Yesterday, I came home from an ELCA camp in Michigan called Living Waters Ministries. For the last 8 days, 1 of our youth group members joined the middle school camp and the other 6 of our youth attended Bridge Builders, a Camp that offers youth antiracism training and leadership development. This was a beautiful experience, and yet it was also very challenging at times. And this experience reminds me of our scriptures this morning.
In our Gospel, Jesus has been appointing disciples and commissioning them to continue Jesus’ work in the world.
And now today – in both Luke and Galatians– we find what it actually means to be a disciple.
A disciple bears another’s burdens and whenever there is an opportunity, she must work for the good of all. He must make personal sacrifices and let go of the things that get in the way of following Jesus. They bring healing to those who are suffering and proclaim the peace that Jesus offers the world.
This past week, our youth learned more about how to be disciples of Jesus and they lived this out as they cared for one another when things were difficult, as they stood up for themselves and for their friends when they experienced microaggressions, and as they learned how they can continue to stick up for themselves and others and fight racism when they get back to Chicago. When our youth noticed that the antiracism Wall of History was missing some very important events of racism and resistance that took place in the LatinX community, they told their small group leaders, wrote their own cards about these events, and added them to the Wall.
When they noticed that the worship did not have any songs in Spanish, they asked the worship leader if he could lead some songs they knew in Spanish and Zulu, and they ended up leading all the campers in worship! Manny, one of our youth, who said he didn’t think he could sing, even ended up singing a solo!)
Although our youth were incredibly nervous at the beginning of the week when they were not all placed in the same small groups and cabins, they took a chance and got out of their comfort zones. This was painful and challenging at times. But by the end of the week, they had grown tremendously, and they had gained courage to speak up and to share their gifts with the other campers. And by the end of the week they said they were so grateful to be able to go to camp and some even cried about the camp ending.
Manny, an incoming 10th grader stated on Friday as he processed his experience of the week: “I know at first we all just wanted to be together and to have fun. And it was hard for us at first. But as we learned this week, we were not here just to have fun. We are here to learn how to fight racism and to change the world.”
These young people are disciples of Jesus, and we can really learn so much from them.
To be a disciple of Jesus is far from easy.
“Go on your way,” Jesus says to the seventy as they go on ahead of him in pairs to share the good news. “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.”
You see, the good news that Jesus proclaims is subversive and it disrupts. It challenges the status quo and is a threat to the Empire and those who hold power in it.
And the thing is: Jesus was not a keep-er of the peace – no matter how much we may wish he was. When he saw injustice, he did not tiptoe around those who tried to justify it so that he could avoid conflict. Rather, Jesus came into this world as a peace-maker.
Because for Jesus: when there is no justice, there is no peace.
And so being a disciple – a student and a follower of Jesus – is risky. It requires us to do some heavy lifting and a lot of difficult work. As Jesus reminds us this morning, a disciple does not quietly share Jesus’ good news to only those who are willing to hear it.
Rather, she is required to persist… To proclaim it loudly for all to hear… no matter how people might receive it and no matter how they might respond when they do hear it.
Jesus’ good news involves tearing down systems that oppress and bringing down the powerful from their throwns. It uplifts the ones who have been cast down and centers those who have been pushed to the margins. And so when this good news is being proclaimed, there are going to be a lot of people who will find it threatening and who will reject and resist those who proclaim it…
And – as we find throughout the Gospel of Luke: Jesus’ good news will lead to divisions and broken relationships. Even sometimes within one’s own household… and oftentimes with force.
“But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you,” Jesus says: “go out into its streets and say: ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet, know this: the Kingdom of God has come near.’”
In other words, persist and resist, for the truth will set us free.
Now, there are a lot of truths that need to be brought out into the open right now.
The truth about how our country was founded on white supremacy and that throughout its history it has continued to reinforce this white supremacy through social and political forces.
The truth about how racism is still alive and well, running deep within all of our country’s systems, institutions, textbooks, media, and entertainment.
The truth about how these systems and institutions have and continue to shape the way I – a white, cis, able-bodied woman – perceives, experiences, and interacts with the world around me.
The truth about my own white privilege, biases, and – yes, racism.
And that no matter how much I wish these truths did not exist and no matter how much I work to shed them, they are still there. Because the sins of racism and white privilege are deeply engrained in us and in the systems that we participate in and that we are conditioned by.
And so, to be a disciple of Jesus, we must choose to be actively against all forms of injustice. And we much choose to be actively anti-racist.
For me – a white, cis, able-bodied woman – this means that I must continuously learn about and become more aware of my own white privilege and how I can work to dismantle it and the racist systems of which I am a part. I need to constantly confess and repent of my own biases and racism and then be moved to take action.
I need to listen to, learn from, and amplify the voices of my trans and non-binary siblings and siblings of color, to show up, and to grieve and stand with them in their pain and anger. I must choose to speak up about transphobia, ablism, white privilege, and interpersonal and systemic racism… And to shut down all forms of hate that I find around me – especially among those in my close circles. I need to participate in actions – in the ways that I am able – that call for the dismantling of unjust systems.
And I must choose to not allow my discomfort, guilt, defensiveness, fragility, or the mistakes I have made (and will continue to make) to take over me and to hold me back from doing this important good news work.
Jesus urges us to not allow our fear – about how people will respond if we proclaim his good news – to overcome us.
Instead, he wants us to focus on how God perceives us.
Because – as Jesus tells the crowds only a few chapters after today’s reading: God loves even the sparrows. And yet, to God: we are far more valuable than many sparrows.
We are beloved. We are worthy. We are beautifully and wonderfully made, in God’s image, just the way we are.
And we have a God who cares for us so much that God invites us to be Jesus’ disciples and to join him in this crucial work.
Because we are capable and because God believes in us.
Now, this is not easy. But as Christians, we believe that when Jesus died on the cross, he freed the world from its bondage to sin. This does not mean we are no longer sinners… Because we are human. And humans are far from perfect. Humans are not binary beings. We are both/and. Both sinner and saint.
But this also means that we no longer have to be bound to sin.
When we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another, our sin loses its power over us. Confession leads us toward repentance, where – by the grace of God – our hearts, minds, and thoughts begin to be transformed and we start to turn away from our sins and toward a new way of life.
“So,” as Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ… Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all… And may [we] never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!
And as for those who will follow this rule–peace and mercy be upon them and upon God.”