— A Sermon by Gary L. Bagley —
Galatians 6:1-10; Luke 10:1-11
Some people wait for good things to happen; others make them happen.
As I recounted in the recent church online-newsletter, not long after arriving at our daughter’s home a couple of years ago, our granddaughter, Anna, took my hand and coaxed me into the playroom. Quickly, she pulled out two small, colorful, plastic cups…reached for a small, colorful, plastic pitcher…and poured a delicious, invisible beverage into both cups. She lifted her cup (which was my cue to do likewise), sipped the invisible hot beverage (as did I), and waited for my response. It was one of the finest cups of tea I’ve ever had. Her party made it so.
Some people wait on another to throw a party; others just throw a party. Some people search the world over for “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” others make these and other inalienable rights of human beings happen right where they are.
We’ve all experienced looking for something we’ve misplaced only to eventually find it—sitting right where we left it in full view.
In the 10th chapter of Luke, the gospel writer has Jesus sending out seventy followers in pairs to the surrounding communities. Their message was so important that he told them not to waste time preparing to leave. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrased translation says, “Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage.” Their message to the people in the communities? “God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!” They were to show the obvious courtesies, be grateful for the meals offered them, heal the sick, right any wrong, and tell citizens of the communities that God’s kingdom is right where they are. “And,” Jesus said, “if you are not well received, go out in the street and say, ‘the only thing we got from you is the dirt on our feet, and we’re giving it back. Do you have any idea that God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep?’”
Jesus’ call was to the abundant life—life in all its fullness. Yet, we settle for less much of the time. We wait for someone else to change the light bulb, come up with a solution, make the first apology. In the meantime, life passes by, problems remain, and unhappiness is always lurking around the door. Last Sunday, we touched on the difference in “patriotism” and “nationalism.” Patriotism is a deep love of one’s country, a recognition that its existence is due to high standards of earlier generations, and a commitment to excellence regardless of who has the best idea. Nationalism is best summed up by the phrase: “America, love it or leave it”—“if you don’t like the way things are, right or wrong, shut up or get out.”
The “best” is always possible right where we are. “The whole way to heaven is heaven itself,” Teresa of Avila said. Isaiah said, “And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)
Jacob is my favorite Old Testament character, probably because of his many flaws, yet he had such passion for God. Jacob tried to find happiness by stealing his brother’s blessing and birthright, but it was not there. He tried to find it in his uncle Laban’s wealth and generosity, but it was not there. And, he tried to take it from the “stranger in the night” just east of the Jabbok River, but it could not be found that way either. Jacob found it by finally being completely honest with God and himself. He found it by a change of mind and heart—metanoia…repentance. The “way” had been whispered to him as he turned to the right and to the left, but Jacob refused to acknowledge it. The kingdom of God was on his “back doorstep” all along, but he failed to recognize it.
On one such occasion, Jacob was running from a disaster he had created by deceiving his father into giving him his brother’s part of the inheritance, only to find himself running for his life from an angry brother, Esau, who wanted to kill him. Out in the middle of nowhere on his way to a distant uncle, he spent the night in the desert with nothing but a stone for a pillar. The kingdom of God was right under his head. Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching from where he was to the heavens with angels ascending and descending, ministering to his needs. Yet, Jacob didn’t quite “get it.” He continued to look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—someone else’s party, someone else’s fortune, someone else’s success and happiness—until he finally woke up to the fact that the abundant life had been waiting for him right where he was all along—the kingdom of God had been at his “doorstep” all along.
The late Nelson Mandela was an incredible leader as well as a former President of South Africa—actually, the first South African president to be elected by all the people, white and black, in a fully representative democratic election. His wise leadership helped unite his volatile and racially divided country. The 2009 Clint Eastwood produced movie, “Invictus,” is focused on Mandela using the Springbok rugby team, a prize of the all-white population, to unite the country. On their way to winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Mandela gives an inspirational poem by the same name, “Invictus,” to the white captain of the Springbok rugby team. It is a poem, written by William Ernest Henley, which personally provided Mandela strength and vision during his twenty-seven years in political asylum.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Mandela repeatedly read the poem from his prison cell on Robben Island; Henley, the English author, wrote the poem from his hospital bed in Edinburgh, Scotland—his “cell”—at age 25 after having his leg amputated just below the knee. Yet both Henley and Mandela understood that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have more to do with your attitude than your circumstances. …that purposeful living has more to do with being a part of the solutions in life rather than waiting for others to right the wrongs. …that experiencing the fullness of life has to do with being grateful for what one has, recognizing the kingdom of God on one’s own doorstep, realizing that we all need an inner strength that must come from beyond our personal strength, and that this “kingdom of life”—this kingdom of God—is always right where we are, waiting for us to choose to be a part of it. Responsibility for living life to its fullest, as Jesus challenged, is in our hands. It is always our choice.
The worst recession our nation has had since the late 1920s, Afghanistan—the longest war in the history of the United States (2001 to the present, twenty-five mass shootings in the United States in 2019 alone with two of them in our own state of Georgia, an immigration problem at our borders that is more of symptom of third-world countries’ needs that needs greater leadership from the stronger countries of our worl. “It is the best of times…it is the worst of times.”
We are the masters of our fate; we are the captains of our souls.
Whether as individuals, a church, a community, or a nation, we have “a great future in our past.” We have much for which to be grateful. Opportunities are before us. “The kingdom of God is on our doorstep!” Do you see it?
Some people wait for good things to happen; others make them happen. So, the next time your granddaughter or neighbor throws a tea party for you, don’t hesitate to respond. And, the next time you think about the importance of “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…,” don’t wait for someone else to make it more available to others. Seize the opportunity. The kingdom of God and Life is right on our doorstep!
1 Luke 10:9, from Eugene Peterson’s, The Message.
2 “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley, from Book of Verses (1888), fourth poem in the series of poems titled “Life and Death.”
3 John 10:10.
4 Wikipedia, U.S. war in Afghanistan, 2001 to the present. American involvement in the Vietnam War lasted 103 months.
5 July 3, 2019, “GunViolenceArchive.org.”
Galatians 6 (NRSV)
61My friends,* if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil* the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.
6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Luke 10:1-11 (The Message)
1-2Later the Master selected seventy and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go. He gave them this charge:
“What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands.
3“On your way! But be careful—this is hazardous work. You’re like lambs in a wolf pack.
4“Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage.
“Don’t loiter and make small talk with everyone you meet along the way.
5-6“When you enter a home, greet the family, ‘Peace.’ If your greeting is received, then it’s a good place to stay. But if it’s not received, take it back and get out. Don’t impose yourself.
7“Stay at one home, taking your meals there, for a worker deserves three square meals. Don’t move from house to house, looking for the best cook in town.
8-9“When you enter a town and are received, eat what they set before you, heal anyone who is sick, and tell them, ‘God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!’
10-12“When you enter a town and are not received, go out in the street and say, ‘The only thing we got from you is the dirt on our feet, and we’re giving it back. Did you have any idea that God’s kingdom was right on your doorstep?’