This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Liberation, Not Labels.

Luke 9:37-50.
            After the spectacular experience on Mt. Tabor, when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured in divine light and talking with no less than Moses and Elijah, and they heard God’s voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him,” they come down.  And they come down in more ways than one.  Not only do they descend off the mountain, they also descend from the heights of mystical experience, back to a world of sad and broken people and their problems.  After hearing the voice of God, now they are back in a world where demons rage and people plea in desperation for freedom.
            A man whose only son is possessed approaches Jesus.  The nine disciples who did not go up the mountain were unable to heal the boy.  They had only recently returned from missionary journeys in which they were accomplishing things like this every day.  But in this case they don’t have the touch.  They have failed.
            Jesus is frustrated.  “You faithless and perverse generation,” he says, generally to everyone.  “How much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”  It is a rhetorical question, of course.  Now that Jesus has started talking about his inevitable death, it is almost as if he is saying he will be glad to not have to deal with all this dysfunction, faithlessness, and perversity.
            He tells the man to bring his son over, and the demon obligingly dashes the boy to the ground in dramatic convulsions.  With no fanfare at all, Jesus quickly rebukes the demon and heals the boy, giving him back to his father.  Thus Jesus shows he has power to restore even one of the most intractable of all family circumstances: the self-destructive son.
            It probably characterizes all generations, but when the family is under particular stress, especially from a sick and oppressive society and an exploitative economy, it is our sons who are most prone to be attacked by the demons of anger, resentment, violence, addiction, and other forms of self-harm.  If a culture doesn’t have sufficient ways to channel and embrace young, male energy, this energy festers and starts to eat away at its host.  We are in danger of losing our sons to dissipation, drugs, accidents, or the criminal justice system.
            Jesus personally rebukes this demon and restores the son to the loving father’s embrace, which means to his family and his community.  In addressing the unclean spirit as an entity separate from the boy, Jesus affirms and frees the boy’s essence or true self.  Realizing that our broken and enslaved ego is not our essence is necessary for our liberation.  Once we are able to see that we are not identical with the forces, feelings, thoughts, and habits that are mauling us and threatening others, then we may turn and be healed.

            Christ shows us that we are not identical with our sin, our diseases like cancer, or our thoughts, habits, words, or our manifold addictions.  They are not us; they are something else that has a hold on us. 
            Jesus appears as the truly human One, true and essential humanity is realized in him.  When we encounter him, he causes our own humanity deep within us to sort of resonate with him.  And this shakes off of our true nature everything alien to it that would control or harm us.  We recognize ourselves in him and we realize that everything in us that does not reflect him is not really part of us either.    
            After this exorcism, everyone is astounded and amazed, Jesus is receiving adulation and congratulations and gratitude from all sides.  In the middle of this he turns to his disciples and says: “Get this through your thick skulls: the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.”  Don’t be confused by all the accolades now.  We’re on our way to Jerusalem where it’s not going to be pretty.
            Not only does his transforming and liberating power make him even more dangerous to the authorities, but only the One who gives his life for the life of the world has the power to enact these changes and transformations in people’s lives.  And that second part is what I find many people missing today. 
            The gospels are not the notes of observers following Jesus around like reporters or biographers.  They are memories recalled back through the powerful lens of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The events of that Passover in Jerusalem are embedded in everything people would later recall and write down about Jesus.  The cross and the empty tomb are not surprises to anyone writing or reading the gospels, they are the whole reason anyone writes or reads the gospels in the first place.
            The deeper we get into Luke’s gospel, the closer we get to that Passover, the louder are its anticipatory echoes.  Jesus is no ordinary faith-healer.  He is the Son of Man and the Son of God, as we just heard on the mountain.  He is the true human-being and the true God.  Just as the character of his life as a dangerous revolutionary made inevitable his execution at the hands of fearful human powers, his coming death and resurrection are also what make him so effective as a healer, exorcist, organizer, and teacher. 
            Jesus Christ is the sacrificial, overflowing, self-emptying love of God; he is now turning his face to Jerusalem where this love gets finally accomplished in his death and resurrection.  He is the Great High Priest making his way, even forcing his way, to the altar.  It is because that is where he is going that he has such freedom, such authority, and such a tight identification with people.  He is not just another person separated from others by a chasm of subjectivity; he is the Word by whom the very cells in our bodies were created.  He doesn’t just identify with us in our common humanity, he also identifies with us from deep within our matter and our breath. 

            The disciples don’t get it, of course.  Out of Jesus’ earshot, they start arguing about who of them is the greatest.  Jesus chose three to accompany him on the mountain, therefore one of those three must be the greatest.  The other nine failed in casting out that unclean spirit, so they must be inferior.  They are developing a hierarchy, a pecking order, among themselves.  This is exactly what Jesus does not want them to do.  So, “aware of their inner thoughts,” he brings them together for a lesson in leadership.
            This movement is not going to be a conventional coronation.  This is not a military general gathering popular support and a burgeoning army the closer he gets to the capital.  This is not a new central government or bureaucracy needing ministers and department heads.  That is not going to happen.
            Jesus looks around and spies a kid playing nearby.  He motions her over and stands her in front of him as he sits there.  And he says to the disciples, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me.”  That is, God.  “For the least among all of you is the greatest.” 
            So stop this ridiculous and disgraceful arguing about which of you is the greatest.  If you want to be really great then make yourself nothing, make yourself as powerless, innocent, simple, and dependent as this child.  Maybe then God will work in and through you.  But as long as you think you’re important and as long as you want to be great and powerful, forget it.  Your ego is blocking the flow of God’s Spirit into the world.
            There’s not going to be any hierarchy.  There’s not going to be any pecking order.  You guys should be trying to outdo each other in weakness, service, and childlike wonder.  Not decorating your prospective offices in some royal palace.
            The church continually forgets this lesson.  We compulsively generate hierarchies and different levels of status.  If the least is indeed the greatest, as Jesus says, then our true role models are those who do the work in mission and in congregations, not people with exalted titles like “Executive” and “Head-of-Staff.”

            Luke then reports that John responds to Jesus.  John is one of the three who went to the mountain with Jesus.  Even he is pretty clueless about what Jesus has just said.  Jesus has just indicated that there are to be no hierarchies or pecking orders among his disciples.  John assumes that there must still at least be a distinction between the insiders and the outsiders.  I mean, maybe we are not supposed to have distinctions between us who are followers of Jesus, but surely we are better than and superior to those who don’t follow Jesus at all!  Okay, we’re all equal in this group, but Jesus can’t be saying that we are even equal to people outside of our group?  John wants a clarification on this point.
            So he tells Jesus, apparently with some pride, like he is expecting a commendation, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.”  He’s not in our church.  He’s not in our denomination.  He’s not even technically one of your official disciples.  We don’t know him.  He uses your name without the proper authorization.  He didn’t train with us.  This could be diluting our brand! 
            To which Jesus replies, Brand-schmand!  This is mission is about healing and liberation!  I don’t care how it gets done; I care that it gets done!  I don’t care who does it!  I care about the ones who receive it!  If someone is out there casting out demons in my name, leave them alone!  They’re doing better than you guys, lately.  If someone is healing and freeing people from bondage, “do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”
            Jesus always allows that there are other people out there doing good work.  In chapter 11 he talks about even some of his opponents being agents of liberation.  The point is not which brand, which label, which group, which doctrine, which method, which words or actions, or even which name people are using.  The point is about whether people are being set free or not.
            If you’re part of the select in-group, thoroughly trained by Jesus himself, and yet you are unable to free a boy with an unclean spirit, then you might as well be part of the “faithless and perverse generation” that frustrates Jesus.  If you are casting out demons, bringing people to freedom and wholeness, but not part of Jesus’ own group, Jesus says, Fine!  “Do not stop him!”  The point is the liberation, not the label.
            There is only one point of evaluation of any ministry for Jesus: does it help people become freer, more healthy, more human, better, happier, and more giving and forgiving?  Or are they just as filled with fear, rage, shame, greed, ignorance, and violence as they were before they got involved in a ministry?  On the last day, will God ask you what religion you were?  Or will we have to show how we healed, did justice, loved kindness, made peace, promoted joy, and helped set people free?
            What do you think?

            Jesus is God.  He is the Word by whose Breath God creates and brings into being all that is.  Everything.  All matter and energy.  He is not the property of one religious institution, or even many.  God is not a local deity related to one piece of real estate, or only present among one group of people.  God is not even just the Lord of this planet.
            Jesus cannot be the Savior of all people if he is not somehow, as God, present within all people. 
            We are Christ’s disciples.  We are sent into the world as he is, to proclaim and enact this new order of peace, healing, justice, equality, and freedom called the Kingdom of God.  We are to bring people to salvation by pointing out, naming, and rebuking the forces oppressing people within and without.  We are to show that the way to liberation and healing is through trusting in the God of love, who reveals in Jesus Christ who we most truly and deeply are. 
            And in being conformed to him, we separate from, shake off, and leave behind all that would restrict, harm, sicken, or kill us.  We turn instead to become one with him, and, as Peter says, “participants in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), even “filled with all the fullness of God,” as Paul puts it (Ephesians 3:19).
            Where we see freedom, equality, justice, peace, and love at work in the world, there we see Jesus Christ.  Where we see blessing and liberation and healing, there we see his name.  Where we see simplicity, humility, wonder, joy, and delight, there we see the Presence of the living God.


You Feed Them.

Luke 9:12-27.
            Jesus and the disciples are in Bethsaida, where crowds have gathered.  They want to hear Jesus preach about the Kingdom of God and be healed of their diseases.  Apparently they overwhelm the village so they gather in a deserted place outside of town.  And they spend a whole day out there with “5,000 men;” and we can imagine around that many women and children as well. 
            Jesus and the disciples minister to the people until it gets to be around dinnertime.  This is all very informal and thrown together; there is no food court or even hot dog carts around to feed the people.
            They come to one of those crisis points where something has to happen.  And what happens can either be something routine, compromised, normal, and deflating, something that drains the energy out of the group because of necessity everyone has to come back down to earth and attend to necessities.  What happens now will make all the difference between whether this is another movement that is just talk, but really doesn’t change anything, or an exceptional and extraordinary event that ratchets up the energy-level and places the whole movement on a higher plane.
            We come to these shock-points in life, where we have a decision to make.  We can either fall back into what is safe, normal, and familiar, or we can take a leap into a new future, which is risky.
            The disciples have just experienced, if not miracles then certainly an unexpected and eye-opening set of events.  They went on a missionary journey taking no provisions at all, and they were surprisingly provided for anyway by the poor people they visited.  They relied on God, and God came through!
            Now, however, they are faced with a situation of no provisions, and it does not occur to them that God could come through here as well.  This is not one or two visiting apostles being fed by generous local people.  This is like 10,000 people!  Surely there are limits to what God is willing to do.
            They take inventory and discover that they can scrounge up five rolls and two dried fish, barely enough to feed two people if they’re not too hungry.  The options they consider would back away from this opportunity and fall into normal, routine, boring life.  They suggest sending everyone away to fend for themselves, or that they themselves go and buy dinner for 10,000, which they probably do not have the resources to pull off.
            Meanwhile, Jesus is just going, “No, you give them something to eat,” like he’s not quite comprehending the situation.  Eventually he sees that the disciples are clueless about what he means.  They are not making the leap from their own recent experience of reliance upon God and applying that to what is going on now.  So I imagine that he sighs and says, “Okay.  Have everyone gather in groups of about 50 and sit down.”

            What then happens is still shrouded in mystery.  It is the only miracle story that appears in all 4 gospels.  None of them describe what happened in any detail; but for all of them it is the most impressive and powerful thing Jesus does in his ministry.  Whatever happens that day made such a profound impression on everyone that his disciples have sought to imitate Jesus ever since by ceremonially repeating his actions here at their weekly gatherings.
            He takes the bread and the fishes, he blesses them, he breaks them, and he gives them to the disciples.  He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives.  Jesus will repeat this set of actions at his final supper with his disciples, and when he is with two disciples he meets on the road after his resurrection.  This simple series of actions – taking, blessing, breaking, and giving – becomes the most potent sign of Jesus’ living presence.
            I have never been able to even picture this event in my mind.  Bible scholars and film makers have to figure out some way to describe and explain what happens.  But all the gospels tell us is that he took, blessed, broke, and gave the food… and everybody ate, and there were 12 baskets of food left over.  They go from having 5 small loaves and 2 fishes, to having 12 baskets full of leftovers, after feeding 10,000 people.
            We may assume it is a supernatural miracle, that the bread just manifested out of thin air, like some magic out of the Harry Potter books.  But the gospel writers don’t say this.  Some scholars posit the idea that the people were inspired to share what little food they had with them, and it turned out to be more than enough.  (This is called “demythologizing.”)  The gospel writers don’t say that either.  Whatever happens, it is the one event that everyone remembers in more or less the same way.  It becomes the defining act of the Jesus-movement.
            The impact of this event is that the people do not have to depend on the normal and accepted economic institutions for their sustenance.  Neither do they have to fend for themselves in the marketplace in competition with their neighbors for scarce resources.  They learn that the so-called laws of supply and demand don’t apply.  They may have all that they need and more if they rely upon Jesus Christ.  If they assemble in his name, approach creation with reverence and thanksgiving, and take, bless, break, and give what they have, they will have more than enough, together.  That is our faith, that taking, blessing, breaking, and giving is the shape of true human life in the Kingdom of God.

            Some time later, after prayer, Jesus asks his disciples who everyone is saying he is.  They give the same report that Herod received: people are saying the Jesus is John the Baptizer returned to life, or the prophet Elijah, or one of the other prophets.  Everyone seems to think that Jesus is either a resurrected or reincarnated dead person from the past. 
            Then he asks the disciples who they think he is, and Peter answers for the whole group.  They do not think he is someone from the past, but from the future.  “The Messiah of God,” Peter says very simply.  Jesus is “the One who is to come,” he is the One anointed by God to deliver, save, redeem the people.
            Jesus does not contradict Peter, but he does tell Peter and the disciples to keep quiet about the Messiah thing.  Probably because there was a lot of baggage that went along with that term, and Jesus doesn’t want to be defined in people’s minds by their preconceptions about what a Messiah was and what a Messiah was supposed to do.
            Because he immediately goes on to explain that he is not going to fulfill those expectations.  Rather, he predicts for the first time that he will “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
            He clearly sees, at this turning point in his ministry, how this is inevitably going to end.  He is offending and threatening the people in his society with the most power.  He is doing the one forbidden thing in an oppressive system: he is organizing people.  He is empowering people.  He is demonstrating that people do not have to participate in their own bondage anymore. 
            With his burgeoning popularity, Jesus knows what he is in for.  But he has known that all along.  At the beginning of his ministry, right after his baptism, he made an enemy of the devil.  And the devil is the one who has a grip on the Herods and Caesars and Pilates and Caiaphuses of this world.  When Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming release to the captives and forgiveness of debts, he had to know that this was not going to be popular with the authorities benefiting from people’s enslavement and indebtedness.
            Jesus chooses a path that would involve his arrest and execution; it is something he knows and intends from the beginning.

