Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
There’s something about faith that simply has to be lived to be understood. I mean, sometimes the gospel only make sense in the homeless shelter, or on the steps of the capitol, or beside a hospital bed; the places where people cry out for mercy, for bread, for justice, for compassion. Perhaps that’s why Jesus sent his followers out carrying only a simple message: the message that the Kingdom of God has come near.
I read a story this week about a woman who came to understand the gospel in these terms. Sara was working with an organization called No More Deaths along the United States-Mexico border. No More Deaths exists to provide humanitarian aid to asylum seekers crossing the Arizona desert. So, Sara spent the summer handing out bottles of water and granola bars, binding feet, and seeking medical attention for those who had the greatest need. But the most interesting thing about Sara’s experience is how she described the benefit to her faith. She said that she never felt closer to God as when she worked with those men, women, and children who had been forced to leave everything behind in search of a new life for their families. She said, “I don’t think it’s because I am praying more or reading the Bible any more carefully-there is just something about being here and doing this that makes it all seem so real to me.”[I]
Our gospel lesson for today moves in this same current. Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples, two by two, to do what he had already been doing. But he didn’t pull any punches about the importance or the demands of this task. Jesus said, “I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way.” In other words, like last weeks lesson, he was calling these shares of the good news to focus solely on the task at hand. So, what was the task? Jesus was sending these out to demonstrate the love of God by healing, teaching, and inviting people to experience the present Kingdom of God. In essence, he was saying, “God’s kingdom is right here on your doorstep, go and share it!”[ii]
But there’s a deeper current flowing here as well. Notice that in this text Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come to you.’ [But] whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’”
Isn’t that interesting? Those who welcomed the disciples received the Kingdom and those who declined to host the disciples also received the Kingdom of God. Far too often, I think we tend to view a text like this as exclusive. By exclusive I mean we tend to think that the Kingdom of God is only for those who are worthy. But that’s not the case here. Instead, this text is radically inclusive!
Walter Rauschenbusch understood this deeper undercurrent of the gospel as well. Rauschenbusch was a theologian and a social reformer who’s considered by many to be the voice of the Social Gospel Movement in early 20th-century America. At a young age, Rauschenbusch became pastor of a German Baptist Church in New York City which was located in a part of the city called Hell’s Kitchen, a depressed area in which poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, disease, and crime were rampant. It was precisely in this setting, not within the ivory towers of scholarship, that Rauschenbusch began to develop his theology of the Kingdom of God. Later, he would write, “The kingdom of God is always coming, but we can never say it has arrived. It is always on the way.”[iii]
And that’s the key to all this! The Kingdom of God isn’t complete! As long as those who have much continue to turn a blind eye to those with little or nothing, as long as our society is divided by race, by gender, or by religion, as long as children are being put in cages, the Kingdom will continue to be incomplete.
So, Jesus was speaking just as much to us as he was to the seventy-two, when he said, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.” We are the workers! We are the hands and feet, the heart and voice of Christ in the world today. And a part of our task, an important part of our task, is to invite others to join in this Kingdom work of sharing the love of God with all people. We are to invite others to become fellow harvesters as we move toward a Kingdom that includes all, lifts all, and restores all.
And this is where we reconnect with Mary Oliver and the poem I read earlier. When she wrote, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine” she was exposing this same notion of Kingdom. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,” she wrote, “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
The family of things. That’s where all this is leading us today. When we come to realize that Jesus was, and is still, calling all of us into a single family; all people, all creation, into a single family of things; this is how the Kingdom of God advances, how it grows, and how it begins to move toward completion.
My fellow sojourners, as we continue to work toward a just world for all, as we continue to invite and welcome all people into our congregation, and as we continue to do the hard, long work of creation justice, may we do so with joyous hearts. I say joyous, because the light of the Kingdom is beginning to shine through, beginning to break through the darkness, beginning to be lived-out in the world today through us and our fellow harvesters, those who are among us and those who are yet to come.
May it be so for you and for me. Amen and the people of God said, Amen.
[i] Christopher Henry The Nearness of the Kingdom (Day1.org) 2007
[ii] Fred Craddock, Luke, 145: “the message to those who accept and to those who reject is the same: ‘The Kingdom of God has come near’”
[iii] Walter Rauschenbusch Theology and the Social Gospel Westminster John Knox Press, 1997 (first published 1917) pg. 227