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United Church of Jaffrey
Luke 10:1-11;16-20 | An Excerpt from an essay by the Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff.
I take, as my text today, a passage from the 10th chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
In it, Jesus appoints 70 people who he “sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”
This passage, like every passage in the New Testament, has its traditional interpretation.
The road most travelled.
But, as you have come to expect, I am a bit like Robert Frost, when it comes to Bible passages… I tend to look for the road less travelled.
Perhaps it’s the rebel in me.
Because, even though I am standing up here, in the pulpit, in a Christian church – the very place that has been traditionally understood, in our culture, to be the bastion of social rectitude…
The foundation of moral uprightness…
The platform of the status quo…
In spite of all that…
I am a bit of a rebel…
You know me well enough to not be terribly surprised by that, and every Sunday morning I thank God for each and every one of you—that you do not walk out on me when I use the privilege of this pulpit to not only reveal (as best I can) the action God’s love in the world, but also to challenge us all, regardless of our tribal allegiances, to live up to the radical example set before us by Jesus.
But even a rebel – particularly a rebel – must understand the context out of which he or she springs.
We do not emulate James Dean in this church – we are not “rebels without a cause.”
We emulate Jesus, who was a rebel who most decidedly had a cause.
So before we go down the road less travelled, let’s take a brief look down the road most travelled – that is, the traditional reading of this scripture.
In it Jesus appoints 70 people who he “sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”
He did this for a simple reason…
he needed help!
“The harvest is plentiful, he says, in the text, but the laborers are few; therefor ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
So Jesus finds some laborers. 70 of them.
Jesus instructs them. He tells them what to bring with them, and how to act when they are shown hospitality, and how to act when they are turned away.
Jesus gives them some talking points “say to them, he instructs, that ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
And then he empowers them, saying:
“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The traditional interpretation of this passage is fairly easy to understand, because it follows what appears to be quite clear instructions from Jesus.
Do this, do that.
You speak for me, and I speak for God, hence you speak for God.
Things are pretty clear.
The traditional reading of this passage, suggests that when we speak to our neighbors about the Kingdom of God, we speak on behalf of God, and in doing this, we do something that has great significance.
Spreading the word of God, here, becomes a kind of sacred collaboration.
When we go out, we are given power to collaborate with God!
God needs us.
We are part of God’s plan.
We are in God’s service, collaborating with the Divine to bring about the Kingdom.
This “road more travelled” teaching is an exciting one.
This teaching has inspired Christians, throughout the ages, to go out and evangelize.
To tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ.
What could be wrong with that?
I would not be standing up here, if I did not think that it was worth while talking about Jesus – about his life, and his teaching.
But I get nervous when I hear someone say: “It’s true because it says so in the Bible.”
An idea that we find in the Bible is not true because it is in the Bible.
An idea that we find in the Bible is true because we, as faithful people, do the work to discover its truth in our lives.
If we just assume that everything that we find in the Bible is true, without thinking carefully about it, we do our religious tradition a serious disservice.
One of the reasons more and more people, today, think that Christianity – and church attendance – is not worth their time, is because they think that we are just sitting around, in church, congratulating ourselves on having exclusive ownership of the truth.
And that feels bad to them.
As it should.
If we really were doing that – sitting around patting ourselves on the back for owning THE exclusive unalterable truth, we would not be faithful people.
Ours would not be a living Religion.
Our faith thrives not on being the exclusive access to truth…
Rather, our religion thrives on being an effective way to actively search for truth.
A religion that stops asking questions is not as religion, because becomes about having answers rather than exploring mystery.
The religion that stops asking questions is not a religion. It is a self-satisfied social club.
I need hardly recite the shameful litany of ways that Christianity has conspired with power to cause untold violence and oppression.
The colonial period of world history, with all its slavery, bloodshed, genocide and oppression was perpetrated with a sword in one hand in a cross in the other.
The majority of Christian churches in Germany in the 1930’s either looked the other way, or went along with Hitler’s “final solution.”
Pious Christian slave owners in the southern United States used the Bible to justify the bloody institution of chattel slavery and in like manner, Dutch Reformed Theologians in South Africa found ways to use the Bible to prop up the system of Apartheid.
In each of these cases, religion was not about mystery.
In each of these cases, religion did not seek God’s love.
Love and mystery must be at the core of religion. If it is not, it is perilously easy for religion to become a tool of power.
And when religion is used for the sake of power, very very bad things happen.
The Latin American Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff, wrote, in this morning’s second reading, that Jesus
categorically refused to inaugurate a kingdom based on power… He was the servant of every human creature not their ruler. Thus he stood as an incarnation of God’s love rather than God’s power. In his view power, insofar as it means domination, is essentially diabolic and contrary to the mystery of God.
This is why Jesus Christ’s actions can sometimes seem frustrating. If he was really divine, why didn’t he just snap his fingers and change things? Why did he have to struggle with the forces of the Roman Empire? Why didn’t he just fix things for us?
He didn’t do these things, because he refused to use his power in this way.
He was not teaching us about how to wield power.
He was teaching us how to love.
In today’s passage, for example, when the 70 return to him bragging like excited children, about their new powers, Jesus agrees with them, but also cautions them:
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. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Power is not something to rejoice in…
It is something to be careful with.
And power is not the most important thing. The important thing is the mysterious thing – that “your names are written in heaven.”
If you know the truth, you are not a religious person. You are an ideological person.
Human history has taught us again and again that this is the most dangerous mistake that can be made.
If you search for truth, you are religious person.
The search comes from a position of humility before mystery.
Be careful with power. Jesus says. Rejoice in the mystery.