Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
1After 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. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ ” 16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Last week, someone in Superior wanted to know when the parade was supposed to start on the 4th.  Someone else answered, and the first said thanks.  Then came the brouhaha.  This was not limited to instructions on how to look such things up for oneself.  It included disparagement of people’s honor, intelligence, and motivation… on both sides!

Why has it become so difficult for people to treat others well?

I believe part of the reason is that the world has gotten smaller.  Of course, it is still the same size, but it’s much easier for us to reach the other side of it than it ever was before.  It’s much easier for us to make judgements over people we never meet in person.  We are no longer as confined to one area as much as we were even 30 years ago.  The miracle of modern communication brings live action around the world in milliseconds, and it’s great and wonderful—until we expect everything about that place around the world to be just like it is here, and the people just like we are, and we criticize when it’s not.

That’s what it sounds like we are to do in the Gospel reading, though, doesn’t it?  Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.”  Doesn’t that sound like criticism, like passing judgment?  Is that what we are supposed to do about those who are different?

I found very interested something shared on the ELCA group page this past week.  It is said to come from Bixby Knolls, a neighborhood in Long Beach, California, and references thehappygivers.com, but I will admit I didn’t research that further.  Who provided the post, however, is less important than what it says, and what it says is easily verifiable, because it comes right out of the Bible.  This is what it says:

THE BIBLE IS CLEAR:  Moabites are bad.  They were not to be allowed to dwell among God’s people (Deuteronomy 23).  BUT THEN comes the story of “Ruth the Moabite,” which challenges the prejudice against Moabites.  [I will add that Ruth is an ancestress of Jesus.]
THE BIBLE IS CLEAR:  People from Uz are evil (Jeremiah 25).  BUT THEN comes the story of Job, a man from Uz who was the “most blameless man on earth.”
THE BIBLE IS CLEAR:  No foreigners or eunuchs allowed (Deuteronomy 23).  BUT THEN comes the story of an African eunuch welcomed into the church (Acts  8).
THE BIBLE IS CLEAR:  God’s people hated Samaritans.  BUT THEN Jesus tells a story that shows not all Samaritans were bad.
THE STORY MAY BEGIN with prejudice, discrimination, and animosity, but the Spirit moves God’s people towards openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance, and affirmation.

In today’s Gospel Story, Jesus sends people on ahead of him with very specific instructions.  The instructions, however, are not on how to force the sale.  They are not told what words to say to make sure you get in the door.  They are not to foist themselves upon people who are not likely to welcome them.

When the seventy returned, it seems they all experienced welcome, at least somewhere.  We’re not given any stories of their not being received.

The reality is that we will experience both welcome and rejection wherever we go.  Some will welcome, and some will reject, even within congregations or families.  We had a story of Jesus being rejected just last week, in the Scripture that immediately precedes this one.  Yet, in the midst of both welcome and rejection, one thing is constant.  “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Did you notice that?  When those who are sent out are welcomed, they are instructed to say that the kingdom of God has come near, and when they are NOT welcomed, they are still instructed to say that the kingdom of God has come near. 

In this small world, with people of varied beliefs and practices, we might be somewhat nervous as we encounter those who are very different from us.  We might even be afraid.  We may encounter one another through the lenses of social media, or news reports, or personal encounters of someone we know (sometimes a few times removed).

Today’s Gospel, I believe, allows us to let go of our nervousness, or fear, because it does not require all those other people to be exactly like us in order to experience the nearness of God’s kingdom. 

People of differing political parties can share the nearness of the kingdom of God.  Even people with no religious faith at all can find themselves approached by the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God has come near to you today.  Be of good courage, because Jesus loves you, and God’s love is expanded through this world in you, in your neighborhood, and around the world.

I wondered, earlier, why it seems to be so difficult for people to treat one another well.  Maybe it’s easier than we think.  Maybe it will become easier the more we practice it.  Today, maybe more than ever, God’s love is needed in this world.  Maybe expressions of that love will be more common when our neighbors learn from us how to love—even those people we may not like very well.  After all, the kingdom of God does not depend upon us.  Yet, we can be instruments of that kingdom’s expansion.  Know this, the kingdom of God has come near, and can expand through you.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.