The Kingdom of God is Near

Sermon – July 7, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

What would you do if you arrived at your vacation destination and found out your luggage ended up at the bottom of the ocean? Well, I can tell you what I did. It was the very last course I needed to take for my undergraduate degree – a fiction writing course – held in an old house on the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Maine. Our class was given permission to stay there for a week to focus on our writing. The only way to get there was by ferry, so as we prepared to board the ferry, I watched them toss my suitcase onto the boat with the others. When we arrived on the island, I waited to pick up my suitcase with the others. And I waited, and waited, and soon had to ask where my suitcase was located. After some whispers among the staff I soon found out it had not landed on the boat right away, but had sat on the bottom of the ocean before we left for over an hour. Luckily, they fished it out, but when they handed it to me it was soaking wet. Everything inside was saturated with salt water and I am surprised a fish was not floating inside! I had to sleep with the same clothes on that I arrived in while the clothes I packed were cleaned. It took several days. Everyone on the island looked at me knowing I was the person whose luggage was saturated with the smell of the salty sea. The ocean that day had come quite near to me.

In Luke’s gospel today Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of Him to announce that the kingdom of God had come near. But what did Jesus mean when He said the kingdom of God has come near? Unlike the sea, can you smell the kingdom of God? Is it something you can taste? Can you hear it or feel it? Is it a place you can pinpoint on a map and travel towards? And who is in this kingdom of God? And who is qualified to lead us to this kingdom? Certainly it was not the 70 that Jesus appointed that day on the way to Jerusalem.

In fact, we don’t know anything about these 70 individuals that Jesus appointed to go on ahead of Him and proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” We don’t know their names; we don’t even know their genders, age, or status in life. We don’t know if they were educated or illiterate. It seemed Jesus didn’t have any particular qualifications for this job. What we do know is that Jesus sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God had come near. And in Luke’s gospel, they weren’t just disciples or followers, they were sent ones – apostles – sent on a particular mission with a instructions for the journey.

Most of us take a lot of time planning for a trip. We make sure we pack the right things in our suitcase. We want to be prepared for any kind of weather and any situation that may arise and so we pack as much as we can fit into our luggage. But Jesus tells these apostles not to bring anything for this important journey. Jesus says, “Carry no purse, no bags, no sandals.” Further, He tells them that they are going out like lambs to the wolves. Jesus tells them to go out without any provisions and that they are to be as humble as lambs that may possibly get eaten by wolves. That doesn’t sound like a mission most of us would want to say yes to. Yet they were to rely on God to provide all that they needed. That was their mission and the mission field is still in need of laborers today.

The harvest is still plentiful and the laborers are few. There is still so much to do in this mission work that Jesus sends us out on this journey as well. It began at baptism, when through the water and the word we were “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” We did not come to the waters carrying any provisions, but relied on the grace of God to equip us for the journey. At that moment, the kingdom of God had come near to us; the kingdom of God was now within us. No qualifications and no provisions were necessary for our journey of faith that lasts a lifetime. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and equips us with all we need for this mission trip.

That is what our Christian life is; it is a mission trip. We, like the sent ones in today’s story, are sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God has come near. The Holy Spirit ignites within us the vision to see and proclaim this kingdom because through baptism we are part of this kingdom. The kingdom of God is not a place to seek out, but a relationship with God to embrace. When we meet together for worship we strengthen each other on this journey. This is why Jesus sent the 70 out in pairs – two by two – reminiscent of Noah’s ark, only this time instead of going into a place of safety, we go out because we have been saved. We need each other to help us on this journey. We cannot do it alone.

The kingdom of God cannot be seen with ordinary vision but with the eyes of faith. We see, and touch, and taste, the kingdom of God when we hold in our hands the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Through this Blessed Sacrament God comes to us unlike any other place and in that moment we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, grace, and new life. We are equipped with all we need to go out and proclaim that the kingdom of God has indeed come near.

We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near each time we follow the way of peace instead of violence, hope instead of despair, compassion instead of competition, and love instead of hatred. We proclaim the kingdom of God when we offer forgiveness instead of a lifetime of resentment. We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near when we see the homeless as our brothers and sisters instead of problems and nuisances. We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near when we open our hearts and our minds to those who think or act differently than us rather than judging them. We proclaim the kingdom of God when we see the injustices around us and decide to stand up for the dignity of every human being.

The Good News is not just meant to be studied or talked about; it is meant to be lived. Each one of us has been given unique gifts and talents for our mission trip of following Jesus. We don’t need any additional qualifications. We don’t need any special provisions. If we try to do it our way those things we think we need will only weigh us down. We’ll sink, just like my luggage did on the bottom of the ocean floor that day. But the kingdom of God came near to me that day when the hospitality of total strangers offered me their clothes until mine were ready.

That’s what happens when the kingdom of God comes near – lives are changed – not because of what we do, but because of what God does through us. There are so many who need to hear the Good News. God has given us all we need to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God is near. Are you ready? Let’s go! Amen.