Vicar Noah Herren
July 6/7, 2019
“I really should have packed a smaller suitcase.” I remember thinking as I lugged my 50 pound bag upstairs to the train platform. It was the summer of 2016 and I was on a 3-week school trip to Germany. We travelled the country and visited famous sites from Reformation history, it was a Lutheran dream trip. But this was my first extended visit overseas, so I spent a month meticulously researching what to pack and preparing for every contingency. It didn’t take long for me to admit that I was literally weighed down by my need to be prepared.
In today’s reading, Jesus sends seventy people out ahead of him on a mission. Similar to the previous commissioning of the twelve disciples, he gives them specific instructions, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Greet no one on the road.” One translation says, Travel light. There is a sense of urgency and expediency to the task at hand. As modern-day disciples committed to God’s work in the word we begin to imagine what it looks like to travel light. What do we leave behind and what do we carry?
We carry good news. Jesus sends the seventy on an evangelical mission. But “evangelical” is a word that carries a lot of baggage these days, right? It’s a word widely cast to describe Christians who hold conservative values, and much to the chagrin of progressive Christians, seems to be the only version of Christianity we regularly hear about in the media. Evangelical is a word that conjures up images of people handing out tracts…. megaphones on street corners...traveling pairs knocking door-to-door...tent revivals. These don’t sound like things that we do here. And yet, we are a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. So what does this word mean for us?
The Greek root of the word, evangelion (AY-van-gell-ee-uhn), simply means “good news” or “gospel.” So our identification as an evangelical church means that we believe we have something important, good news, to share with the world. We believe that the message of Christ is still relevant today, that there are real needs here that require attention and hope. Jesus provides two phrases for the seventy to declare: “Peace to this house” and “God is near.” There is no salvation formula, no value judgments, no coercion tactics, just words of unity and comfort, just good news.
We carry our vulnerability. Researcher and author Brené Brown says vulnerability is “having the courage to show up, be seen, and be heard when you can't control the outcome.” I wonder how many of you remember an exercise in elementary school called Show and Tell. It felt like such a vulnerable offering, to bring one of your most precious, prized possessions before the class and explain why it was important to you. This is what we are called to do, show our faith through how we live our lives and tell why it is we do what we do. The seventy likewise are sent out “like lambs into the midst of wolves” and yet something remarkable happens. Their vulnerable state allows them to receive hospitality, form mutually beneficial relationships, and ultimately experience powerful change. Lives are healed, the power of God is revealed, and evil is cast down from heaven. That’s all awesome, Jesus says, but the real marvel is that YOU have been transformed. Vulnerability and openness to the Spirit create space for God’s redeeming work in the world.
We carry our identity. In a meeting with colleagues this past week, some of us shared about how holding a Christian identity in progressive circles can be difficult these days. People have their own images and ideas of what a Christian looks like, and it may or may not line up with who we actually are. For those of us in the queer community, revealing yourself as a Christian in certain spaces can feel like another “coming out” process. Whatever our struggles with identity, we know that it is Jesus who has sent us. The waters of baptism not only initiate us and hold us in community, but they are continually carrying us out into mission. Our unique and varied identities are gifts, not hindrances, to this mission.
Being firmly rooted in this baptismal identity is what gives us the courage to carry on when we are rejected. I couldn’t help but hear Taylor Swift’s catchy pop song, “Shake it Off” when Jesus tells the seventy to shake the dust off their feet if a town does not welcome them. Swift’s lyrics capture the importance of maintaining identity in the face of criticism and rejection. “The players gonna play, the haters gonna hate, heartbreakers gonna break, fakers gonna fake, baby, I’m just gonna shake it off.” Truly knowing who we are empowers us to shake off the things that will weigh us down. We shake off the insecurity that we will not be enough, we shake off the fear that we will not have enough, we shake off the bias that excludes people, we shake off preconceived notions of how God can work in our lives.
Today as we gather at the table, we share food for the journey, we equip and affirm one another in our shared vocation. Receiving the bread and wine communicates our need and desire for what Jesus offers us. As we carry our renewed selves into the world, we release our burdens to travel light and share the good news. Amen.