Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9C), July 7, 2013. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts.

Isaiah 66:10-14Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:7-16Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Let us not grow weary

For the past few weeks Hilary’s sermons have focused on Galatians, and today, in the sixth and final text from Galatians that we’ll hear this summer, we reach a wonderful line: “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).  What a strong and timely word of encouragement when we may feel tempted to quit!  The same encouragement shows up in other places, too.  In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1).  For emphasis, he repeats the phrase just a few lines later: “We do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16).  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples the same thing, giving them a parable “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

You and I need that encouragement, don’t we?  It is so easy to lose heart, so tempting to think that our efforts to serve God, our efforts to heal and protect and bring forth life on this planet are for naught.  We can feel that hopelessness not only in our personal lives, but in our collective life, too.  It can be discouraging to read the newspapers, depressing to follow the news, from this country’s deployment of drones and its ever-increasing use of surveillance to the ongoing violence in the Middle East.  Or take the issue that you know is most urgent to me, and that I’ve spoken about many times from this pulpit: climate change. We’re having another scorcher of a summer, with triple digit and often record-breaking temperatures in California, Arizona, and Nevada. The U.S. is experiencing deep drought in some places and wild deluges in others, such as the 13 inches of rain that fell this week on Florida’s panhandle in 24 hours.  Last summer the Arctic sea ice essentially melted, and this spring we learned that the atmosphere’s concentration of CO2 has reached 400 parts per million, a level not seen on Earth for some three million years. We’ve got only a short time in which to drastically reduce emissions and to wean the world off fossil fuels lest we catapult into catastrophe. But given the political and corporate forces arrayed against us to prevent substantive action on climate change, it’s no wonder that we can grow weary, no wonder that we can lose heart.

Yet here is Jesus, filled with the Spirit of God, sending out seventy disciples two by two to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near.  Evidently he sends them out with a sense of urgency, for they are to travel lightly, without purse or bag or sandals.  How precious their mission is, and how precious few these missioners are, for, as Jesus observes, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2).  Off they go ahead of him into an often dangerous world, proclaiming a new way of living that is organized not around domination and power-over but around interdependence and mutual care, not around selfishness and greed but around sharing and self-giving, not around privilege for the few and poverty for the many but around justice and kindness for all.  These missioners are fired up by a vision of possibility that animates and inspires them. 

Meet two or three people like that, and you can’t help but have hope.

We are honored to welcome a similar group of missioners who have joined us this morning.  They come to us courtesy of Climate Summer, a leadership program for young adults who travel by bicycle to call for action on climate change.  Four Climate Summer teams have fanned out across New England, and the six members of this particular team are pedaling across Massachusetts, from Greenfield to Barnstable.  These folks are not necessarily Christian, but in some ways their experience resembles that of the 70 disciples that Jesus sent out.  They sleep where they can, and last night they used the Parker Room.  Like the 70 disciples, they gratefully receive whatever food is set before them, otherwise living on six dollars per person a day.  They travel lightly, with hardly a purse, bag, or sandals to their name – just a backpack and a couple of trailers, which they take turns hauling behind their bikes.  And wherever they go, they speak to whoever will listen – to students and parents, to journalists and radio announcers, to fellow activists and ordinary citizens – urging us to work together to create a more life-giving society and to build a better future beyond fossil fuels.1 

The Climate Summer team is about the same age as many of the elite firefighters who perished fighting a massive wildfire in Arizona earlier this week.  Like those heroes, these young people are fighting to protect a community – the human community, the community of life on Earth.  On this Fourth of July weekend, I want to say: this is what patriotism looks like. 

Now I’m going to do something we never do in sermons – to invite you Climate Summer folks to stand up.  Would you please give us your name and tell us where you’re from? . . . . 

I hope that many of you will take a few moments at coffee hour to speak with these young people about what they’re learning and about the campaigns they’re working on.  It is good news that we have among us such witnesses to life, and not only here, but also in many places around the country and the world.  Now that signs of a climate crisis are becoming unmistakably clear, a worldwide movement is rising up to proclaim that it is possible to protect life on this planet – we don’t have to settle for letting ocean levels rise, entire species disappear, carbon emissions foul the air, and our children inherit a scorched and chaotic world.  Last week the United Church of Christ became the first national church group to divest from fossil fuels,2 making it crystal clear that this is a moral battle.  It would be unthinkable for us to profit from slavery, and it should become just as unthinkable for us to profit from the production and burning of coal, gas, and oil. Even the chief economist for the International Energy Agency says that two-thirds of the world’s carbon reserves must stay in the ground if we’re going to prevent runaway global warming.3  So the divestment movement is beginning to take off.

The summer may be heating up, but so, too, is resistance to fossil fuels.  During the last two weeks of July, statistically the hottest stretch of the year, local groups across the country “will be fighting against bad energy projects: coal ports and coal-fired power plants, tar sands pipelines….tar sands refineries,”4 and the banks that invest in them.  As Bill McKibben says, “It’s time to stand up – peacefully but firmly — to the industry that is wrecking our future.”  I hope you’ll check out the handouts at coffee hour that give a list of local actions, and I hope you’ll consider taking part in one. You don’t have to ride a bicycle across Massachusetts in 90-degree heat to stand up for life – there are many ways to serve God, many ways to bear witness to love – but whatever you can offer will be welcome, for, as Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

I want to close by commenting on two other things that Jesus says in this Gospel passage. After the seventy return with joy from their mission and report on their success, Jesus says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18).  What does this mean?  Well, do you remember that familiar injunction to “Think Global, Act Local”?  Jesus suggests that we do more than that – he invites us to think cosmic.  When we act in love, our efforts have an eternal significance.  The results of our efforts may or may not be as obviously successful as were the efforts of the seventy disciples, but whenever we act in love, Satan falls from heaven like a flash of lightning. This poetic image portrays the hidden, cosmic power of every act of love to overthrow the power of evil.  So when I feel weary or lose heart, I sometimes remind myself of what Jesus saw – “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” – and I find fresh energy to do the good that I can.

A second thing that Jesus says to the 70 disciples after they return is that their deepest joy should spring not from the success of their efforts, nor even from knowing that acting in love has a cosmic effect, but rather from knowing that whatever they do, their “names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  Their names, your name, all our names – are held close in God’s heart. We don’t have to earn God’s love.  In fact, there is nothing you can do that will make God love you any more, and nothing you can do that will make God love you any less. Your name is written in heaven, and that is cause for joy, indeed. 

So, whatever battles you may be fighting today, whatever works of love you may be engaged in, I hope you and I will take to heart the words of St. Paul: “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). 

1. “Cyclists Launch Anti-Fracking Drive In Greenfield,” www.recorder.com.

2. “United Church Of Christ Is First National Church Group To Divest From Fossil Fuel Investments,” www.washingtonpost.com

3. “Two-Thirds Of Energy Sector Will Have To Be Left Undeveloped, Bonn Conference Told,” www.irishtimes.com

4. Bill McKibben, “United We Sweat,” Orion, July-August, 2013, p. 13; online at www.orionmagazine.org