New Creation… It’s Everything!

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What God wants and expects of us is that we know how deeply we are loved by him.  And as that happens, God’s love is born in us and it grows… slowly, hidden… like yeast in bread, or like grain in the soil, until it claims the entirety of our lives.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 7, 2013

Isaiah 66:10-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16

Peder Stenslie

As I thought about and worked on my sermon this past week, I could not escape a fundamental problem I had.  The Luke passage is quite bewildering to me.  There’s hardly a thing in it that is meaningful to me… or even makes sense to me.  That’s a problem, isn’t it?

Check it out….  The bit about sending out the 70.  What’s the point with all those instructions they receive?  “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road….”  “[Eat and drink] whatever they provide, … [but] do not move about from house to house.”  What am I suppose to get from all that?  Is that some kind of model I’m supposed to imitate?  Am I supposed to learn something from that?

Wiping off the dust of our feet in protest against those who don’t help us…  What’s that about?  Am I supposed to do that when people diss me?

What about Jesus giving people the authority to tread on snakes and scorpions without fear of being hurt?  What is that supposed to mean to me?  Should we be involving snakes and scorpions in our ministry here?

I’ve tried in my life to make sense of this passage, but I just don’t get it.  So what do I do?  Well, I’ve learned that sometimes there are passages in scripture that I just can’t get any useful meaning from.  And when that happens, the best thing I can do is just let it go.

What helped me come to this conclusion was seeing what happens to people when they insist on making puzzling passages like this one meaningful and important…   Because then things can really get ridiculous.

I’ve known people who insist that Jesus’s instructions to the 70 are instructions either to follow literally or to be decoded or translated for the modern age and, then, followed rigidly.  They become so caught up in being obedient to these strange instructions that it seems central themes of the Gospel get lost.

I’ve heard that line about wiping off the dust of our feet against people used to justify angry, mean reactions toward others we think have wronged us.  But is that what Jesus wants of us? Somehow that doesn’t seem right.  It seems quite opposed to Jesus’s clear message to forgive those who wrong us and to love even our enemies.

Regarding snakes and scorpions, I heard a story on public radio some years ago about a group down in the southeastern U.S. who are called snake handlers.  These are Christians who gather to exercise their faith by handling poisonous snakes.  In doing this they believe they are being faithful to scripture, based on texts like today’s Gospel.

All of these examples, I think, show human beings at their silliest.  They show what happens when people take biblical texts that are confusing and unclear and insist on making sense out of them.
And by trying to force meaning out of strange passages they don’t understand… they lose the truly valuable, meaningful and clear treasure they already have in their hand.

One incredibly valuable lesson I’ve learned in many years of pondering scripture is that it is more important to hang on to what is clear and good than to make sense out of every bit of scripture.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t struggle to understand passages that are confusing to us.  Not at all.  Scripture is something that must be struggled with, because the Word of God usually confounds our human nature.  So it’s always going to be a struggle.  And I’ve certainly discovered some of scripture’s richest passages to be those I’ve struggled with the longest.

The key, however, is honesty.  If I don’t understand the point, or meaning, or lesson of a passage… making something up can’t change that fact; though it will make me into a liar as I claim to understand something I don’t.  At the same time, I need to remember… if I don’t understand the point, or meaning, or lesson of a passage… that doesn’t mean I know nothing.

I know what is necessary and important…  And what is important is imbedded in today’s Gospel lesson, together with all the bewildering stuff.  “Say to them,” Jesus commands, “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”

This is the promise of all scripture… from beginning to end.  That God comes near… holds himself near… to us, his creation.

That message is echoed in today’s Old Testament lesson.  In verse 13, God promises his people:  “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”  The same message is the cornerstone of Jesus’ preaching:  “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)

The true treasure of scripture is the message that the one who created the earth and sea (and all that is in them… including you and I)….  The one who created the sky and endless worlds beyond, loves us with a love both tenacious and tender, like a mother loves her child.

This God knows our hearts and minds.  He knows our pain and emptiness.  And he is always present with us in order to give us the love, strength, life and hope we need to be fully human.  He destroys the power of death and sin so that we might come to know life as he intended it to be… free and eternal.  There is nothing more wonderful, or powerful, or precious than that truth, which is the heart of the Gospel.

Nowhere in scripture does God demand that we figure everything out.  Rather, that’s what our own human nature desires… so bad, in fact, that we will lie in order to pretend we know it all.

What God wants and expects of us is that we know how deeply we are loved by him.  And as that happens, God’s love is born in us and it grows… slowly, hidden… like yeast in bread, or like grain in the soil, until it claims the entirety of our lives.

Paul speaks of that in today’s reading from Galatians.  He criticizes those who think they are so clever and make a big deal out of theological points that just don’t matter.

The “new creation” is what’s important, he writes.  It’s “everything.”

The new creation is change and growth in us that comes about because of the Word of God, the love of God and the Spirit of God active in us.  It is us becoming people of faith, hope, mercy, patience and strength.  That is what matters.  It is everything.

“Say to them,” Jesus commands, “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”  That part of today’s lesson means something to me.  Jesus commands it twice.  We are to say it to those who help us… who receive us… and to those who don’t.  It’s the basic fact of existence that applies to us all.  “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  May that simple fact become the foundation on which we all build our lives.

Amen.