One of my favorite courses of study as an undergraduate was human nutrition. I am fascinated with vitamins and minerals. By the time I graduated, I could name and even spell the deficiency diseases and describe the gruesome symptoms of kwashiorkor, beriberi, scurvy, and rickets.
The primary symptom of rickets is brittle bones indicating a deficiency of Vitamin D. Except, vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, because the body can synthesize vitamin D on its own as long as we are exposed to an adequate amount of direct sunlight. Or, like true vitamins, we can get vitamin D in our foods, particularly fortified milk, or from supplemental intake.
This correlation between vitamin D and sunlight was established when it was discovered that rickets is more common in higher latitudes where direct sunlight is less and less available. In fact, multiple sclerosis is more common at higher latitudes due to more vitamin D deficiency. And, even though we are at relatively low latitude here in the mid Atlantic, it is important that we make an intentional effort to absorb direct sunlight so that our bodies can manufacture the necessary amounts of vitamin D. Accomplishing this adequate absorption of vitamin D means being outside exposing a good percentage of our skin to the sun with no sunscreen – the darker your skin, the more exposure you need each day.
This is not to downplay the need for good judgment as it relates to the dangers of over-exposure to the sun and skin cancer. But, the truth is, even fair-skinned people, particularly the elderly, are advised to have ten minutes of direct exposure to the mid-day sun. Nursing infants are most susceptible to vitamin D deficiency because we are so careful to protect them from the direct sunlight and because breast milk doesn’t contain vitamin D. The less sun exposure, the more we must seek vitamin D in our foods or vitamin supplements.
So, why is all this information so important? What good is vitamin D? Only if our bodies have adequate amounts of Vitamin D can we absorb calcium and use that calcium efficiently. Without vitamin D, even the calcium supplements we take are relatively useless – rejected by our bodies, sometimes even harmful; AND, without the calcium intake from food or supplements, our vitamin D production is without a cause. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium is in our bones and teeth. Calcium allows for the good health of our muscles, nerves or hormones, and even our hearts.
Well, now, you are not here for a nutrition lecture – that’s a bonus for today from my first career. What does all this have to do with our responsibilities in the kingdom of God? This is your purpose here, to find out more about your presence and your responsibilities in the Kingdom of God. The truth is, God uses our human relationships and even our human bodies to help us understand the kingdom and our responsibility as catalysts for others in every town and place to sense the nearness of the kingdom.
Our Gospel lesson has a rather somber tone in relation to our need to avail ourselves to this urgent message that Christ has for us – the message that the Kingdom of God is near. We know that; how will others know?
It seems that we have just gotten started following Jesus as he teaches his disciples and other followers, as he heals the sick and the sinful, as he shares the parables that help us visualize the Kingdom of God. Yet, we learned from our Gospel lesson last week that, already, Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke tells us of only one journey to Jerusalem in Jesus’ adult life; that journey culminates at the cross.
Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and die knowingly and willingly for the purpose of overcoming death – becoming the one perfect and holy sacrifice for our salvation.
So, you begin to understand the sense of urgency in Jesus’ calling of the seventy to go before him and prepare the way. There is little time for exchanging pleasantries of conversation. There is not time for packing provisions for comfort or for gathering financial resources that will cover the cost of the needs of the seventy along the road. In this way, the seventy are totally dependent upon God’s omnipotent presence – they must trust that the crises they encounter will rest in the hands of God as they are sent out to every town and place that Jesus himself intends to go. And, their single purpose is to prepare those they meet to encounter Jesus.
When they are welcomed – when those they meet share in the peace they bring, the missioners are to accept the hospitality graciously. Being received graciously allows for the healing of the sick – the sick in body and spirit. To these who welcome them, they are to share the urgent message, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
On the other hand, when they are rejected, they are to leave the unwelcoming community with these words, “Even the dust of the town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
Jesus says to the seventy, “’Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’”
We and those we encounter can receive this love just as we do the sunshine, and through it experience the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Or, we and they can turn away from the sunshine and suffer the gruesome and painful symptoms of spiritual deficiency.
The message is urgent: The Kingdom of God is near. As the Body of Christ – as we continue the ministry of the seventy – we are to be the Vitamin D that is the catalyst through whom the spiritually deficient hear the message of the Kingdom; we continue the missions of the seventy – preparing and making it possible for others to receive the message. Like the seventy, like the Vitamin D with the single purpose of preparing our body to utilize the calcium, our single purpose is to prepare others to encounter Jesus – to bring others into the sunshine of his love – to bring others into the experience of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is near. The message waits in silence unless we pick up our cross and walk along with Jesus; the message waits in silence unless we bravely carry it into world where we may or may not be received; the message waits in silence unless we accept our role as the catalyst that nurtures the message – the sunshine, the Vitamin D that makes it possible for our bodies to utilize the calcium for our health and well-being.
Are we to be the catalyst of the message of the nearness of the Kingdom; or will we languish in spiritual deficiency as others around us do the same? The message is urgent; the Kingdom of God is near.