Guest Preacher: Theresa Henson, M.A.
One of my favorite themes of the New Testament is the theme of authority. The Old Testament is full of kings and queens and laws for the development of the the nation of Israel. But in the New Testament we have this new idea of authority that emerges with the person of Jesus and also with the growth of leadership in his disciples and apostles.
In Matthew (7:29) we get this amazing description of Jesus: “he taught with real authority — quite unlike their teachers of religious law.” What does that mean? It sounds so mysterious. This authority is not coming from any legal or societal means, but somewhere else. It’s something different.
As I have reflected upon this, I was led to the image of a mother who looks up and sees her child wandering into the road and there is a car coming. Suddenly, with a voice and volume that has never emerged from her, she bellows from her depths for that child to get out of the road. And then suddenly, with a speed and strength she has never experienced she rushes to snatch that child from danger. She acts instinctively, quickly.
Where did her authority come from? She didn’t go through some school program that gives you a certificate to yell at your kid in danger. No appointed official gave her permission, or commission to respond the way she does. She did not go through some certified physical training program to develop the strength and agility to move the way she does. Where does her authority come from?
Love. It comes from love. And this is also the difference for Jesus. He knows his tradition, he knows the scriptures, he knows his people. But ultimately his authority comes from love and he we see him advancing in his ministry to the people with the same passion of a mother who rushes to remove her child from danger. He is urgent and he is not wasting time.
I imagine that each of you has a story of exceeding your own capacities for someone you love. Perhaps there was a crisis, a situation of danger in which suddenly you just knew in your bones how to move and act. Or perhaps you have an experience of knowing something important that there was no way of you knowing on any practical level.
You see, this is the thing about love: at the very core of it, it engages all these other things: wisdom, strength, inspiration, perseverance — in ways that exceed our cognitive awareness. I think parents do this on a daily basis for their children. Exceeding what they had previously understood as limits of their energy, patience, sleep requirements…for their children. Artists, writers, choreographers create works of beauty from love — a love that perseveres, inspires, and guides toward the realization of some beautiful work that did not exist before.
The Apostle Paul, in what I believe to be his best inspired-by-love moment writes about love…”Love is patient, love is kind”, he says and goes on. He then concludes: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Why is the greatest love? Because real love actually encompasses and expresses faith and hope and so much more.
When we live and move from this love, we are dancing with God. We are creating a choreography that is so much greater than we would create on our own. We are led in ways that affirm life and express beauty for ourselves and others.
In today’s reading from Luke, we see what I like to call the pre-Pentecost. Jesus is sending his disciples out in ministry for the first time. He believes they are ready.
Yet he sends them out with nothing, absolutely undefended. “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves,” he says. Why would Jesus do this to his beloved disciples? Is he putting them in danger? Because it is indeed dangerous out there. They could be killed by bandits or the Romans, conscripted to slavery. Travel is especially dangerous in this age. Yet he gives them no weapon to protect themselves. He even says take no wallet or shoes. Why is he doing this? Because Jesus knows that unless they go out with with nothing, no defenses as they understand in human terms, no constructs of the ego granting them authority to do so — they will never experience dancing with God.
“Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6)
They will never open themselves up enough to know what God is doing through them. And then they will preclude themselves from ever truly witnessing firsthand the marvels of entering every moment in faith and then watching God work. They will preclude themselves of knowing the deep joy of this beautiful dance, this beautiful adventure with God.
Jesus only gives them a few simple guidelines. All you carry with you is a heart of peace and the intention to share peace with everyone you encounter. This peace cannot be lost to you. If someone doesn’t want your peace, it is no loss to you. God gave us free will and we respect people’s right to chose. You however, will receive what is offered to you. Share hospitality. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and receive graciously. You see, this is how God will meet your needs. Through your humility and receptivity and focus. Be only about God’s work: healing and affirming the kingdom of God, the realm of love.
There is something about deep, real love that invokes wisdom, long-seeing vision, and unprecedented strength. And there is something about being loved that does the same. In the presence of someone truly loving us, we become more than we thought we were. In the context of being truly loved, we learn and grow up. We are each loved this way. So, no, Jesus is not sending his disciples out to danger, he is sending them out in love. He loves them and knows they walk surrounded with the love of God. And as they go out loving and being loved, they come into cadence with the universe. They are dancing with God.
You see, being on purpose, being in love, is it’s own kind of protection. It is a mystical truth that is lost on many. Doors open, the way is made clear, our timing becomes more elegant and appropriate. It is also real authentic, authority. The disciples come back changed people. They have exceeded their understanding of their own capacities. “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” They are amazed.
But Jesus cautions them: don’t get hung up on the fact that “spirits submit to you.” Remember it’s not just about you. It’s about what you and God, what love, are doing together. What he is saying is: Don’t get off the dance floor! Focus on this beautiful dance that is happening. Stay out there and keep dancing with God. Because out there is where the fun is, the beauty, the transformation, the adventure, the delight and amazement.
Where are you being called in your life? Perhaps there are situations, conversations, where you are being called to drop your defenses and step forward with a heart of peace and trust that God is working? Say yes. How do we know God is great if we haven’t allowed absolute love to lead us across the dance floor? How do we know what we are ourselves are capable of if we don’t go on that adventure God has guided us to take through the dreams planted in our hearts? The German writer Goethe said: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” Goethe knew that our courage, our faith, invokes a response from the world around us, a synchronicity, a choreography of partnership.
Yes we are asked to believe but God also wants to show us what our faith can do. We can become practiced, experienced in faith. How will we know how good and wonderful people are if we don’t allow ourselves to receive their kindness and hospitality? If we stay in our own small, isolated, defended worlds? That even the people who may choose to decline us kindness are incidental in the larger reality of love.
We always have the same invitation. And the more we live into this dance, the more we grow in trust, in faith. We are not asked to believe alone. We can enter new, even challenging situations with nothing but peace in our hearts knowing God is with us and God will guide. As God places more responsibility in our hands, more authority, we remain in that deep, reflexive, deeply creative call of love that shows us what to do, how to lead, how to be agents of healing.
So, brothers and sisters: take the adventure with God! Lean into the mystery. Say yes to the invitation to dance. Drop your bags and walk freely out to the dance floor. I have no idea what it will look like, but I promise you it will be good.
Let us pray.
Thank you for the invitation to dance,
to be delighted and amazed,
and to be more beautiful expressions
of your power, healing, and goodness.
We say yes.
We say yes.