            But then he says something else.  It is one thing for Jesus to suffer and die, and then be raised.  But it was never Jesus’ intention that this be something he does and his disciples merely watch and remember.  Following him means following him, every step of the way.  It is not only his life that gets laid down.  But discipleship demands the life of everyone who would follow Jesus.
            And this is what he starts saying not just to the disciples in private, but to everyone. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”
            So now his tone changes.  His message is different.  It must surely have confused people.  Now his ministry is not just about getting your diseases healed.  It’s not just about being set free from the demons oppressing you.  It’s not just about getting yourself fed.  It’s not just about taking benefits and giving thanks for them.  Now it’s about taking something else, taking up a cross, an image that would have horrified anyone of that time who heard it.
            Taking up a cross meant being executed by the Romans as a political criminal.  It was humiliating torture ending in ignominious public death.  No one signing up for Jesus’ movement would want to be reminded that this was what was in store for anyone perceived to undermine Roman authority.    
            Jesus is saying that it’s time to get serious.  There is a cost to this discipleship.  And the cost is your life.  The model that he demonstrates in his signature miracle with the loaves and fishes, of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving, well, that applies as well to each of our lives as disciples.  What we take and bless from God we also break and give to others.
            What we have we have received from God is not inherently ours, a private possession with which we may do as we please.  It is a gift that has come with detailed instructions from the giver about what to do with it.  What we have is not simply to be kept, saved, stored, hoarded, and enjoyed for ourselves.  It is to be blessed, or given thanks for, recognizing that it comes from God as a gift, not an entitlement or an earned benefit.
            What we have is also to be broken, not in the sense of destroying it, of course, but in order to share it by giving it to others.  This receiving and giving, with blessing and breaking in between, is the structure of what we are to do with what we have from God.

            This is what Jesus does with his own life.  He takes up his life among us, he bathes it in blessing and thanksgiving in his ministry, and finally he allows it to be broken on the cross and gives it to us in his resurrection.  He was broken on the cross so his life could be multiplied and distributed to many.
            Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is completed in the breaking and the giving… that’s the challenge.  It’s about the distribution, the sharing out among many, what we receive from God.
            That’s why Jesus talks here about each disciple having to take up their own cross.  We have to be broken and give up to others in turn what we have received from God.  Indeed, we don’t even truly receive anything, until we participate in this basic pattern of multiplication for the sake of distribution.
            And Jesus would have this apply to everything we receive from God, which is to say everything.  This rule applies to food, money, talents, expertise, knowledge, skills, energy, imagination, love… everything.
            What Jesus says here will begin to cause his popularity to weaken.  People will shrink from following him out of shame.  They are disturbed and embarrassed by his talk of death.  They are put off by this bizarre talk of taking up crosses.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that, “When Christ calls someone he is bidding them to come and die.”  But that is not usually what we want on the message board in front of the church.  “Come and die here.”
            But Jesus knows that what has to die in his disciples is that part of them that only wants to receive and not give, the part that only wants to be fed and not feed, the part that only wants to be healed and not heal, that part that only wants the “forgive us our debts,” without the “as we forgive our debtors,” that part that wants the “take” and even the “bless,” but not the “break” and “give.”
            This taking, blessing, breaking, and giving constantly happening among God’s people is how the Kingdom of God becomes realized among us.  The Kingdom of God is a communal network of sacrificial sharing funded by Jesus’ own giving of his life to us.  For as Paul says, “If we have died with him in a death like his, we will surely be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
            When Jesus says, “Take up your cross daily and follow me,” he immediately follows it with the promise that “those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”  In the end, Jesus Christ sees and guides us beyond the cross, beyond death, beyond all that would hurt or harm us.

Lose the Baggage.

Luke 9:1-11.
            After the incident with the two women in Capernaum, the older one whom he frees of hemorrhages, and the younger one whom he raises from the dead, Jesus gathers the twelve of his inner circle together.  He then gives them “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.”  I imagine he lays his hands on them and prays over them words indicating the power he is transmitting to them.
            He has come to the milestone in his ministry where one person, even he, cannot do alone all that has to be done.  And the disciples have seen, heard, and learned enough to be entrusted with being Jesus’ representatives.  This is where the disciples become apostles, the word apostle means “one who is sent out.”
            The thing that Jesus sends them out to do is “to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.”  This proclamation of the Kingdom of God is significant because it is Jesus’ way of talking about the new relationship people have with God, and the new relationships they have with each other in community. 
            Now, whenever we hear about the Kingdom of God I think it is important to flush from our minds centuries of misleading ideas about it.  The disciples are not supposed to go out and talk about life after death, which is one reductionistic and false way of thinking about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus does not tell them to go out and get people to confess him as Lord and Savior so they can go to heaven when they die.
            The Kingdom of God is, of course, the core of Jesus’ teaching.  It is the summary of his proclamation and the whole purpose of his ministry.  He talks about it at the most pivotal points in his work, like here at the sending of the apostles.
            And it nearly always refers to the adoption by a living community here on the earth in real time of the principles and relationships that God intends for us, and which characterize God’s time.  The Kingdom of God is at the same time “coming,” and already here.  It is when God’s time and God’s order break into our lives.  
            So the power and authority Jesus gives to the apostles is that of announcing this new community, and healing.  These two activities are very closely related.  The new community is a place in which people find healing in the equality, compassion, freedom, justice, and love that Jesus reveals at the heart of God. 
            The Kingdom of God is a healing community, where people are restored to their original created wholeness; it is a place of forgiveness and release.  Jesus has been talking about it, and enacting it in his miracles, since chapter 4.

