Jesus offers very specific instructions for the 70 that he has sent ahead of him. They are frighteningly specific. Don’t take any luggage, just the clothes on your back. Don’t waste time chit-chatting along the way. Rely fully on the hospitality of those to whom you have been sent. These are the words of a man on mission. Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. His whole person: body, mind, and spirit; is focused on the cross that is to come. In order to make full use of the time he has left, Jesus has sent messengers to prepare they way, to till the soil, and to make ready for his message and ministry when he arrives in each town along the way.
It is that last bit that seems most important. While it is easy to get bogged down in the details of Jesus “de-equipping” these messengers, the key detail is in the message they are sent to proclaim. Whether the town receives them with peace or not, the message remains the same, “The kingdom of God has come near.”
For some, this will be a message of hope. Those who have welcome Jesus will welcome news that the kingdom is coming. For others, it will be a message of judgment. Those who have rejected Jesus will find condemnation in the new of the kingdom’s arrival. For many of us today, as 21st century, American Christians, the message is mostly one of befuddlement. What difference does it make that the kingdom of God has come near?
In this week’s WorkingPreacher Sermon Brainwave, they made the question even more basic. “What is the kingdom of God?” So much of the Gospels is wrapped up in the language of its time and place. The people to whom Jesus ministered knew of kingdoms, they knew of farming, they knew of fishing. The imagery Jesus used in his preaching was soaked in the idioms of his time, but it often leaves us scratching our heads. If the core message of Jesus’ life and ministry can be summed up in “The kingdom of God has come near,” it would behoove us to help our people consider what that means.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that one useful tool for this is Brian McLaren’s book, The Secret Message of Jesus. In chapter 16 of that book, McLaren plays with more contemporary images of the kingdom language like the dream of God, the mission of God, and my favorite, the party of God. As the Sermon Brainwave folks put it, at its core, the Kingdom of God is the place where God’s power and activity are in full force. It is the place where the intentions of God are fully realized, and it is made known in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His life prefigures the kingdom. When he comes near, the kingdom comes near. His work of healing, his proclamation of God’s love, his commandments that we love one another, this is the Kingdom that is near and available through the power of the Spirit at work in our lives. And, as this Sunday’s Gospel lesson makes clear, that kingdom comes near whether we welcome it or not, for it is God’s dream that the whole world might be reconciled in love.