening. See I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.”
But this is how he tells them to fight the fight. He commissions the disciples in a way that will serve as a guide for the new models of mission that the next generations will require in the fight. First he tells of the world’s need for the church’s mission; “the harvest is plentiful”. There is more work than they can do. As with any culture, harvesting time is a season of great urgency. We need to bring on more laborers as the crop ripens. There is no uniform to speak of. In fact, we are to not look any different. So, there is no visible sign of rank and no badges. Second, he says that prayer will be needed to see the mission through; “ask the Lord of the harvest,” he will help you to completion. Third, he insists on the active participation of each disciple; “Go on your way,” he says, the work to be done is not merely the calling of a select few. Each one contributes in their own way and in the framework of their own spiritual journey. Fourth, he warns of the dangers you will face as soldiers and he provides guidelines, weapons if you will; by using innocence and sincerity, vulnerability and non-resistance as means of turning aside anger and danger. Fifth, he calls for a singularity of purpose; “Greet no one on the road”, Travel light. Comb and a toothbrush and no extra luggage. Don’t loiter and make small talk with everyone one you meet. Sixth, he specifies the mission; “Say peace to this house and the kingdom of God has come near you”. Soldiers in our cause are to declare what God is doing and bring God’s peace to whoever receives them. Share a meal with whoever receives you. Seventh, the host, not the guest, sets the context for the soldier’s witness; “eat what is set before you”. Do not dictate the menu or impose your own cultural back round on others. Eighth, he recognizes that they may not always succeed; “When they do not welcome you…” He knew that they would meet resistance and rejection some of the time. Ninth, Jesus admonishes them to persevere: shake the dust from your feet. Tenth, and finally, Jesus gives the soldiers a word of assurance about the fulfillment of God’s redemptive mission: “Know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”