Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday (year C) 7/7/2019
Psalm 77; & St Luke 9: 51-62
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus
Recently I have been re-reading a book by Father Henri Nouwen entitled In the Name of Jesus. In it, he warns of some of the dangers to the spiritual life, especially for those in leadership. He says that a craving for popularity and power; and living in the expectations and opinions of others will hinder true spiritual growth.
His own life, was of course an example of someone who did not cling onto status and power; for he left the ivy league universities of Harvard and Yale; to live in Daybreak; a L’Arche community. In his book he writes:
In the person of Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities for mentally handicapped people, God said: ‘Go and live amongst the poor in spirit, and they will heal you’. The call was so clear and distinct that I had no choice but to follow. So I moved from Harvard to the L’Arche, from the best and brightest, wanting to rule the world; to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society.
In our gospel reading from Luke 10, Jesus sends 70 of his followers ahead of him. He sends them in his name, and gives them authority to minister as he ministered.
What does it mean to go in the name of Jesus?
It is a question that was not only relevant to the 12 apostles, to the 70 followers and to all who answered the call of Christ to bring the good news of his gospel to the world; but it is a question for each of us as individuals, and for us as a church.
When you are sent by someone as their representative, you go not in your own merits but in the name of the one who sends you. In the times of Jesus, someone coming in the name of Cesare would have represented the military might of Empire; so what does it mean to go in the Name of Jesus?
Look at verse 3 of Luke 10; for it contains perhaps the most important characteristic of going in Christ’s name: I am sending you like lambs in the midst of wolves.
At one level, the world today has changed very little from at the time of Jesus. Both then and now, we live in a world where the powerful devour the resources of the earth like wolves. The structural injustice upon which our world currently operates; propped up by the military machine; devours the poor and vulnerable. And it is into that world that we are sent.
But we are not sent as wolves. We are sent as lambs. And it is incredible that so many churches seem to think that they are sent as wolves (it should be sobering for all to reflect on the fact that if it hadn’t been for the vote of the evangelical right in the US, president Trump would not be in office).
The early Church knew this, and took Jesus’ example of non-violence and his last command (‘put down your sword!’) seriously. But following Constantine’s conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity in 312, there is a significant change in how the Church engages with its holy scriptures. If you are an early persecuted Christian, living in the catacombs and being persecuted by the Roman Empire, you read your scriptures very different to when Christianity becomes The Army, The State, and The one invested with power. Church history attests to how we lost our way, and rather than being a church of Matthew 5 & 25; we justified war and violence, departing from the teachings of Christ, boldy embodied by the early church.
We are not called to combat the structural injustice in our world through the same methodology of the kingdoms of this world. We are to be as lambs amongst wolves. We are to embody radical love and radical peace; we are to be fully aware that the path ahead calls us to lay our lives down in sacrifice, always looking for the wellbeing of the other above and beyond our own welfare.
If we were to do so, if the church were to do this, our world would be changed.
And as we do so, we will come up against the powers that be. In verse 17 we are told that the 70 who had been sent had come up against demons. And in verse 18 we read; ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening’.
We too face the powers of this world. The powers of greed and selfishness, the powers of the military arms trade, that represents structural sin, for even if no weapon were every to be fired; the multi-trillion dollar industry divests colossal sums of money away from money that could be spent eradicating hunger and preventable diseases, and many of the causes that lead to war.
We too, as a church, are called in Jesus name to confront the demonic powers of our age, but we do so by walking in the footsteps of our Saviour and Lord. Through a life of outpoured love and sacrifice, and it is no coincidence that it was on the cross, at the place of radical identification with all who are crushed, oppressed and crucified on the altars of power and greed in our word; it is there where the powers of death are defeated.
In our OT reading from Isaiah 66, we read in verses 10 & 11:
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy all who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.
Throughout Scripture, Jerusalem is not only representative of a physical city, where have the privilege of being right now, but it is also representative of the place where heaven comes to earth. It is representative of the kingdom of heaven touching earth, the place of encounter between God and humanity. And it is to be (as we read in these verses) a place of joy, but also a place of lament and of consolation; for do we not experience all of these emotions as we go through life?
Jerusalem, God’s kingdom here on earth, does not promise security, wealth or safety for all those who live and move and have their being within the God of love; but God does promise comfort, during the times of difficulty and suffering that inevitably will come our way. In verse 13 we read:
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
We are called to go into the word in the name of Jesus. In the name of the one who is the prince of peace, with healing in his wings, and whose life embodies the word of God in everything that he says and does.
Jesus is calling us this morning.
Calling us from the barren wastelands of despair where we so often languish, calling us into service, calling us to go before him, preparing the way, so that his Kingdom of love, compassion and justice may be built, even in such a world as ours.
Glory be to the father, and to the son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now, and evermore shall be. Amen.