Proper 9C 2019

Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The Rev. Dr. Kathy Kelly

Grace Episcopal Church, Radford, Virginia


It was 1974.  Fashion was weird.  Hair was long and there was a revolution of sorts happening in our culture.  But I was only 12.  I couldn’t understand all that very well.  Plus, my parents sheltered me. They kept me from watching the war on the news or any real news for that matter.

Mom and Dad added on to our split level 5 years before that and the oldest of us four kids had gone to college 2 years before and then the next and so I had gotten the old master bedroom complete with my own in-room bathroom. Because I was the only girl. I was on the verge of my teenage years and curious and a little scared.

One day my oldest brother showed up a little before supper time.  It must have been a Friday.  He had a stranger with him.  He came in and introduced the stranger by asking him, “what was your name again?” David said he had picked up this guy Brett Samples hitchhiking and could he stay for dinner?

Brett Samples was kinda scary looking to me. He was barefoot.  His hair was long and stringy and half way down his back, he had a full beard and he was wearing overalls with no shirt.  He looked kind of dirty too.

The next few moments caused a new course in the formation of my family. It seems time stopped and we were all gobsmacked.

Mom pretty quickly came back with a smile and, “Of course!” followed by something about putting another pork chop on and she excused herself to the kitchen.

I don’t remember the next couple of hours except that I remember they were tense.  Brett Samples didn’t say much.  Mom served dinner in the dining room, a gesture usually saved for important guests. We usually ate in the kitchen. Over the course of dinner it became clear that Brett Samples would be spending the night.

I was mortified.

As soon as I could be excused from dinner, I rushed to my room and not only locked but barricaded the door. I figured since I had my own bathroom that I could just stay in there until Brett Samples was gone.  I didn’t come out until 10:00 the next morning.  Brett Samples and my brother were both gone by then.

I asked Mom when and where questions and she began to laugh.  It turns out, she told me, that Brett Samples was a student at Emory and Henry, a classmate of my brother’s and the whole thing was a prank! He was no hitchhiker.  He was a philosophy major and pre-law student!

For the next couple of years Brett Samples spent many evenings with my family.  He did really cool things like scrape the butter off of the top of the stick instead of slicing it for his bread and he talked about stuff like philosophy and literature and I came to think of him as the coolest person I’d ever met!

The story of Jesus’ sending of the 70 from this morning’s Gospel lesson gives a rare window into what it looked like to follow Jesus in the first generation. Jesus sends out disciples with the first proclamation that sounds deceptively simple: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (verse 5). This word of peace is the first word, the opening word, the announcing word. Notice that Jesus does not tell them to do any sort of assessment before making this proclamation. He doesn’t ask them to determine whether this house follows the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or whether this house has kept the law or whether this house is likely to receive the good news Jesus brings. Jesus doesn’t ask them to do a risk assessment or pre-judge whether this house will be worth their time.

Jesus goes on to instruct them in the dynamic of sharing the peace: “if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you” (verse 6). This verse is packed with instruction for the reactive lives we lead today. This one verse is worth taking time to unpack.

First, Jesus assumes that these apostles he sends, do in fact have peace. Jesus says that “Your peace” specifically, not just random, generic peace, but “your peace” will rest on others or return to you.  “Your peace.”

The Holy Spirit is leading the church to new ways of evangelism and hospitality these days.  I have become more certain of this in recent years.  Many folks say that all this talk of becoming more missional is a trend or a fad.  I find that sort of talk, frankly, blasphemous.  You see, the church is being asked to do some house cleaning.  It’s time to do some honest assessment of our own home and hospitality is among the examining questions. Are we good at welcoming strangers?

Next month I will be pursuing a two year course of study with the Shalem Institute in Maryland. This will only require one week each year to be in residency with my class of 10.  Most of this work will be done online and through may own study.  But be forwarned.  I’m going to dig deeper into the realm of prayer and I want you to go there with me.  I want to learn more about how to pray prayers of discernment for God’s will for me, for you, for us as a parish, and I want us to look together at ways we can do some deep listening.

What is God calling us to do as a parish?  What gifts do we have to offer?

One of the best gifts for ministry this parish has is hospitality.  We are very good at welcoming guests and newcomers and y’all are really good with food around here!

But there is more to being the church than coffee hour.  So, what might that be?

