It would be such a great relief and sense of joyful freedom if we could but drop into the holy Water font at the entrance of our church, all that bothers us, ties us up in knots, or renders us feeling less holy than that water. That part of our personal Entrance Ritual is important to our celebration of God’s Word and God’s Word made Flesh, now among us.The water of our baptisms made sacred all that it means to be human and welcomed into the community of faith.
We prepare for this week’s liturgy by praying with, rather than about, those things we’d rather discard or have immediately cleansed. Jesus comes in Word and Sacrament to reclaim us as His own. We can prepare to receive His Word and Life by holding on to the cards we’ve been dealt and especially those we don’t know how to play.
There is a joyful theme in our First Reading for this liturgy. These verses are a section of the last chapter of the prophet Isaiah. The city of Jerusalem is celebrated as a nourishing mother giving birth and life to Her child, Israel. There had been a rebuilding of the temple and all who felt abandoned by God, because of the temple’s destruction, now are to come with the eagerness of nursing children to be fed and comforted by Her presence.
This is a short poem concluding and summarizing the history of God’s call to the people of Israel, their failure to respond, their being separated from their covenanted land, God’s calling them back home, and the joy of Israel’s now being newly born as a re-covenanted people. The riches of fertility will be flowing like mother’s milk and the birth-pangs are forgotten as God’s holy family is born anew. The real call of joy is that the city of Jerusalem’s being home again for God’s people is a clearer revelation of the unabandonable God and Husband of Jerusalem.
The longer form of the Gospel has two sections. There is the selection and sending of the seventy-two with detailed instructions about their depending on nothing except their call. The second section relates their return and all they could do in His Name. As a response to their excited stories, Jesus urges them to be less joyful at the power they have received and seen working through them, but more because they belong to and live in the hands of God. Their names are written on those Hands of God and they have been sent to extend to the world those very same loving hands.
I have in my personal wardrobe approximately thirty-five t-shirts for running and warm-weather wearing. Each has some identifying lettering. Various sports teams, schools, clubs, fund-raising runs in which I have jogged slowly, and many other groups and events are displayed on my broadening chest, sleeves and back. All kinds of free advertising is available on these shirts, jackets, hats, and pants. For some though these signages are ways of advertising an identity. I am a somebody, because I am a fan of this team, school or state. The human struggle, the spiritual war within us, underneath those shirts, is about “Who owns me? To whom do I belong?”
The Gospel relates the great works of the early disciples, because they knew the answers to these questions. Their powerful deeds came flowing from their confidence in whose hands they had found themselves. They wore their inner-selves on their sleeves and allowed their true identity to play out through their arms, hands, and total persons.
Jesus warned them not to take along extra t-shirts or jackets announcing that they belonged to somebody or something else. They were not to depend or lean on anything for assistance except their being His team. As Jerusalem and Israel belonged to God, by God’s covenantal choice, renewed again and again, so these early followers grew to free themselves from false names and claims.
In these United States, this past week, we were invited to remember that our early birth as a nation was brought about by a revolution from an unwanted identity as a British colony. Those early founders or freers wanted freedom from and freedom for. Independence Day is our national holiday of identity, whether we live that identity as a free and freeing nation is not always clear. Those early revolters knew who they did not want to be and we are still struggling to discover our radical dependence on God.
Each time we gather at the Eucharist we are revolting against our being dominated, or controlled, or identified by anything except by our baptismal’s being claimed as belonging to Christ. We are so tempted to belong to other gods, other forces within ourselves and outside. Our personal revolutions continue each day and the true God’s ways are not always as attractive as those of other gods of this world.
So tomorrow I will jog with my new t-shirt announcing the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway, even though my way of speed is decreasing. I will try, with God’s grace to play His hands, run His race, be His grace, extend His embrace, and live a little more my belonging to Him.
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord; blessed is he who hopes in God.” Ps. 34, 9
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook