Monday, July 5, 2010

sermon: Marching Orders 7/4/2010

Luke 10:1-11,16-20
Marching Orders
By Rich Gamble

The Fourth of July was a date that our founding fathers were quite proud of, and with good reason. They had managed to make a radically new idea into reality through the adoption of a document. A new nation was born. One dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal.

There is much to be proud of as an American. We enjoy many freedoms. We enjoy some of the blessings of living in a wealthy nation. We live in a land blessed with great physical beauty.

But as Christians we are called to take off the rose colored glasses and look at our nation, indeed we are called to look at nationalism itself, and ask the hard questions about whether our nation is aligned with the will of God.

In today’s Gospel account Jesus sends out his army to do battle with Satan. Before they go, Jesus gives them their marching orders. It is important for us to closely examine these directions because our faith tells us that actions define the meaning of the message Jesus has for the world. How these representatives of God act, reflects the words they proclaim.

First thing Jesus does is send others out to do what he has done. Jesus does the work and then calls others to do likewise. We can contrast this with our past two president who have sent our young people into war, something they avoided.
Next Jesus sends the followers out two by two. Jesus is teaching the disciples that the message is a communal one. The followers are called to work together. The message is not in the hands of one person but in the hands of the community. Jesus is not creating a cult of personality, though later Christians try to make the faith into just that.

Jesus says, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” That is how Jesus sends his troops into battle with the evil empire. Unarmed. No helicopter gunships waiting in the wings. No shock and awe. Lambs generally don’t fair to well when they go forth to the land of wolves. But the wolves are not in any danger of harm. Harm is a distinct possibility for the followers of Jesus, but retaliatory defense is not an option. The war against Satan or the Domination System is a war fought without any of the stuff of a modern army.

Our Peace Corps is much closer to the image of Jesus’ army than the US military. If Jesus were to take on Saddam that is how he would do it. We know this because Pontius Pilate was the Saddam of his day and Jesus and his followers did take him and the whole Roman Empire on. And they died. But they did not kill. And in the end the Roman Empire was no more but the people of Christ lived on.

Jesus sends these unarmed soldiers of truth out into the world without provisions. In warfare, lines of supply are of utmost importance. It is said that an army travels on its stomach, in other words, without food the army does not move. But Jesus sends his people out to combat the Domination System with direct orders not carry anything, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” These followers of Jesus are sent into various communities in small numbers and in need of the compassionate assistance of the people of those communities.

Jesus instructs his soldiers to enter each house proclaiming peace. He instructs them not to shop around for the best situation but whatever house first takes them in, that is where they are to stay, accepting whatever level of hospitality is initially offered. Imagine if our soldiers were sent to Iraq or Afghanistan utterly dependent upon the generosity of the people who live there. Imagine if they were instructed to gratefully accept and be utterly dependent upon, whatever was offered them. How would that change the way the soldiers treat the people of these nations? If the soldiers understood at the most basic level the hardships of the people and shared those hardships, how would that change the way the people there treated by them?

And if the people don’t want to offer hospitality, Jesus instructs the troops to leave. How’s that for an invasion? If the people don’t want you there, if they offer you no hospitality, then just leave. Don’t curse them, don’t bomb them, simply let them know that they lost a precious opportunity to experience the Realm of God.
This is how Jesus sent out his troops to do battle with the enemy of God: in twos, unarmed, unsupplied, proclaiming peace, utterly dependent on the hospitality of others. This is how the Realm of God is established. The enemy to be fought is not flesh and blood but rather a false perception of reality, a spirituality contrary to that of God. People caught up in this false system of thought and perception are not to be harmed and forced to accept the right idea, they are to be converted through the application of compassion and the embodiment of truth.

If we were to apply this approach to our military it is doubtful that our nation would exist as we now know it. Nations are made up of arbitrary lines on a map, those inside the lines are friends and those outside the lines are foreigners. The whole of almost every nation’s national policy is to ensure that the people inside the lines fare better than those outside the lines; and hence, the lines usually have to be violently defended.

In the ministry of Jesus we see no borders, no lines to defend, no in-group who expects a better life than anyone else. The approach of Jesus did not, could not, would not create a nation. It can only convert people to a way of understanding the world through the insight of faith in a God of love.

The army of Jesus has no arms, no flag, no lines of supply, no overwhelming numbers. As the army of Rome sought to be invulnerable, so the army of Christ actively pursued vulnerability. As the army of Rome threatened violence unless their will was obeyed, so the army of Christ proclaimed peace and sought to heal.
As people of Christ we have to admit that our nation acts more like Rome that Christ. Our army uses force and violence. Most people in this nation would agree that a nation needs an army to ensure its existence, that the vulnerability practiced by the followers of Jesus, will not defend the borders of a nation and therefore is an impractical ideal.

And that is the point. Jesus shows us in this passage, what a true liberation movement should look like. If such an army is incongruous with our idea of nation, then perhaps, it is our idea of nation that should be shelved rather than Jesus’ ideas. Borders create nations, nations create violent armies, violent armies kill people to ensure the safety and prosperity of nation over nation. Jesus offers us a vision of a world without borders, without violent armies, without killing. Just as Jesus’ idea of how an army should operate is incongruous in the world of nations so our idea of a violent army is incongruous with the Realm of God Jesus proclaimed.
And so, on this national holiday, celebrating the creation of our nation, our faith calls on us to open our hearts and minds to something larger than that held within national boundaries. Our founding fathers proclaimed and established some noble ideals, but from the birth of our nation we have been dependent upon violence, we have been subjects of the Domination System. We have many things to be proud of as Americans, and many things of which we should be ashamed, but the ultimate point of this Gospel passage on this day is that we are called to a higher loyalty. We are called to tear down barriers between people. We are called to pound our swords into plowshares. We are called to extend peace through vulnerability. We are called to enlist into the cause of Christ and to understand that such an ultimate pledge of allegiance separates us fundamentally from the cause of Caesar, or any current political leader.

We are called to pledge our wealth and even our lives to extend the promise of peace, and the love of God. The age of kingdoms has passed, the time of nations is fading, the rise of corporate power is visible but the Realm of God remains wherever we awaken to the truth and follow the call to embody God’s love.

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