Today’s Readings (text):
- Isaiah 66:10-14 (alt in RCL* 2 Kings 5:1-14)
- Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20
- Galatians 6:14-18
- Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Rather joyous words we hear from God on this, the 234th birthday of the independence of the United States from Great Britain: “Even the demons are subject to us because of your name,” the 72 declare to our Lord.
In the reading from the Book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the plentiful bounty the Lord will bestow upon Israel: “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!”
We send fireworks into the air at our country’s independence, but in fact, we celebrate our dependence on our families and friends as we gather at picnics and at other places on this holiday weekend. In the online publication AnnArbor.com, one adoptive mother wrote, “[Regarding] our right to life — a life together, as a family — each of us have relinquished something important: independence, personal dreams, even the most intimate relationships. We are in a very real sense dependent on one another. Without each other, we could not be the individuals we were created to be.”
Heidi Hess Saxton was writing about motherhood and the things she gave up when she accepted that role in her life, but her ultimate conclusion is that she got something much more valuable in return.
We all know that following a life in Christ doesn’t always lead us to do the things we would do for ourselves without him, but if we are to suck fully the milk of heaven’s abundant breasts, let’s take to heart Jesus’ words in our gospel passage today: “I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
This is one passage where Jesus proclaims how little it matters what our “enemies” are saying or doing. You can define “enemies” in any number of ways: England in the Revolutionary War, terrorists in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, Protestants during the Reformation (or Catholics), priests and ministers in the church sex-abuse scandal, and so on.
But in the end, when your time comes to meet God, either your name is written in the book or it isn’t. Heaven is big enough for a huge number of people. What you have to ask yourself is, Will you be among them? It doesn’t matter who else is or isn’t in the book. Your story — not mine, not bin Laden’s, not Hitler’s, not your mom’s, not your pastor’s — is all that matters.
And that is why Jesus gives his “advice to travelers” speech to his friends. Don’t take any change of clothes when you visit, because that would be making a huge assumption. Let them show you their hospitality. And if they don’t, just move on.
A generalized disgust in America of people who purport to believe in God but accomplish their selfish objectives by harming others has indeed led many people to use the very existence of evil in these criminals as a rationale for not believing in God, in miracles, in God-given goodness. Atheists like to put up billboards that say things like, “Are you GOOD without GOD?” This suggests that a belief in God leads us to kill and harm others with whom we don’t agree. You have to like their bumper sticker-length slogan, even though actions that harm others reflect more a general disbelief in God — or at least an utterly incomplete understanding of the messages taught in the Bible, Koran, and other religious texts — than a belief in God.
Still, a part of me, going off today’s gospel passage, thinks these unbelievers have a good, albeit stereotypical, point. If all the atheists in the world could be good and not hurt anyone else, then their existence wouldn’t matter to me one bit. There are bad atheists out there, though, just as there are evil people who label themselves Christians, Muslims, and so on. So much for that hope.
However, the Lord awaits my personal presence in heaven, regardless of who else does or doesn’t get in. I rejoice not because I can defeat atheists, showing their belief that religion causes all the mass murders in the world to be an inaccurate premise, but rather, because I am optimistic in praying that my name is written in the Lord’s book of life.