Luke 10:1-20; Isaiah 66:10-14
In the year 1765 the British Parliament enacted the Stamp Act as a tax on the American colonists to help pay off costs associated with the French and Indian War. The colonists hated this tax, as well as the other taxes levied against them, deeming them unfair, especially since they had no representation in Parliament. Throughout the colonies there arose men, mostly middle class tradesmen and business owners, who began to band together in protest against these taxes and other perceived abuses by the British. Calling themselves “Sons of Liberty,” they spread this message of protest and set in motion the chain of events that led to the American Revolution we have been celebrating this week.
In our Gospel reading today we remember how Jesus once sent out 72 of his band of followers to spread a message. Jesus’ message was that he was coming to town and bringing God near to them. He was not, however, looking for Sons of Liberty. According to our text from Luke, Jesus told his followers to look, instead, for Sons of Peace. Who were these people and what made them “sons of peace?” I thought that addressing this question would be a good place for us to start today.
In the Hebrew language the phrase “son of…” was often used to designate a person’s connection with something. In our OT reading two weeks ago we heard David speak out angrily against the rich man in Nathan’s parable who unjustly slaughtered the poor man’s lamb. Our translations have him saying: “this man deserves to die,” which is an accurate understanding in our language. But the Hebrew literally says “this man is a son of death.”
One meaning, then, behind the phrase “son of peace” was a person’s commitment to seeking peaceful rather than violent solutions to problems. Jesus’ country, we recall, was occupied by a nation far more controlling than the British. Many men of that time, those commonly known as zealots, advocated a military overthrow of the hated Romans. But Jesus did not teach that. He was looking for sons of peace.
And yet the phrase means much more than just deciding against aggression. The word “peace” to a follower of the Hebrew Scriptures (“shalom” in that language) meant a state of being where one is healthy, whole and content. This peace could only be achieved when a person was also right with God, so it required that one follow the will of God, sincerely confess their sin when they failed and receive God’s merciful forgiveness.
Jesus himself would bring this very kind of peace through his message and ministry. His words and actions – especially his dying on the cross- would make clear to the world God’s grace, presence and plan of salvation. In doing so Jesus would fulfill the prophecies of ancient writers such as Isaiah, who foretold the coming of the “Prince of Peace” – the One sent by God.
So, “sons of peace” were those who anticipated such peace from God. They may not have known all the details about how God would bring it about, but they were people of faith who believed that God would do something to help them and all people in a peaceful kind of way.
Today’s Old Testament reading is one of those many prophecies which point to God’s peace. In this the last chapter of his prophecy, Isaiah leads God’s people to rejoice that they will be released from captivity and have a new start as a people. He likens this new start to a child being born. Their new nation will be characterized by peace. As it says in verse 12: For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream.”
Israel would not be a mighty military or economic power, but it would be mighty in its message of peace—teaching the world how to live according to the will of a just and merciful God. Israel and its message would be “the glory of the nations” – and so not just for one people but for everyone.
Isaiah unfolds this thought by continuing the image of the newborn child and adding to it the care of a mother. He says to the followers of God: “you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees.” Sons of peace, then, are those who receive their nourishment from the Lord. They feed on His Word and find their comfort from Him. They allow themselves to be bounced on God’s knee—stimulated by His care and jostled about according to His direction.
The thing about children, though, is that they grow up. It doesn’t take long for them to give up the literal nursing from their mothers, and in the same way they eventually become independent in all the other ways as well. Children become sons and daughters of liberty, which, in many ways, is good. They need to be able to think and care for themselves. They need to be able to stand up against tyranny when they encounter it. And yet, children can become so enamored with liberty that they will often choose it at the expense of wisdom. Some will even make it their god.
Many are the children who have discarded their parents too quickly, not drawing on their parent’s wisdom to accompany their newfound freedom. In the same way, many children of God discard their Heavenly Father’s wisdom. One example of this, and one which has become a big issue in our country, is that many are now pushing for the re-definition of marriage. For centuries the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, which have nourished our civilization in so many positive ways, have been our guide for establishing the family life which organizes and undergirds our society. But right now the cries of liberty seem to be drowning out the voice of wisdom. Sons of liberty will see the question as simply a matter of fairness. Shouldn’t people be allowed to marry whomever they want? Governments dominated by sons of liberty will act in kind—not wishing to codify an animus towards one segment of the population, as a recent lawsuit framed the question. But what about the wisdom of preserving the order of family life? God has taught us how to be sons of peace, including peace between the sexes. The scriptures say that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman who commit to a faithful, life-long union. Any other relationship, as loving as it might be, is not marriage.
Every parent knows that fairness is an important consideration in dealing with their children, but also one that should take a back seat to wisdom. Children’s needs are different. A loving parent, parented themselves by a loving God, can see these needs the best. A good parent knows how to say “no.” A good parent sees the bigger picture. More and more people in this country seem less and less inclined to extend any moral consideration other than equality and choice to the parenting role of the government in our country. It will be up to the churches to fill the void.
Jesus told his disciples to go and look for sons of peace. Where people recognized the value of true peace—that peace which comes not from a hands-off, “not wanting to deal with it” peace—but one that is open to a wisdom beyond the self, one coming from a heavenly parent, then Jesus would be accepted too, and would bring to them the life-changing message that God was near.
I realize that throughout this sermon I’ve been making references to Jesus saying “God is near” when the actual phrase he used was: “the kingdom of God is near,” but to me there is no difference. God’s presence brings God’s kingdom. God is near in the presence of Jesus, and God is near in the actions and organization of the people who believe this.
Jesus told the seventy-two to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom because he himself would soon be walking among them. He was preparing to visit their cities and towns on the way to his passion in Jerusalem. When the people hear his preaching and see his works they will be near to the presence of God. Likewise, when Jesus would accomplish the works of salvation and his witnesses would start spreading this good news, the kingdom of God would be with them to bring light and healing to their communities. The sons of peace would be there to further this work.
You and I are to continue the work of the seventy-two in our day. We are to bring God near to people by sharing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to uphold the Word of God, to die for the sins of the world and to make resurrected life possible to all. He came to make us Sons of Liberty in the right sense—those who are free from the power of sin and death. Where God’s Word of Law and Liberty is accepted there will be light and healing to the community. Where it is rejected there will be just the usual human struggle.
When Jesus sent out the seventy-two he told them they would be like sheep among wolves. He knew they would suffer not only rejection but also insult and worse. So it seems in our day now. Christians who trust in God’s Word have to decide whether to conform their views about God’s Word to the world or face the insults and persecution given to lambs. It’s a difficult time. We don’t like being called names or slapped with unfair labels. But God’s presence and promise are with us. Where there are sons of peace, God’s people will endure.
May God bless us as we seek to be good citizens and neighbors, as we speak the truth in love, as we endure persecution and as we continue to be nourished by God’s Word. In the name of Jesus our Savior, amen.