Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
Proclaiming the kingdom
July 7, 2013 The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Roy W. Howard
As many of you know, a couple of weeks ago, a group of us traveled to Eastern Kentucky to serve with The Appalachia Service Project. There were twelve of us, a nice biblical number, eight students and four adults all hoping to be followers of Jesus. On the Sunday prior to our mission, you raised your hands over us in prayer, commissioning us and sending us forth to do the work of God with joy, with faith and with courage. All of that probably felt pretty ordinary to you; some of you have participated in such commissioning many times before. Yet, I am persuaded that wrapped within this ordinary commissioning of ordinary people to do ordinary is the extraordinary way that God carries on in this world. Our little band of twelve disciples headed off to one of the poorest regions of our country to love our neighbors by getting to know them more closely, offering encouragement with our words and helping them with our hands to have a bit more comfort in their homes. One we arrived at our home for the week in a former elementary school, now Head Start program, we were joined by four three other congregations swelling our numbers to 70, coincidentally another nice biblical number. Laying our air mattresses carefully on the floor, uncomfortably close to each other, men in one room, women in another, wondering, if not worrying, who the snorers or the sleep walkers would be, the mission began again with prayer and singing. Not so much prayers for us, although we were certainly included, but prayers for the families whose homes we would soon visit and offer aid of one sort or another.
The widower Danny who still stares in sorrow at the loss of his wife and finds it difficult to get on with anything, yet slowly comes out of his turtle shell to offer cold water to his new found friends working on his home. He ventures to join them in a lunchtime devotional conversation and tells them slowly of his own church just up the lane. Soon he will have better lighting in his home and vinyl siding. One might easily miss the extraordinary work of God clothed in this encounter with a few ordinary high school students way out of their comfort zones, being disciples of Jesus without noticing it. Such tiny acts of kindness in word and in concrete deeds of compassion. Can this really be the way of God in the world? Is this how the followers of Jesus go about proclaiming the kingdom of God – practicing kindness, doing mercy, loving their neighbors, offering them peace, and praying for them?
This all reminds me of that wonderful line from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This is a simple description of faith.
Go to the towns, said Jesus, enter the homes with a greeting of peace. Offer them the good news and say to them that God has come near. That is enough. If it is not received, then move on to the next.
One has the image of bands of Jesus’ followers in the world moving among our neighbors, offering peace to every home. The reception of such peace is not really in the control of the givers of peace. Our only task is to offer the peace, proclaim the good news and carry on the work of proclaiming good news with our words and our deeds.
Not far from Danny live Jim and Sue. They are older now and Jim is confined to oxygen, spending much of his days seated on the couch in the worn out trailer that is home and which we worked on to make less drafty. New siding will reduce their electric bills which they can’t afford. He’s had a triple bypass, his lungs barely work having spent a good portion of his life in coal mine. Their prescription bill is nearly $600 a month and without any jobs, they teeter on the edge every day. Sue helps him at home and they both enjoy their young granddaughter Mckailah who visits every day. Their daughter was murdered a few years back, caught up in the horrible siege of drugs that has descended upon their area. Their son, Mckailah’s dad, shot himself. Jim told us all these things as we sat in this living room, sharing our lives with each other. We sat in silence as he described how his own faith in God’s provisions had sustained him and his wife. “The Lord has been good to me,” he insisted, “he loves us, despite what we do to each other.” Wide-eyed we wondered who was ministering to whom in this adventure of service. The answer became clearer when on the last day, Sue surprised us with a full table spread before us for lunch. Baked chicken, fresh green beans with new potatoes, tomatoes, coleslaw, cantaloupe and homemade cornbread. A feast for us that might as well have been the feast of Holy Communion, because in fact it was a holy communion in that tiny living room with our plates on our laps, our bodies sore and our hearts full of grace undeserved and unexpected.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
And so it is that the followers of Jesus continue to proclaim the good news of the gospel from in this town – offering peace, healing the sick and bearing witness to God’s love in word and in deed.