Sermon on Luke 10:1–11, 16–20 for 14th Ordinary C, July 4th, 2010

What He Saw, and When He Saw it

About one generation after Jesus’ time on earth there was a Jewish man named BarKochba who tried to lead a revolt against Roman Imperial domination.  He declared independence and started the war.  It was customary in that world for a new ruler to mint new coins with his name and symbols of his reign – it was a kind of instant message system in the days before mass media.  Bar Kochba minted coins proclaiming himself king after his declaration of independence – not waiting to actually finish the war.  Of course Rome crushed his revolt, and Israel remained a people without a country from that time (135 AD) until 1948.

Between Declaration and Independence

I bring it up here today for several reasons that matter for out text and for today.  This is July 4th, America’s celebration of independence.  We all know the date July 4, 1776 as the the Day we declared our Independence from Britain’s King George.  But we still had a war to fight to become independent.  The final Treaty of Paris that formalized our status as an independent people had to wait seven years until 1783.

What was happening between 1776 and 1783?   The Revolutionary War.  Just as BarKochba had coins that proclaimed his reign before the war was over, so our independence declaration was made before our war had been won.

This was exactly the setting of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus came to inaugurate the reign of God; to establish the kingdom of God.  The kingdom began in his public ministry as he went about declaring independence from “the powers that be” saying, “The Kingdom of God has come.”  But there was still a war to be fought.  The text before us is about that war.  Who is the enemy now?

The question in every war is: who is the enemy?

In the Revolutionary war, we were fighting the British – they wore red uniforms – the “red coats” we called them.  In World Wars I and II we fought nations, just as we did in Korea and Viet Nam.  But today, we fight insurgents, not states.  We fight against the tactic of terrorism.  The rules have changed.  It is not that civilians are sometimes casualties, it is that there are no non-civilians; we have no regular army opposing us since we routed the Taliban.  None of them wears a uniform.  Of course the consequences of this form of warfare are horrible for ordinary people who wish they  could remain uninvolved civilians.

In this new context we know that the old post-Viet Nam “Powell Doctrine” of “overwhelming force” no longer applies.  Of course we could overwhelm every village and every valley if we chose indiscriminate killing, as our enemies do, but we know that would be a fool’s errand and a moral disaster.  The more we would kill, the more would fight against us – it would never stop.  Ask the Soviets.

The Counter-insurgency strategy

And so, General Petraeus wrote the book on counter-insurgency that takes a differentapproach.  He sends his soldiers off base, to live among the people in villages, to gain their trust, and to communicate the message that their lives would be better under a stable, democratic government, than under the brutal backward Taliban extremists.

Why this strategy?  Because, though the battle looks like it is against the terrorists out in the street where they plant the road-side bombs, in reality, the battle is in the hearts and minds of the citizens who must choose whom to support.  Whomever wins the battle there, in hearts and minds, will win the war.  Loose the battle for the soul, and you cannot win the battle for the state.

In a very similar way, Jesus sent his disciples out to live among the villagers of Palestine with a keen sense of who the real enemy was.  He knew that it was not Rome, but the evil behind Rome, and potentially, the evil within the hearts and minds of the people.  In fact he knew that if those people thought the enemy was Rome and took up arms to fight, they would loose disastrously – which of course they later did (in the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 AD).

Jesus identified the fundamental enemy as evil itself.  We use the word Satan as a name for the devil, but Luke here calls him “the satan” – meaning “the adversary.”  The adversary is the evil power at work behind the scenes, operating in every evil, not just the one on the surface like Rome or the Taliban.  The real enemy is the one that gets even into the hearts of minds of common folk seated around the supper table.

In the few moments we have I want to sketch out a few examples of the evil that lies beneath the surface that was the real “adversary” in Jesus day, and is our adversary today.

Four evils to fight

First, the evil of self-sufficiencyy.  Jesus told his disciples what not to carry with them – purse, bag, sandals – the very things they would need to make it on their own.  No, Jesus said, you must be dependent: inter-dependent.  The people you go to need your peace, your healing, your ability to confront the evil that oppresses them (what else is exorcism?); they need your ministry, you need their provision.  The kingdom of God is about a community of interdependence, not of self-sufficiency.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we today, even in a culture of consumerism and individualism, reject the evil of the myth of self-sufficiency.

Second, the evil of elitism. First off, notice that Jesus sent these seventy not just to the good guys, the Jews, but into Samaritan territory.  Were they in danger like lambs among wolves? Yes, but that was not to stop them; “go to the wolves and preach, saying “peace to this house.”  They were not to select the best houses but rather “whatever house you are in” is the right one.  They were not to set the menu: eat and drink whatever they provide.  If there is to be rejection, let it come from them, not from you.  You have a message to all: the Kingdom of God has come near.  “Come near” means it is within your reach, if you will grasp it.  The kingdom is proclaimed to everyone and is for everyone.   We reject the evil of  “us” against “them”, the evil of elitism.

Third, the evil of arrogance. Demons may fall like flies, but it is not of your own doing.  Do not get impressed with yourself when you see success in your encounter with the forces of evil.  You are only playing a bit part in a drama that is cosmic in scope.  Jesus sees behind the curtain; he sees the satan, the adversary, evil itself fall to the ground, broken and powerless.  The Kingdom of God has come.  Evil has been defeated.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and to the cross which will defeat the power of evil once and for all.  It is the victory of God, not of our making.  We reject the evil of arrogance.

Fourth, the evil of gleeful vengeance. Yes there is a battle and there is an enemy and the enemy of evil itself must be defeated; but war is never a happy time.  Even victory over the powers of evil is not the source of our joy and rejoicing. Do not rejoice that the demons submit to you – grieve that there are such things as demonic forces.  Rather reserve your joy for what is good.  Reserve your joy for redemption; the wonderful, glorious news that your names are on the rolls of citizens of the kingdom of God.  Rejoice that God, by his grace, has rescued you and set you free to know and love him, and to live as a free member of his realm , his kingdom, where his will is done right here on earth as it is in heaven.  We reject the evil of gleeful vengeance.

The on-going struggle in between Declaration and Independence

Today as we rejoice in the blessing of living in a free, independent and democratic country, we rejoice all the more so that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  We  rejoice that the war against the forces of evil in all of its ugly, dehumanizing, destructive forms has already been decided.  There is more fighting to be done against evil; more battles, but we are not in doubt about the outcome.

Let us therefore without fear re-commit ourselves to the mission.   We need, as Jesus said, more laborers for the mission of the harvest. We need to be people of prayer in the context of a resilient foe, praying that the Harvest-Master will send more laborers.  This is a battle; we are not permitted the luxury of sitting on the sidelines as if it were a ball game.  We are in it.  We have been sent out.  We have the message: “The Kingdom of God has come!”  That is our cry, coming and going, accepted or rejected.  The real enemy, “The satan” has fallen; Jesus has seen it happening; we reject all evil.  The Lord Jesus is King!

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