I invite you to get comfortable. Settle into your chair. And start thinking about your super powers. For one thing that I learned this week is that this passage from the book of Luke takes a while to unpack. Your super powers are needed!
For today, Jesus challenges us. Get ready. We have listened. We have been taught. We have the tools. And now we need to recognize that we have God-given super powers. So look again. Listen. Jesus speaks:
“I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky… Safe passage (to you) as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you (Luke 10:18-19, The Message).”
Yikes. Wolves and lightning, snakes and scorpions. This is the reality of the lives of the people in the first century Roman Empire. And… ours today. Have you sensed it? There… is… something… there. Here. As the Rev. Jim Forbes says, “spiritual warfare is intense.”
But before you get too overwhelmed, I want to tell you that there is LOTS of Good News here too! We know it, and we have seen this happen before. THIS is our faith practice. The practice of being “sent out” that is an integral part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In the bible, throughout time, and yet today, we are sent. Again, and again.
Today it is the 70 people sent out in pairs (for following Jesus is, of course, a team sport!). Just a few chapters earlier in Luke, it was the twelve disciples. Jesus gave them all super powers. Yes, super powers. What else do you call the authority “over all demons and to cure diseases” (Luke 9:1)?
“And he sent them out to proclaim the kin-dom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic… They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere” (Luke 9:3-6).
Going, giving and receiving radical hospitality. THIS is the moving, Love packed super power of the Good News.
I want to highlight just how important this “sending out” is for us as people who follow Jesus. So important in fact that I think this is “yellow highlighter important,” integral to our faith practices. For it happens not only twice in Luke, but writers of Mark and Matthew also document this story (Mark 6:7-13, Matthew 10:1-23). Anytime something in the bible is repeated in multiple books, by multiple writers, in multiple times and places… listen up! Get out that yellow highlighter, remember the story, for God is saying “this is important.” Take time to highlight that THIS is what being a part of the Jesus movement is all about.
Extravagant love and radical hospitality offered. But not in the places you would expect. THIS is the super power of the Good News.
OK, so now I am going to ask you to pause there for a moment. Help me to make a slight shift. For throughout the summer we are purposefully taking time to talk about how we Be the Church. Memorial United Church of Christ has embraced this idea of being a faith community that “reaches out in ever-widening circles.” But how we do that today, when there are soooooo many circles going on around us? There are so many economic, and social, and justice issues around us that we can get anxious. Experience paralyzing fear. A sense of overwhelming helplessness. Guilt. Shame. When we encounter too many circles… we find our spiritual kryptonite.
These feelings of anxiety, helplessness, fear, guilt, and shame, can drain any sense of hope, love, and transformation, from our souls. Where is heaven on earth? As science driven, logical, post-modern people, we often cringe when we hear talk about devils and Satan, fire and fiery… but when I look around, I don’t know how we can avoid not acknowledging that we are in a time of spiritual warfare. And… that this is…intense.
As is was for the disciples. The women and men who followed Jesus. Here we are, once again, with Jesus. Not just hanging out, but sent out. Given our superpowers. Sent out as lambs. Sent out into the den of the world, packed with the ferocious power of wolves, ready to devour.
With all the negative rhetoric and spiritual warfare swirling about, the superpower we are given is… as… lambs? Yikes.
How do you feel about that?
People of God—how would you describe our superpower?
In the Sunday School rooms, there are posters with images of “Super Heroes of the Bible” up on the walls. Hannah. Paul. Mary.
Walking through the youth rooms this week, one sign in particular caught my attention. It says, “God’s heroes have courage.” Courage. Yeah… sometimes for me in today’s world, not so much. Using Jesus’ metaphor as sheep, how in the world do we find our courage? Somehow, this intersection between Jesus’ sending us out as lambs and the empire’s realm of wolves unsettles me.
But it also gives me great determination.
Because yes, there are wolves in the world today. Structural evils that devour people. Children. Rob them of their sense of trust. Hope. Dignity. Respect.
Just when it seems that God has turned away, that Evil has won, it is God…through us… with us… that shows up. That needs to show up. It is us who is sent out. The Rev. Dr. Will Willimon stated recently that, “In a world of deceit and lies, we get to tell the truth.”
““The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers… Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves (Luke 10:2-3, CEB).”
In a world of deceit and lies, we have been sent out to tell the truth.
Spiritual warfare is intense.
The first Monday of each month (as this past Monday was), Memorial UCC hosts a dinner at Luke House on Ingersoll Street in Madison. Every month, this long-standing ministry needs around 30 members and friends of the church to prepare, transport, and serve the food to our neighbors who are food insecure. This is not just us, going there, serving “them,” but an opportunity to be with, eat with, talk with people who in turn shift the concept of radical hospitality. They welcome us. We make connections. Build relationships. This is a cross-generational opportunity to “see.” Hear.
And there are stories. This past Monday was hot. I watched as a young woman and man as they brought a stroller laden with their possessions into the dining room. Carefully set on the seat was a child, that appeared to be no more than 8-10 weeks old. I do not know their story, but I have seen other families with young children sleeping out on the streets of Madison. I imagine the discomfort not only of sleeping on the streets, but the heat, the fear, the uncertainty of day-to-day life.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale reminds us that “When you are poor, you are vulnerable.” She goes on to note that these youth, our children, are at risk of:
- Childhood hunger.
- Decreased education
- Decrease medical care and increased health concerns
- Decreased employment opportunities
- Increased sexual exploitation.
How, and where, do we need to tell this truth?
At Luke House this week I also witnessed one of the youth from Memorial leave the job he was doing in the kitchen. He walked into the dining room and approached a man who was sitting alone. A man that I have seen nearly every time I have been at Luke House. The teen walked up to the man, smiled and said, “I just wanted to come over and say ‘hi.’” They proceeded to have a conversation. I couldn’t hear what they talked about, but that isn’t the point. The power of this moment of hospitality is that they have developed a relationship. Mutual respect. They “see” each other.
So here we are. Hanging out with Jesus. There are so many ways in which we Be the Church and care for the poor. And we in turn are transformed. God’s kin-dom is revealed. Yet in the empire’s den of wolves, there is so much more yet to do.
This, beloved, is spiritual warfare. It is intense. We must have courage. We must embrace our super powers. Love. Grace. Hospitality. Here. In covenant with one another and beyond these walls, in community. And always, with God.
For this is the radical hospitality that flips over the hierarchy of the empire and invites everyone—no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey—to gather around the table. In a world of deceit and lies, this is the Truth we get to tell.
People of God, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine… Go!” (Luke 10:2-3, CEB)
May we have the courage.
 Willimon, Will, Rev. Dr., Lecture, Festival of Homiletics, Minneapolis, May 2019.
 Hale, Cynthia, Rev. Dr., lecture, Festival of Homiletics, Minneapolis, May 2019.