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No Thanks

“No Thanks!” a message by Dr. Bruce Havens Coral Isles Church November 14, 2021 Luke 10:1-9 10After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

So we are coming up on Thanksgiving, but before we talk about everything we are thankful for, I want to pause. I want to discuss things to which I would say, “no thanks.” Now, my mother was a good, proper Virginian. She raised me to be proper. She taught me to use proper English. [ Notice that I said, “to which” just now. I did not end with a dangling participle or whatever ending a sentence with the word “to” qualifies as. Let me consult my Language Arts expert here a moment. Excuse me. ((has a sotto voce conversation with Tammy. )). It is a? So, yes, I was speaking properly. My mother taught me to say, “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Ma’am,” and I say, “thank you,” any chance I get.

When someone offers me something I rarely say, “No thanks.” Even if I don’t really want it I usually say thank you and take what is offered so as not to offend the one offering it. But there are times you just shouldn’t accept things – whether it is an invitation, or an offer – even at the risk of offending the one offering it.

So that is why I have to confess that, if Jesus asked me to follow the job description for discipleship he offered to those first 70 of his followers, that job description we read just a few minutes ago, I would urge you to join me in saying, “No thanks!” You might explain, as I would, “Jesus, I appreciate the offer, but it just doesn’t sound like much fun. I don’t like the sound of being a lamb amongst wolves. You know some of your followers today claim to take you literally. Would that mean I need to wear a “lamb” costume?

And no bag, no purse? I don’t like the idea of traveling without my Visa or MasterCard, or my wallet, or walking barefoot really anywhere. You see Jesus I have foot problems. That’s why I wear these crazy, loud running shoes all the time. No sandals? I wouldn’t get very far Mr. Christ, I’m sorry. You may think it is important not to get slowed down with too much stuff, but I went back from Key West to Tavernier and back to Key West in this lovely traffic last week to get a pillow the fancy-shmancy Casa Marina didn’t have for my tender little neck.

“And as far as that goes – I don’t mind not greeting anyone on the road – there’s a lot of crazies on the roads these days, we call them tourists – or worse. Oh, and just assuming I can enter any house and just say ‘Peace’ and expect them to feed and house me for – whew – who knows how long? Jesus, that’s kinda hard for a proper son of a proper Virginian mother. And I’m not even going to start with that “eat whatever they serve you,” or “heal any of the sick.” What am I a Dr. Zuba? No thanks Jesus! It all sounds a little too much like being a vacuum cleaner salesman or an Avon saleslady from back in the day.”

So let me ask you: how many of you are really willing to wave your hand and say, “Yes, please Mr. Christ, I want to join your program?” Be real now. No bag, no shoes, out among the wolves? Isn’t it amazing that Jesus could find 70 people to sign up for this “evangelism” program. I’m just saying, don’t feel too bad if you have never literally done this kind of thing to “prove” you are a “real” Christian. I have read some of them, tried some of them, but this one? I wouldn’t either. No thanks!

Now, I’m not even going to discuss the fact that taking the Bible “literally” is one of the fallacies of the many who call themselves part of the “evangelical church” today. What I do want to discuss is what this story really represents and what it presents to us today as both invitation and challenge, as both purpose and vision, for our lives today as much as it was in Jesus’ day. The question boils down to what does it mean to follow Jesus today? What does it mean to be a “disciple,” a “follower” of Jesus? What does it mean to be a “Christian?” Do we need to “sell everything, give to the poor, and” follow Jesus like it says in the Gospel? As I have said before, I don’t see any of those Christians who claim to believe the Bible “literally” doing that one!

Here’s the first problem though to be honest. This wasn’t a volunteer army Jesus sent out. It says he “appointed” them. That doesn’t mean they volunteered. So I am not sure if they had an “opt-out” clause. So what about this story of 70 people who Jesus appointed? And what is the point for us today? Let me give a little more background to then, and after that talk about now.

Jesus told them to go out into different villages and visit people – that’s not hard for most us. He says, if they were received with hospitality – which was like an 11th commandment in the ancient world – then build a relationship with them and let them know that is what Gods “Kingdom” was like. Basically this is what Jesus did himself. He went into a town and stayed with someone as their guest and shared a relationship and a vision. The relationship was one of loving service to one another. The vision was a world built on this: relationships of loving service to one another. I believe that the ultimate vision was and is a world changed from what it was to what God intended it to be. A world of loving, serving relationships. That simple. How did it become so complicated? Well, first you got “theologians” involved. Too much thinking!

