Sermon 6 Pentecost Yr C

6 Pentecost Yr C, 4/07/2010

Lk 10:1-11, 16-20

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Jesus instructs the seventy”

In today’s gospel, Jesus provides a little manual on evangelism and missions. He appoints seventy—some manuscripts say seventy-two—evangelist-missionaries to go out in pairs and preach the message of God’s kingdom, peace, and healing. By appointing the seventy, Jesus was giving them his authority and approval, along with his gifts of the kingdom, peace and healing. So when the seventy preached the gospel message of the kingdom; they were doing so as ambassadors of Jesus, representing him. The same was true regarding the sharing of peace and healing; the seventy were passing Jesus’ peace and his healing on to the people whom they visited while travelling on their mission. Peace and healing were gifts coming from Jesus and given to others by the seventy. In the world of politics, ambassadors are sent out from their country of origin on behalf of their government. The ambassadors and their authority come from the government of their country and are sent out to foreign lands to represent their country of origin there.

   Before Jesus sends out the seventy evangelist-missionaries; he informs them that their work could be dangerous and even life-threatening. He says, “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Now that is not exactly a promising prospect is it?! You would think to recruit people that you would want to emphasise the upside details of the job—NOT the negative, downside details. Moreover, wouldn’t a lot of people be scared off by Jesus’ recruiting tactics? Who wants to be like a vulnerable lamb going into the midst of wolves? I think a lot of folks would have turned around and walked away from Jesus when he spoke of how dangerous the job was and how vulnerable the seventy were going to be. On the other hand, some folks do look for a sense of adventure in life and are up for a challenge—even if it is dangerous and they are going to be in a position of vulnerability. In fact, the pages of history are full of such brave-hearted, courageous, adventurous souls. Without such people where would humankind and, more specifically, the church be today? We follow a Master who willingly gave up all for you and me and the whole world and expects us to follow his example.

   Coming back to our gospel, Jesus goes on to provide the seventy with an instruction manual on their evangelism-missionary project. The theme is similar as what he said about lambs among wolves. He is telling the seventy that their work is not going to be easy. In fact, it is going to be quite difficult. He says they shall need to travel light: “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” Wow! Did you hear that?! In other words, the seventy are taking nothing with them other than the clothing on their backs and the gifts Jesus gave them—the message of the kingdom, peace, and healing. That’s it folks. No money, no food, no reading material, no laptop or iphone, no extra clothing, not even a pair of shoes—now that is challenging! In other words, they are going to be totally dependent on God to provide for their needs through the generous hospitality of other people. Who can live like that?! Are you; am I, willing to be that poverty-stricken and dependent?

   Two missionaries, commissioned to organize a new church in a South American country, visited, preached, and prayed with the poor people of the region for a year, sleeping in thatched-roof huts on straw mats laid upon clean, dirt-packed floors, and giving thanks for the constant diet of rice, beans, and potatoes. They assisted the people in their fields of labour, nurtured their children, and cried with the sick and dying.

   A year later they were called back to the United States to give a report to their denominational board. The meetings were held in an expensive motel and they, along with dozens of church leaders, sat at sumptuous banquets and slept in luxurious suites. Finally, called before the board, they were chastised for their failure to reach quotas in native converts and in offerings sent to the denominational headquarters and were told to return to their parish but “spend less time with the poor and more time in cultivating the wealthier landowners of the area.”

   That afternoon, after prayers, they faced the board and read a statement written by the two which concluded with these words.

   “We will return to our parish as independent missionaries, to work with the poor people we love, seeking God’s blessing upon our efforts. We find no grace, no peace, no love here, and under the authority of Christ we shake the dust of this place and these proceedings from our feet as we leave.”1

   Back to Jesus’ instruction manual on evangelism-mission. Jesus goes on to instruct the seventy by telling them not to greet folks while travelling on the road to their destination. That seems a bit out of character for Jesus, doesn’t it? After all, he was fond of greeting and befriending the stranger and outcast. Yet, the reason behind Jesus’ instruction not to greet folks while travelling might be that to do so the seventy could become distracted and delayed from their work that Jesus had sent them out on. If we allow distractions to distract us, we can lose our commitment to what might be most important and urgent at the time. How many missions have failed because folks are distracted by too many “irons in the fire?”

