Traveling Mercies

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 4 July 2010

(Isaiah 66:10-14   Psalm 66  Galatians 6:1-16   Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)

“Traveling Mercies”

“Broken things have been on my mind lately because so much has been broken in my life this year and the lives of people I love.” So writes Anne Lamott in her book entitled, Traveling Mercies.

She then goes on to tell a wonderful travel story about being lost and finding one’s way through life.   (To all the men here, it’s not about being lost and needing to ask directions, so you don’t have to worry that I’m making a joke at your expense!)

This is the story of a seven-year-old girl who gets lost one day and cannot find her way home.  So the girl runs up and down the streets of the big town where she lives, but cannot find a single landmark.  She becomes frightened.  Finally, a policeman stops to help the crying child.  He puts her in his car and they drive around until she sees her church.  She points it out to the policemen, and then she tells him firmly, “You can let me out now.  This is my church and I can always find my way home from here.”

Most of us have broken things on our minds most of the time.  Just yesterday, we were visiting my brother-in-law and his family, and as we were eating supper we were talking about people in our family—the number of recent divorces and separations, recent heart attacks and strokes of other family members.  And then he looked at all of us and calmly asked:  “So who will be the next one to die?” It’s one of those questions that comes from somewhere deep within us as we confront brokenness in life.

I’m still having a really hard time the more stories I read about personal tragedies to families and environmental tragedies from this oil spill.  I read more and more horror stories related to the immigration situation in Arizona and all along our borders, and not to minimize the continued strife in so many countries throughout the world.  Closer to home, I listen daily to the anxiety that has thrown so many into an absolute frenzy.

Throughout her book, Anne Lamott emphasizes how important it is for all of us as we travel through life, to have landmarks that can help prevent us from getting lost, from losing our focus, especially as we try to negotiate our way through the brokenness that permeates our lives.

She writes about the ordinary things of life, magical moments with her best friend, grieving moments with the ladies at her church, and conflicted moments with her son.  She writes how each of these is a landmark because they keep us connected and allow us to live out of truth and love even in a violent and broken and self-preoccupied world.

In today’s Gospel we also hear of traveling mercies.  We hear of Jesus sending 70 disciples on a journey, on a mission trip into the world.  They are going in pairs to the places Jesus intends to go.  Jesus warns them that the workers will be sparse, the harvest will be plentiful and the territory will be rough and dangerous.

And then Jesus gives them a set of traveling mercies, landmarks that will serve as guides on their journey. But here comes the twist to this Gospel (Remember, there’s always a twist!)

I think for Jesus, he is not as worried that the disciples will get lost as he is concerned that the message of Good News will get lost.

So Jesus gives the 70 disciples their own traveling mercies:

1.)    Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals and greet no one on the road.

2.)    Whatever house you enter, begin by saying ‘peace to this house!’

3.)    Remain in the same house; don’t move from house to house.

4.)    Everywhere you go cure the sick and regardless of how they treat you, share the Good News of God’s Kingdom.

These traveling mercies, are really about not getting lost in our broken  living and in our sharing the Gospel message.

It’s is easy to lose our way in preaching the Gospel into thinking that religion is all about “how big” and “how much fun” and “how quickly we can feel better.”

Going as “lambs among wolves”  is much more about losing the message than losing the messenger.

The  traveling mercies given by Jesus as he sends out the 70 disciples is about a church that is faithful, faith-filled and fully functioning, not preoccupied with self.  The church’s purpose is never its own and anything less is a sure sign that we have lost our way!  When there is chaos in the natural or social realm, the church is called to create harmony.  Where there is bondage and enslaved people in the world, the church is called to be a redemptive force, the voice of justice.  When there are walls that divide humans in most personal ways, the church is called to be a redeeming, healing and restoring presence.

Our focus is on the gifts that come from God, seeing as Jesus sees abundance because of his faith in “the lord of the harvest.”  Stay focused and do not be distracted from the gifts of God’s presence!

I’d like to go back for one more story from Anne Lamott’s book.  She ends her book with a heart moving story about being with her son one morning on the beach.  It is the morning of his 8th birthday.  They begin building, what seems to be a sand castle, but ends up being [quote], “a sand castle that morphed into a woolly-mammoth-shaped birthday altar with turrets.”  They spelled out his name with tiny broken shells, and they put feathers and seaweed and shells into the walls.  And when it was time to go, her son began to cry because he wanted to stay to protect the structure from the waves.

When Jesus sends his disciples out, he knows he cannot protect them from harm’s way.  But he does give them landmarks of God’s Reign so they will not lose their way.  And, as He is on his way to Jerusalem to die, they will learn that the greatest traveling mercy is his love for them.  And so it is with us.  As we negotiate our way through the brokenness of our lives, “as lambs among wolves,” our most tender traveling mercy is the love of a merciful God shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Let’s not lose sight of such an exceptional landmark!  Amen.

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