Christians have made it about thinking the right way more than doing the right things. Theologians made faith about believing the right dogma about Jesus, believing IN Jesus instead of believing in the vision Jesus had and invites us to share with him. I understand, because it is a lot easier to believe certain stuff and never actually do it or do anything about it. It is easy to say if you don’t believe in this or that you can’t be in relationship with me. It is a lot harder to love you so much and serve you so willingly that it turns your heart so that you would rather live the way of Jesus more than any other way. That’s a hard mission to achieve. So we converted Jesus’ vision of a world of loving service to one another into a mission to convert everybody. Everybody had to believe certain things about Jesus - like how much water you had to use to be baptized, or the words you believed when the Holy Man said stuff in Latin over a cup and a loaf of bread. None of that has to do with changing the world by loving and serving one another but it is a lot easier to decide who’s in and who’s out.

We’ve changed that vision that Jesus had from here and now to a heavenly reward in the afterlife. We made it about angels, harps and streets of gold. But most of that is because we’ve decided either that we don’t want to work that hard to change what is into something different, or we don’t believe we ever can. You know, “you can’t fight city hall!” Or we are benefitting just enough from the way things are – the status quo that we don’t see the point in trying to change things.

Here’s what is hard about that. A lot of people are really, really mad these days. They aren’t acting loving at all. They feel like the government and the world has let them down, left them behind. And they are attacking anything and everyone loudly, violently and in many ways utterly irrationally and to the detriment of their own best interests. And way too often to the worst outcomes in terms of relationships with anyone except other outraged, confused, misinformed people like themselves and they certainly aren’t loving relationships. They are toxic as can be. That has to change, but be careful! Thinking they are the only ones who need to change can make it hard to be in a loving, serving relationship with them! And the hard part of this is that as much as I am repelled by the tactics some are using to govern us, as much as I am tempted to say, well, they did it, so “we” ought to use the same tactics because “it works” won’t work.” As much as I am tempted to hate those who it feels like hate me, Jesus always challenges us to believe in his motto:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; …. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” He summed it up by saying: “48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The BRV [ Bruce Revised Version ] of that is: “Learn to love perfectly as your heavenly Father loves perfectly.”

I believe Jesus’ vision was, and is, a world here and now where everyone learns to love perfectly. At the minimum I believe this means everyone is treated as a full human being, a world where everyone was treated as a beloved child of the Creator. I believe in a God who believes every being, and Creation itself has an infinite value to God and should to each of us as well. Those first Christians were inspired by Jesus’ vision of a different reality than the status quo. Jesus talked about a reality where anywhere people suffered from hating or being hated, and fearing others, and hunger, and illness, and even death could be transformed by a love so powerful people would actually change their lives and order their lives around that love.

Instead of having to live in fear of Romans or Democrats, or hating Samaritans or Muslims, instead of wanting to kill liberals or hate conservatives, Jesus offered a vision of a world where every decision was based on “love one another, as I have loved you.” If you don’t think love is powerful, think about how the powerful and the mighty fear it. Every time it comes along they try to smash it. They executed Jesus for it, because they only had one king, one god – Caesar; and living by fear and hatred always gives power to false gods.

It's hard to understand why we resist buildng relationships of loving service. I wish we could radically change the government to serve the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable as well as all the others of us. You know, kind of like the Bible calls us to do. I wish the people we elected really, really start making government be “of the people, by the people, for the people” as we once claimed it was.

I’m not as interested in talking about heaven and hell in an afterlife as I am in going back to what Jesus was talking about: a different reality than the one we have now. He called it a Kingdom of God. I might call it the Reality of God’s Presence With Us. I believe that reality is so powerful and so real NOW that the only thing that matters is relationships that are built on love and service.

Jesus says this “Kingdom of God,” or what I call “God’s Reality” has already come near us. I believe this passage reminds us we are just like those first 70. We have an appointment to go and love and serve. And I believe most of us are doing the best we can, and most of us really, really want to see HIS vision become our Reality. “Loving and serving others.” I mean, it really is a simple concept. Why would anyone say, “No thanks,” to that? AMEN.

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