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Church in the Park

Sermon - 7/04/10
Rev. April Oristano
Church in the Park (Sladden Park), Eugene, Oregon

Luke 1:1-4

 

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

 

These are the opening lines of Luke.  The book of Luke, and the book of Acts, originally together but now in our New Testament separated by the book of John.  Dedicated to a Theophilus.  This name would have been recognized by both Jews and Greeks in the 1st and 2nd century communities of the Roman Empire.  How many know Greek?  Not many today are students of Greek, but today we will learn one thing in Greek - Theophilus  - means “lover of God” and so this morning I take heart in knowing that Theophilus may be some Greek dude from back in the day, but today, the lovers of God – are you and I.  We are lovers of God and delighted to hear its message.  And what is that message?

Peace be with you.  The kingdom of God is near.

This message, simple and yet so far, 2000 years and counting, has proven to be quite complicated and somehow intended to unite still continues to divide.

This passage in Luke 10,  is one of a kind.  Not found in Matthew, Mark, or John.  Considered by many scholars to be from an earlier source than even Mark’s gospel. 

It is a guide for the god lovers – a piece of the puzzle that if only heard means hardly anything, could even be unsettling – commissioning a force of 70 for a mission to heal & teach.   But once this message of Luke 10 is experienced in a believer, by someone on the outside, anyone who has always been the outcast, the broken, the seeker, the wanderer - the message means everything, can change anyone.  The kingdom of God is near (or if you read the footnotes, it is at your hand).

I read and reread Chapters 8-11 in Luke this week, over and over and upon the 10th reading it began to appear to me like a great movie preview.  All the words, allusions, images, that left me wanting more – like that new Harry Potter preview, who’s with me?  Who has seen it?  It’s like, yes.  I’ll be there.  Except here we have parables, conversations, miracles and experiences that are developed to give us a feel for the way that Jesus lived,  the way he mentored the disciples, how the disciples lived, and how we too can pick up where they left off.  It’s not a movie b/c it happened to real people.  And if we’re thinking about it to us too.  The message lives.

And what is that message for us today?  How does the preview end?

The kingdom of God is near.  

This was the only message Jesus sends them with then and it is the message we carry with us today and that, if we are called to preach and teach anything, it is this.  The kingdom of God is near.   I ask you, why do I feel the need sometimes, the desire to get clever, to make some message more – it doesn’t get any better than this.  The kingdom of God is near. 

 

Not just near (to me) it is you.  It is in you. 

I mean, What did we experience today already?  In this park, on this grass, at this table, in this public time of prayer?

Have to tell you this too, I stumbled upon, thanks to a friend, a way to do this online - Other6.com – functions like a twitter account for prayer.  It asks you two questions:  how did you experience God today?  How do you need to experience God today?

The kingdom of God, as a phrase/story/idea goes back a long time, before these gospels, back deep into the Israelite heritage of the Exodus – where God is the king who will return to rescue, set right, accomplish the promises of the people.  Not a roman king, or an Egyptian king but God.  Developed so long ago this story, this hope grew and continued to live in the hearts of the lovers of God – imagery we recognize in the psalms – this kingdom with potential to be a great uniter of people, but in the long run, still proves to be difficult to achieve its purpose.  This time to come – a future where all is made right – and for Luke – 50-100 years past Jesus – where is it???  We thought it was right around the corner…it is.  It’s even closer than that.

Jesus used this story, this language of the kingdom of God to bring everyone together – Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, everyone. This Ancient Jewish tradition where God is king – provocative.  It implies a political vision where all are equal – the peace of God is not handed out by some political power but distributed to all.  Each time the kingdom language is used in a gospel story it is to be in contrast with the political present.  And for Luke, this vision, becomes personal in the story of Pentecost, where all in their own language, own religious expression, own culture understand the nearness of God – and their own culture is not destroyed.  This kingdom is a definite contrast to the one imposed by Rome – one language, one religion, one way.

The kingdom of god is near – it is the nearness of God that changes people – – not in some future place, though it may have meant that too – but the anticipation, the hope, the awareness of God in this moment is a power that can create justice now, in the hour when men and women HEAR the word of the nearness of God. 

Do you ever get the feeling, upon meeting someone new, whether they are something special? Someone who, after talking with them or observing them or listening to a speech of theirs you say, that is a good person, I feel goodness coming from that person and I too feel good or want to share that goodness with another?  That is the power that Jesus gave to disciples, the power the disciples are asked to use when meeting others. 

It is said that those who detected the nearness of God stood up and held their heads high.    Those that were healed.  The nearness of god changes people.

In these brief chapters of Luke you can see the nearness of God is measured in the strength of the hope which is spreading among people, not measured in intervals of time, but in the hope that grows, the peace that grows. 

Check it out – first in Chapter 8, Jesus sends out the 12 –in their response, they bring back 5000.

And so now, in Chapter 10, Jesus then sends 70/or 72  - 70 may reflect the seventy nations in Genesis 10, the descendants of Noah and his sons, or 72 signifies the 72 who decided upon the Hebrew to Greek translation we call the Septuagint.  Just like the sending out 12 is linked to the 12 tribes of Israel in the OT.

The instructions are brief, specific.

Carry no purse, no sandals, greet no one on the way – this means “stay on task people, you are on the clock here. Don’t get distracted.  It would be a weird mission if you weren’t to be nice to anyone or never say hello. 

Go humbly but not unprepared.  Go in peace but don’t expect peace to return to you.  That’s what “shaking the dust from your feet” means to me.  It means don’t pick up the inhospitality of others, you stay on message.

Eat what comes to you.  Implicit in this command is the removal of all social barriers – eat meat, don’t eat meat, manners, norms and customs -

Heal those that are there. 

I know it is difficult in this day and this time to consider ourselves to be healers, for lots of reasons we ask ourselves how will we ever live up to that legacy?  Is that really what Jesus is asking me to do?

The people who hoped for healing from Jesus also relied on his capacity to hand on God’s power.  He was knows to pass it on through word and contact with others.  “He made the sick his partners in the fight for the life of the children of God.”  Being healed meant becoming a child of God.  You’ve got no tools per se – but you have the tools within, the gifts of the spirit to help you.  You carry the heart of Christ in you.  

It doesn’t matter where you are, but if you go with that vision you will swiftly, amazingly, spread the kingdom to others.  on not much more than a smile.

God is near.  God is here. 

All that has previously divided, Jesus wants to bring together.  All the hope built, Luke does not want to disappear, he takes his role as disciple seriously.  Today we have been handed a guidebook that shows us all the wrong and right ways to be in this world. 

In this kingdom, there are no divisions of class, gender, race, sexual orientation.  Jesus sends we disciples out with a simple message. 

Go.                            Welcome.

Be.                            Think.

Peace.                       Thank.           

Dream.                        Hope.

 

Wherever you are – whatever unique circumstances you find…

In the park or at the bus station or In Ecuador

In your house or at work

In the country or city. 

In the jails or the hospitals or in the poorest villages of China, India, Thailand, Zimbabwe, the United States.

The kingdom of God is there.  Is here.  Is here (with heart).  Lived from the inside OUT.  Lived here this morning.  Doesn’t even require shoes.  Shoes would be a bonus. 

This weekend, as we celebrate our freedom to think, to pray in our own language, to work, to play, as we celebrate America – we can be thankful.  We are hopeful for the future because God is near and will meet us wherever we go.

The kingdom of God is here.  May it be so.

 

 

 


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