For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and parishes will not be disclosed in this series.
Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14, Galatians 6:14-18, and Luke 10:1-12, 17-20.
The Scripture readings today are full of images of peace and hope. Isaiah reminding Judah that "It shall be known that God's hand is with God's servants." Paul sending peace and mercy on the Israel of God. Jesus reminding the disciples that their first message must be `Peace to this house."
On this 4th of July, perhaps it is good to remind ourselves that peace and hope are still signs of our discipleship AND our citizenship as well. Can you imagine how different our state and federal legislative sessions would be if their first words upon entering the House and Senate were "Peace to this house".
Today, I want to explore a bit about discipleship and how that also applies to citizenship.
In the Gospel, when the seventy-two return, full of jubilation at the power that they have had – "even the demons are subject to us", Jesus says, "Do not rejoice so much in the fact that the demons are subject to you as that your names are inscribed in heaven." One commentary I read suggested that this is Jesus' reminder to the disciples not to get bogged down with ego, to remember from whom their power comes. This is a message for me to remember when I get into my "super-nun" mode and think that I alone am responsible to save the world. But, on the other hand, it's also a reminder not to depend entirely on God.
Two brief stories to illustrate the point, stories you've probably heard before: A man prayed to God: "O God, I need to win the lottery. I want to provide affordable housing and health care for the poor. If you let me win the lottery, I will give a large portion of that money to that cause."
The lottery drawing was done and the man didn't win.
Again, he prayed to God: "God, you know that my motives are true, that my heart goes out to the poor and that I want to help them. Please help me win the lottery."
Next drawing, he didn't win.
Again he prayed, "God, do you not hear my prayer? You know my heart. You know my good intentions. Please, help me win the lottery."
A booming voice comes out of the clouds, "Why don't you help me? If you want to win the lottery, the least you could do is buy a lottery ticket."
Or, you might remember the Pontius Puddle cartoons which used to be in The Catholic Spirit. In one particular cartoon, Pontius says, "God, you are all powerful; you can do all things. Why don't you do something about all of the hatred and violence and suffering in the world?" God's answer: "I did do something. I created you."
While I do not in any way negate the power of prayer or the power of God, I think that God gave us intelligence, a free will and a conscience for a purpose. We have made a mess of many things in our world and we have the power to fix many of the messes, if we choose to do so. I don't think we can simply expect God to fix everything for us. And I don't think we have a right to just dump all the world's troubles into God's lap unless we have done our best to deal with them ourselves first. That's one reason I love the gesture of holding the community's prayers in our outstretched hand, bringing them to our heart - to that place of deep care and love, and then inviting the blessing of the Divine on our efforts to respond.
Looking at discipleship and citizenship from this perspective, I go back to that quote from the Gospel where Jesus tells the disciples that the main reason to rejoice, other than the demons being subject to them, is "that your names are inscribed in heaven." I've always wondered a bit about what that means.
Is there some divine record keeper tallying up my good deeds for accounting at the final judgment? Do I need to spend my life making sure that I score enough points to get past the pearly gates? Should my motive for doing good be mainly to earn a heavenly reward? Or can the very acts of goodness themselves be my reward? Can I do good simply because I believe it is the right thing to do, regardless of reward? If I did not believe in a heavenly hereafter, or if there actually were no heavenly reward promised, would I still act that way?
From the Gospel reading today we can hear the message that, as Christians in today's world, we are called not only to greet people with words of peace but to be peacemakers in the fullest sense of the word. We can cast out demons that possess our world today in many ways – demons of poverty and oppression, demons of hatred and violence, demons of apathy and ignorance, if we choose to do so.
May this 4th of July be a reminder to us of the challenge and responsibility of our discipleship and our citizenship. May the outward fireworks we witness be a symbol of the rekindling of the inner fire which fuels that discipleship and citizenship, willing to build the common good and the kindom of God. And, as Paul says to the Israelites and to us, "May the fervor of our Savior Jesus Christ be with your spirit."