First Congregational Church
July 7, 2019
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:1-11 & Galatians 6:1-10
“To Give or Not to Give Is Not the Question”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Since I’m guessing there at least a couple of other folks among us today, who have had a crazy week, I thought I’d avoid beginning the sermon with a brain teaser. I mean, when you’re tired, who wants to contemplate the idea of a package of poison - that has an expiration date? Because then you’d have to wonder, if it’s past the expiration date, does it mean that it’s less poisonous or more poisonous.
Even though 11:00 a.m. is rather late in the morning, when one has been with relatives and friends for days on end, it somehow still seems too early to contemplate the thought of whether it is the s or the c that is silent in the word scent.
For those without air conditioning at home and needing to do things like walking dogs or gardening or other such activities this past week, perhaps the cooler air this morning and the sitting still for a couple moments is more powerful than contemplating the idea that every time you clean something, you make something else dirty, and I want to be sensitive to that. Instead of a dazzlingly clever introduction, we’ll get right to setting the stage for the scripture passages.
Prior to the passage from Luke, Jesus had been teaching and healing, feeding thousands with a little basket of food, prophesying, transfiguring, had sent out the twelve disciples to heal diseases and demons, and just last week, challenged the determination of those who would follow him.
The passage from Galatians is from the final chapter of a letter Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia around 40 - 50 AD, churches that were struggling with how to follow this Christ that Paul had told them about. Some of those Galatians were rather black and white in terms of living by the letter of the law, and other Galatians were more grey in terms of living by the heart of the law.
Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
Doing Good to All
6 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Thank you, Reagan and Ryan. I’ve “heard” that people who get taken with details are really intelligent. So I felt totally exonerated when for whatever reason my brain took off on the number 72. Why did Jesus send out 72 missionaries. Why not 73 or 71?
It was said to be the number of the nations of the world. Using that theory for the number isn’t very sensical; long distance communication was non-existent and no one had circumnavigated the world, so who could know how many nations there were. 72 was the number of those who sat on the supreme council of the Jewish people, known as the Sanhedrin, which probably came from the 72 elders chosen to help Moses with the task of leading and directing the people in the wilderness. So now you can enlighten your friends and family with a stunning discussion of the spiritual significance of the 72 sent out by Jesus highlighted in the morning gospel.
I don’t know about anyone else, but in some ways, the passage from Luke seems to carry a hint of a condensed version of how adults teach children to act and behave with company and strangers At least that was sort of how I recall it, flavored with my mother’s voice. Be polite. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If you don’t like what you are served, too bad. Get over it! These days we know that we need to be aware of allergies that can seriously incapacitate people. But - from those days of growing up - somehow with the sound of a parent’s voice - we are reminded that it is always better be polite.
Of course, there is more to Luke’s passage. The part about the harvest being plentiful and the workers few became more real in the First Congregational Church’s’ version this last week: the hot dogs were plentiful and the buns were few. It was actually quite a human reason for that happening, and isn’t that what life is really about anyway - being human and sometimes not being at our best - in either welcoming people among us or staying in places that are not receptive of our friendship?
Sometimes we push ourselves for betterment and excellence - which are really good goals. Doing our best, setting goals, earning a living and doing the best with what we’re given are great intentions, but they don’t tell all that much about us. They are definitely earthly aims, but even earthly aims of that sort aren’t the real bottom line in life.
Both the writer of Luke and Paul tell us that blessing people - with peace, and healing, sharing burdens and doing good - those are the things that bring in the greatest harvest. Those are the things that become life-giving and sustaining - both in this world and the one to come.
Last Sunday, the CBS Sunday Morning program put up an article that might have drifted right past my ears on most other viewings. It was an article on a little, deaf, 6 year old girl named Morey Belanger, and since I had just performed the wedding for a deaf couple that same weekend, well, it surely must be a God-thing, because how do such unique ways of dealing with life come together that way? Okay, way more than we think, but still.
For the wedding, I’d learned how to sign, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord life up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” I think I learned how to sign “It is my pleasure to introduce Luke and Amanda Boylan. Luke, you may kiss your bride.” I was so proud of myself - and sort of still am.
And then I saw the article about little Morey. Actually, it wasn’t so much about her as her kindergarten classmates. Without demand from school officials or her parents or using a sign-language curriculum, the kids in her class started learning sign-language. Host Steve Hartman referred to it as bottom-up kindness - learning how to sign and communicate with her to make her feel like she belonged.
One wise student of maybe 12 described this little girl as a gift basket of flowers and chocolate - just a little bundle of joy. Who wouldn’t want to make friends with a kid like that? And who wouldn’t want to learn how to communicate with such a delight? Her parents know that their daughter may need more services down the road, but they are aware that she has all that she needs right where she is - a loving community, accepting her for how she is - and in so doing, little Morey will be successful.
And isn’t that a big part of what Jesus is saying - and what Paul is saying? There are so many people that need our acceptance of how they are and who they are and sometimes they even bring themselves to church - sometimes even week after week. Whether it is this church, another church, a place of employment, a circle of friends, whoever it may be, there are so many people in need of someone to listen to them (even if the stories have been told a billion times before) and someone to speak to them (even if it is in our gestures and acknowledgments.
Jesus sent out missionaries, but Paul reminds us - in the reference to the harvest - that we have opportunities even in the most common event of eating together - to give precious gifts of acceptance and belonging - regardless of how tired or hot or crazy our life has been.
For some people, knowing that God gives us purpose when we are “sent” to heal and mend is deeply meaningful. For other people, knowing that God can work through us in our favorite places and comforts is a relief. For all of us, giving of our selves is part of what God has seen in us and for us - regardless of how old or young, how hot or tired or crazed or any other reason we can dream up. To give the gift of ‘good’ to people around us is not a question, but a response to the God who has blessed us and graced us and called us to see the gift we have in each other. So shall we reinforce our get-up-and-go as we pray?
Loving and Blessing God, thank you for those times when someone has seen past our grumpiness or apathy or disinterest, to see our need of receiving a good word or a kind gesture. Forgive us when we have been gruff or dismissive or obtuse to those who are in need of a healing moment of listening or caring. Enable us to serve you and our communities in ways that reach and make sense to those who hear differently than we do. More than anything, God, thank you for being a God of opportunity and redemption and salvation. For all you are, have been and ever will be, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.