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

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. 

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