Tuesday, July 5, 2022

How Far Can a Little Kindness Go?


Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Proper 9 / Year C

There are few things in life I enjoy more than travelling, especially to places I have not been before.  Paradoxically, there are few things I enjoy less than packing in order to go away, especially if it involves a suitcase and an airplane. 

My friend Dale, in his sermon at a service to bless our backpacks prior to walking the Camino, described how he approaches packing and how it differs from his wife’s.  She, at least a month or two before a trip, converts the guest room into a staging area.  The bed becomes a platform for various items to be laid out, folded, arranged, and rearranged.  There are several trial packings to see if everything fits, to determine what might have to be left behind, and/or what might be added if there is extra room.  With our Camino trip, even the dining room became a staging area because the guest room ran out of space.  Dale, on the other hand, throws things together at the last minute without much forethought and certainly without a plan.  In today’s gospel reading, we learn, at least for this particular trip, Jesus instructs his followers to pack like Dale… no purse, no bag, no sandals.  Just hit the road and get going.

Do you remember last week’s gospel reading?  It provides context for this week.  Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem.”  He and his followers are planning to be there for the Passover.  No doubt Jesus suspects it will not go well for him.  He knows this will be the final time he passes through the various towns and villages along the way as he travels.  It will be the last opportunity he has to teach and to heal and to bring the Kingdom of God to the people he encounters.  We can surmise he wants to maximize his impact as he moves grimly toward the holy city.

And do you remember how, in last week’s reading, a Samaritan village would not welcome Jesus?  He doesn’t want a repeat of that wasted opportunity.  So, Jesus sends his disciples in groups of two ahead of him to prepare folks along the way for his visit.  This is what we today would call a “short-term mission trip” and there is a real sense of urgency about it.

Masses of people made their way to Jerusalem for major festivals and unlike our world, there are no large and lavish hotels along the way.  Bethlehem famously had an inn in which there was no room for Mary and Joseph.  Most likely, it was more like a small hostel than what we think of as an inn.  And there are no restaurants along the way either.  Pilgrims depend on the hospitality of locals for food and lodging on their journey.  No doubt, the teams of disciples are sent to scout out the road ahead for people and places who will welcome Jesus and his followers.

I don’t know, but suspect, if you make the journey to Jerusalem at least once a year and if you only take one or two different routes to get there, chances are good you meet various locals you come to expect will host you whenever you are passing through.  Jesus staying at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany is an example of this.  Perhaps two of his missionaries make their way to the sisters’ home to let them know Jesus is coming.

I am sure these visits, like the hosting we did last week, are joyous occasions when people get to connect or reconnect with folks from different places.  News is shared, opinions offered, insights gained, stories told.  In a sleepy little village, visits like these must bring welcome relief to everyday drudgery.  Jesus tells his followers to bless each home they enter by saying “Peace to this house.”  Those of us who hosted Chanco staffers last weekend experienced first-hand how God’s Spirit falls afresh upon a place through the presence of guests.  And we sensed for ourselves what Jesus instructs his followers to say upon their departure, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”

I wish we had more opportunities to do something like this – short-term mission which opens our world to a world beyond our own and invites God’s presence to be with us. 

There is a dark side to Jesus’ instruction, specifically how to respond when you are not welcomed.  “Go out into the street and wipe the dust off your feet.”  In other words, leave behind the bad experiences.  Forget about it and move on.  Life is too short and the opportunities ahead are too plentiful for you to linger on a negative encounter.  This is really sound, healthy advice, but often it is easier to offer than to do.

When Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a town and the people do not welcome you…”, the verb he uses is typically rendered as “reject.”  It can also be translated as “to disregard,” “to set aside”, “to nullify,” “to refuse”, or “to slight” with the potential of doing hard.  If you have ever been rejected, disregarded, set aside, nullified, refused, or slighted you know how deeply it can cut.  It hurts if it comes from a person you value.  It hurts if it happens because of some trait you bear; your gender, your ethnicity, your societal position, your sexual orientation, and your political persuasion being common targets.  And it hurts if it impedes your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It may surprise you to learn I am not a huge fan of what is known as the “woke” movement.  I am, however committed with all my mind, body, heart, and soul to our church’s Baptismal Covenant.  Oftentimes, the objectives of the two are much the same.  The difference is our covenant is grounded in God’s dream for all people.  The “woke” movement lacks this essential understanding.  The same difference can be said of the movement led by Martin Luther King verses what we see emanating out of the Black Lives Matter effort.  Grounded in God, a movement can change hearts and change the world.  Ungrounded in God, a crusade only seeks to shift power from the ones who hold it to the ones who don’t. 

Henri Nouwen wrote this:

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them a space where change can take place.  It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.

I think this is the kind of dust Jesus hopes will dirty the feet of his emissaries.  He hopes to create opportunities for peace to visit and for the Kingdom of God to come near.  

Let me finish by sharing this simple, but alarming thought offered by Rachel Joy Scott:

I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same.  People will never know how far a little kindness can go.  

People will never know how far a little kindness can go!  You may not know Rachel, but, tragically, you know her story, which provides incredible inspiration to her ideals.  Rachel was the first student to be killed in the Columbine school shotting.  I wonder, what for her, if she could share with us, does it look like to welcome a stranger and to shake off the dust of those who reject you.  I, for one, am willing to put her theory to the test.  How far can a little kindness go?