- Children | Youth | Family
Loving God, enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children. Amen.
Today we’re going to take a detour from our journey through the Gospel of Matthew and pop into the Gospel of Luke. Today is the Last Sunday of Epiphany – the last Sunday before Lent – which the Episcopal Church also designates as World Mission Sunday.
Today we’re launching the first of a series of Rector’s forums that will shine a light on outreach and invite the parish into a conversation that we’ve been having at the outreach commission, as we discern God’s call to us as a community to deepen our life of faith and service.
As part of these conversations, we’ve been drawing on our interior lives and personal beliefs alongside experiences of service and transformation in community. One of the questions we’ve been dwelling on is: why do outreach?
I was born in Guyana, a small country on the South American mainland.
Even though it’s located on the continent, culturally it is more similar to places like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, or Jamaica. It has a post-colonial history of political instability and on a number of development indicators tends to do worse than other countries in the region, often ranking just above Haiti.
When I was less than a year old, my family moved to Italy. Every two years, my dad’s office paid for our vacation time in Guyana, where we would spend a month on my grandparents’ farm, visiting with relatives that we rarely got to see, immersed in village life that was completely different than what I was used to in Rome.
My parents would tell us stories about the people we met, stories about their childhood, point out changes that they noticed in their villages, and tell us the names of the strange and beautiful birds, flowers, fruits and vegetables we would see. We also spent time with our relatives, accompanying them in their daily routines, exchanging stories and comparing notes about our respective homes, opening our eyes to other aspects of Guyanese culture and history.
Both of my parents grew up in poor families and our accommodation reflected that. My sister and I complained about the bugs, the heat, the limited electricity, the lack of running water, the outhouse, and just a general sense of discomfort (in other words, we were brats).
But when we returned to Rome, back to a house with a big fence around it, and beautiful garden, where we were wanting for nothing, there was always a period of adjustment to settle back at home. I reveled in my comforts but also couldn’t shake the feeling that our life was a little emptier;
we didn’t have as much freedom to roam around and explore, I missed the tight-knit community in the villages where our relatives lived, and I missed the sense of belonging that I experienced there.
As a child, it was confusing and it seemed arbitrary – how come the conditions I lived in were so different than the conditions my relatives lived in? And how do I reconcile the labels of rich and poor, with the complex and rich reality of my experiences in those communities?
These early experiences made me distrust labels and helped me learn that we can be inextricably connected to people even while belonging to disparate realities.
I found a sense of wholeness that my material world could not produce.
And so as I trace my journey, it makes sense to me that I’ve been attracted to community building efforts, trying to get past walls that we build between each other. Probably because in doing so, it helps me break down the walls within myself – the walls standing between parts of my identity – in this case my identity as a Guyanese person, and the reality of my life in Rome, which is also part of who I am.
20th century American philosopher, John Rawls, proposed a thought experiment called the "Veil of Ignorance."
It goes like this: Imagine that you are tasked with building a society, making decisions about resource distribution or policies that govern our lives together. But you don’t know the particular characteristics that you will have in this society, things like your talents or skills, your social class, gender, education, race, or religion. What kind of society would you create?
This thought experiment invites us to let go of our social location as our go-to in order to answer that question. It makes us pause to consider how societal structures impacts some in ways that others might not experience. It confronts us with the truth that we all share a common humanity.
And maybe this is why Jesus sends the 70 out with nothing: he fundamentally changes the way the disciples relate to those they are being sent to, freeing them up to see their common humanity.
To provide a little context – Jesus and his disciples are in Samaria, a region inhabited by a people with whom Jews have a long-standing history of hostility. Immediately preceding our Gospel passage today, Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom was rejected by a Samaritan village in the area. The disciples were angry and asked Jesus whether they should call down fire from heaven to consume that village.
This is the region that Jesus sends his disciples out to go and knock on doors and ask for hospitality. And when he tells them not to carry a purse, a bag or even sandals, he puts them in a position to be vulnerable to those they are sent to – needing them to provide food and shelter.
Jesus tells them to eat whatever is set before them, which for a good Jew observing dietary restrictions, would have been really challenging!
The disciples have three main jobs: to receive food and hospitality, to offer their hosts peace and the promise that the kingdom of God is near.
Jesus completely rearranges the way the disciples relate to the Samaritans, setting up the foundation of a new community, bringing to pass what the Letter to the Ephesians (2:19-22) describes: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God… in [Christ] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
The newly undivided community that God is calling into being is God’s holy dwelling place. God’s holy dwelling place is no longer relegated to the Temple, but is now within a community that is learning to be one.
Luke’s mention of the 70 disciples probably harkens back to the list of 70 nations in Genesis 10, where the Bible lists the descendants of Noah’s sons. According to the Bible, they are the people that gave rise to every nation on the earth following the destruction of the flood.
The 70 disciples, represent all the nations, reflects one of Luke’s key messages to the church: salvation is for all humanity.
Luke tells us about the joyful return of the 70. They return to Jesus, excited about everything they had seen and done – witnesses of God’s power working in them and the new community that was created. Their faith was changed. They were changed.
Not only are we called to be sent out, to be open, humble and vulnerable with those we meet, but we are called to be sent out because in it lies our own transformation.
We are transformed by what we receive from God and from the others that exist behind the walls that divide us; we are called to find our salvation in the well-being and salvation of others. This is the place where we find our humanity restored and where we find God dwelling in and amongst us.
Christ Church has had a rich and varied history of outreach. And there are many outreach efforts taking place within this parish, setting a foundation for us to build upon. After a little over a year of being here, I’ve heard a thirst for deeper relationships especially with Detroit, and a desire to live out our faith through service as an integral part of our spiritual journeys.
As we seek to build and expand on Christ Church’s outreach efforts, discerning God’s call to this parish, I invite you over the next few weeks, to join us at the Rector’s Forums and in the Wednesday night small group discussions in Lent to be part of a community conversation.
And as we do so, we can trust that God will speak through our dialogue and prayer, as we open our hearts to wonder where God is leading us to be uncomfortable, to be faithful, and to be transformed.