Scripture: Luke 10:1-10, 16-20
Scripture is always interesting. Like I mentioned last week, we can read a passage one day and due to the various aspects of our current life, we can read it again a number of days later and it would move our souls in a totally different way. This is why it is often said to be living. But the words themselves are not what is living but the Spirit behind the words working within us. We can study the original language and know the history and cultural background to gain knowledge of what the writers might have been talking about, but even with this knowledge without knowing the Spirit behind the words they are just as empty as any other work of literacy.
The cycle between the knowledge of scripture and the mysticism behind the scripture has been running throughout history. We see it in the conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees; we see it also throughout the ages of the church. This cycle was the difference that started the schism between the Church of England and the original Friends. Often the Quakers are seen as not having a high regard of Scripture because they would focus so fully on discerning the Spirit. George Fox in his journal said, “Yet I had no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in the Spirit by which they were given forth: and what the Lord opened in me I afterwards found was agreeable to them.”
What that means is that both the Spirit behind the scripture and the words of the Scripture will be in agreement. At times we may not understand how they agree, like how last week the would be followers of Jesus could not say goodbye to the family while in the Old Testament Elisha was allowed to say bye to his family before following Elijah. In fact most critics of the Scripture look at these seeming contradictions and stop, not taking the time to really seek out the answers. Then there are others develop theologies around one reading and disregard the other, which is where we have most of the debates among protestant churches. For Friends we do not necessarily take sides in these debates but try very hard to harmonize what we read and also what seek discernment in prayer. It sounds like a lot of work.
Scripture is layered with various literary styles: humor, poetry, legal documentation, and story. We can read it with a literal or mystical eye and come to two very different understandings of what is being said and both could be equally correct or completely off of the mark. How then do we know what is right?
George Fox would go out into the fields with his scripture to pray and meditate. In many ways this practice mimics the practice of Jesus when he would withdraw from the crowds to the isolated places to pray. Then if you read Fox’s Journal you find that he would go from town to town meeting with friendly people just as Jesus would move around Judea speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven. I am equating George Fox with Jesus. George Fox is not perfect, in fact George could be a bit of a jerk, but I am showing that George Fox understood the spiritual rhythm that Jesus exemplified.
Jesus taught this rhythm, sharing it with his closest friends, who then taught it to others. Today we see that the followers of Christ have grown from a group of twelve to over seventy. Jesus first sent the twelve out in pairs and then he sends these seventy out in pairs. They once could draw people to Jesus’ ministry from six communities and now they can reach over thirty-five. The laws of multiplication are at work. The most interesting thing about this is how Jesus sends people out. He appoints seventy and sent them out before him, but when he sends them out he sends them in pairs. This should show us something very important.
The kingdom of God is one that is a community from the very beginning. The earliest stories of life with God written in scripture speak of man and woman, Adam and Eve. Creation was not good until there was a community. Mankind cannot live without a community because we are social beings. Our brains do not function without community, without some form of social even the strongest person will be driven mad becoming physically and mentally ill, to the point of death. We need others; we cannot truly be ourselves without others to reflect our personality off of, to be clearer we are not known until we build relationships with others. It is a mystery of science that flies in the face of the individualism that many of us hold as a core value. It is a mystery that has been proven countless times. Our greatest technological advancements have occurred not in the lab of a single individual but in collaboration. There is a reason the term “mad scientist” emerged because the isolation of a mind.
We cannot be alone. We cannot come to God by ourselves only. Yes, God interacts with us personally, but often we can be led astray by our own mind. That is why we need others to encourage and hold us accountable. Jesus sends them out in pairs. Alone they could be consumed by the power that Jesus bestowed on them. Alone they the conflict between the world, flesh, and the devil would run interference between the ability to discern the will of God. Even in pairs they had trouble keeping their mind fully directed on the mission they were called to.
There is second layer of this passage that speaks to me. Jesus sends out the seventy others in pairs, he also sends them out without any temporal provision. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” We can look at this as being a statement of stepping out in faith or we take a different view. On the surface it definitely speaks of how we should have faith that God will provide, I believe that that would be a correct interpretation. Could there be another layer, one that speaks about freedom and simplicity. Jesus is saying take nothing with you, he gave similar advice to others. The advice says that we cannot serve God fully if we are not free from the worries of the world. If we are worried about what we will wear or what we will eat, our focus is divided. With a divided mind we are bound and not free to serve. This is why simplicity is a core value within the Society of Friends. To have simplicity of speech, clothing, and finances leaves us free to focus our calling.
Jesus sent these seventy without the bondage of the world’s values. He sent them with the assurance that God would provide. He will provide. If we as a community are called to enter a new ministry, He will provide. If we are called to participate in a form of service as we discern the moving of the Spirit, He will provide. This does not mean that we should be unwise in our actions; it instead means that if we are called to act, we should free ourselves to act. If God calls us to build we build, to go we go. We go with God and as a community.
Why do I stress the community again? This is another core value of Friends. Community. We often think and speak of God being personal, that is true but God works through a community. Even in stepping out in faith there is a community aspect involved. Jesus tells them to go to houses and if that house accepts the peace given by the seventy they must stay there. He does not tell them to rent a room, but to immediately establish a community. If the house does not accept the message to preach the coming Kingdom then move on. A community is built on simplicity, peace, integrity, and equality. With in those core values, is a ribbon of love. We speak of a personal relationship with God but that personal relationship is only the beginning of the community that personal relationship with God brings us into a broader community, a kingdom. A kingdom that was established before time began and will continue beyond the end of ages. A kingdom of love, a kingdom of hope, a kingdom that is not satisfied with ourselves only but wants to expand.
The calling God gives us personally is given to expand the community, and the calling that God gives us corporately is given to expand the community. We are never alone, but always surrounded by friends, and to attract more friends. This attraction and calling is to bring those around us into a closer relationship with Christ. The seventy come back to Jesus excited about what they were able to do. They went out freely ministering. They were healing various illnesses, commanding demons to leave, and the community was growing. They cannot wait to tell Jesus what was going on. A community based on love, a community that is focused on encouraging others to draw closer to God one step at a time will grow, if it is free to do so. The community grows one step at a time, one issue at a time, healing one person at a time, and multiplying.
The seventy are excited the community grows, but there is also a warning. With power comes temptation. As a community grows we become excited and begin to think that we did things to make this happen. That in ourselves we have been able to bring about the changes that we see before us, but Jesus brings them back into reality. “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Even within a well-meaning community pride can seep in. Even when we think we are doing everything right, distractions emerge. God gave us the power to do what he calls, but if we need to keep things focused. We do not need to rejoice in the growth of the community, or in the miraculous feats occurring around us but our focus should always be on God.
This week in the prayer exercises in the spiritual adventure class, it speaks of spiritual indifference. This sounds like a very negative term, but in reality it means contentment. What if we are called to minister in way that the world around us is not excited about will we still have joy? A few months ago there was a day that was set aside to raise awareness of modern day slavery. Those that wanted to participate were encouraged to sport a red x for others to see. I drew an x on my hand and many asked what it meant, when I explained to them that it was to raise awareness of modern slavery, every person I talked to could careless. The same attitude existed when John Woolman began his ministry, and when William Wilberforce would raise the issue in the British Parliament. Yet each of these men continued their ministries, why because their joy was not found in acceptance of the world but in the calling. Each established a community that grew but even as it grew they stayed focused on the cause. Neither man saw a complete end to the slave trade. Obviously it still continues even to this day but each saw progress. Contentment, is simply taking joy in our calling, finding joy and meaning in our relationship with God individually and as a community.
Scripture is layered, it has a powerful living quality, but that life comes from our relationship with God. That relationship grows in community and we need the community to continue that growth. Our ministries grow out of the communal calling of the community and finding our place in that community. But the joy comes from the individual time we spend with God. It all boils down to Prayer, Worship, and Ministry or Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter this time of open worship I ask again what distracts us from God? What could we do to free our lives so that we can answer God’s call? How is God calling you and where is he sending us as a community? And where do we find joy in our life?
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