Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Pastor Anke Deibler

  • Isaiah 66:10-14
  • Psalm 66:1-9
  • Galatians 6:1-16
  • Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” So Jesus says today. And one pastor on the web wrote, “And I wonder if Satan has crash-landed in my backyard.”

Let’s unpack this a little. In Jesus’ times, Judaism told a story about Satan as an angel in heaven. He and a number of other angels wanted to be like God, and he led them all in a rebellion against God. There was war in heaven. Satan lost that war and was expelled from God’s presence. From the highest level of the universe, he was kicked to the lowest. Ever since, Satan has plied his trade on earth.

Satan is active on earth, and don’t we all know it. He has landed in the pastor’s backyard, and in our’s, as well. He pops up everywhere to tell his lies and destroy community.

I see his work in the rise of Neo-Nazism around the world, proclaiming the power of white people over against all other races. This sense of supremacy leads to division and to violence.

I see his work in the greed that motivates so many people to cheat and even murder others. I am listening to two true-crime podcasts, one on murder and the other on white-collar crimes. It amazes me what harm people are willing to inflict on others just to gain more money or power.

I see his work in the racism that this nation, more than a century after the emancipation, still has not fully come to terms with.

I see his work in the way we treat this earth, as if it were okay to exploit and pollute God’s creation with no thought to future generations.

I see his work in the flaws of our criminal justice system, in the discrimination against the LGTBQ community, in the neglect of too many elders and the abuse of too many children, in domestic violence, in our fear and treatment of immigrants, and in the inequal access to education for people of different income levels.

I even see his work in the way our population can now choose what news to watch in order to be reaffirmed in their thoughts rather than challenged to a wider horizon, with the result that we as a nation now debate what the facts are. The deep divide between our two political parties is only a symptom of a much deeper divide, and the gridlock it causes harms countless people. Sure sounds like an evil plot to me.

Yes, I can certainly relate to that pastor in his blog post: It definitely feels like Satan fell from heaven and landed in our backyard.

What can we do about it? What are we called to do about it?

The instructions Jesus provides the 70 disciples for their mission journey give us good ideas.

Jesus is telling his disciples not to take anything with them: no purse, no bag, no sandals. Nothing. During this summertime, many of us travel. Before we go, we pack. Have you recently been on a trip? Were you able to fit everything into one suitcase? For my trip to Germany, I sorted and resorted, trying to decide on clothes for different occasions and different weather situations, hoping to cover all eventualities, erring as much on the side of caution and oversupply as the airline weight restrictions would allow. I am sure you have been on trips when you felt like you were taking everything but the kitchen sink.

Jesus doesn’t want his followers to do that. I believe his directive has two reasons.

The first is that having a lot of stuff slows us down. How long does it take to pack a suitcase? How long did it take to load the camper? How heavy is all that stuff? Jesus wants his disciples to travel light. There is urgency here. Jesus doesn’t have much time left before his crucifixion. Therefore, he doesn’t want his friends to plan and pack and lug heavy bags around. There is no time for that, and it wastes energy. Just go, Jesus says.

The second reason is that stripping the disciples of all outwardly trappings makes really clear to them that ministry is not about being great. If you go without staff you are defenseless, without shoes your feet will hurt very quickly, and without bag you have no money or change of clothes and depend on the generosity of others. It’s hard to be impressive when you are limping and have no money for supper.

Jesus’ point is: The reign of God cannot be announced by people who are impressed with themselves and want others to be impressed with them, too. The gospel can only be received when it is presented in humility. The kingdom of God can only grow if the messengers are fully aware of their need for community, of their own humble place within that community, and of their dependence upon one another and their gifts.

One commentator pondered the many people who have gifted him over his long life. He reminisced about his drama teacher in school who opened him to a new way of understanding the world and human beings through theater and literature. About the butcher who took time out to show him how to cut meat. About the uncle who taught him how to manage his accounts. About the pastor who believed he would be a fine pastor himself. About the young people who were willing to tell him about the very different world they live in and try to navigate.

Maybe, he writes, it is the essential condition required for those who will announce the reign of God: they have to acknowledge the gifts they receive from all sides in order to announce God’s reign. If they begin to imagine that they are the ones giving gifts to their audience, then they are no longer announcing the reign of God. Receiving gifts, and being aware that we are receiving gifts, is essential.

It is also the way we overcome the divisions Satan is trying to create between us. If we humbly approach others and ponder what gifts they might bless us with, we will be surprised by what they all have to offer.

An immigrant might teach us a new language or how to cook a new dish. A rich person might teach us leadership skills. A poor person might teach us how to view our supposedly roaring economy from a different perspective. A Republican might teach us about traditional values and fiscal responsibility. A Democrat might teach us about the call to care for the poor and marginalized among us and the need for more equality.

The cliché about someone evangelizing is the person who comes to you and tells you what you must believe or else. He or she threatens with hell if you don’t agree with them. It’s like being invaded by a hostile force. It creates exactly the accusation and defensiveness Satan loves, because it destroys community.

Jesus calls us to come with humility, asking for gifts. Jesus wants us to approach people out of our weakness, offering ourselves without defenses. Go like that, Jesus says, and then do two things: Cure the sick and proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.

The disciples follow Jesus’ orders. And they return amazed and excited and full of joy and wonder. “Lord, even the demons submit to us!” This really works. Time and time again, Satan’s games were foiled and people were healed and community was built and people experienced peace. Every time a disciple shares the reign of God in word and deed, it is another victory of the power of evil.

Yes, Satan has landed in our backyard. He is at work all around and among us. God has taken the power over eternal life away from him, but in this life, the evil one can still do an awful lot of damage. Someone once used the image of D-Day as an illustration for this situation. After D-Day, it was clear who was going to win World War II. And yet, it took over a year until the war was finally over. Many more people suffered and died until the fighting stopped for good.

Likewise, we know who will win in the end: God. Our God has the final victory. However, until his kingdom envelopes the whole world, the skirmishes with Satan will continue.

And so our call as disciples continues. We are sent into the world without weapons or resources, to share the good news of Jesus Christ in what we say and do, to approach people in our weakness and build community, to heal and bring peace.

A tough calling, for sure. Jesus describes it as being lambs among wolves. No wonder Paul writes today: “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right.” Jesus describes the source of our comfort and resilience this way: Our names are written in heaven. God is with us. God knows our names, adopted us in baptism, and will lead us to eternal life. God will also be by our side when we make his reign real in this world.

In closing I am going to share a story about Ignacy Paderewski, a famous Polish pianist. A mother wanted to encourage her young son in his piano studies and took him to a Paderewski performance. They found their seats in the front and admired the Steinway piano on the stage. The mother got to talking with a friend and didn’t notice her boy wandering off.

When the lights dimmed and the spotlights came on, everybody saw the little boy perched on the piano bench, plunking out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. The mother gasped and sprang up to get her child.

But Paderewski had already walked on stage. He went to the piano and leaned over the boy. “Don’t quit. Keep playing,” he said. With his left, he began filling in a bass part. Then he reached around the boy to other side with his right, adding a top part. His arms were encircling the child, and together the young child and the old master were delighting the audience.

To me, this can be a great image for God surrounding us and whispering into our ear, “Don’t stop. Keep playing.” God uses our humble skills and talents, and adds his grace and power to them, and in this way blesses us as well as the people we minister to.

And thus, my final blessing to you today is a Quaker blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you going,” Amen.


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