In the name of God, source of all being, eternal Word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bill Pronzini is a mystery writer. He says there are only two stories in the world: some one goes on a journey; and a stranger comes to town. Some one goes on a journey; a stranger comes to town. In fact, there is only one story: just with two points of view.
Strangers came to our village: a pair of them. Fishermen, from Galilee, by the looks of them. Andrew, and the big quiet one, Peter. Rough hands. Rough voices. Rough manners…. They told us straight out – in fact, they blurted it, like bad news: the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God’s rule is about to begin. Here. On earth.
In this village? I don’t think so, I said. The temple guards come and take their tax. The Romans come and take theirs. And then the tax collectors come again, for theirs.
But they had something to show us. Something to offer us. They healed the sick, they raised the dead – raised the dead! – and all in the name of one Jesus, of Nazareth.
He is the one, they said. The messiah. The one every body has been waiting for, to put things to rights. To put the temple people in their place – and send the Romans back to theirs.
No, no, no. Not yet: already, but not yet.
What’s that supposed to mean?
The kingdom of God is breaking in – like a thief in the night. The Romans cannot even see it; the temple proudies won’t know it until it’s right on top of them.
For now, prepare. Get ready. Tell the word – show the deed. The reign of God: it’s coming. Look sharp – starting acting like it. Start acting like God is in charge of the world. Start acting like the creator is the redeemer, the one who will bring us peace. The one we can rely on. To make us right with God, to make us free of our chains – our chains of misery and of hate and of fear, of suspicion and jealousy. The disease of human weakness, greed, power-hunger, lust, all its many symptoms: he will cure us.
He is curing us. Through these disciples he sent to us he is sending the word – the news. They act as his agents. They bring his message. And they show us the power – the power only the people of God could have.
They want us to join them. To carry the message beyond our village, beyond our borders, beyond our comfort zones – beyond any familiar territory. And they want us to begin by telling our neighbors, people like ourselves, as they have done, telling us.
They were Jews, like us. People who worked with their hands. People who prayed, too, with their hands – hands uplifted to God.
He sent them to us, first, the ‘lost sheep of the tribe of Israel’. For a season, we heard the message. And then they moved on, across the world, finding among us those who would travel with them, work with them, spreading the news and living the word.
Come with us, now: into the new world, the new millennium, the new age. Come into the kingdom of Heaven.
Because there are only two stories in the world – and really, there is only one: it is only a matter of perspective.
There are two kinds of people in the world – aren’t there? Jew and Gentile? Maybe, but maybe not: as Jesus taught us, as he showed us, all are welcome at God’s table.
There was another place, another time, with other strangers showing up – accepting hospitality at the tent of Abraham, the welcome work of the hands of Sarah as she prepared for them quick bread, Johnny cakes made from three measures of meal. She laughed, when she heard their promise: your wife, though she is now old and past the age for childbearing, will indeed bear a son. And in him you will be blessed, and all the peoples of the world will find their blessing as well.
How can this be? It’s past my time. No wonder she laughed.
And then she laughed out of wonder. For they heard her, quietly chortling behind the tent flap – and said, “Is nothing too wonderful for the power of the living God?”
Oh, my. Now she knows whom they’ve got in their tent. God’s messengers. Angels. They might as well be the three persons of the Trinity, in the flesh. And they tell her something impossible, something that only God can do – and they say it with power:
And indeed she laughed again. This time, not out of disbelief or surprise, but JOY. For she had a son, and she named him Isaac, which means “laughter”.
And the sign of God’s promise was there, God’s promise fulfilled, with more to come. The joy of all the nations, the blessing they all would find, came through this little gathering in a tent, where Abraham and Sarah and their household had rested.
They went on from there, into an uncertain future: a future filled with the promise of God and the challenges of the world, and it was only through faith – trusting in God – that they could see that it could ever be made right, ever be made possible.
The strangers who arrived at the tent received the hospitality that was the custom of the desert peoples, the wanderers; the same hospitality that the disciples sought, when they walked the same desert. They too brought news – of the birth, already of a messiah, and soon and already but not quite yet, of the messiah’s heaven-sent rule.
To be right with God arrives for us as an unexpected gift.
Sarah did not expect the good news of a son – and she might well have been worried how she was going to bear such a gift.
The disciples arrived unheralded in the small towns and villages, the countryside and the hinterlands, of a forgotten Promised Land: a place under the thumb of empire, collusion-rent by quislings running temple rackets. And yet they believed; they knew; they’d seen it: the kingdom of heaven was at hand. And they trusted so much what they had seen and heard and held in their arms, that they too could bring the good news, and the healing that heralded God’s kingdom, as they spread the word around the world they knew – and then beyond it to lands unknown.
We follow in their footsteps – the footsteps of the people who trusted God, and carried his promise. The footsteps of Sarah, who brought into life the son God had promised, and of Abraham who with her traveled into unknown lands, following the promise and the guidance of God. The footsteps of the disciples, who brought the word to people eager to hear it – and to be healed, and made right, body and soul.
We follow in the footsteps of the one they followed – the one who bore in himself the kingdom, and shared it, his own body broken for us, his own life given. We follow and find our disbelief turned to joy, our sorrows to laughter, and our prayers to praise. Amen.
The Readings for June 15th, the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6):
Genesis 18:1-15 * Psalm 116: 1, 10-17 * Romans 5:1-8 * Matthew 9:35-10:8
"There are only two kinds of people in the world - people who like oregano on their spaghetti and people who don't."--attributed to Jim Shelby, raising his hand to interrupt a lecture in humanistic psychology....