After we heard the story of Jesus in Luke 10:1–10, 16–20, I offered last week's prayer-poem from Pray the Story.
I continued the reflection.
He sent them out.
He welcomed them back.
In the gospel narrative this is a one-off sending and welcoming back. Sure, Jesus sends two disciples to get the donkey for his entry to Jerusalem, and again to prepare the Passover meal – but not even after his resurrection does Jesus send the disciples in Luke’s account of the story.
So how do we receive this story, then? Is it simply a one-off, something he literally did just the one time? Or do we read this as an example of the pattern of ministry for the disciples with Jesus – this one story pointing to a practice happening more regularly in their life on the road? It might explain how the stories spread far and wide … I’m imagining.
And I may be imagining it that way because of our own rhythm of sending and gathering, gathering and sending, in Christian churches the world over.
Although our story starts with sending, I am going to start with gathering. Because the shape of our worship together itself starts with ‘gathering.’ Kathleen welcomed us in, shared the news of the community, we processed in the Bible and candle, greeted one another, entering this space with our bodies and our attention.
Do you see in this story of Jesus welcoming the sent ones back again the rejoicing? We rejoice, offer praise, as we come together again after another week.
Jesus also reminds them not to take praise for themselves, as they celebrate the work they were sent to do. This might be our confession, acknowledging our giving in to temptation.
Here, gathered in the house of God, in the presence of the community of Christ, we find shelter, refuge, in the healing grace of a welcoming God, healing for our own turning away, healing the hurt from the transgressions of others.
In this place of shelter and refuge, we enter the story of God together, through our praying and singing, through our proclaiming and hearing of the Sacred Story, through our sacraments of baptism and communion. We enter the story with our whole beings as we gather, seek refuge, pray, and enact the rituals of the people of God.
Even as we sing thanks for the shelter we find under Divine wings, we wonder, where will those wings carry us from here? [as we heard the assurance of forgiveness after our prayer of confession, we sang Trish Watts' 'Under your wings', Sanctuary]
Where will your wings lead us now?
We are gathered not to remain in the safety of this house always, but to be sent with the peace and love we receive here, to share it in the world. The nature of peace is that it spreads. It is contagious. Like love.
The story we hear today describes a way of going into the world. I would like to encourage us all to leave behind our purses, our extra footwear, and keep ourselves to ourselves until we reach a house to enter. OK, what might that look like as practical realities for every day life in Edinburgh?
For the every day we may not be travellers into foreign territory. How might we hear Jesus’ instructions regarding openness to receiving hospitality? Where might we, as individuals, groups, or the church, seek welcome into someone else’s ‘home’.
We often focus on our own space, our home, and how to make it welcoming for others who might join us for worship or friendship or make use of the space for themselves. You’re doing important work with the roof and vestry to make sure this space stays safe and useable.
Do we give as much attention to the way we participate in the life beyond these walls?
I remember joining with you for the mental health festival last year. I wonder if we could see that as a participation in life beyond these walls – figuratively speaking, since events were held within the literal walls. Participation in events like that might be a way of receiving hospitality, from a festival, from the city – what are you doing, can we turn up, be part of it, be present with you, will you welcome us into your program? We don’t always have to run every program ourselves.
What about your own individual lives? Where this week might you seek the hospitality, the welcome, of another? How might you enter the space and life of another as a guest with nothing to offer but peace?
This is where a practical instruction to take no money or luxuries of bountiful wardrobing might become, for us, a metaphor.
What would it be like not to throw money in a homeless person’s hat, but to choose the Grassmarket Centre for your next coffee meeting or film outing?
What would it be like not to pray for the ecumenical partnership between three churches with words, but to choose to worship there once in a while?
What would it be like, I want to ask some Christians I have come across, to visit and get to know refugees and migrants and learn about their Buddhist or Muslim or Jewish or Bah’ai faith rather than seek to convince them of the superiority of Christianity?
What happens when we choose to enter the space of another leaving behind our own baggage and the security it offers, and instead embrace the vulnerability of receiving from another what they have to give?
How might that nurture gratitude, love, peace?
As a student, I live with very limited finances. Many friends from Australia have visited Edinburgh these past couple of years, and we’ve gone out for a meal. Most have insisted on paying for me. It feels like I should be their host, as the resident in this city. It feels like I should offer them hospitality, pay for their meal, as my friend in London does when I am visiting – you’re travelling, she says, I know how costly that is. But I can’t do that for visiting friends. The only gift I have to offer is gratitude. Is the grace to receive the gift offered with acknowledgement, humility, and, let’s be honest, a sigh of relief – for their generosity is what I need right now.
What happens when we choose to remain with those we met first, even when cooler kids enter the room?
Have you been at a party and got stuck in an awkward conversation, awkward for any number of reasons. How often are they conversations with someone who hasn’t anyone to listen, and just needs to be heard? What gift might you offer to remain through your own discomfort long enough for that person to be heard, affirmed, made to feel important. Even if you’ve spotted out the corner of your eye a more interesting conversation partner?
What about those times when we are not made welcome? It is hard not to take that personally. Not to carry around the hurt, the rejection, the feeling of worthlessness.
I wonder, if you actually give the gift of peace to yourself when you shake the dust off your feet, rather than carry the dirt with you?
I find it hard not to carry around the rejections with poetry competitions and scholarship applications and book submissions. Why am I not good enough? I am learning, slowly, to shake the dust off; send the poem out again, write another application. In those moments I also return to the ‘houses’ I know, places and people I have been affirmed, welcomed, encouraged. It restores my own sense of peace and confidence, to go back into the world again.
For we are sent into the world. The rhythm of our lives as people of Christian faith is to gather under the wings of God in community, and to be carried on those wings into the world to share peace. to come back, and go out, again and again.
'Under your wings we find shelter. Where will your wings take us now?' (Trish Watts, 'Under your wings')