Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:10-14c | Galatians 6:14-18 | Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Oh, God, who in the abasement of your Son have raised up a fallen world, fill your faithful with holy joy, for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin, you’ve bestowed eternal gladness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
The theme that we started last week is continued in this set of readings, freedom, freedom from the slavery of sin. We begin with a reading about the temple. It’s from Isaiah, and it’s about the change that God has always planned to take place within his relationship with people. He’s had to take the place of a lawgiver. He’s had to tell people what to do, because they didn’t know what to do. But his plan would be that they not stay under the law like that, but they would evolve, and they would grow, and they would change, and they would be able not to turn to an exterior law to find out what to do but to go interior, to go inside and listen to a voice that is there inside of them. It’s a beautiful image of God entering into human beings’ lives and changing them. The law controls them. God changes them.
So we have in this first reading an image of the temple being something new. A new heaven and a new earth have been created, in the words of Isaiah, because the temple is now different. It’s been restored to its original ideal. It’s like a source of life for human beings who are struggling to live according to the law of God, not by forcing them to do what they’re told but empowering them to do it, and so we go from this negative image of the temple that Jesus had when he walked this earth. It’s the shadow of all religion where it begins to take over, and instead of empowering people, it controls them, tells them what they must do and robs them of something that is their inheritance. And our inheritance is that, from the beginning, God made a promise to you and me that he would awaken in us the fullness of what we were intended to be by him. So what would be — if you’re looking at the evolution of a human being growing into who they’re supposed to be, what image would you use for a temple that would be a source of life for that kind of movement from immaturity to maturity, from self-centeredness to other-centeredness as we grow in our consciousness? Well, it’s a mother. As you see in this first reading, the image of the temple as a beautiful image of a life-giving, feminine figure who one would delight in being nurtured and fed and encouraged and held and loved unconditionally like a mother, that’s the image of what God wanted the temple always to be. But it turned away from that and fell into the trap of power, and so in a way, when Isaiah is describing this new temple, he’s really talking about the Messiah, an image of God that would come into the world not to judge, not to condemn, not to demand but to empower, enrich, strengthen, fill them with the wisdom that the law is based on.
But that wisdom is potentially able to reside in every human being so they don’t need the law, and that’s what Paul comes in and says. It’s the same argument he had last week in the letters. It’s this group of Israelites, the followers of the temple that are upset about these new creatures called Christians, who weren’t called Christians yet, but in other words, they were coming into this incredible relationship, this intimacy with God without following all these rules and laws and without being circumcised, which was a major requirement for a person to be a relationship with God that was a covenant bond, and so they’re upset. How can they have this gift without earning it through doing the law? And Paul is pretty clear. Those things don’t really matter. What matters is what’s happened to the human race. They’ve become a new creation. Something is different, and what the law was trying to achieve, this new creation achieves on its own by radically changing the consciousness of the person who receives this grace. It’s new. It’s never existed before until Christ.
So you get a sense of the importance of making a shift from Old Testament to New Testament, but I swear I know very few people have made that shift completely. They still dwell in that place of we have to be told what to do. We’re somehow still wounded so deeply that we’re not able to do what we’re called to do without a pressure from outside of us forcing us, at times, to do it. That brings up the issue I talked about last week. There’s also this idea that God has promised to you and me that we can go inside, find God inside of us in this mysterious place, just like the temple had the Holy of Holies. The core of it was filled with this image of God’s divinity, and it was given out to people by the work of the temple, meaning following the rules and offering sacrifices when you fail at those rules. And basically, what we’re being told now is that temple, that inner space where God dwells is inside you and me. That’s what it means to be redeemed, and so you can go there and listen to God teaching you and showing you what to do. I often find people so resistant to the notion that we have a personal conscience that they refuse to accept it. Literally they’ll say, “Well, you can’t just do that to people, saying that it’s up to you to determine what to do, as if you are now, by being given the power to turn to your conscience to find guidance, that you’re able to change reality, that you’re able to make something evil good. That’s ridiculous. You can’t do that.”
So why would God give us the notion that there’s something deep inside of us that’s going to guide us and we don’t need the law? What is that all about? Well, maybe we can learn something from this gospel passage. This is very interesting, because what God is doing is sending out disciples to do the work that he hasn’t yet accomplished. It is his death and resurrection, his surrender to evil. It’s his giving in to it without resistance, without judgment. That is what changed the world, made it new. That’s what broke the bond or the block that is there from the beginning between humanity and divinity. So you have this powerful image of these men going out, and they’re sort of tasting what’s coming. It’s interesting. They go out not to plant and to grow but to harvest. So he’s saying, “Here’s what ministry is going to be like. I do the work of changing the hearts of human beings. You go out, and you nurture that, and you work with that, and you encourage them to continue to stay with that kernel of life and truth that’s in them, and don’t be seduced by the world and all of its lies.” So they’re sent out to start a harvest, and I love the image where Jesus is saying to his disciples, “The harvest is rich. I’m changing people, and they have the potential of this rich, rich new life. I need you to come and harvest it,” which is an interesting image, “To take what I’ve done and turn it into whatever,” let’s say grain or whatever it is and feed people with it. It’s like, “I want you to feed people with this miracle that I’ve done inside of people by opening them to a truth that was hidden.” And the fascinating way in which he does it, he enters into them and makes them these new creatures. So it’s like he gives them a new insight into who they are and what they’re here for, and they’re taking baby steps to try to live that. That’s the role of the church, to come along and to nurture that. That’s always the role of religion, to nurture what God has done inside of each human being.
