Sermon: “Returning with Joy!” (9/21/14)

It is so good to be back in this place. I have missed you! I can’t wait to tell you about my adventures—and maybe a few of the misadventures. And I can’t wait to hear about yours!

But, oh my goodness! Where do we start? How do we go about this re-entry process? Do we just pick up where we left off, ignoring all we’ve experienced, all we’ve learned during the sabbatical? Or do we dwell only on what’s happened the past four months? That’s a real temptation for me. Sabbatical was wonderful! I had a good plan, but things took on a life of their own and my time away ended up far surpassing my wildest hopes.

Here’s how far sabbatical surpassed my expectations. When it came time to pack for Ireland, I didn’t want to go. I wanted to come back to work! “Oh, well,” I said to Allen. “We planned this trip. It’s already paid for. I guess we’ve got to go.” I’m glad we did. So glad that I’d LOVE to tell you all about it. I’d also LOVE to hear about your sabbatical experiences. But would dwelling on what happened during sabbatical be the best way to live into our post-sabbatical reality?

I suspect we’ll find our way into post-sabbatical life neither by ignoring the sabbatical nor by dwelling on it. The best path likely lies somewhere in between. In the meantime, today’s Gospel lesson might give us some insight as we begin navigating our re-entry process.
The passage begins: “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” “After this, Jesus appointed 70 others….” After what? And from whom were the 70 other?

Let’s jump back and read the verses just prior to today’s passage:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’                (Luke 9:57-62)

So, Jesus sends out the 70 after all these people who say they want to follow him find every excuse in the world not to. The 70, then, are other from the excuse-makers in that they are ready to forsake everything to prepare the way for Jesus RIGHT NOW.

And when I say “forsake everything,” I do mean everything. Listen: “Go on your way…4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it? Why no purse (aka, money), bag, or sandals?

After this summer, I think I understand what Jesus was talking about. In preparation for the trip to Ireland, I bought this (Purse).


I don’t usually carry a purse—it’s just one more thing for me to lose–but I thought it might be helpful to carry my passport, snacks, that sort of thing. And it’s got a long strap, so I can sling it over my neck. I’m less likely to lose it that way. Here’s the thing about purses, though. No matter their size, they collect things. Lots of things. Things like receipts, money, books, puzzle books, pens, Kindles and—should you choose to purchase one—an Irish whistle. Purses are super-magnets for stuff. (The money part wasn’t a problem. That’s why God created ATMs, right?)
Don’t even get me started about bags!

photo (2)We were told by the tour company to use a small suitcase and to “pack light.” C’mon! You can’t have it both ways! Do you want a small suitcase or do you want a suitcase that’s “packed lightly?” Allen and I spent a lot of time in Ireland fretting over our small, tightly packed suitcases… In the end, we had to mail a bunch of stuff home—including dirty laundry—just to make room in our bags for more stuff. “Bags” just mean baggage—in every sense of the word.

Sandals. (Sandals)

photo (1)Yeah. These sandals are pretty ratty-looking. And this is pretty much how they looked at the beginning of the summer. But they are so comfortable and have good support for my problematic feet. I just couldn’t part with them. In fact, I wore them so much this summer, I have sandal tans!
But sandals don’t always work in Ireland. There are some sunny days and warm weather….but that weather can change in an instant and become cold and rainy. A couple of days into the trip, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to use my beloved ratty sandals on the tour…which means they became yet one more thing to lug around.
So, when Jesus sends the 70 out without purses, bags, or (we’ll assume) extra sandals– his message is clear: If you take stuff with you on this journey, it will only attract more stuff. It’s a scientific fact: stuff attracts stuff. After a while, you’ll be so focused on dealing with the stuff that you’ll forget why you were sent in the first place: to prepare the way for Jesus.
In addition to forsaking material things, Jesus also warns the 70 “not to greet anyone on the road.” Well, that just sounds rude, doesn’t it? Aren’t Christians supposed to be friendly?

After my travels this summer, I get this part, too. When you greet someone you don’t know, you never know where the conversation is going to lead….especially if folks find out you’re a pastor.  :-/  It’s so easy for someone else’s agenda to supplant your plans. If you greet someone you DO know, though, losing focus is even easier: you have to catch up on news, complain about politicians, gossip. All these things are important, but ultimately, they’re distractions.

I don’t think Jesus is advocating rudeness here. Instead, I think he’s warning the 70 against allowing other people to set your agenda for you. If you’re following someone else’s agenda, you’re not following Jesus, right? Certainly, a lot of the work of following Jesus involves greeting and serving others….but if other people’s agendas take over, we are distracted from fulfilling our primary mission: preparing the way for Jesus.

So, Jesus sends out the 70 reminding them that anything that diverts their attention away from preparing the way for him is extraneous. I don’t think Jesus is saying that purses (or money), bags, extra sandals, and openness to others are, in and of themselves, bad things. I do think he’s saying that if any of those things gets in the way of working for the kin-dom, then we’ve missed the point. If we want to follow Jesus, that has to be our primary focus. If it’s not, we’re nothing more than discipleship dilettants.

Sabbatical was great! I had some amazing experiences that I can’t wait to share with you. But the big take-away from sabbatical for me is this: Where faith is concerned, dilettantism is dangerous. With all that’s going on the world—all that’s happened in just the last four months—people of faith can’t be distracted from the important work of discipleship: sharing God’s love with others, seeking justice, and acting others into well-being. If people of faith don’t live their faith with thoughtfulness, what will become of Iraq and Syria and Liberia? If people of faith don’t live their faith with integrity and authenticity, What will become of Ferguson or Gaza or Jerusalem? If people of faith don’t live their faith full-on and focused, What will happen to all the children and families without homes or healthcare or food?

As I’ve visited churches this summer and thought about the church (universal)’s role in the world, I’ve become convinced that people of faith have let ourselves get distracted by things that just don’t matter. At one church I attended, the service began with 12 minutes of announcements. I hadn’t come to hear announcements. I had come to hear the good news. I had come to hear something that would help me make sense of what was going on in Ferguson. I had come to hear something that would inspire me to live my faith with more authenticity and vigor. Instead, I heard 12 minutes of announcements. (In contrast, when I proofed the Tidings this week, I was astonished all over again to see just how much this congregation does to act others into well-being.)

So, what does all this mean as we begin our journey of settling back into the rhythm of our life together here at Pilgrimage? All the ins and outs of it, all the details….we’ll figure that out as we go. We’ll talk, we’ll share stories, we’ll party. And yes. There WILL be photographs!

But the important thing, the crucial thing, the absolutely necessary thing is this: in everything we do—whether it’s navigating our post-sabbatical life together or anything else—in everything we do, the Number 1 thing must always be preparing the way for Jesus. The reason we are here is to share God’s love with others, to seek justice for all people, especially those on the margins of society…the reason the church exists is to act everyone on the planet—and the planet, too—into well-being. Anything—anything—that gets in the way of that is extraneous.

So, what happens when we live our faith full-on and focused? What happens when we don’t let ourselves become distracted from our mission of preparing the way for him?
When Jesus sent those 70 focused disciples to prepare the way for him, Luke tells us they “returned with joy.” He also says, “They returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” but I’m going to have to get my preaching chops back before I can tackle a statement like that! For today, it is enough to know that if we go out to prepare the way for Jesus, the way of love and peace and justice….if we go out to fulfill our mission free of all distractions, every time, every time! We, too, will “return with joy.”

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2014

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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