Onward and outward

November 13th, 2023

In Jesus's final words to his disciples, it’s fair to say that the key word is: “Go.”  

“Go to the people, go to their villages and cities, go to the squares and into their homes, go to where people are and live, where they work and spend their leisure time, where they live their relationships and recover... Go, spend time and share a piece of life with them! Go and seek together with people ways in which we can live the faith together, here and now, credibly, contagiously and relevantly.”

In my experience, at least in Europe, we are good at planning programs and at inviting people to come to church with us. But we are usually not so good at going to people and at being church with them wherever they are going. Therefore, we need guidance, and Luke 10:1-11 can be one such guide for us.

I want to highlight three aspects of what it means for us to “go” we can see in Luke 10: “Go into the cities and houses! Go without baggage; go to your neighbors’ tables; be sure you go with God's shalom.”

1. Go without baggage

"Go!…Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals.(Luke 10:3-4)

I find that difficult to imagine. I ride a racing bicycle and even have a little money stored in the pocket of my bicycle. Even when I am trying to travel as lightly as possible, I would still rather not risk having to beg for money from strangers.

“Go empty-handed,” Jesus urges the 70. Traveling like this means depending on others. Most of the refugees from the Global South come to us in Europe as strangers in need, dependent on our hospitality. To this end, Jesus urges the 70: “Become strangers in need, dependent on what others give you!”

"Go into the cities and houses" without baggage. What “baggage” do I carry with me already? Maybe my baggage looks more like my morals and values, my knowledge of the Bible and the church, my faith experiences, my experiences in general, my prejudices, all kinds of methods and concepts of how to reach people, my desire for bringing people into the church. How easily does this "baggage" make me blind and deaf to what my neighbors have to give to me! How easily do my fixed ideas weigh me down from discovering what God has in mind through my neighbors!

This story encourages us: “Leave all that at home! It is only a hindrance at the moment. Rather, without such baggage, go to the people wherever they are. And watch, listen carefully, pay attention to what God is doing with them. Be like strangers who are entering an unknown world excitedly.”

I imagine this practically. A young family lives in the apartment building where we moved this past summer. My prayer continues to be that they may experience God's transforming “shalom power.” I am convinced that God has been very close to them for a long time already, offering them God’s peace. I'm allowed to join in...but how? I don't know, not yet. I can't know yet, because I don't yet know these neighbors and their situation well enough. That is why it is important to leave all my "baggage" behind for the time being and just look and listen to get to know them better—getting to know their life story, their faith story, to discover what they really need, to develop a sense for where and how God is at work in their lives, what God has in mind, what shape the gospel takes in their situation. This does not happen overnight. It takes time, patience, restraint, open eyes and ears and the willingness to learn a new language of faith. Go without baggage indeed!

Looking and listening—it turns out you can do both well when you eat together!

2. Go to your neighbors' tables

"Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay.(Luke 10:7)

"Eat and drink what they give you there." You probably know this, too: every family has its own food culture, its own 'kitchen' we say sometimes, its own habits at the table. Some may be similar to your own, others quite different and unfamiliar to you.

Jesus sends the 70 into others’ homes where their food and table habits would certainly be different: “Immerse yourself in the culture of the people who welcome you, live in their houses, become part of their household and their everyday life, work, eat, celebrate, share life with them.” Of course, these were not households as we know them in Western Europe, with 3, 4, maybe even occasionally 6 or 7 family members. At that time, entire clans lived together with their employees, 30, 40, sometimes 50 people.

Anyone who has lived abroad for a longer period of time, perhaps for a student exchange year with a family, knows how lost and foreign you feel at the beginning. Many things are different and unfamiliar. You must orientate yourself in a completely new way, which means getting to know the people, their stories, their experiences, their values, their habits. What better way to do this than by living together in a house community and sharing a table together? It’s around the table where people tell stories, share joys and sorrows, and you are in the midst of it all.

When we immerse ourselves in a community in this way, we not only get to know the lives of our friends, neighbors, or work colleagues. When we pay attention like this, we can also hear the gospel of God's shalom as good news for this particular place with these people.

Hearing this story this way, focusing on Jesus’s urging us to go in this way, shakes me up and makes me question my priorities. Shouldn't we live out our calling to be the church in the homes of the people in our neighborhood, rather than in the church buildings and conference rooms? Shouldn't our congregational life take place primarily around the tables of the people we meet in everyday life, rather than in our church classrooms? If God is with people where they live, in their homes and towns, if God has something in mind and is doing something there, shouldn't we be right there, too, with open eyes and ears, open minds and hearts, to discover what God has in store for us all? Where people actually live and spend their time is where the church must be, we learn from the very start!

We have spoken of going to our neighbors without baggage—and yet we do not go empty-handed.

3. Go with God's shalom

"Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house’... and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’(Luke 10:5-9)

We are shalom bearers! God's shalom is the tangible reality of God's kingdom. Where God's kingdom is, there we will find “peace on earth.”

Zacchaeus’s story illustrates this reality very clearly. Zacchaeus and those around him experienced God's transforming shalom power when Jesus came to his house. "Today, salvation has come to this household", Jesus says. What happened? Zacchaeus found peace with himself and went from being a wrongdoer to being a benefactor. God's shalom has an individual, personal side. Zacchaeus found peace with his neighbors. He made amends for the wrongs he committed, which also mean God's shalom has a social side. God's shalom has a spiritual side: Zacchaeus found peace with God. He began to live out his calling as a beloved son of the heavenly Father.

As in Zacchaeus's house, God's shalom wants to spread wherever Jesus sends us: “Go with God's peace. Rejoice, you are my peace bearers! I entrust you with my shalom. Proclaim it with all your actions and words. Live it out! Trust him to grasp, heal and transform you and the people you live with in their homes and cities. Peace on earth!”

Where we go next

The story of the sending of the 70 awakens a dream in me, a future image of our church: Everywhere I look, there are Methodists and their neighbors meeting in one another’s homes. They eat and drink together, they spend time together, they share a part of their lives, they share their faith. In doing so, they experience the transforming power of God. They experience the shalom that extends into their hearts, homes and surroundings, finding peace with themselves, with their fellow human beings, with creation, and with God.

This is how I imagine church, a community that means something to the people in our cities and in our neighboring houses because they have experienced God and God’s shalom. "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!" Amen. 

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