We’re going to start off this time together with a little mind exercise.
Here’s a statement from today’s gospel to think over.
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
(Time to think)
In your time of reflection, what came to mind?
(Answers from congregation)
Now, turn to your neighbor and offer this greeting.
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
(People greet one another)
How did you feel as you offered that greeting?
How did you feel as you received that greeting?
I’m thinking that this greeting is revolutionary!
In today’s gospel, Jesus sent seventy people out ahead of him in pairs to prepare the way for his coming. And Jesus told them to greet the people with this greeting, “The Kingdom of God has drawn near you.” In the towns that received them, the disciples brought about miracles and the kingdom of God did indeed draw near.
Now what if at the end of each day, I had to report in to Jesus about how my mission of bringing God’s kingdom near had gone that day? Would I have anything to report?
Some days, I’d have to confess a complete fail!
Thank God that even when we do fail (think Peter and all his failures) Jesus will send us out yet again.
So what CAN we do to bring the kingdom of God near to the places and to the people that Jesus sends us to each day?
The first thing is to remember that we carry God’s peace out with us. In fact, God’s peace is the most important thing that Jesus asks us to carry out into the world.
And God’s peace is a treasure.
Today’s first hymn, “Peace before us,” written by David Haas, is based on a Navaho prayer. In Native American spirituality, as well as Celtic spirituality, God’s presence “permeates everything—blending and shading into all of life like the iridescent colours of the rainbow.” (Hymn notes on WLP 791 in Wonder, Love and Praise.)
So to carry God’s peace into the world, we can pray that all around each one of us will be God’s peace, that all around each one of us will be God’s love, that all around each one of us will be that iridescence of God’s light, that all around each one of us will be the presence of Jesus.
Then we pray again that all around us will be peace—for that peace that we long for and that peace that we want to carry out is made up of God’s love, light, and the presence of Jesus himself with us, around us and dwelling in us constantly.
This peace is a gift from God.
Jesus points out in today’s gospel that we must be willing to accept the gift of God’s peace.
God’s peace is a living thing—if we decide to accept God’s peace and to share in it, then God’s peace will rest in us, take root in us, and grow in us.
But if we decline it, and there are so many ways to decline God’s peace, that peace will simply return to God.
God’s peace won’t be wasted, so when we don’t want it, God sends it elsewhere, until at last if finds a resting place in another’s heart, where it can take root and grow.
So let’s be people who accept God’s peace and let that peace grow up in us.
Then, Jesus can send us out into the world bearing that peace to those who need it so desperately.
And when we truly bear that peace out into the world, people will know that the kingdom of God has indeed drawn near.
So –we have God’s peace to carry into the world but we need the energy to deliver it.
One of the reasons we come to church each Sunday is to get rejuvenated for the week ahead, sort of like going to the gas station when our gas tanks are on empty. We get refueled so that we can go out and do God’s work.
Each week we come to God’s table ready to receive the body and blood of Christ, literally taking God’s presence into us. And when we come to the table, we receive comfort.
Isaiah describes God as comforting us as a mother comforts her child, and so we are comforted at God’s table.
Jesus directs the disciples to go out and to graciously receive hospitality from those who welcome them, to receive the comfort that others offer to them. “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide,” a lovely give and take, a back and forth reminiscent of the dance of shared love among the Trinity.
That constant exchange of love produces its own holy energy in which we share when we come together to the Lord’s table with humble and open hearts, ready to receive whatever it is that God intends to provide to each one of us this day.
Our temptation though, is to prefer giving to receiving. After all, Paul told the Ephesian elders in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus himself said that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
And yet, being willing to receive has its own benefits that help us grow into the disciples who can give God’s gifts to others by carrying God’s peace and healing into the world.
In her blog on leadership, Jesse Lee Stoner lists several reasons why receiving can be a good thing. I think Jesus would agree with her reasons.
Receiving reminds you that you’re not in charge, and helps you to develop a more realistic self-image.
Receiving keeps you humble.
When you receive, you allow others the opportunity to feel the pleasure of giving, and you create a space for others to shine.
Receiving lets us experience gratitude.
Receiving helps us to begin to understand what strength really is.
Receiving makes us more well-rounded and helps our relationships with one another to become richer. (https://leadershipfreak.blog/2011/12/19/its-better-to-give-than-receive-and-other-lies/ )
So now, let’s go back to where we started.
Imagine yourself surrounded by and filled with God’s peace.
Imagine yourself with an open heart, open hands, humbly ready to receive the gifts that God wants you to receive. For the moment, just lay aside what you have to offer.
Now imagine going out now in peace, your hearts and hands open.
And now, turn to your neighbor once more, and greet that person in peace, with your hands open,
saying, “The kingdom of God has drawn near.”
May God’s kingdom draw near to us this day, and may we receive God’s strength to carry God’s love and light and peace out into the world.