One of the knee jerk reactions to this conversation is to bemoan how busy we all are and how daunting it is to hear that we need to work harder.  But, that is not actually the message.  The Holy Spirit is not leading us to work harder.  The Holy Spirit is nudging us toward better relationships with each other, with God and with the strangers we encounter.  Every day.

Getting on board with the church of the 21st Century is not about working harder.  It is about opening ourselves to new ways of being.  And I for one believe that we cannot do this work of becoming part of these changes without prayer. We must learn to first quiet our minds before we can learn to listen to the workings of the Holy Spirit.  Then we can learn to look around and recognize the Spirit at work all around us in so many ways.

Of course, if you’re like me, you don’t want to change the way we do church. I mean, I love Sunday mornings with old hymns and new hymns and old prayers and communion and checking in with each other. I love feeling a part of a church family.  What more could we want?  On the other hand, what more could we be?

We find ourselves asking, “why must we always talk of change?” Well, the church is ever changing. It has always been that way and will always be that way.  The church is not a stagnant institution.  It is an organic, living organism based on Love.

When Brett Samples first came to visit my family in 1974 the church was in the midst of some other great changes.  There was a lot of noise about the ordination of women that year. There was a lot of protesting of the war.  There was a lot of turmoil around race relations.

But we still want to go back to 1964, or 1954, or whatever era seems like the good old days.  We still want to come to church to get that good feeling and we want to feel O.K. about all the good works we do. And we do work hard at loving our neighbor.

The church of 2019 is struggling to answer the call of the Spirit to move out into the world in new ways.  Rather than feel peaceful we need to spread peace.  We need to learn how to share our peace. Your peace.

Hear the words of one of my mentors:

“As we engage others, we must first be well-grounded in God’s peace, the peace that passes understanding. God’s shalom is more than being calm. It is confidence in God’s abiding presence so that we also share that presence with others. Engaging others means not treating them as objects upon which we act, but as sacred others with whom we are called to be fully and peacefully present. If they do not share this peace, Jesus does not advise reactivity, scorn or polemics. Instead, he reassures his followers that their peace is not diminished and cannot be taken away from them: ‘it will return to you’ (verse 6).” -- Amy G. Oden

So, let’s get our peace.  Let’s get to know our peace, not so that we can feel better about the world but so that we can take that peace to the world. In fact, let’s go out into the world first and greet the stranger and get outside of our comfort zone.  That is where we are more likely to find the peace we seek anyway.

When my mother agreed to let Brett Samples the hitchhiker dine and sleep at our house she acted as a hospitable Christian welcoming a stranger into our home.  This was not lost on me in the moments before we knew he wasn’t really a stranger.

But the better lesson that I now take from this memory was that Brett Samples had the peace to sit quietly and let us respond to him in whatever way we needed.  I don’t think my brother and his friend thought this prank through enough that they were acting maliciously. 

But Brett Samples taught me through that encounter what it is like to not only welcome the stranger but how to be the stranger.

In order to engage others, we must first be well-grounded in God’s peace.  How can we work on that?

When those first 70 disciples came back, they were pumped!  “They returned with joy” (verse 17) talking about all the ways the Holy Spirit was moving in and through and all around them in ways they could never have imagined.

“Our chief joy should be, not that we have certain gifts and powers, but that God has received and accepted us.” (Fred Craddock)

I mean, we want to change the world, right?  Getting sent, which, by the way is what the word disciple means, getting sent is exciting in this story.  Jesus empowers his followers and magic happens!  It starts to seem like a Harry Potter movie and we all start fantasizing about having magical powers and wands and zapping our enemies and exorcizing demons!

That’s the mistake humans always make in response to Jesus. We want to own His power. He want us to own our peace.

We must learn to think of ourselves as conduits for the workings of the Spirit and allow ourselves to be sent, and led, into new and mysterious currents.

This is like kayaking on the New River.  It is dangerous, and wild and you might get sucked into a sandstone cave and drown or you might get bitten by a water moccasin.  I mean, I’m not going out there on that river!  That is not for me!

But I can imagine floating with the flow of the Holy Spirit by learning to listen to the ways that God is already working in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  I can imagine finding ever new ways to share the Gospel and care for the needy and stand for justice.  I can imagine this because it has already happened.  God has brought us thus far and God will lead us safely home. All we have to do is join. It’s not hard work at all.

So, my friends, join me in learning to listen prayerfully in new ways to when and where and how Jesus is sending us.