A Challenging Peace


A sermon on Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

[for an audio recording of this sermon, click here]

Today’s gospel story raises an important question: Do we want peace?

More specifically, do we want the kind of peace that Jesus’s followers were told to offer to the homes and communities that they entered on their mission?

The answer would seem to be obvious, especially in a congregation named Abiding Peace. Who among us wouldn’t want peace? But the story suggests that the answer is NOT obvious… Jesus’s instructions to his followers before sending them out are premised on the assumption that some of the people and towns they approach will NOT “share in peace.” Jesus tells his disciples to “shake it off” when that happens – and this instruction has been the focus of most of the sermons I have heard on this passage – but as I meditated on this story this week I couldn’t help thinking about the towns that rejected the peace.

Why would they do that? Why would they turn away someone coming “in peace?”

At least part of the reason may have to do with who is offering the peace. Jesus’s instructions to his followers rather set them up to be unwelcome guests, don’t they? “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” (Luke 10:4)

In other words, “arrive as a needy itinerant, with no means to care for your own needs, much less anything to offer your hosts.”

Of course, in ancient near-eastern culture, the rules of hospitality required righteous households to welcome strangers with generosity, to NOT complain about strangers coming and looking for a hand-out … but apparently that was a rule that was not always practiced. Jesus knew that some towns would reject his needy followers… and perhaps that was the point of sending them out so ill-equipped. Their condition made it clear that receiving the peace they offered would require their hosts to live in the way of peace… the way of generosity.

So, perhaps stinginess can partly explain the anticipated lack of welcome. But I think there’s also another reason for rejection, hidden in the coded language of the story. It’s in the details of the number of those sent out. You see, this is not the first mission on which Jesus sends his followers in the gospel of Luke. In chapter 9 Jesus sends out the twelve. These were his select group, his closest followers, but their number is also symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. Their mission represents that this message of Jesus is given to Jesus’s own people.

But now Jesus sends out seventy, and this number is symbolic too. The people of Jesus’ day believed that seventy was the number of the gentile nations. Thus, this mission is a mission of inclusion for all the people of the world. A mission whose number is intended to intentionally transgress national and ethnic boundaries.

And this inclusivity is an aspect of the peace that they proclaim as well. The disciples of Jesus are not “sticking with their own” nor are they proclaiming God’s special blessing for their own nation. The peace that they offer challenges the special status reserved for “God's people.” It is a peace that grounds identity NOT in ethnicity or nation, but in God’s kingdom.

As a side-note, our reading from Galatians reminds us of how deep the ethnic divisions went in the life of the early church… how hard it was for the Jesus followers in Galatia - who were a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers - to lay aside cultural divisions and trust only in the cross of Christ.

But the rejection of these divisions was essential to the message of Jesus. As Charles Cousar writes about a central theme of this letter: “(in Galatians) justification by God is not a solo event. The context is the social setting – Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians sharing table fellowship. The point Paul seeks to score… is that being set right with God entails by its very nature realigned communal relationships.”[1]

The offensiveness of the seventy’s mission – the way it confronts ethnic suspicions and divisions - is actually essential! The gospel HAS to transgress national and ethnic divisions to do the work of realigning relationships.

Within that argument, today’s reading from Galatians offers a key to this gospel changes our perspective: Paul writes “may I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). The peace that Jesus brings means rejection of any prideful claim to righteousness, or privilege that is grounded in anything other than the new life that we have through Christ – a life that totally reorients us.

Martin Luther called this the Theology of the Cross: the recognition that God always shows up in the unexpected place, the place of vulnerability and weakness and need. With the consequence that the place of need is where we are called to be as well, offering care.

It is only when we do that, when we “follow this rule” of finding our boast, our security, our identity only in the cross, that Paul promises “peace” (Galatians 6:16).

“Peace,"[2] in the way that Paul uses the word here, means peace with God – the kind of peace that comes from a transformed life. It’s a consequence of the way of Christ in the life of the believer.

Luke’s usage of the word in today's gospel story is a little different, but it is related. Luke is talking about the “Messianic blessing” – the kind of peace that leads to a transformed way of life.

Luke uses this word, peace (eirḗnē in the Greek) more than any other biblical author. And his most common usage involves peace as a way of life. Peace isn’t about stasis. It’s not about everything being calm and serene. It’s about living our lives in ways that reflect God’s kingdom way. I think the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was reflecting this Lukan understanding of peace when he proclaimed that "true peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."[3]

And so it makes sense that, after Jesus tells his followers to open their proclamation to each new community with the offer of peace, he tells them to end their proclamation with the declaration that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” Peace and the kingdom of God are two bookends of the same message. Living in the peace that Jesus brings means living in the kingdom of God. With all the consequences that kingdom has for our lives:

Consequences for the welcome we offer those who have nothing to offer back,

and consequences for the national and ethnic divisions we release,

and consequences for the centrality of the cross of Christ in our lives, which always calls us into the places of pain, and vulnerability, and need.

Given all of that, I’m not actually surprised that some homes, and some communities would reject the offer of peace. It’s an offer of God’s kingdom, but that kingdom will reorient our lives if we welcome it in.

Of course, the kingdom has come near whether we welcome it or not. Jesus does not distinguish between towns in his instructions to his followers – those who welcome and those who reject are both to hear a proclamation of the kingdom.

The only difference is whether this kingdom is good or bad news.

But lest that distinction lead any of us to indulge in self-congratulation about being on the right side of the kingdom proclamation, there’s one other consequence of this pairing of the offering of peace and the nearness of the God’s kingdom:

That consequence is explained by Professor and Commentator Amy Oden, who sees in this pairing a challenge to “step out of the reactivity that the world around us reinforces,” to see in these bookends “clear commands from Jesus to his followers about how to respond, not react, as they engage the world they live in.”[4]

Peace is to be offered to all, without first evaluating the worthiness or riskiness of those being approached.

And the nearness kingdom is to be proclaimed to all regardless of reception – because the disciples are to stay grounded in their purpose, not rising to any bait, or being triggered into defensiveness, because the point of the way of peace is not to win the argument. It’s not to prove the other side wrong.

The point is to know the kingdom that we belong. To find all the security and identity we need in the cross of Christ.

So, we come back to the opening question. Do we want this kind of peace? A peace that reorients us. A Peace that challenges us to live our lives differently:

With radical welcome for those who come without a purse, bag, or even shoes on their feet?

With recognition that our allegiance is owed to the kingdom of God, rather than the loyalties of this world?

I can’t answer that question for any of you. But I can offer you a chance to practice receiving the peace that guides us in the kingdom way of Jesus.

Our Hymn of the Day today draws on biblical teachings about welcome, and applies it to our welcome of the siblings in need on our Southern border. The decision to sing this hymn is not about politics. It’s about gospel. It’s about recognizing that the kingdom that comes near to us in Jesus offers us a peace that CHANGES how we respond to the people around us.

And so you are invited to receive this hymn as an offering of peace. An invitation for the peace of Christ to reorient our lives in ways that are life-giving to BOTH us and to those we are called to welcome.

What is left for you is to answer the question: do you want this peace?

[1] Charles B. Cousar, The Letters of Paul, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996m p. 124.

[2] Eirḗnē (εἰρήνη) – translated as “peace” has a number of meanings, as delineated in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, with references, available at: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1515&t=KJV

[3] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4104

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