The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Father Chris Harris, Associate Rector
2 Kings 5:1-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
So, just a bit of warning, I am going to be using the “E” word in my homily this morning. So if you are particularly sensitive to 10-letter words, you’ll need to forgive me. But I just don’t see how you can talk about Luke 10 without talking about evangelism.
And have no fear, I’m not going to be sending you out today two by two going door-to-door with little Jesus pamphlets. I’m well aware Episcopalians are famously shy when it comes to the topic. You may have even heard about that legendary study that said that the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 27 years. And while that is very likely apocryphal, I know that some of us still hear that and think, “Twenty-seven years? Oh gosh, that seems just a little pushy to me. That’s a little forward.”
But nevertheless, the gospel today reminds us that like it or not, being Christian means being sent. Being a missionary of the gospel isn’t just something we ought to do more of, it’s fundamental to who we are. As David Bosch and other missiologists have long argued, being sent is intrinsic to Christianity because it’s intrinsic to the very nature and character of God.
Throughout scripture the story of God is not of a god who separates Himself, who lifts Himself up high, far away, who makes Himself hard-to-find. Over and over, the story of scripture is of a God who continually sends himself out into the world, chasing after His people so that He might reveal His love.
From the very beginning, God sends his breath over creation. He sends Himself into the garden to be with us. He sends us companions so that we would not be alone. When we got lost He sends the law and the prophets to call us back. And in the fullness of time, God sends His only son to show us the way. And on Pentecost, God sends His Holy Spirit so that we too might be sent. “As the Father has sent me, now I send you.”
Our post-communion prayer reminds us of this truth each week as we are sent out into the world to love and serve. My favorite version even says, “to do so with gladness and singleness of heart,” echoing the instructions that Jesus gives to the 70 today. Be focused. Be single-minded about it. Don’t get distracted by the people you’re going to meet along the way. And if you experience rejection, don’t get angry. Don’t despair. Shake off the dust and move on.
And be glad. Not for your results. Not for the hearts you’ll change – which will be amazing, by the way – but be glad for the relationship you have with God that propelled you out to begin with.
And so if the question last week was all about what holds us back, I think the question before us today is, “Where are you sent?” And I know when we hear the word, “missionary,” or this idea of being sent, it brings to mind mission trips such as the one that our team recently returned from – to the Dominican Republic. Or even traveling to areas of Pontiac, of Detroit where many of us do not live but where much of our outreach happens. And while it is important to go to the margins, to leave our comfort zones, to go way out beyond our safety nets into the midst of wolves, so to speak, God doesn’t only send us to distant lands.
In fact, we can also be sent to our own backyards. And what’s beautiful about that is you don’t have to wait for a mission trip to come along. You don’t have to fundraise for it. You don’t have to sign-up. You can begin right now. You can begin by seeing yourself as a missionary to whatever corner of your world needs the light of Christ.
And that is good news for the world, by the way. Because the harvest is plentiful. Right here in our community. This very morning as we step out those doors, we’ll be sent into a community of hundreds if not millions of people whose hearts ache to know of God’s love, who get up every morning and labor everyday under the heavy yoke that they are unloved, unwanted, left out, or left behind.
When we go out these doors this very morning, we will be going into a community that may not be very dangerous but where teen suicide rates have doubled. When we go out these doors this morning we will be going into a community that is all by all accounts relatively affluent, but where chronic stress, exhaustive business, depression, anxiety and all that self-medication that follows it are increasingly just everyday life. When we leave here this morning we’ll be going into neighborhoods that are well-manicured and relatively safe but where half of us suffer from loneliness, and the lack of companionship. Yes, even in our own backyard, the harvest is plentiful.
And so God sends all of us not only to the margins of the world but to the mission fields of our very lives, and our own contexts, to the places where we have already pitched our tent because that’s the fertile soil where relationships can be planted, and where the gospel can take root.
Last summer, I did a class where I invited people to reflect on this very question. And one of my favorite stories was of a parishioner who after some prayer and discernment decided that the place where she was sent was the laundry room of her apartment complex. There were no common areas or any place to socialize in the apartment so she noticed that it was in the laundry room though where conversations would happen, where people would get to know each other’s names, they share a little of their story, and where if you listened closely enough, you could hear the spirit of God speaking through their longings. She was a single mom with kids and so she was down there a lot. And so she decided that was her mission field.
And like the 70 today, she too left her baggage behind. She didn’t have an agenda. Her purpose wasn’t to get them to come to church. She would simply say a prayer before entering and ask God to open her up to whoever she would encounter, to be an encouraging and supportive presence to whomever she met, and be open to what the Spirit might be calling her to do next. Perhaps a coffee date. Perhaps an invitation to pray with a stranger, whatever. But by seeing herself as sent, she turned what is perhaps the most ordinary of places into the most extraordinary of encounters.
Where might God be sending you? Could you imagine being a missionary to places where you hang-out? To the gym where you exercise? To the regulars at the coffee house where I write these sermons? To your co-workers at the office?
A friend of mine decided that he had been sent to the dealership where he worked as a salesman. And that rather than just another day at the office he would begin each morning imagining his place of work in the same way as a chaplain might look at a hospital. Each week, he’d make the rounds, checking in with his co-workers, asking about their lives, listening to their stories. He became intentional about practicing empathy. Not trying to solve their problems, or offer advice – again, he too traveled lightly – but to just help people to feel heard, to be seen.
In fact, he got so good at it that the management began to notice. And rather than reprimand him, they saw the effect he was having on morale. And the president of the company who happened to be Christian decided, “You know, maybe you need to be our Corporate Chaplain. Maybe this is what you need to do here at this company. You’re not that great of a salesman.” But he did and they ended up sending him not just to that dealership but to the four others in their network.
My husband Joe is a hairstylist, in case you haven’t noticed. And I’ve often joked that even back in the days when he was doing hair for celebrities in Hollywood – the famous folks who were all so guarded and self-conscious about their self-image – I always joked that, “You know, Joe, you realize you have already heard way more confessions than I think I will ever hear as a priest.”
You know, there’s just something about the stylist, right? You know what I’m talking about. I don’t know, maybe it’s the way they run their fingers through your hair. You lean back and they massage your scalp with shampoo. There’s a kind of intimacy that happens, a kind of trust that forms. And next thing you know, you’re sharing your dark secrets with a total stranger, the stuff that you haven’t even told your therapist yet.
But over time, Joe reflected on this and began to see, “Maybe my work is actually a ministry. Maybe I’m not just here to help people look as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside, but maybe I need to see myself as sent to the people who come to my salon where I can practice holy listening, where I can create safe, non-judgmental space, and a compassionate ear for anyone who needs it.”
When we open our holy imaginations we will discover that God does send us. And even if we can’t move, God can send us. I was visiting someone in the hospital not that long ago, and she was in truly rough shape. I had come to pray and anoint her but she ended up blessing me when she shared an epiphany that she had as she laid there.
Bedridden, as uncomfortable as you can imagine, she noticed the nurses coming and going, and she saw how stressed and busy so many of them appeared. And she began to imagine what their day might be like, what pressures might they be facing – not just at work but at home! A lot of them were young enough that they probably had young children at home. And she thought back to her own days as a working mom, trying to teach her boys to read, trying to get them off to childcare, all while juggling a career, and doing everything she could to get dinner on the table.
She decided that despite her condition she felt sent to them, and that she would bring God’s peace somehow to them. She would offer God’s love, God’s humor to whomever came through her door. She would complement them, encourage them, ask them how they were doing. She would remember their names. She would use whatever she had and whatever time she had left to care for those caregivers.
As we go out these doors this morning into a community that needs the good news, may we also travel lightly, leave the brochures behind, amen. But let us also leave behind our preconceptions, leave behind our ideas about what people need and who they are. May we instead bring a posture of openness, of holy listening so that we might hear what the spirit of God is already doing. And may we have the courage to join with it, to fan its flames, and then be ready to be sent again wherever that might lead us. As you go out these doors this morning, where might you be sent?