Breaking Boundaries

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Our “summer travels with Jesus” continue this week with Jesus selecting 70 of his followers for “leadership training.”  The Kingdom of God is too big a project for one person and many more laborers are needed. Jesus is sending them out to the communities within reach of his journey’s path, and as they are released to do their work Jesus rehearses with them (and us) the essential truths of his message and work:

  • God’s servants will always be vulnerable in this world. This we embrace, because our vulnerability testifies to the weak and powerless that God’s strength to endure is greater than the principalities of this world.

  • God’s servants are sent to give out the good news, not take from others. Whenever we encounter people who are afraid of losing their possessions, we are careful to leave behind even the dust from between their floorboards…so it will always be said that the gospel is offered “freely, and without price.”

  • God’s servants rely on the hospitality of others at all times. We must always remember who were the first to welcome and receive our message. Ours is not to climb the social ladders of fame and notoriety, but to raise up the social status of our very first friends in every place we go.

     Powerless, vulnerable, and armed with nothing but Christ’s blessing, the 70 went out, and returned with great joy as they witnessed the power of God unfolding before them. Jesus reminded them in their joy that having God’s power in this world is not the purpose of God’s Kingdom, only a means to the true end: by participating in God’s work on earth, their names are forever written in heaven!

Unfettered, Undistracted, Undeterred

Luke 9:51-62

Traveling together brings a certain focus to community life.  Journeying together, fellow travelers find the old, comfortable and familiar giving way to new sights, different routines, strange faces and stranger customs. Amidst the changing surroundings and experiences, the fellow pilgrims often find themselves restating values, reaffirming core beliefs, and testing the boundaries of their community life.

So it was for Jesus and his disciples as they left the comfortable surrounds of Galilee in the north. Jesus had no sooner “set his face toward Jerusalem” than the ensuing journey brought he and his disciples face to face with people from across the cultural spectrum.  Some were hostile from the outset, while others volunteered their commitment to join Jesus, so long as he allowed them to set the terms.  Still others were recruited by Jesus, but had matters in their life that took higher priority than Jesus’ call.

Each new encounter brought different reactions from the disciples and new opportunities for Jesus to teach them the nature of their work and their community. In the end, Jesus would show them the true nature of his mission—a mission which is unfettered, undistracted, and undeterred but the cultural diversity encountered along the way.

What Happened in the Country of the Garasenes

Luke 8:26-39

In today’s worship we launch a new sermon series: “Summer Travels With Jesus.”  When Jesus began his public ministry, it was localized in the northern region known as Galilee. As word spread about the remarkable son of Joseph and Mary—now an itinerant teacher—crowds of the curious and suspicious alike flocked to him. Before long, it was time to take his message of repentance and belief in the gospel out to the rest of the world…starting in Jerusalem.  This summer we will hear stories and teaching from Jesus’ remarkable journey south to Jerusalem and the temple.  

But first there is a kind of “warm up” trip across across the Sea of Galilee. Coming to the region of the Gerasenes—a mostly gentile area—Jesus encounters a wild man who is possessed by demons. The townsfolk have left the man alone, and will have nothing to do with him, but Jesus brings him healing and a new hope. The man’s fellow citizens are upset and frightened, and no one can find fault with the man when he wants to get in the boat with Jesus and his disciples and leave his fellow citizens far behind.

But Jesus tells the man he must stay and proclaim the goodness of God. Jesus has done more than remove the man’s negative traits; he has empowered him for an important mission. From that day onward, every day the man walked about among his countrymen was a testimony and witness to the saving power of God, and a reminder that the Kingdom of God had come near.

Help Has Arrived

John 14:8-17, 25-27

From the dawn of time God was being revealed through creation (Psalm 19:1), through the scriptures (Psalm 1), through covenants (Genesis 9 and 17) and through generations of seers, sages, and prophets.

