Sermon: 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
First, a brief refresher: Last week, if you recall, the Gospel lesson from Luke talked about Jesus “setting his face toward Jerusalem.” In Luke’s account, this is the turning point of the story line: the point at which Jesus focused his whole attention on preparing for the end of his time here on earth. From that time forward, everything he said and did happened with that in mind. He was still asking people to follow him, and others were still seeking to follow him, but he was not anything but bluntly realistic about the demands and difficulties they would face in the process.
In light of this, I spoke about turning points in our own lives, times where the direction we choose affects and guides everything that follows.
Now we come to the next step in Luke’s account: the Sending of the Seventy (or perhaps 72-- this number varies in the ancient texts). In his preparation for his death and resurrection, Jesus is now turning the tables on his followers: as he was sent to them, so now he is sending them to others. He is not, in this case, commissioning the Twelve we usually call Apostles. Instead, some six dozen or so additional followers, in pairs, are now given apostolic authority (that’s actually what the word “Apostle” means-- “one who is sent forth” as a messenger or representative). They are given their commission, and another turning point-- a chance to see the results of the choices they’ve been making to follow Jesus, aided by their own efforts.
Now, notice here that our Lord sent them out on their own, but he did not send them unsupported and unprepared. He has been leading them and teaching them by example, some of them for years. Now it’s their turn; but they are sent out in pairs, and they are given specific instructions for the work they are to do.
Let’s look at some of those instructions for a moment, and see what they might tell us about the work to which we are called, as well.
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
That certainly applies to our time and place, doesn’t it? In our small churches, even on our best days it can be hard. So much to do in the way of simple care and maintenance, let alone our primary responsibilities of worship, and discipleship, and pastoral care, and outreach... all those things for which we are formed and called as a Christian community. We need all the help we can get! The need is so great, it can seem overwhelming. And yet... listen further:
I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals...
This hardly sounds like the way to get ready for a trip into unfamiliar territory, does it? Think of all the plans and lists we make, and the number of things we think we cannot do without even in our own home, let alone going away. Any self-respecting Boy Scouts, with their conscientious “Be Prepared” approach to life, would cringe in horror at this coaching!
And yet, Jesus does prepare us; we are just reminded here that it is not in the way we do it, or the way human beings expect. He reminds us that it will not be anything that we provide for ourselves, that will bring us success on the journey.
Next, Jesus says:
...greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.
In other words, we are not to get sidetracked, and we need not depend upon our own individual resources to do the work we are being sent to do. We simply need to get started, and stay focused. Just as these 70 apostles were sent out in pairs, we are brought together as well-- more than 90 households in our small churches in this region-- depending first on God, and then on each other, trusting that any other needs we have along the way will be provided for out of the community as they arise.
Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, 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.' Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
Jesus was well aware that there would be those who welcome his ambassadors, and those who would not; and that their reception would range from one extreme to the other-- from embrace to indifference to outright hostility. He encountered the whole spectrum himself, remember? So he reminds them (and us) how to behave. We are not to repay hostility in kind, nor take it personally; but neither are we to let the reality of hardship prevent us from focusing on our main purpose: living and sharing the Good News we are being sent to proclaim.
As I said last week, I believe we are at a turning point in this region, looking at some significant choices before us. And in this lesson today, I hear a lot of good words for us in our work here. I would remind you of three:
First: Stick together. We are sent here not in pairs, but as congregations and as a regional ministry, to uphold one another in mutual support and common purpose. Hold onto that.
Second: Do not despair of what we are not. If we are truly willing to place our trust in God and in one another, then we will have what we need. We are ready to step out in faith, just as we are in this moment, together.
Third: Do not be sidetracked. No, it is not easy. There are roadblocks and stumbles and misunderstandings that can get in the way. Goodness, we know the way of the cross that Jesus walked, and what a history of struggle and persecution the church has had-- and indeed, what we have experienced in our own past. Why should we expect anything else? However, we can try not to be distracted or dissuaded, but instead to focus on our main purpose: living as Christian disciples, and sharing God’s grace with others whose lives we touch. As author Steven Covey once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
- Stick together.
- Trust in God.