Looking up from the New Town in Edinburgh toward the Castle atop the Royal Mile, I could hear a bagpiper in the gloaming. When I took the tour of the Castle the next day, I saw Saint Margaret’s Chapel, commemorating her returning Scotland to the strong roots of its faith in the 11th century.
I saw something more recent too: a large building, one of the most prominent on the top of the hill – a sort of mausoleum or temple, a sacred space of some sort.
It was a war memorial, a remembrance place, dedicated to honoring those sons of Scotland who had given their lives in the First World War.
All around me, when I went inside, were books, large books, inscribed with the names of the fallen. There were men attending who explained the index.
In those books somewhere in large letters you could find the name of one person in particular. If you stepped back you could see them all – names written in the books of honor.
We don’t know about each particular person, how they lived or how they died. They died not knowing if their cause would succeed. We do know that they served. And their names were written in the books of honor.
What we encounter repeatedly in the Bible is the image of a book in which names are written: the book of the covenant, the book of life.
In this Gospel’s telling today, it is the book of those who went forth to love and serve the Lord, by proclaiming and living the Word, so that they could say, to those they passed, receptive or inhospitable, that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
That is what matters – to serve. Faithfulness, yes, even in unfaithfulness to repent and return to serve.
Now how did Jesus send them out? What tasks did he set before them? He sent them to prepare the way – by bringing healing and good news to places he himself purposed to go. They were in that sense sent on in advance.
Go — go urgently — without staff or spare sandals or knapsack for provisions. Go – even into a foreign land, Samaria. Go – depending on the people who receive you.
Go – depending even more profoundly on the Word of God, on the message I send with you.
That becomes your family, that becomes your identity, and that becomes your home: the message of the Kingdom of God that you carry with you.
This utter trust in the Word of God can be demonstrated in small and simple ways – remember now Naaman the Aramean, the great general of Syria, sent by his king for healing.
This adventure began when someone listened to a small voice – the voice of a slave girl, a captive from Israel, serving Naaman’s wife. “If only he could see the prophet in Samaria,” she said, “he could be healed.”
Her mistress listened to this voice of a little one – one easily dismissed as of no power or influence, a slave after all and merely a child – but she listened and the great and mighty were changed.
For the king sent the general, and the general, with mighty expectations, went forth, ventured out of his own land, for healing from a stranger. He was outside his territory, and even his family, and soon without even the dignity of his position.
Go tell him to jump in the river Jordan, said the prophet from inside his house.
Eventually the man did – he was persuaded to take this small step that really was a great leap for a man of his kind.
It was an adventure into obscurity, a humbling – and with that journey completed he became as a little child – and came to know and worship the living God.
The story continues: “Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.’” (v. 15a)
Remember now those 70 others that Jesus sent out – these are not the disciples whose names we know. Their names are written in the heavens and that is their glory.
We do not know who they were. They need not have been the mighty of the Earth. Some of them could have been as obscure as slave girls and children.
But we know they went forth and we know the message they proclaimed: “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near you.”
If we can hear it,
If we can welcome it,
If we can make it at home with us,
If we can show it, and
If we can carry it forward into our world, then we can say it too:
“The Kingdom of Heaven has come near you – today.”
May it be so. Amen.