Rev. Dr. Scott Herr
Please Read: Galatians 6:1-6 and Luke 10:1-11
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus sends out seventy disciples two by two to share the healing power of the Living God. They are sent with a simple message of peace. Jesus commanded them, "Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person..."
Most of you have probably heard a number of sermons on peace. It is a central theme in the scriptures, the word peace being used in some form 450 times! In our Gospel text, the Greek word eirene for "peace," comes from the verb eirw, “to join.” It literally means to put together again, to unify, to make whole. As you may remember, the Hebrew sense of peace from the word shalom is about restoration; making that which is broken or separated whole, one, reconciled. I have always appreciated Cornelius Plantinga’s definition of shalom: “The way it’s supposed to be.”
Part of what Luke is getting at in the way he tells this story is the universal peace project that Jesus is inaugurating. He sends out 70 disciples. 70 probably harkens back to the genealogy of the nations in Genesis, chapter 10. 70 names are listed there to denote all the peoples and tribes of the earth. The good news is about the Kingdom of God, and a Kingdom message and mission of cosmic dimensions. This peace is for the whole world!
When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, though, it was not like putting it out there on a blog or facebook post. He sent his followers to go into peoples’ homes. The gospel’s context is relational, and it means moving closer to the reality of people’s lives, to where people really live. There are some interesting instructions Jesus gives; to take no purse (this is not for profit or personal gain), do not take a backpack (travel light, you really don’t need as much stuff as you think), and don’t get side-tracked with small talk along the way. But the most provocative of Jesus’ instructions for a Jewish audience is to eat whatever is put in front of you. The implication here is that Jewish dietary laws were secondary to Jesus’ mercy ministry. In other words, religious practice will always be subordinate to Kingdom proclamation. Jesus sends his disciples out with the clear mission of sharing God's peace with all people, even those who previously would have been outsiders and rejected by those in Jewish religious circles…
Paradoxical as it may seem, the peace of God requires a willingness to become vulnerable, and in one sense, to enter into conflict that is a prerequisite for deeper relationship. Jesus warns his disciples that there are some people who don’t want peace. That is evident in our world today. The disciples experienced a heady joy in physical healings, a temporary manifestation of God's peace. They also learned that confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior secures an everlasting peace, but immediately puts you into conflict with the powers and principalities of this world. Such is the Kingdom peace that should be the goal of Christian community.
It is in the context of Christian community that Paul talks about the law of Christ and how healing peace really gets worked out in our lives and life together. Paul says that we are to “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This is the only place in the Bible where we find this phrase “the law of Christ.” Jesus summarized the Mosaic law as loving God and loving your neighbor, and here Paul summarizes the law of Christ: “bear one another’s burdens.”
As we finish up our brief study of Galatians, I think it is important to pay attention to Paul’s summary of Christ’s teaching: that it is to bear one another’s burdens. It sounds simple, but it is not. What does it mean?
First of all, this teaching is for Christians. This is Paul’s in-house-family talk at the end of the letter to the Galatian Christians. So the first step in order to fulfill the law of Christ means being willing to enter into Christian community. Disciples of Jesus are sent as missionaries to the world, but we are also called to be in familial relationship. This means that we accept the good news that because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are given a new identity and status as beloved children of God... We are part of God’s family. Calling one another brother or sister in the church is not ethnic slang; it is good theology! It’s Kingdom sociology! That is the context in which this teaching on the law of Christ is given: When Paul says “bear one another’s burdens,” he is talking to those of us in the family of God, the church.
Secondly, this means that we have to actually get to know one another! I mean really get to know one another, so that we know what one another’s burdens really are. Mike Yaconelli, the famous Youth Ministry guru, wrote a wonderfully honest book, Messy Spirituality. I love the subtitle, too: “God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People.” You see, if it is Christian spirituality, it’s going to be messy spirituality, because it’s going to involve imperfect people who are willing to allow Christ to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of sin in their lives. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”
Notice that Paul, immediately after talking about the law of Christ, warns, “For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves!” There is no room for arrogance or haughtiness in the family. By definition, you come into the family in humility, on your knees. Christian community begins with anyone willing to pray the famous Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!”
We are all carrying our own burdens… but we’re carrying burdens that at times, if we are honest, we just can’t carry alone. So we must pursue more intentional and honest relationships in the church so that we really get to know what burdens our brothers and sisters are carrying. And then we need to figure out how to help support one another. In our men’s study we talked about this, and came to the conclusion that we can only share and bear our burdens, we can only give and receive from one another in community if we know that we are loved by the community. How do we create a safe culture where people know that they can share their burdens without being judged or condemned? How do we get into the messiness of real life together enough to really bear one another’s burdens?
The simple answer is grace… I had been working on finishing the basement of our home in Colorado all summer with my dad. We had framed in the walls, finished the plumbing and even the electrical work, but Dad had to return home and the school year was starting, which meant a lot of my friends were going to be very busy and couldn’t help me. I had just moved all of the dry wall down and it was sitting in the middle of the floor (Kim laid the tile). There was no way I could finish this job alone. I had mentioned it to some of my friends, and they all said, “Yeah, sure I can help”… but no one showed up. Frankly, I was feeling exhausted, disappointed and discouraged.
One of the elders in our church, Jim, showed up with his wife and son. They just came, unannounced, with all of their tools and said, “Let’s get to work!” I was amazed. Jim was a busy man. He owned a business and had plenty of his own projects. But he kept showing up until the job was done... I’ll never forget that expression of love and support when I really needed it. We became friends, and you know, that unfinished mess of a basement was a metaphor for my spiritual life. Jim became my spiritual mentor, and because he earned my respect and gratitude in the basement of my house, I listened to what he had to say in the basement of my life…
Our life together as a church is how we learn to embody the gospel for the world. Sometimes it’s not pretty. I love Matt Canlis’ church growth campaign. Matt was pastoring a church in Scotland and they put posters around their little village that read: “Come to Church and Be Disappointed! But come and grow together in God’s grace!”
I love that! By God’s grace, we receive God’s peace so that by God’s grace we can share peace with the world. We can bless others as we have been blessed. Forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Give as we’ve received. Love, because God first loved us! We learn together in relationship, in Christian community. Then Jesus still sends his disciples out two by two. As we share God’s peace with the world, we are not to go alone.
So our church is a missionary training camp. We are to equip one another in the way of Christ, and send one another forth into the world hopefully a little more equipped for ministry and mission than when they first came, hopefully inspired and encouraged to attempt great things for Christ and expect great things from Christ. I love the windows in our church. St. Christopher is up there. He is the traveler’s saint. Right beside him is Catherine de Sienna. I’ve often wondered why she’s up there, but recently learned that she once said, “All the Way to heaven is Heaven, because He said, I am the Way.’” Even along the hardest messiest parts of the journey, we’re not alone in Christ!
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe we are called to proclaim and embody the way it’s supposed to be in the world. We are to share with others both inside and outside of the church community the grace that transforms the messiness of our lives. We are to share with one another the same patience, acceptance, forgiveness, and love which the Lord has shared with us. Sharing the peace of Christ is not simply talking about it; it is showing up and saying, “Let’s get to work!” taking action, imaginative compassion, in and out of the basement to share in Christ’s wholeness and healing. Some will receive it and some will reject it. But because of your faithfulness, because of your love and grace, others will experience the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
So may you, as the first disciples did, go out and proclaim in word and deed the Good News of God’s love that is for all in Jesus Christ. And may you return with joy, knowing that in the personal and even cosmic dimensions of this reality you are sharing in the peace of Christ and fulfilling the law of Christ…
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.