   Jesus goes on to tell the seventy that when they arrive at a community; they are to stay in one house rather than move from house to house and seek more posh conditions. He says the seventy are to offer the household his peace and if they refuse it; the peace shall return back to the seventy. The seventy are also to eat and drink whatever is put in front of them. This may be a reference to Gentile territories where the households would not likely be following Jewish dietary laws. According to Luke, you remember, the gospel is to be proclaimed in word and deed beginning from Jerusalem, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth. So here, the seventy may be fulfilling that mission by travelling to Gentile communities.

   After the seventy are among the householders; Jesus tells them that they are to: “cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

   In the late 1970s, Rev. Robert Wise took five people and started a church….A decade later it had 2,000 members. Wise, who started out as a social worker, says all his ministry has been about is helping hurting people. The guiding vision of his church is “Offering hope to a hurting world.”

   In order to do that, they must teach the Gospel which Christ taught in the manner in which he proclaimed it. It takes more than words. People need to see it in action.

   When people see God’s activity in their own lives, they want to tell others about it; and when they see it happening in other people’s lives, they want to become involved in it.

   Church change calls for more than earnest smiles and enthusiastic handshakes. It requires the type of ministry practised by Christ and his disciples—preaching and prophecy, healing and the casting out of demonic spirits.

   In doing so, churches must communicate their message in everyday language rather than ecclesiastical jargon.

   That means telling stories drawn from daily experience about broken marriages that were healed, sick people who were cured.

   Wise says he didn’t know many parishes where, if someone was out of work, the church would pay their mortgage, or put braces on the kids’ teeth if the family couldn’t afford it; where, if someone was in deep personal trouble, there was no end to how long they would walk with them through the pain.

   Wise started out by telling his members to bring back friends who really needed what they were offering, not people who already belonged to other churches.

   That meant bringing people who were in crisis, who were really hurting in their lives. It meant loving God by loving their neighbours.2

   Coming back to our gospel, Jesus tells the seventy that most likely their preaching and healing ministry is not always going to be successful. In the face of failure and rejection Jesus instructs the seventy by reminding them that as a symbolic, visible act they are to wipe the dust off their feet as a protest against the people in the community that they failed to welcome the nearness of God’s kingdom when they had the opportunity. The other reminder Jesus gives them is a word of encouragement that: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” So either way, whether folks listen or reject the seventy; the listening or rejection was a reminder to the seventy that they were being faithful to Jesus by simply carrying out their work faithfully. That too is a message for us today. Jesus calls us to faithfulness in our various ministries too. Some will listen, others will reject us and the ministry offered them. Either way the response is a sign to us that we are doing what Christ has called us to do.

   After the seventy returns from their mission, they boast to Jesus that: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us.” Jesus however reminds them that it is not about them; that they are not to boast about their success as if they were taking the credit for what was being accomplished in their work. No. Rather, they are to have a humble attitude towards their work and: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” God in Christ was the One to boast about; his work and accomplishments are what ultimately matter.

   It will always remain true that a (person’s) greatest glory is not what (s)he has done but what God has done for (her or)him. It might well be claimed that the discovery of the use of chloroform saved the world more than any other single medical discovery. Once someone asked Sir James Simpson, who pioneered its use, “What do you regard as your greatest discovery?” expecting the answer, “Chloroform.” But Simpson answered, “My greatest discovery was that Jesus Christ is my Saviour.”3

   In the end, all that matters is the grace and love of God in Christ; that and that alone is why we can: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Amen.  

1 Cited from: Emphasis: A Preaching Journal for the Parish Pastor, Vol. 25, No 2, July-August 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 22.

2 Cited from: “Simple lesson for churches in decline,” in The Calgary Herald.

3 Cited from: Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1975), p. 136.

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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