Luke 10:1-11, 16-20Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox
In recent years, in my hometown of Baytown, Texas, my father has undertaken a work of conversion: the transforming of an unused patch of suburban back yard into a vegetable garden. He has tilled the earth, built raised planting beds, enriched the soil, planted seeds and watered and pulled endless weeds. And all that before so much as one blessed tomato or pepper shows up. It is tiresome, necessary work, but not always immediately rewarding in itself, this business of getting the garden ready.
In the gospel this morning, the Seventy are getting the garden ready: They too are tilling the soil; pulling out the weeds and rocks and old tires. They are building connections with the people they meet, for something that they, the Seventy, know is coming. They have been with Jesus, learning from him and watching him, and now they are being sent out to do and say the things they have seen and heard him do and say.
They are engaged in Preparatio evangelica—preparation of themselves and of the people they meet, to hear the Good News of God’s deeds in Jesus, and in those who follow Jesus. Jesus is intending to go into the towns and villages of Galilee himself; he’s sending the advance team ahead to get folks ready to receive what he brings to them.
Jesus speaks to his followers, who are now becoming this advance team: “Travel light; don’t get distracted. Carry and embody the Peace of God as you go. Be content with whatever comes your way; share what you have been given: healing, salvation, and the news of the Kingdom near at hand. If they reject you, shake off the dust and move on; if they acclaim you and celebrate you for miraculous deeds, give thanks that God has been there with you. Do not take personally what comes next—for good or for ill.”
This is a very different set of instructions on living than we hear most of the time. And the Seventy don’t quite understand either. They go and do as Jesus tells them, and then come rushing back excited about everything they are able to do. “Jesus, you won’t believe what happened! Check it out…” And Jesus has to tell them again “Look y’all, that’s great, but it’s really not the point. The spiritual fireworks, and demonstrations of power, and the healings, and everything—none of those things are an end in themselves.
Remember the message: ‘The kingdom, the dominion, the power and presence of God Almighty, is here. Right here, among you, in your midst. You don’t have to go running around looking for it or trying to conjure it up; it’s here, for you all, right now.’”
Then and now, Jesus speaks this word to his hearers: that it is possible to travel lightly on the earth, not accumulating things for the sake of a false sense of security; that it is possible to depend on hospitality and kindness from others.
That it is possible, and more than possible, to live in and into the peace of God which passes all understanding, which is not dependent on outward circumstances, even in the midst of sickness and struggle.
That it is more than possible—that it is needful, that it is essential—to call forth the healing and saving power of the Reign of God into the places we see in need of that healing, saving, amazing grace. Because even in those places of need, whether in our own private lives or out there in God’s beloved and broken world, salvation and healing and grace are to be had. They are near; they are at hand. And so we can do all that Jesus asks us to do. Because we have been given all that we need to do with.
The garden is waiting. God’s kingdom garden longs to flourish and grow and bear good, nourishing, delicious fruit. We are invited, called, sent, as assistant-gardeners, diggers and weeders and tillers of the soil, to work alongside Jesus the Good Gardener, to make that possibility a reality, in this place, in our time.
My brothers and sisters, may it be so for us; may it be so among us.