4 Pentecost, Proper 9 – July 3, 2022
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Jan Richardson tells the story of a church trip to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in Alaska. It held an exhibit entitled A World of Maps. These maps were unlike any she had ever seen.
Artists from across the United States had taken the familiar forms of cartography, stretching and pushing and translating them into a fascinating library of landscapes. There were altered maps, painted maps, collaged maps. There were maps in the form of sculpture, of books, of pottery. There was a map that unfolded like a scroll, a map in the form of a diptych, a woven map. More than describing the geography of the physical world, these maps charted worlds of imagination, fantastical realms, the terrain of the soul and spirit. The maps told stories of things seen and unseen, and they challenged ideas about borders and boundaries. They embodied the lure and the hazards of exploring worlds unknown—and the worlds we think we know.
In this week’s gospel, Jesus gives the disciples the closest thing they ever get to a map for their ministry. In telling them to go and proclaim the good news that “The kingdom of heaven has come near,” Jesus provides a rough—not to mention sobering—chart of the landscape they will venture into. He tells them of the hazards the terrain will likely pose, what towns and people to avoid, and how to navigate occasions of hospitality and resistance and hatred. And he gives them the authority to do the work he has called them to do: to chart a path that will be marked by healing and restoration.
So, these seventy people that Jesus appointed—we are not given their names. They are not prominent, like John or Peter or Andrew. They are quiet, unassertive, ordinary folks. These seventy—we do know their number—its a number that stands for wholeness and completion. These seventy represent everybody. They represent you and me.
So let’s consider the instructions he gives to the 70 before he sends them on their way: Carry no purse or sandals. Speak peace when you enter a house. Eat what is placed before you. Invest in one home, one family, one town. Speak of what is near, not far. Don’t linger in hopeless places. Don’t get cocky; remember that the kingdom of God comes near whether you are accepted or rejected. Trust that any peace which is spurned will return to you; nothing in God’s kingdom is wasted.
In other words, the task Jesus sets before the seventy is hard because it is easy. In fact, it’s so easy, it feels both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. It’s so easy, it makes us wary, suspicious, and cynical. What is the task? The task is to live simply and vulnerably. The task is to rely on the grace and hospitality of others. The task is to stay in one place — to encounter, to engage, and to go deep. The task is to live as guests, sharing our faith with others as if they’re our hosts, the people we depend on for sustenance and shelter. The task is to speak peace, first and last. The task is to let go in love. The task is to believe always in the abundance and nearness of God’s economy.
When the disciples return to Jesus (presumably having done exactly what he asked of them), they are filled with joy. As they describe all the wonders they’ve witnessed, Jesus says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” Meaning: when we do what Jesus asks of us, when we travel the path of vulnerability, humility, and peace-making, evil trembles. Demons fall. The world changes. God’s kingdom comes.
It is the Fourth of July weekend. The pilgrims and pioneers who settled this land were incredibly aware that their survival depended on each other. The colonies they eventually established, we called “commonwealths,” places where the good of any individual was inextricably linked to the good of the whole.
Margaret Wheatley has this to say about acknowledging interconnectedness: Acknowledging interconnectedness requires that we take responsibility for noticing how we affect other people, that we realize how our behavior and choices impact others, even at a distance… Before the culture of rampant individualism took over, traditional societies had for millennia based their cultures on profound knowledge of enlightenment; most cultures, even today, have words and concepts to describe it. In South Africa, the word is ubuntu . Archbishop Tutu describes it: `Ubuntu means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say `a person is a person through other people.’ It is not `I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: `I am human because I belong.’
And there is an African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
So, still making our maps as we go, let’s pray for a measure of the imagination of those artists in Anchorage, who pushed and stretched the traditional forms, who ventured beyond the customary boundaries, who dared to look deeper into their landscape, and deeper still. More than that, let’s pray for the imagination of the One who looked out into the terrain of a world “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” a world broken by illness and injustice, a world bent by pain and hunger. Let’s pray for the imagination of Christ, who dared to look into this world and to ask those who traveled with him, “Want to make a new map?”
Many blessings and traveling mercies as you continue to chart your way. Amen.