The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s084g09 St Luke 25/10/09
'enter a town .. eat .. and .. cure the sick' Luke 10.8,9
In my experience in the health system, 'health' equals 'integration into the community'. While people who are still unwell are discharged from hospital, no one who is well stays in hospital.
Unfortunately the church has traditionally separated itself from the world and the flesh. We renounce these things at baptism. Here at the foundation sacrament of our faith we have immediately put before us the conundrum of a saviour crucified for associating with the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners of the world, and baptism most assuredly incorporating us into that death and resurrection yet we are bidden to renounce association it seems precisely with those things that Jesus was most conspicuous in his association. And here he commands his disciples to go out and visit, mix freely and have table fellowship with all.
Clearly some explanation is needed here and the implications of the plain and **simple** words of the baptismal promises are in fact not at all clear.
Of course if we view the church as an alternative society in opposition to the world which is inherently evil then naturally we have no option but to separate ourselves from it. However this is an identical world view to those who had Jesus killed. If Jesus preached renunciation from the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners then they would have made Jesus high priest.
The sad thing is that while people get well when they are in hospital, they often get unwell when they return to the community. The offender released from gaol often re-offends because he or she has to return to the same situation of life which forced their offending in the first place. The reformed alcoholic returns to his friends and family who all drink as they did before. So it is not just individuals who need healing, but the community at large.
The traditional church that sees itself as separate from society has nothing to offer that society. In seeing themselves as better than others and critical of others it maintains an aloofness. Essentially it doesn't care about others. Of course even within the community of the church, there is little love lost as the paradigm of competitiveness infects the body within as much as relationships outside. One doesn't have to look any further than our Anglican communion to see wrangling on who is right and who is wrong over the issue of human sexuality.
Jesus has a vision not just for health for his followers, but for the whole of society, and his disciples are sent away from slavishly adoring Jesus and what he said and did, and into that community. And they are sent into the community, because it is incarnation that brings health - not separateness. In the final chapter of the book of Revelation we are told that: 'On either side of the river (of life) is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.' (Rev 22.2)
Jesus instructions to the disciples were to go and be incarnated into the community. This is the force of the words to 'eat' what is set before you. It was more important that they were to accept what was offered - than to make sure they entered the houses of only the rich or the worthy! And they were to go with no other instructions. They were not to be gurus they were to be simply ordinary people pilgrims on the journey of life along with everyone else. They were not to put on airs of spiritual expertise or abject poverty. And when we relate to all people as equals, as companion pilgrims on the journey of life, then indeed the kingdom of God has come near those with whom we interact and near to us as well.
I have been thinking that sometimes the church might be compared to a chess club. The members meet together to hone their skills and strategies by their jousting. For those not interested in chess it is all unintelligible gobbledegook. Supposing the number of members of the chess club was declining and they decided to have a membership drive. A member of this club takes it into his or her head to try to convert someone else to love chess, so off they would go with their chess set under his or her arm. They visit the other person but visiting without the board and chess pieces would be an exercise in futility. Their attention, entirely appropriately, is on the board and the pieces, the rules and the tactics.
But Jesus tells his followers to go out without anything, even the basics, no purse, no bag, no sandals. The focus was to be on those they visit, not on articles of religion or belief, not on the rules of life or the tactics to succeed. For the game of chess is essentially competitive and so often life is the same. But Jesus calls us into an existence that is co-operative, not competitive. The message is the love of God for others.
And finally I note that the disciples were to say to the inhabitants: 'The kingdom of God has come near you.' At the beginning of the passage we are told that the Lord sent these seventy 'on ahead of him in pairs'. If Jesus was referring to his coming visit, the appropriate thing to get them to say was: 'The kingdom of God will be coming near you.' This grammatical construction is surely possible in Greek. No, the kingdom has come near people in the incarnation of the disciples into their community. They were not to look for the kingdom when Jesus visited later, they were to see the kingdom in the visit of his disciples! So too in our day as we go at Jesus' command and be incarnated into society, we too bring the kingdom near to one and to all, and individuals and society may indeed find lasting healing.
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