Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Well, it has happened again—it seems like we’ve all made it through another 4th of July with all of our toes and fingers still attached to our hands and feet, and with both eyeballs firmly stuck in their sockets. Our bodies seem as whole, more or less, as before the war zone that is our neighborhood for one night of the year. Can the same be said about our body politic as our bodies? It’s hard to say which appendages of democracy will still work after this car crash is over. What about the body of Christ? Well, at least we know that the body of Christ, as the disciples saw it, is a wounded body, a riven side, marked hands, showing up unbidden in hidden rooms, in disguise on the road, and in the sunrise as tired men look back the beach. The body of Christ is known by the words it speaks: Peace be with you, let me explain the scriptures and break the bread, have some breakfast, do you love me? I suppose that is true of the church, which we say is also the body of Christ. It is also known by what it preaches and what it practices: peace be with you, let’s study the Scriptures together, here’s some food, can we love each other? Isn’t that a question for our times: can we love each other?
I send you out like lambs among the wolves, Jesus says. They truly are like fishermen who become fishers of men: the way Jesus describes their job, they cast their peace like a fisherman casts his hook or his nets, and they watch to see what their peace will bring. It might bring them into the house, in which case they’ve caught the fish. They sit and share the good news, they heal and cast out demons, all the usual Jesus business. But Jesus also says, eat what is set before you, at whatever house accepts you. Be a good guest. And if the place rejects you, show them your feet, and tell them even the dust clings to the beautiful feet of the messengers that bring the good news. It’s not clear what will happen, who will accept the kingdom or reject it—but Jesus wants his followers to share the peace anyway, to heal the sick anyway, to proclaim the good news anyway. And anyway, the disciples return rejoicing at what they have seen and done. They don’t tell the stories of the rejection, but of the wonders of God working through peace and healing, of raising up the lowly. And Jesus says, don’t rejoice in your power, but that your names are written in heaven. Because in the end it’s not about you and what you have done, but about the kingdom of God that is coming now but not fully here, and that you are a part of the peace that the world cannot give. And that peace, which comes entirely from the grace of God, makes something out of us. It makes us a community. It makes us a body—a wounded body, but a body that heals others.
Christian community—what are its signs? Luther says there are seven signs, but I think I’d like to just concentrate on a few today. The first sign of the Christian community is that God has scattered it like seed, sent it out like lambs among wolves. This summer we will be reading and reflecting on a book called Life Together, written to an illegal seminary by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Typical of him, he begins by saying that he’s going to examine what life together means under the Word of God, and he immediately says, “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.” Not in the peaceful cloister or the armchair in the living room, but in the midst of his enemies. He goes on to say, “According to God’s will, the Christian church is a scattered people, scattered like seed ‘to all the kingdoms of the earth. That is its curse and its promise. God’s people must live in distant lands among unbelievers, but they will be the seed of the kingdom of God in all the world.” He was writing, of course, to a bunch of seminarians who were trying to figure out how to be both good Christians and good Germans in the times of National Socialism. Bonhoeffer aimed to show them they could be one or the other but not both. Only one of those ways brings peace. Only one has power to change the other in the way that loving an enemy can change an enemy.
So the Christian community is a scattered community, like seeds in the soil. But the second sign of the Christian community is peace. Now peace comes not by a cessation of hostilities but by a reformation of a relationship. You don’t need to change so much as to die. You need to become a new creation, as Paul puts it, a new creation in Christ. The peace of the church is not the peace of Versailles or any other treaty, but the peace of the Risen Savior, the peace that life makes with death, that love makes with hate, that healing makes with illness, that freedom makes with possession. It isn’t peace from this world, but the peace that passes understanding. It is a gift that we share. We share the peace when we confess our sins to one another, when we forgive one another. Bear one another’s burdens, Paul says. Our community cannot stand if we stand on the lookout for sins, and seek to institute a purity test on everyone who comes to this table. Rather we should assume that we are sinners, take Jesus at his word that he came for sinners and not for the righteous, and bear one another’s burdens in love, admonishing, listening, seeking to lift out the best in one another rather than distilling each other into the worst that we are. This is so hard during these times, but yet—it is possible with the grace of God, who sends out the followers of Christ into every part of the world like lambs among wolves, like lunch among the hungry.
One of the most ancient prayers of the church comes from the Eucharistic celebration, and goes like this, more or less: As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever." Bonhoeffer wrote: God’s people remain scattered, held together in Jesus Christ alone, having become one because they remember him in the distant lands… The disciples go out, and they return, and they remember what God has done. And they come together to remember themselves, to bear their burdens.
So we must not forget our principal sign, Christ himself. Especially here where Christ is master of this house, and the guest, and the food. Here Christ gathers us to be his wounded body, to bear the burdens, to forgive and receive forgiveness, and to heal.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack