A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Sent Forth" - a free-verse poem inspired by Luke 10

(Note: this was preached as a sermon at Christ Church, Waukegan, IL on July 7)

Lord, you sent out laborers into the harvest: seventy of them,
two by two for protection, convenience, companionship.
After all, who knows more than you the lonely work of kingdom building?

You sent them, your followers, ahead of you as messengers.
Like John the Baptist they, too, would herald your way
in the cities, towns, villages,  and in the houses of Galilee.

“The harvest is plentiful,” you said, “but the laborers are few.”
They caught your sense of urgency; they were eager.

Yet when they signed on with you,
did any of them know the rules of the road? And if they had,
would they have gone along, right then and there, as they did?

You say to them: “Leave it all behind.”
No purse, no bag, no sandals; not even a change of clothes.

What else was it you said?
“See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves” -
which is exactly why your instructions to them were so precise:
“Greet no one on the road.”
No small talk! No distractions!
You told them what to say, where to go, where to stay (or not stay),
how and when to eat.

You even gave them permission to give up, to move on,
to know that any place they weren’t welcome,  they needn’t stay.

And so, outfitted with instructions  and your blessing and very little else,
out they went, those 35 loyal pairs,
bearers of your kingdom message treading the Galilean countryside.

And if they proclaimed peace to a house along the way,
and were welcomed there, and peace was shared,
and peace remained,
then a meal could be shared as well.
And in some places, maybe, just maybe,
even demons were cast out and people healed,
just because your disciples were there, in that place,
to share your Good News.

But if they proclaimed your peace elsewhere
and were not welcomed there,
you told them their peace would return to them!
Is that where peace goes when it’s been rejected?
Does it circle around like a boomerang and return to its source,
strong as ever, ready to be shared again?

And so they should move on, you told them,
shaking even the dust of that place off their feet.

But maybe, just maybe, when they returned
basking in the flush of euphoria and success
they forgot, for only a moment,
 an all-too-human moment,
that the work of building your Kingdom 
did not originate or depend on them;
that it was not their own victorious enterprise;

That “success” in your kingdom is not determined
by quotas,  or numbers, or works,
but by faithfulness;
that curious kingdom of God;
a kingdom so unlike those the world knows all too well,
those kingdoms based on human power and monetary riches;
but rather, a kingdom of love, justice, and peace.

And Lord, now we are the ones you send out,
as laborers into the harvest:
so many more than seventy
one by one and two by two and dozen by dozen.

We are the heralds of your gospel now.
Inside these walls, each week, you feed us with yourself,
and then you send us out:
“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we say.

The world has changed but your message has not:
The harvest is still oh, so plentiful!
the laborers, though many more than 70,
are still oh, so few!
And our roads, our Galilees are
paved streets and city sidewalks,
suburban cul-de-sacs,
playgrounds, schools, offices, neighborhoods.

What would the rules of the road be nowadays, Lord?
Take no smart phone, no tablet, no GPS, no debit card –
nothing that distracts us from the work at hand.
And our distractions are oh, so many!
Is that what you would tell us?

And how would we, how could we,
so independent, so cautious, so fearful of vulnerability,
ever be content to depend on the kindness of strangers,
or be willing to risk rejection?

You ask us, as you asked them, to be both vulnerable and wise:
“See, I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.”
Sometimes, Lord, it’s hard to tell the difference.
Wolves abound even among your followers,
some of whom are far too quick to judge and much too slow to love;
some of whom are far too sheepish,
too timid, too fearful of the wrong things;
so your message of love languishes for want of charity,
your mandate of justice for lack of courage.

We, your church, are
fearful for our future,
confused by our loss of status in the world,
reluctant to talk “religion” with strangers or sometimes even friends.

Lord, take our anxieties, and bathe them in your peace,
that peace you have so graciously given us:
peace to keep, and to share.

And when we do go to share your peace, Lord,
keep us from fear of rejection;
help us to remember that peace shared
is always better than peace withheld–
your perfect peace that cannot be contained.

And help us to remember,
when our efforts do yield results
when the harvest is plentiful, as you promised,
when we, who no longer believe that illness is caused by demons,
still fall victim to that flush of euphoria –
“Look what we’ve accomplished,” we proudly say -
when maybe, just maybe, we, too, forget that
our work in your name is not our own successful enterprise,
but is instead a sign of your kingdom.

When we, who are used to being rewarded for a job well done
forget, if only for a moment, that
our fine facilities,
our committees and our classes
our budgets and even our liturgies
are neither products of our own good work
nor commodities to be marketed;
when we forget, if only for a moment,
Who has sent us, and why,

When all those things tempt us, then help us recall
that success in that kingdom,
your curious kingdom,
is not determined by quotas,
or numbers, or works,
but by faithfulness.

Lord, give to your Church the eagerness of your first disciples.
Turn our fear into longing for the just, loving world we know can be possible
because  it is the world you so desire,
the world you have promised, for all of creation.
Remove our complacency, Lord;
energize us for the work you have given us to do.

Give us wisdom to find our Galilees;
and give us courage and faith to proclaim your kingdom;
that curious kingdom of God,
a kingdom unlike any other,
not based on human power and monetary riches;
but rather, a kingdom of love, justice, and peace.

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