Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
July 3, 2016
Cary G. Speaker, D.Min.

Have you ever missed an appointment?  I have. Most of the time I can figure out why. Sometimes I believe that my subconscious took over and that I really did not want to do whatever it was I was scheduled to do. Most of the time it is a matter of over-booking; attempting to do too many things, some of the time I attempt to do too many things at the same time. Sometimes when I miss a meeting I will receive an email that says something like, “I had on my calendar that we were meeting today at 10:00. Is everything OK?”  Some of you know that Jerome Berryman is the man behind the Christian Education theory of “Godly play.’  If we played with the imagine question with this idea of missed appointments, what would it be like to receive an email from God?  What would it be like for me to get home at night, check my emails and there is one from God?  God says to me, “My reign came very near to you this morning and you completely missed it. Hope you see me next time. God.” 

What about those of us, who have been so excited about our faith, going to church, participating in a mission project, and then the fire fades. Our evangelistic zeal cools. We find other things to do on Sunday mornings instead of worship. Imagine the email from God when I have not been in worship for a month. “Haven’t heard from you in a while. What’s happened to the love you had?   Let’s do church soon. I’ll call again. God.”  I am not implying that worship attendance protects us from missed appointments with God. I suspect that even regular churchgoers miss the signs that God’s reign has come near.

That is part of the reason this story from Luke is so intriguing. Jesus sends out the seventy to all of the places Jesus wants to go. Proclaim the reign of God to all who welcome you. Do you wonder what they proclaimed to those who did not welcome them?  What about, “Hey. The reign of God came near to you, and you missed it.” 

There are important lessons in the practical we can learn from this story. Jesus promises that the harvest is abundant. Those who are sent out will be vulnerable. Our judgment of success is not what God sees. What matters the most is our eternal relationship with God. We are in this relationship with God through the grace of God.  The reign of God will always win because it is the reign of God. The reign of God has come near whether I see the miracle or miss it.

I am here this morning for the same reason you are. We have been sent. Our life is not our own devising. We have been summoned. In some way, whether you are aware of it or not, God found a way to call you. God found a way to find you. That is a direct contradiction to what we learn growing up in America. We are taught that our lives are our possessions to do with as we please. Too many of us believe that our life is the sum of our astute choices.

To live one’s life in obedience to Jesus is to live a demanding life. But it is a great way to live. Few things are anywhere nearly as exciting as to have my life commandeered by Jesus and propel me into a life of ministry. There are few things sadder than an unsummoned, unsent life. What a joy it is in good times, but especially in bad, to believe that I am where I am because Jesus has put me here and that I am doing what I do because God means for it to be so.

In the Matthew 28 commission of the disciples, the risen Jesus tells the disciples to buy some real estate, get a good mortgage rate, build some large buildings and put my name on all of them. Jesus tells the disciples to settle in right where they are. Jesus says this is a beautiful spot for a retreat. Just relax and rest. In that compassionate way of his, Jesus says, “You have been through a traumatic experience. Just breathe deeply and contemplate those wonderful things I taught you.”  If you remember the story that way, then you are reading a different Bible from the one I read. Jesus really said, “Get up and get out of here. Go into the entire world to baptize everyone you see.”  Then he added, “And I will be with you, to the end of the age, to make sure you go where I send you.” 

Several years ago I took a sabbatical with the title, “Hospitality: Cooking for others.” I spent one week of the sabbatical working in the kitchen of the Sacred Hearts Monastery in Cullman. Each morning for Lauds, or morning prayers, at the monastery I sat beside Sister Bridget. Sister Bridget is the retired chaplain from St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Birmingham. The sisters were all aware of why I was living at the monastery for the week. A book given to me by one of the sisters is entitled Radical Hospitality. It is about the Benedictines. One morning as I followed Sister Bridget down the steps from the chapel to the dining room, she stopped and waited for me on the landing. She told me that she had been thinking about hospitality and remembered a book that I might want to read. I quickly admit that I have not read the book, but I did watch the movie based on the book and it is available through the internet. The French film is entitled “Of Gods and Men.”  It was released in 2011. Here is the story.

In 1938 a small group of Trappist monks began to live in a small village in Algeria named Tibhirine. Algeria is a predominantly Muslim country. The story takes place in the 1990s. There is a violent reaction to the cancellation of the national elections in 1992. Islamist insurgents resort to violence as a means of expressing their political rage. At first the insurgents draw sympathy for their cause. The tide of sympathy turns away from the insurgents when the Islamist radicals butcher civilians, a clear violation of the Islamic principles of war. Watching this story set in 1992 we see the parallel between the Algerian insurgents and what will happen ten years later in Iraq. Particularly offensive to the general population of Algeria was the killing of Roman Catholic nuns and priests, along with dozens of imams who were assassinated for denouncing the terrorists.

The monks of Tibhirine lived out their respectful love for others that showed their acceptance that God speaks to people in different ways. The monks practiced their faith ringing the church bells of their monastery seven times a day in a Muslim country where attempting to evangelistically spread the Good News was not permitted. But living the Good News was. I believe that I am not stretching the truth of the story for dramatic effect when I report that the villagers of Tibhirine respected the monks. It may be a stretch to say the villagers loved them. But there was enough respect by the village leaders, all Muslims, to plead with the monks to leave the monastery before the insurgents either kidnapped or killed the monks. The dramatic climax of the story is the meeting the small group of monks hold to decide whether or not to stay. Of course they stay. Sadly, they are all killed. Why did they choose to stay when they knew the almost certain result would be their death?  Was it because they believed God called them to be there?  Was it because they believed they were living God’s Good News?  Did they believe they were sent?  Was it because they believed that in the end, the reign of God always wins? 

Just as we invite outsiders to come to this table; we offer hospitality to the stranger. We offer hospitality because the grace of God calls us. We have not earned the invitation. We are not somehow worthy to be God’s children. We share the grace of God with others when we invite them to join us. It is a small thing to do. We are sent to share God’s love and grace with others.

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