7th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 66 and Luke 10:1-9
7 July 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Most of you know I’ve been away for three Sundays. It is always good but difficult to leave town for more than two weeks. I always become obsessive about accomplishing things that I would never do, if I had stayed here. It is hard to trust God enough to leave the busy-ness of life behind – to believe that the house, the family, and the church will not fall apart in my absence. That’s kind of an arrogant attitude isn’t it? Thinking that life cannot be managed well without me. That is what’s fundamental to the notion of a weekly Sabbath. Stopping long enough each week to know that God is the One holding the world together – not me. I rarely open my computer on Sunday after church until Monday evening. Sunday sundown to Monday sundown is my Sabbath time. When is yours?
On vacation, I dared to go as long as a week without checking email – so refreshing – yet risky. What if I miss something crucial? Oh well, God and the good people of Peace will take care of it. And look what happened while I was gone! A signed contract to purchase the Aurora Property, pending your approval today, a grant of $23,000 from the Presbyterians in Dunedin – great news!
It is always a risk to go places, but God calls his people to go. The Psalm for today reflects on the successful passage of the Israelites from Egypt – now that was a risk! Do you think they wanted to leave Egypt? You might say, “Well of course, they did. Slavery was tough!” But slavery in Egypt was all they knew. At least it was predictable. People in abusive relationships often stay because of the security of the familiar. It is dangerous to try to exit. But God said to Moses, “Take my people and go.” They were anxious, but they went. Had they not gone, they would not have been able to express this sentiment of trust that the exodus from Egypt inspired, a journey which became their primary narrative for understanding who they were – they were people rescued by God. Here now this portion of Psalm 66:
5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him, 7 who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let the rebellious not exalt themselves.
8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
You know one of the biggest differences between the ancient people of faith and us. They gave God credit for everything – good and bad. We are more nervous to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, even though as Presbyterians, as part of the Reformed tradition, we claim that to be one of our most important doctrines – that God is in charge of the world, not us. Notice the Psalm does not say that Moses turned the sea into dry land, but God did. Come and see what God has done! That is the best message of evangelism, of witness to the truth. “Come and see what God has done.” It is all in how you tell the story. Nobody wants to hear your brag about your life, but change the language and say, “See what God has done and it can become great news!” Come and see that despite all my parental mistakes, my children are still alive. Amazing! Come and see my church – the people are great, despite all my pastoral weaknesses. Come and see my God – who loves me, even though I am a mess.
Come and see the miracle that with all the risks of life, we are still alive today. Why do we presume so much? If we just stopped to realize every day that God has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip, we would be grateful. I am more aware of the fragility of life when with my mom. Every step is a potential foot slip moment, and a foot slip moment could mean a broken hip, and a broken hip often leads to worse things, even death, in someone who is older. But my mom trusts God and likes to go places, even with the risk. She even joined her grandkids on the outdoor dance at the wedding party of my nephew last week-end. Trusting that God is sovereign takes courage. It means interpreting history in such a way that you express that trust.
We could be worried that it did not work out for us to build a 3 million dollar church on the five acres that Presbytery bought for us. We could be mad that it did not work out for us to stay here and lease longer or even buy this place. We could be upset that it did not work out for us to buy the Faith Church property. But we’re not because we trust that God is sovereign.
We could be anxious that our timing of transition produces some challenges this fall, but instead we are choosing to believe that God has a hand in all these unusual twist and turns, and that in the end, if we concentrate on simply being faithful and prayerful each step of the way, we will have our own “promised land” just where and when God intends. By God’s grace we can become our best selves as a congregation with the most flexible, grateful, loving and faithful character we can possibly have. I can tell you already that when I listen to other pastors and they listen to me, they are often envious of me – for having such an adaptable and dedicated congregation. They moan about 20% of the people doing all the work in the church, but at Peace, it is just the opposite. 80% of the people are significantly involved, working week in and week out, to keep the church’s ministries and mission going.
And speaking of mission, that brings us to our next reading – another scripture about taking risks. Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, sends the seventy out to accomplish his work, to labor in the field. It is not an easy mission. The harvest is plentiful, laborers few. Oh, and by the way, take nothing with you – trust God to take care of you. Hear the Gospel reading from Luke:
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.
2 He 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.
3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
5 Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!'
6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person;
but if not, it will return to you.
7 Remain 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.
8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;
9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'
As we consider our next move as a church, not only are we called to trust God in going, but we are also called to trust that we will have enough. We do not have all the money we will need, but we will count on God’s providence. We are not being ridiculous. We have a well-reasoned plan, that includes trusting God about our future. And it is not just about finding a place for our comfort. We are kingdom people. We are in the business of sharing the peace that God has given us with others. We need a building and land, not just for us, but so we can do more to share the peace which is ours in Christ. Our Savior said to his followers, “Go, trust God, and share peace with others.” If the peace you share is not received, don’t worry. You’ve lost nothing – that peace comes back to you. But keep taking the risk to share it, because you will not deplete Christ’s peace. There is always enough of that to share.
But here’s the other message from this passage: Sharing Christ’s peace with others means getting involved with them – eating their food, whatever it is, getting involved with them enough to go where they are – not just wait for them to come to you. Christianity is relational. It is about a relationship with Jesus Christ and a relationship with other people. Relationships involve risk. They take energy. They require that we look beyond ourselves and our needs to consider the peace that others seek and how to build relationships with them, so that peace can be effectively shared.
Finally, I’d like to talk about those who founded this country so many years ago, and the courage they had to go – to leave their country, to leave their families, to leave all that was familiar and comfortable. Some of them left because of poverty. Some of them left under force and were thrust violently into slavery here. Some of them came seeking religious freedom. But all of them developed a spirit of courage and adaptability in going – whether they went joyfully or reluctantly or fearfully. They learned to trust God, to depend on God, and to be grateful for God’s gifts.
Some of them had the attitude that this was the new “Promised Land” and that God’s preference was for us, over and against all other nations and peoples. That attitude has not been helpful. But on this holiday week-end, let us remember to give thanks to God for the blessings of this great land, for our freedom, and for all the opportunities we have here and the sacrifices made on our behalf. Let us thank God for the openness with which our country was founded, as a melting pot of different cultures, a place where people with differences can and should live in respect and mutual dignity. And let us commit to continuing the best of that legacy.
And let us give thanks to God for this congregation and the journey of faith we share with Christians of all nations and some degree with all people of all faiths. We have the opportunity this day, people of Peace, to step forward in faith, trusting God – that our feet will not slip. When you read the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt and traveling through the wilderness, it is the Lord leading them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. They don’t know exactly where they are going and when they will get there. There are times of complaining and murmuring, of getting confused and worshiping idols instead of the true God, but they learn to put their trust in God, and so do we, as we keep taking risks to go where God calls and to do things that might otherwise be impossible, but with God’s help we can do. We keep extending the peace of Christ wherever we go, whether that peace is embraced or not, we never lose it – even though we are lambs in the midst of wolves. We trust God to provide and we journey on.