            When he sends them out, he gives them explicit instructions about what to take with them.  Basically, they are to carry nothing.  “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money — not even an extra tunic.”  They are to travel ridiculously – we might even say foolishly and irresponsibly – lightly.  They are to be exclusively dependent on God for everything.
            That this is exactly the opposite of the way we travel goes without saying.  We don’t even leave the house without carrying more than this, to say nothing of undertaking a missionary journey.  The apostles were to travel without any baggage… and you may understand that in every sense of the term. 
            Our baggage just gets in the way.  Christians have so much historical, cultural, doctrinal, and ecclesiological baggage, that we are often paralyzed.  People don’t even see us coming; all they see is our baggage.  We spend so much of our time defending, rationalizing, explaining, and cherishing our baggage, that we never get around to proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  We may even think our baggage is the Kingdom of God.
            We carry a staff to help us walk.  But to some people it looks like a weapon… because it has been used that way so frequently.  So Jesus says, no staff.  We carry a bag to hold the things we think we need.  But many warily think we’re going to try and sell them something out of that bag.  No bag, says Jesus.
            We carry some bread, even the holy bread of the eucharist.  But the experience of some is that we keep it for ourselves, having long lists of requirements for people to meet before we will share it.  Don’t bring any bread, says Jesus.  We carry money, and that only separates us from those who have no resources.  They are used to being sucked into crippling indebtedness.  Jesus says not to bring any money.  We carry a change of clothes.  But even this cuts us off from community by making us self-reliant, independent of others.  That may be a value for us.  It is not a value for Jesus.
            We can’t proclaim the Kingdom of God, which is about equality and sharing, if we approach others with all this extra stuff.  Our stuff, our baggage, makes us look superior, especially when we think of it as ours.  That attitude, even if it’s not intentional or conscious, kills evangelism. 
            Jesus says, ditch your stuff.  This is what Jesus himself does when he empties himself of his own equality with God, for heaven’s sake!  He comes into the world with nothing, like everyone else, like all of us.  We don’t emerge from the womb with a whole lot of baggage.  Some, perhaps.  But not much.
            And that’s the way Jesus would have us go out into the world representing him.  Open.  Free.  Unencumbered.  Able to have the love and power of God flow through us unblocked and unhindered.  It is not about us.  It is about what flows through us.

