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July 17: To the Ends of the Earth

Hello, Winterville and Athens, and BLOG friends wherever you are!

Summertime is especially noted in our culture as a time of travel.  School is out.  We are ready to rest and unwind with our families, to get out of our routines, and to enjoy travel.  In our conversations we like to talk about upcoming trips and adventures, and when we get home we can hardly wait to show off our pictures and to re-live our trips by telling others all the wonderful things that happened.

Now Biblical folks were scarcely as travel-minded as are you and I!  With no cars, trains, and airplanes and only donkeys, camels, or two good human legs as substitutes most folks seldom traveled and even then it was to places not too far from home.  Imagine what it must have been like when Jesus commissioned his followers to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria—to the ends of the earth!

Jerusalem—well, okay—not too hard!  While travel to Jerusalem for some folks might still have been long and difficult, the city was at the center of their faith and worship.  Going to Jerusalem represented high points in the life of faith—time of celebration, joy in worship, a preparation for going back home and living life with a renewed commitment.

Modern Christians may find it hard to imagine what their “Jerusalems” are.  United Methodist youth and young adults might point to Camp Glisson where they have over and over experienced the joy of retreat with others and where they’ve grown in faith.  Many clergy persons in our denomination say that were it not for those “mountaintop” experiences at Camp Glisson they might never have felt the call to ministry.  For other United Methodists faith is renewed through worship and retreat at Camp Junaluska in the beautiful North Carolina Mountains or in the tidewater surroundings and beach experience at Epworth-by-the Sea. 

But mountaintop experiences always call us back home.  They call us back to our routines, back to our towns and cities, back to our work, back to our ministry in everyday life.  We leave “Jerusalem” and go back to Judea—something of a challenge but still manageable, right?  I mean it’s different living out faith when we’re mellowed out from fun-in-the-sun versus when we’re making our way through traffic, other drivers slowing things down, co-workers not pulling their share of the load, and too many tasks to juggle between home and work.  But nonetheless in Judea—back home—we are called to live and serve, to be witnesses starting in our own homes, going to our jobs, to the grocery store, wherever we go!

Then comes the real challenge—Samaria!  Why did Jesus have to say Samaria?  Jews and Samaritans almost always were at odds.  Attending to a Samaritan was a challenge to a Jew, and attending to a Jew was a challenge to a Samaritan.  And Jesus calls us to points of honesty whereby we admit to having our own “Samaritans”—people with whom we find difficulty in ministering.  Maybe it’s homeless persons who often are smelly and disheveled.  Maybe it’s poor people in general.  Maybe it’s any group with ways different than our own or with skin different than our own.  Guess what!  Jesus calls us to be witnesses in our own “Samarias”!

Then Jesus says the truly unthinkable!  To folks who have only donkeys, or camels, or only their own two feet he says they are to be witnesses to the ends of the earth!  Time to form a committee, right?  Time to develop a feasibility study!  How could such a thing be remotely possible?

All the while the calling of the disciples seems to imply a sense of urgency—no moment to spare, no time to sit and just reflect on all that’s happened including Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.  There seems to be a sense of not-one-moment-to-lose before getting about the work he’s called them to do, but suddenly Jesus hits a figurative kind of pause button and asks them to WAIT in Jerusalem and to PRAY as they anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit that will become their guide and their enabler!

Wow!  What a calling—a calling with intensity, a calling that takes us to the ends of the earth with the good news of Jesus’ peace and love, a calling that takes us into relationships with people at the ends of the earth—relationships filled with Jesus’ peace and love!  But we will never do it on our own.  Our best planning, our most adept committees with the most detailed action plans will never accomplish what Jesus intends apart from his Spirit-filled guidance.  For that the disciples have to wait and to pray.  For us—for modern day followers—we need also to wait and to pray!

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