Notice the end of Paul’s passage in the middle reading. He’s saying, “May the Spirit of God be in your spirit.” Paul understood it, God living in us, becoming one with humanity, but when that miracle happens, it’s in its seed form, in a sense, and has to be developed and exercised and used. So out go these men to, in a way, prefigure the mission of the church. They go as a community, so the church is always community, and then they go, and they do things. And I don't know if it’s so important to pay attention to all those advice things that are given. Certainly if you don’t take — don’t take anything along, because it’s clear that this work is not their work. It’s not nurtured by them literally. They’re going, empowered by the very thing they’re trying to awaken in someone else. So they have this energy inside of them. They don’t need sources from outside of them. They go to the inside to find this ability, and they find it in such a way that they’re shocked and surprised, because this power inside of them — it’s called the truth — completely obliterates the power of evil. It’s like, “Wait a minute. These demons are subject to us, and you know what else we’re doing, God — Jesus,” when they came back. I keep calling Jesus God today, so I don't know what that’s about. When they come back to Jesus and say, “This is amazing. We watched people be healed like you do, but the most interesting thing is, you know all those temptations to do evil and all that desire to hurt people or to compete with them or all those things that are lies,” — that’s what the devil does, or the evil does. It convinces us that lies are truth. “It’s like it doesn’t have any power over us anymore.” Amazing. So they go out, and they come back, and they say, “If this is what you’re creating, oh, my God, this is going to be so wonderful.” And that’s really what he was doing, giving them a taste of ministry, and the ministry is to encourage people to live in the freedom of the truth that has been infused in their hearts. And that’s why the church teaches that a person who is struggling with moral decisions or with questions about anything — it doesn’t have to be just morals, but, “I don't know who I am, God. I don't know who you are.” He said, “Well, don’t go rushing to another place to find it. Don’t go looking in theology books and self-help books all the time.” Those are helpful maybe. Scripture certainly is, but the point is there’s something inside of us that we go to that is so personal and so finely tuned to who we are that, if we don’t develop that, we are going to live still under the slavery of the law.
So when I say to somebody, “You have the right to make your own decisions about moral issues, because you have a conscience,” that’s a little oversimplified, because it sounds like you are still the person you were when you needed the law, and we just take the law away, which is why you do the good things you do. You take that away, and you say, “Now what do you want to do?” And if they could only do the right thing by a law, where are they going to get the energy to do it out of their own conviction unless something radical is changed in them? That’s the part, I think, the church has a hard time believing, that you and I have been gifted with this incredible gift of intimacy with God. He lives inside of us. The church is there to nurture this relationship, but it seems the church — and I’m using that image as not necessarily any particular denomination or whatever but just religion in general — likes to have control over our well-being. It feels like that’s their purpose. That’s what they’re here for. So you loosen that influence that they have over us, and it feels irresponsible to the church, like a parent who’s saying, “All right, so you’re 16, so you’re going to take the car,” or, “You’re 18. You’re going to go drink.” Well, that was before. “You’re 21.” If I’m not telling you what to do, you’re going to be stupid. You’re going to get in a wreck. You’re going to get drunk. You’re going to do something stupid. Parents do that to people, to their children, but that’s not the role of parents. You’re there to nurture them, to love them, to forgive them when they fail and to somehow give them a sense that they have within them the goodness, the capacity to see the truth, and they’ll find it. They’ll live it, and when they do that, you’ve been the parent you should be. We only want religion to be the parent, the mother, the understanding father, the brother, the wisdom of the Spirit. That’s what the church is there for, to give that to us, and once we feel it and have it inside of us, our very presence resonates it to everybody else. It’s why it’s always in twos, people influencing people, not an institution telling people what to do but people watching people living a full, exciting, free life. And they say, “I want that,” and it’s theirs, because it’s been given as a gift.
Father, it is so hard for us to imagine what you won for us when you redeemed us. It’s one of those concepts that it’s hard for the mind to grasp, but the heart knows what it would be like if something like that could happen. And so it’s there that we should go to say, “Can you believe that God, in all of his goodness, would change you so that you would become someone that you would be so proud to be, happy to be, someone who has compassion and empathy and care and —” not perfectly. Human nature is always coming back to remind us there’s a selfish part of it, but that we’ve been made into something so new that we should delight in that rather than struggle so much against what we fear is the unredeemed, untouched parts of us is a seed that needs to grow inside of us, this goodness that we believe in. So I pray that God will give that to you, to me, to all of us, and we ask this in Jesus’ name.