Becoming the Word

We’re still close enough to the season of commencement addresses to remember the advice of Ray Bradbury: “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime” (from Fahrenheit 451). It’s good advice for anyone beginning a new season in life.

It’s also good advice for beginning a new season of discipleship. When Jesus addressed the class of seventy before sending them out to commence their mission (Luke 10:1-11), he instructed them, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (vv. 8-9). He might as well have used words similar to Ray Bradbury’s: “It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change them from the way they were before you touched them into something that’s like you after you leave them. Touch them with the near presence of the kingdom of God that you carry within you, the healing and life-giving presence of the kingdom of God, and leave them changed, leave them whole.”

So Christ sends us on a mission into the world. We are sent with nothing – no purse, no bag, no sandals – no resources other than the story we are. It doesn’t matter what’s in our bank account, what kind of clothes we have on our back or in our closet, what kind of house we live in, what kind of church building we use as a base of operations. God asks only that we use our story, which is the only real power we have, to heal the brokenness of others. For in touching them with the story of what God has done for us, we touch them with the kingdom of God.

After Jesus healed the man in the country of the Gerasenes who was possessed by demons (Luke 8:26-39), he told the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (v. 39). He didn’t leave the man with a committee of helpers or a satchel of resources. He left the man only with the story of what God had done for him, a story he was to share with others.

“Blessed be the God of all mercies and consolation,” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “who consoles us in our troubles so that we can console others who are in similar trouble with the same consolation we received” (2 Cor. 1:3-4 alt.). What God does to restore us to wholeness becomes the only resource we need to restore others to wholeness. What we have to offer in our life of discipleship is not a cure for what’s wrong with the world around us but a therapeutic relationship in which we and the world around us become more whole and complete, more like the world God created and is still creating. That’s the harvest of faith.

Where has God, through someone else, touched a broken place in your life and restored some of your wholeness? What was the most important part of that experience of healing for you, what made the difference in your life? That’s all you need to prepare the way for Christ. One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you are going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.

That’s all you need to bring God’s kingdom near to someone else. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you share the story of what God has done for you to make you whole, so that person will know that the kingdom of God has come near.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Jesus sent disciples “like laborers into the harvest” to reap the fruit produced in God’s kingdom (v. 2). What are you sent into the world to do to tend and reap the fruit of God’s kingdom? As a disciple of Christ, what is your role in the harvest? What personal gifts, what internal resources, do you have that support your ministry?
  2. Jesus sent his disciples out “like lambs into the midst of wolves” (v. 2). To what risks or dangers might your work in God’s harvest make you vulnerable? What risks or dangers have you experienced? How have you responded? What have you learned? How have you grown?
  3. The disciples were told, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals,” no external resources that would support their harvest work or make it more secure and comfortable (v. 4). On what external resources have you relied to support your work in the harvest? What would your ministry be like without those resources? On what would you then have to rely?
  4. “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you,” Jesus said, “eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you’” (vv. 8-9). The word used here for “cure” does not mean the kind of cure a physician provides for a physical illness or injury. It refers to restoring a deeper human wholeness, an integrity of being. What does this say to you about the nature of God’s kingdom, that it comes near in such a way? . . . about what you may be called to do in the harvest? What brokenness in those around you might be an opportunity for you to engage in God’s harvest work, to be a living word or messenger of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:16-20)?

 

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