The Kingdom of God has come near.

Once again, Scripture offers us a puzzle, presented by an interpreter of Jesus’ life.

The author of Luke’s gospel – fully aware of the dangers of this new expression of faith,

and fully immersed in the life of this faith community –

knows that there are battle lines being drawn.

Who is right?  Who is faithful? And what penalties for being wrong…

We need to be aware of the consequences of unbelief,

(and consequences are a great way of enforcing obedience)

and so there are terrible things predicted for those who fail to agree with the accepted version of the truth –

but the words of Jesus allow that this unbelief has little effect on the progress of the kingdom.

 

Hospitable or not – believing or not –

the Kingdom has come near; and that is both challenge and comfort for us.

 

How do we imagine the kingdom coming?

All lights and majesty – a grand end at the end of all things;

a prelude to a glorious, eternal future; a promise for only the elect?

 

What does this promise look like as we joyfully make our way into our communities

as witnesses to the love of God in Jesus Christ…

 

Wait; do we really do that?  Is that what we represent?

The church is a gathering place, isn’t it?

A place where like-minded people

can escape the harsh realities that badger and burden us…

Well, here is the truth told in love:

Whether or not you think that is your Christian duty,

a replay of this “trial by fire” for disciples-in-training takes place every Sunday,

as part of the blessing that I offer at the end of a service.

 

The commissioning, it is called –

though the words may seem too familiar, or sound like some charm

designed to ward off trouble until we next gather in the relative safety and comfort of worship –

but what I usually say is something like this:

Go into the world, to serve God with love, wherever you are led…

 

Not a charm, but a command, if you can imagine –

directions for living as disciples of Jesus

that leave out the harsh realities of Jesus commissioning of these 70 (or 72) souls.

 

We don’t need (or want) to be reminded of the difficulties of life –

the trials, the troubles, or the likelihood that our example will be ignored and our faith belittled –

each comes to worship with their own burdens,

their own expectations and unique ideas about what happens here –

and according to my call as your minister, and our call as the body of Christ,

we lay them aside  and worship so that we might be brave enough and strong enough

to pick them up again.

 

We may take as our first duty to worship God and enjoy God forever –

but the expectation that comes with that pledge  is that we will share the joy that we have discovered:

 

Jesus sent his followers out in joyful expectation;  the judgement is editorial.

They would find hospitality.

They would (and did) relieve the burdens from those who were weary of carrying them.

They would encounter evil and overcome it –

and Satan would fall like lightning when those moments of triumph came.

Even those who reject the messengers are given the same message:

“Know that the Kingdom of God has come near to you.”

 

This is the message of the gospel every time,

though most of the time, we are looking for something else.

This is the failure of the church as an organization,

rather than the fault of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have failed, in the last generation, to instil wonder and joy and expectation in our communities,

and we have forgotten how to exhibit these things in ourselves.

The public has pronounced their judgement on the church –

they do so by their absence – and this judgement should steer us back

to our real purpose as the body of Christ,  the children of God,

the one church catholic, apostolic and holy.

 

The purpose of the church is to draw attention to the reality of God in the midst of all that is.

So Jesus sends out his friends to do just that – and apart from the mini-rant

about the cities for whom Luke’s gospel has no mercy, the plan is simple;

Tell the story of God’s presence.

Live lives that reflect and reveal the reality of God

who is loving, concerned, and engaged in the world’s business.

 

Not everyone will listen – no matter; shake the dust off your feet and move on.

Live out the truth that you have encountered in me and with me, says Jesus.

Some will hear, and be hospitable, and interested in what this means in their lives,

but not until you can demonstrate that it means something to you.

 

It remains our call – our joyful duty –

and though the Kingdom comes, whether we are faithful or fearful,

the future of the faith depends on it.

For a world that has no regard for the glory of God is a dull and dangerous world.

A people unaccustomed to giving and receiving hospitality, is a poor excuse for a community.

And a church that waits in solemn silence for the world to discover what the gospel has to say

is never the church.

 

So go out in pairs – take a trusted companion;

someone who can remind you that you are not alone in your faith,

nor are you the only person to have been touched by the wondrous love of God.

 

Go together where you wouldn’t dare to go alone –

Stick together, so your audience might see your witness

as something other than the ravings of a single lunatic –

and go in love, to serve God wherever you may be led.

 

Only then will the world know that Christ is truly risen, for it is in our witness,

poor and hesitant though it is, that the word is once again made flesh –

and the kingdom of God comes near.

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