“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 you.” --Luke 10:8-9
I tend to be an optimist. There is something deep inside me that is convinced that problems can be solved, that people can work through conflicts, that people and congregations can grow and that positive change is possible. I generally assume that most people are people of good will and wantto work things out, solve problems and contribute to positive change even when we don’t see those things in the same way. But, lately, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to maintain my optimistic worldview. Cynicism has crept in. I’ve begun to wonder if anything ever will change. I have been feeling tired of trying.
In this week’s lesson, Jesus sends seventy people out to prepare the way for him as he makes his way to Jerusalem and to the cross. He gives the seventy a pretty focused mission: to extend peace to the people they meet, cure the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God. He warns them that they will meet resistance, but also that they should receive the hospitality extended to them.
I admit, I’ve been wrestling with what it means to proclaim the Reign of God this week. It’s hard to proclaim the Reign of God if you can’t see it. And it is hard to see it if you are overcome by a fatalistic cynicism that limits your vision like a nighttime fog on a twisty road. But, then I realized that in spite of the many legitimate reasons to succumb to cynicism and even despair, God is at work in the world! So here are just a few examples. Maybe you can think of a few of your own.
Just a few weeks ago, I was in Tanzania visiting our companion church there. The Tanzanian Lutheran Church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world. That alone is cause for celebration. But, I was struck by their hospitality, their welcome and their generosity. I was awed by their excitement and eagerness to share their faith with us, and with anyone who will listen.
I thought about the many little churches (15-50 in worship) in our synod who are deeply engaged in caring for people in the name of Christ: immigrants, the homeless, the hungry, the poor, the suffering, the struggling, strangers and friends in their communities. Our churches have meal programs, and are involved in advocacy efforts, and are working to build bridges with “the other” right outside their doors.
I thought about congregations who are welcoming new people to the faith. Who are growing in faith, love and devotion to God. Two of our smallest congregations have each baptized over a half-dozen people in the last year! One of our largest congregations continues to grow steadily and welcome newcomers. More than one congregation has embraced the radical inclusivity of the Reign of God and it shows in the vibrancy of their ministries both inside and outside of their church walls.
The Reign of God is drawing near! God’s Shalom – wholeness, peace, healing – is happening! The sick are being cured! Oh, there is still resistance. Always will be. Jesus is clear about that. But he is also clear about the Good News that, because God reigns, all things are possible – including resurrection and new life.
I think I feel a spark of optimism.
Thanks for reading. I pray you see the Reign of God breaking into your world this week.