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Call to Nearness

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The Rev. Cameron Partridge

July 3, 2022

Good morning, St. Aidan’s, and welcome to the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, to the month of July, and to the Fourth of July weekend, true gate into the summer season, even if our no-sky July, as per usual, sends counter signals. Last week our readings, shared in the context of Pride weekend and the previous week’s news from the Supreme Court, lifted up the challenging ongoingness of the journey, our call to proclaiming and participating in the liberating Good News of God’s kingdom or dream. We navigated some technical difficulties but eventually heard Margie Adam’s song “the Long Haul,” to help remind us of the commitment and vocation of so many to be in the work of justice together for “the long haul,” even when the going gets tough, even when hope can feel so hard to come by.[1] This morning our gospel passage returns us to the scene of the journey, the call that Jesus issues to go out in community to proclaim the good news as laborers in the harvest. Even amid what Jesus underscores will entail a profound sense of vulnerability, the call emphasizes sharing the Good News through relationship, building connections in unfamiliar ways and among previously unknown people. The kingdom of God has not only “come near.” It also calls us into nearness that can be both unsettling and inspiring. It is a nearness that ultimately expresses liberating hope.

Our gospel passage depicts Jesus sending out his disciples into the surrounding area. It parallels an earlier passage in Luke, intriguingly not assigned to a Sunday but that we will talk about along with this passage at our Wrestling with the Scriptures Bible study on Tuesday. In the earlier passage Jesus sends out the twelve disciples he had come to call apostles (Luke 9:1-6). They seem to have been a vanguard for what he is doing now, which is to send out a much larger group—seventy, a symbolically resonant number.[2] This group is to go out not singly but in supportive pairs, two by two, to the towns where Jesus himself also planned to go. Intriguingly, as he sent them out, he asked them to join in his own asking: “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). Even in this first part of his instructions, Jesus is inviting the paired people to enter into a relationally open, vulnerable and yet also life-filled practice: to ask others to join them in this open-ended, ongoing work. That sense of vulnerability is intensified as he describes the context: they are essentially like lambs sent into the midst of wolves. They are to travel light and with purpose: no items to attract thieves but also no tools of self-reliance; no engagement on the road with any who might divert or harm them along the way but instead a focus on the towns and their communities. Without their own provisions they would have to rely on the hospitality of strangers. Hospitality can sound safe when you offer it, but seeking it is another story. Yet I am struck that even in their reliance on the answer their possible hosts would give them, this group of paired people are not passive recipients. They are co-creating hospitality together with their hosts. That invitation to co-creation is perhaps the most vulnerable moment in the scenario Jesus describes.

We can see that dynamic in Jesus’ intriguing language: “Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you” (10:5-6). This passage is a key one in the Vital + Thriving pilot project in which we are beginning to participate—the program invites us to steep ourselves in this passage, listening carefully to it and to what our conversation partners hear in it.[3] Amid this process, I have been struck by the function of peace in the call of the seventy. Not only do they proclaim “peace to this house” but they have a peace that can connect with and somehow activate the peace of those who are already in the household. The peace of the visitors can come to interact with that of the household if someone in the house “shares in peace,” if there is a kind of fertile ground for peace to rise up in cultivated growth. Then the peace of the disciples can come to “rest on that person,” that household. What a beautiful gift, a shared nearness that is not simply the absence of strife but a co-created context of rest. The stage is set for further proclamation and for emergence of the kingdom, the dream itself. This process Jesus has described is welcome – a much more profound invitation than a mere “we’re so glad you’re here.” It is a deeply shared context of peace from out of which something new, something active, something beyond ourselves, tilled in our soil by God the gardener, can unfold and grow. “Whoever listens to you, listens to me,” our passage says, while Matthew’s Gospel substitutes the word welcome (Matthew 10:40). And by the same token, Jesus continues, if this visited house does not have such fertile ground—if it is not open to this deep sharing of peace – then that offering can “return to” the paired disciples. They can move on to another place of possibility, wiping from their feet the nearness of the town’s closed dust.

But the heart of all this movement, this journeying, this vulnerable, opening offering of peace, is the proclamation of the Good News itself. And what is that proclamation? “The kingdom of God has come near.” The Good News itself has come near. The promise of a world in which the marginalized are centered, the oppressed are liberated, the stranger is welcomed, the suffering are brought into healing light of the Spirit, is declared as near. Now near (as Sesame Street’s Grover would say…) is not far. Near is also not fully arrived. It is a threshold, liminal state. Nearness in our passage is presence; it is collective activity; it is profoundly right relationship; just over the horizon, within sight, within earshot, within scent. This nearness is full of hope, hope for the kingdom’s full realization. The proclamation of the Good News is a proclamation of hope.

Now hope is a sentiment that is a struggle for many right now, as hard won rights are being eroded or outright removed, as people are driven into further entrenchment with what feels like waning possibilities for collaboration across divides. Families and friendships are under stress as people react to the news and express their pain and anger. All of which underscores how much more crucial hope is for our world in this moment. The theologian sometimes referred to as the grandparent of liberation theology, Rubem Alves, has a way of talking about hope as a space of shared imaginative openness.[4] In his 1972 book Tomorrow’s Child he says,

What is hope? It is the presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks. It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress is not the last word. It is the suspicion that Reality is much more complex than realism wants us to believe; that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual, and that in a miraculous and unexpected way life is preparing the creative event which will open the way to freedom and resurrection.[5]

For Alves, the reality of suffering and oppression, engaging and not ignoring its presence, is actually crucial for energizing our faithful, collective reaching-out toward hope. The horrors of our world can help propel us to the imaginative imperative of proclaiming hope.

We need one another for this work, because sometimes our imaginations fall short—we cannot on our own see beyond the horizons of seeming possibility in our world. Jesus knew this and sent the disciples out in pairs, in relationship to seek out further relationship, for this reason. As I thought about the dynamics and challenge of this invitation, I recalled a book I recently read by Kate DiCamillo. As I’ve shared before, I began reading her middle grade and children’s fiction during Eastertide – a kind of ‘Easter discipline’ (!) that I am continuing.[6] Her 2019 book Beverly Right Here, is the third volume in a trilogy about three teenaged young women who become friends as they navigate loss and struggle in 1970s Florida. Among the friends, Beverly is notably prickly, having developed a cynical outer shell and a penchant for relationship sabotage. She has been abandoned and disappointed so many times by both peers and adults in her life, particularly by her parents, that she is oriented toward leaving. In this book she leaves home definitively, assisted by an older cousin who drops her miles away in a strange, seaside town. She ventures forth into the unknown with nothing, and somehow manages to find and help create new community, chosen family, and powerful possibility scrapped together with unexpected ingredients. There is a moment early in the story when she faces once more her loneliness and loss in a terrible phone call with her mom from a roadside phone booth. Now, leaving the booth, she returns to the Seahorse Court, a trailer park she had seen and dismissed earlier, as an older woman watering flowers in front of a pink trailer had offered a friendly, hokey greeting. But now, Beverly saw,

The woman was still standing out in front of her pink trailer. She was still watering her stupid flowers.

She saw Beverly. She waved. ‘Howdy, Howdy!’ she shouted.

The woman was like something that would spring out of a cuckoo clock, shouting her stupid greeting on the hour and the half hour.

Beverly sighed. She turned down the seashell path and walked toward the pink trailer.

She couldn't say why.

‘Howdy,’ she said when she was closer to the woman.

And then she said it again.


Having left home, Beverly was now moving toward something, someone completely new, someone whose greeting clanked absurdly against Beverly’s constricted ears. In this moment, something opened in Beverly. She received the woman’s peace in all its ridiculousness, and she returned it. She learned the woman’s name: Iola. This moment of connection set the stage for all the unexpected twists to come. This relationship would become a space, would support a habit, of invitation. Learning with and from Iola, Beverly would come to create belonging, family. From this opening moment, the lives of these women, young and old, would grow to proclaim the Good News of the nearness of God’s dream.

For that dream, the God’s kingdom, has indeed come near. Even in a world full of pain and anger. Even in divisions amid and from family, like Beverly’s. In the face of rejection, Jesus invites the disciples not simply to wipe the dust from their feet but also to say, “Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” Rubem Alvez writes, “Yet--this is a word that makes all the difference – one moves toward the future in the certainty that the present has not said all that is to be said. And one literally bets one’s life on this coming but still unseen creative event.”[8] This is the heart of our faithful response to Jesus’ call. Go out, share your peace, proclaim the nearness of God’s dream, here and now.

God, whose kingdom comes impossibly near: share with us the authority that sets others free; send us on the way of challenge and conversion; reveal to us the vision of hatred falling from its throne in summer lightning storms; through Jesus Christ, who empowers us. Amen.[9]

[1] Margie Adam, “The Long Haul” in Another Place (Pleiades Records, 1993) [2] Fred Cradock, “Luke” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988, 2000), 941-942. [3] [4] [5] Rubem Alves, Tomorrow’s Child: Imagination, Creativity, and the Rebirth of Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 194. Italics in original. [6] [7] Kate DiCamillo, Beverly, Right Here (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2019), 20-21. [8] Alvez, 194-195 [9] Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church (New York: Church Publishing, 2009), 100.

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