7/7/13 – Swedish Meatballs by Samantha Crossley+

Proper 9, C
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

What does it mean to be a Christian? An acquaintance gave me an interesting explanation. He had been raised in Christian tradition, but had gone through an exploratory period, looking at all the options out there from atheism to Islam to Christianity. He eventually landed back at Christianity, and thought he would stay there. In effect, Christianity had the best deal going. He expounded: atheism offered no reward. Be good, be bad, doesn’t matter. When you are dead, you are dead. No upside. The eternal upsides all lie in religions. However, most religions have rules. And people always break rules, himself included. This is where Christianity had it all over the other religions – with Christianity, if you break the rules, and say you’re sorry, you go to heaven and live forever anyway. What could be better? Do what you want. Repent as necessary. Eternal, blissful life.

The image is rather different from the one that Jesus paints for the 70. To paraphrase, “I’m sending you to lay the groundwork in places that I intend to go eventually. Give the people a message that they will not understand and may not welcome. I don’t want you to bring anything with you – no money, no way to collect money, no security of any kind. Travel together. Depend on the hospitality of the people I just told you may be hostile.” Yet, in spite of this somewhat stark, intimidating picture, the 70 “return with joy”.

From our typical vantage point on the summit of What’s-in-it-for-me, my acquaintance’s picture seems the more pleasant one. Yet, he still searches, and the 70 returned with joy.

I find it interesting that Jesus sent the 70 to “every town and place where he himself intended to go.” He was not expanding his area of outreach. He had proven quite adept at healing and exorcising already. Why did those 70 lambs need to expose themselves to the wolves?

My grandmother was a lovely cook – turned out marvelous meals, wonderful appetizers, sublime deserts. I learned to love garden fresh peas at her table, and still remember her Swedish meatballs and signature coffee soufflé. Even scrambled eggs seemed better at her table. “I just follow the recipe,” she would say. “I’m not like some people who can just whip stuff up. I have to follow the recipe.” And indeed, when she cooked, somewhere in the kitchen you would find a 3×5 card with the recipe lovingly typed out from her old manual typewriter. Eventually the time came when I inherited her recipe box. A cheery yellow box of probably a couple hundred 3×5 cards, recipes typed out in detail – even the scrambled eggs. Swedish meatballs – much the ingredients you would expect, but the instructions of those rigid, cannot-cook-without-it recipes fascinated me – “pat them into balls, not too tight, just a little crumbly, but not too crumbly or they will fall apart.” What is too tight? What is too crumbly? Why did she need a card to tell her what she obviously knew from doing it 100 times? Even the scrambled eggs recipe – eggs and a little milk. Scramble. Cook until done. She needed the recipe for her own confidence. She was doing what she knew from doing.

Jesus gave the recipe to the 70:

  1. Travel together. You will need your brothers and sisters, your community. They will be strong when you are not, or you will be able to be strong for them. You will need to bear one another’s burdens.
  2. Realize ahead of time that the result is not guaranteed. You may meet hostility, indifference. You may be welcomed with open arms. The message you should give is the same – “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
  3. Travel light. You do not need the burdens and baggage of stuff and of self.

He gave them the recipe, but they needed to go out and do, because the time was soon coming when Jesus would no longer be physically present. The physical work of the Kingdom would soon fall to others.

The number 70 is symbolic. Genesis chapter 10 lists all of the nations of the world, numbering 70. Seventy is all of humanity. All are called to be part of the Kingdom. All are called to serve the Kingdom. We are the 70, and we are called. Called to serve justice and peace.

St. Teresa of Avila said,

“Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.”

Lest we be overwhelmed by this task, remember a couple of things. 1) Jesus did not bid the 70 to prepare the harvest – that is God’s job. The seventy were asked to assist in collecting a harvest already grown. 2) Jesus gave no measure of success or failure. There are no standards, no post-performance evaluations. He asks only that we DO. Until we DO, we do not know how to do. We do not know if our meatballs are too crumbly or too tight. We do not know how much scrambling is just right. We do not know the effect of just sitting and being with someone who is ill, we do not know the effect of a smile for a stranger whose appearance typically earns her avoidance. We do not know the effect of a phone call to someone otherwise isolated. Until a couple people got together and tried it, who knew a community could come together year after year and serve hundreds of meals on Christmas Day? Until someone asked, who knew how very many pairs of shoes could come in for a good cause? Until someone dared to ask, who knew that a church could thrive through a ministry of all the baptized? Until someone made the attempt, who knew how many churches could join together in fellowship in Lent soup suppers and in maintaining the Clothes Closet? Carlo Carretto said, “We are the wire, God is the current. Our only power is to let the current pass through us.” Who knows what God can do through us, if only we DO.

Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

Praise be to God. Amen.

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