Such is the love of God that ultimately Jesus was sent to show the way to knowing God more fully—by offering forgiveness of sins and restoring our souls to righteousness.  So completely did Jesus reveal the heart of God that he was able to tell his disciples “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

Even so, there was a greater gift to be given to Jesus’ followers than knowing Jesus personally and glimpsing God through him.  Jesus promised that his followers would be clothed with “power from on high” through the Holy Spirit…so that his church can have oneness with God as Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are one.

The Holy Spirit remains a mystery for many, in that we only know its presence spiritually.  The Holy Spirit is called by many names: counselor, advocate, helper, power. The Holy Spirit is likewise pictured in many symbols: fire, wind, water…even a dove.

All of these words and symbols are the ways in which God’s people try to describe the indescribable, and give meaning to a mystery to wonderful for words. God’s Spirit may be know by many names—but the point for his faithful is that God is known.

Luke 24:44-53

There was a brief moment in time, between the earthly ministry of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, when every angel in heaven must have held its breath.  Jesus suddenly stood among his disciples, in yet another Easter appearance, to give them instruction, and a commission, and a promise.  And then he led them out to Bethany, were he blessed them and withdrew from them, being “carried up to heaven.”

How would the disciples respond? Jesus’ promise to them came with an instruction: “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Would they be able to bide the time? Would they long for their former lives in Galilee? Would they spend so much time looking for signs that they neglected their more basic needs, and the needs of others?

Luke tells us they believed—as Simeon and Anna did in Jerusalem long before—that God was on the move, and something marvelous was about to happen.  And so they went to the city in great joy, worshipped God, and waited for the promised gift with anticipation.  The angels can exhale, for disciples are on board, and the newborn church will be filled with power forevermore.

Still to Come: The Fullness of God's Plan

In today’s scripture lesson we have the start of John’s ultimate depiction of what is still to come. First there was a great and cataclysmic battle engaging rulers of this world and the spiritual powers. This was followed closely by the fall of the Great City, Babylon. And now, in the final scene of John’s vision comes the appearance of a new heaven and new earth, and a Heavenly City—the new Jerusalem—coming down out of heaven from God.  Of course no human imagination can truly perceive these things, nor can any human language adequately express them. Nonetheless, the author uses his vivid imagery as metaphors to point our hearts in the direction of God.

For in the end, God is what remains. God’s own self becomes our tabernacle or dwelling place. God is not depicted as a furnishing of heaven, or as a separate entity who brings about an end.  For John of Patmos, God is the end and completion of all. We are tempted at times to ask “when the world in which we live has been been fully, rightly judged by God, what will be left? What can withstand? What shall remain? What will be different and what will we recognize?” John’s clear and dramatic response is to say, simply, “in the end…God.”

This week we continue our Eastertide sermon series, “Still to Come.”  Drawing on images from the Book of Revelation, this series invites the church to rise above its present day challenges and circumstances, and live as citizens of heaven, embracing God’s final vision of justice and righteousness.

Still to Come: The Triumphant Church

Revelation 7:9-17

The author of Revelation gives us another picture of worship in Chapter 7, and while the setting is the heavenly throne-room of God, the context for this worship entails all that the church on earth has to endure. For we see standing before the throne a vast multitude—far more than can be counted—from every tribe and nation on earth. They have come through a severe ordeal, and now the ordeal is over and they are singing the song of their salvation.

“Salvation,” they cry, “belongs to God and to the Lamb!” They understand that while they walked in the midst of struggles, persecution, trials, temptations, and daily challenges to the Christian way, their very faith and salvation hung in the balance. None could have made it through, except that God’s grace brought them strength to endure. To their robust praise of the God who saves them, the angels themselves can respond, “Amen!” And so all of heaven and earth join at last to sing the song of salvation.

The picture we see is not of a church whose courage and determination won them the right to share in the victory of Christ.  What we see instead is a church who, because they already share communion in Christ, became determined and brave. By grace alone the church on earth has become the church triumphant.

This week we continue our Eastertide sermon series, “Still to Come.”  Drawing on images from the Book of Revelation, this series invites the church to rise above its present day challenges and circumstances, and live as citizens of heaven, embracing God’s final vision of justice and righteousness.