Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
July 7, 2019
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +
I don’t know whether you realize it, but Fr. Dave is a very brave person to invite me to preach. Because, as many of you know, I was an English major and then a teacher. And English majors tend to look at words differently. Sure, words have definitions, but–what are the connotations? What are the other levels, the implied meanings?
I have to confess that I tend to ask similar questions not just about words but about visual things, which is why I love to learn about symbols—religious symbols, cultural symbols—you name it. What does the shape imply? What about the colors, the expression?
By now I’m guessing you won’t be surprised that I’m going to ask you to use your imagination, as you look at the world around you, at today’s reading, and at yourself. Because, in a sense, you will be the very one to write the end of this sermon. When you leave this church at the end of the service, you will be like the seventy that Jesus sent out to every town and place; you are the ones to carry the spirit of the living God.
So, let’s begin. Imagine that you are sitting in a cathedral somewhere in the heart of England. The stained glass glimmers with words unspoken, the colors dance in the sun, turning everything into a beautiful kaleidoscope of God’s creation. As you settle down, your hand moves across the carved decoration on the end of the pew. You feel something odd, and so you look and look again. Right in front of you is the carving of a face. Not just any face: it has leaves curling around it, vines instead of hair. It seems to have emerged from a deep, mysterious forest—only it too has become part of the forest. It is what is called a Green Man, an ancient symbol that you’ll find in many churches, including the National Cathedral in Washington (although you have to look carefully among all the gargoyles to find it). It represents our connection to ever-growing, ever-flowering nature. The Green Man is a symbol of rebirth.
Now, put that aside and imagine that you are on a train trip with us across the Canadian Rockies, from Vancouver to Banff, where we rented a car to drive north to Jasper. It was gorgeous— the sun was shining, and the leaves were turning—it was Nature’s version of the stained-glass windows. We passed mountains and and waterfalls; we climbed a glacier; and we saw elk and moose and bears. And then, in a small gift shop, we found this [hold it up]. It is an Inuksuk, another old symbol, this one created centuries ago by the native Inuit people. The Inuksuk is a figure made of layered stones, representing a human being. The real ones are much taller than I am; they stand in the remote ice fields like this. They are meant to show a safe path through the dangerous places. So like the Green Man, an Inuksuk points in the direction of life.
Now, let’s return home. Some years ago, a number of us had the privilege of being in Fr. Peter’s icon-writing class, where we created our own version of one of the icons you saw in the cathedral where you discovered the Green Man. And there is a reason that it is called icon-writing, not icon-painting. Each step has a significance that goes deeper and higher than the gesso with which you are priming your wooden board, deeper and higher than the earthly components of the egg tempera that Fr. Peter is so patiently mixing in the parish hall sink. The icon represents a holy figure—Jesus, Mary, or one of the saints–and icon-writing is a way of speaking God’s word of life visually.
So . . . what does all of this have to do with today’s reading? Here Jesus is sending out a group of seventy faithful ones and telling them how to prepare for the journey.
And what a journey it will be! (Now, just an aside—this passage always reminds me of packing for some of our some of our—let’s say wilder travel adventures. When we went to Antarctica, for instance, we got a long list from the National Geographic folks. Don’t forget your knee-high waterproof boots; bring a jacket with an extra liner; you’ll need earmuffs and gloves and and and.)
But oh is this different. Jesus tells the seventy to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. No extra sandals? But they will be walking for miles in sun and rain, over rocks and dust. No, nothing extra. No GPS system like the map app Fr. Dave talked about last Sunday. No change of clothing, either. They are not going to be on camera.
They also don’t need to make reservations at the nearest Holiday Inn—no, they’re to knock on the doors of strangers, say “Peace!”, and ask for shelter. And they are to judge those strangers by their hospitality.
Then they are to cure the sick and say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
In short, all they need to do, Jesus says, is to carry the Word, the word of life.
And that is why these seventy are also icons, emblems, symbols. They represent something larger, more significant than themselves. They are being sent to do what St. Francis put so well centuries later: “Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.” So for us, these disciples are like maps, showing direction, showing us the Way, the Truth, the Life.
The Way, the Truth, the Life—that is creation. We too are icons, emblems, symbols. We must make connection with the earth, the earth we are all part of. We emerge as the Green men do from the dust of the ground and we all go back there again, only to rise in glory, covered with the lovely green foliage of life. We become, as Jesus says elsewhere, part of the vine of life, the one that produces fruit that teaches and feeds all of us.
We are like the Inuksuk, standing with arms outstretched, pointing the way, standing solid in rain and ice and heat, standing there to show those who are wandering, in which direction to go.
We are like those icons, made from the very elements of the earth. We are formed and fashioned from countless DNAs into a perfectly unique shape, filled with God’s message of resurrection, light and life, the message that says, come my way, my truth my light.
And so, my friends, we are all called on a journey, like those disciples who went out with only one pair of sandals and the clothes on their backs on a road they knew not where it would take them.
As we walk out of church today, let’s look at the directions Jesus gives us. Look at the wondrous map he’s put in our hands. We’re are to go out and follow the dream of a new and resurrected life. We really don’t know the road—only the mapmaker knows that. But if we are fearless, if we tighten our sandals and head out, we will face adventures we never guessed would happen. We may be walking through the forests and ice fields of life. Our adventures may be difficult and fearsome, wrenching and painful. There is no doubt about that.
So you are called—we are all called—to write the end of this sermon by setting out on our journeys. We are called like those 70 believers to step over the rocks and avoid the pitfalls, to brush away the sand, and to follow in the footprints of the very one who sends us out. That one—Jesus–the one who followed God with all his heart and soul and strength, the one who traveled without an extra pair of sandals, the one who went out of his way to heal and help and feed. He is the one knocking on the doors of peoples’ hearts—our doors, our hearts.
His are the footsteps we are following.
In His holy name. +