            When the time comes, the apostles depart.  Empty-handed.  Perfectly reliant and dependent on God, and what God provides for them from others.  It must have felt weird.  Didn’t they have at least a little anxiety about where their next meal was going to come from? 
            I guess that when they approach a village, people would see them coming and wonder about these strange baggage-less travelers.  They would start talking to people about Jesus, of whom they had probably heard, and the Kingdom of God, which might be new to them.  Most likely their speeches would be versions of the speeches they heard from the Lord, like the one in Nazareth, based on Isaiah 61.
            They would preach the idea of forming communities of sharing and equality, forgiveness, freedom, acceptance, and healing.  “We’re all pretty poor,” they might say.  “But we can support and share with each other.  We can forgive each other and remit each other’s debts.  We can withdraw our participation in a system that is trying to bleed us dry and turn us against each other.  We can care for one another.  This is what God wants.  This is what the Torah describes.  This is what the prophets proclaimed.  And it’s what our teacher, Jesus, brings to you.”
            And they would heal people who came to them.  They would even cast out evil spirits in Jesus’ name.  Certainly, they performed the kinds of miracles Jesus did.  And, let us also not underestimate the healing qualities of community itself.  Many of our demons, like addictions, compulsions, resentments, phobias, and stress-related maladies can be healed simply by the concern, love, attention, acceptance, forgiveness, and support of others.
            Jesus gives them instructions about some of this.  One house in each town should be their base.  Maybe he wants them to exemplify community in one home to start with, which takes a lot of time and energy.  Moving around from house to house would dissipate that energy.  Maybe later new disciples could extend the movement to other houses in that town.
            I think this mission of the twelve laid the groundwork for much later, when the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection spread from Jerusalem.  There were gatherings of disciples already out there waiting to hear the news.

            It is this mission of the twelve that gets the attention of Herod, the local ruler.  By the time these stories get to him they have become embellished and blown out of proportion.  The great prophet Elijah has come back to life! is what some said, an event that people were expecting as a signal of the end times.  Others said that this was a resurrection of John the Baptizer, whom Herod had beheaded. 
            When Jesus was just one faith-healer, wandering around Galilee, Herod might not have even heard of him.  But now, when the disciples are bringing the Kingdom of God movement to village after village, Herod’s informants get wind of it and tell him.  The idea of the people getting organized in any way is the greatest threat of any kind of tyrant.  If the people stopped participating in their own oppression, it would be all over. 
            The oppressive system feeds on people’s fear, division, work illness, and especially indebtedness.  These are the ways tyrannical regimes maintain their grip.  People who are always trying to make payments, are not people who make any trouble.  People who are sick or possessed, are docile, weak, and compliant.
            But when people are healed, and freed of their demons; when they share with each other so they don’t have to buy or borrow as much, when they are hearing again the story of the Bible as the story of God’s liberation of the people… when they decide to be members of God’s Kingdom, well, that is a danger to Herod’s kingdom.
            Herod recognizes in Jesus the same popularity he saw and dealt with in John.  Herod is a gritty politician.  He knows people don’t come back from the dead.  And he certainly doesn’t hold to any of those superstitions about Elijah… except when it is politically expedient to do so, no doubt.
            Like his father, Herod the Great, who sought to visit the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, he too wants to meet Jesus.  Probably for the same reason: to eliminate this potential threat to his power.  And of course, eventually he will – but that will only last for about three days.

            Eventually, the apostles return to Jesus.  He takes them to a city called Bethsaida, north of the lake, where Jesus’ intention is to have what we might call a de-briefing session where they share their experiences.  The message of the Kingdom of God has now been brought to dozens of towns throughout Galilee, with new cells of Jesus’ followers in many of them.  The seeds are being planted.  The Kingdom of God is actually beginning to take shape on the map.
            The crowds find out where Jesus is and they flock up to Bethsaida as well.  He does not disappoint them.  He preaches to them about the Kingdom of God, this new order of sharing and forgiveness, and he heals the sick.  His action in healing the sick is always a demonstration of his words about the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is about transforming disordered, dysfunctional lives into lives that witness to God’s grace and presence.
            With this story we come to the turning point in Luke’s gospel.  Galilee is veritably aflame with the good news of God’s Kingdom.  People are organizing in the villages.  Jesus is mobbed like a rock star wherever he goes.  People are healed and liberated.  God’s Kingdom is manifest in the welcoming of the outcast and alien, the forgiveness of sinners, the lifting up of women, even the raising of people from the dead!  Herod himself has taken notice.
            The true church is where the Kingdom of God is happening now.  A church that takes the Kingdom of God seriously is busy building a community of healing, equality, liberation, and forgiveness.  A church like that is undermining the foundations of wealth and power.  A church like that worries Herod.
            We need to be that church.  We need to be that church that turns away from the kingdoms of this world and instead proclaims and enacts the Kingdom of God.