Luke 10:1-11, 16-20: The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and 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. 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.”
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” —————————————————————————————————————————————
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…
Now, as many of you may realize, I am not a very soft-spoken gentle person, and I have to admit that I have preached on this gospel passage before. A long time ago, actually. Back at my home parish. And it may please you to know that I gave them a hard time as well.
I was so excited to get this passage, because I thought oh, this is right up my alley. Jesus has sent his disciples out on a mission and they are to go out with no bags, no sandals, and just do the work of kingdom building.
I loved that, as a brash young person eager to get out there and make a difference, I loved the message of just go. Don’t worry about all the stuff you need, just go and spread the word. I would have loved to have been called out on a mission like that, it’s why I carry my passport everywhere I go. Although, I will say I know I would love it right up until the minute I needed my phone or my Netflix, and then I would probably be just as upset as some of my congregants were that long ago day.
But the idea of not worrying about all the non-important stuff and just doing the work of evangelism, of kingdom building, appealed to me. It still does.
And I think that’s still an important part of this message. That Jesus sends out the disciples like lambs in the midst of wolves, with no provisions, where danger abounds, because our tendency is to put all kinds of stipulations in place before we feel secure to go out and witness to what we know about God and to how we have experienced God’s love. We want a big checklist of things in order before we accept the mission. We want every possibility accounted for, everything we think we need to have before we accept the mission.
We want surety. We want security. We really just don’t want to have faith.
Now, I’ll admit, Jesus’ demands are, maybe, a little extreme. I mean, they’re walking, they should probably have more than one pair of sandals. And no money, that might end badly.
But I think those demands are there to make us pause and think. To stop and reflect: what do we think we need? What are those things we suppose we have to have for a life lived in service to Christ? And at the same time, I think this mission of the seventy should make us stop and think that maybe we’re asking the wrong question. That maybe the question is not what do you need to serve Christ, but who?
So, when I was younger and preaching on this gospel message, I really connected to the part about shaking the dust off your feet when people didn’t want to listen. And you may know why. Being a young woman of colour was not easy, nor is it easy now, not even in the church. And so, Jesus saying, it’s okay, even what He wants, when people refuse you and reject you really resonated with me. That is the point I was really emphasizing that day. Standing up there, preaching my little teenage heart out, knowing that I was no authority.
Well, things have changed. Now I have no authority but I do have a nifty collar and stole. And while the radical young person in me still thinks that’s pretty important, what I think we need to emphasize is not the ones who reject us, but the ones who travel with us.
A rather obvious but overlooked detail in this tale of discipleship is the number seventy. That’s right, while we were probably all thinking about what it would be like to be sent out with nothing, we were probably all doing the same thing and forgetting that we were not being sent out alone. There were seventy disciples being sent out. Each apostle had sixty-nine fellow missionaries, friends in the faith, on whom to rely, to depend. That’s a lot of somebodies on which to count if the going gets tough. No one was going through this alone. Jesus was teaching his disciples already that in this ministry we rely on each other. That we don’t do this alone. And I think we forget this a lot.
Because it’s easy to get distracted by what you think you need to be successful, to do a good job. It’s easy to think if we just had more money or more space or more things that we could do better, that the church would be bursting. And it’s easy to think that lack of those things are what’s preventing us from moving forward, that we need the money or the space first, that we need the checklist of stuff before we start building the kingdom.
It’s really easy to get distracted by the rejection and the refusal of people to listen. It’s really easy to start thinking that no one is listening and that your voice doesn’t matter. That what you say doesn’t change anything, and that the world is stacked up against you.
And, yes, more money, more space, less opposition, all of that would make this easier. But we’re not always asked to do easy. Actually, God rarely asks us to do what’s easy. He asks us to do what’s right.
This kingdom project, this mission we have been given by Jesus, is hard and it’s going to include some hardship. And it may seem like we’re ill-equipped. But what we don’t see is that the only thing that is necessary to carry out this mission is God, and each other.
This is the necessity of community. This is the radical nature of faith, that it is communal.
All too often our understandings of faith and spirituality are independent, they are about our personal relationship with God. And, all too often our understanding of leadership in the church is dangerously autonomous. It is all about who has power and title, who has seniority, who is in charge. We talk about teamwork, but we often think of those teams as tiers of hierarchy rather than the priesthood of all believers, the servants of Christ, all important, all necessary, all gifted, and all different.
We are not called to the building of a personal empire. We are called to the building of a new kind of people. A leaderful movement, one that recognizes the need for an ethos of the good of the whole, the gathering of disciples for whom the greatest title is Christian. This is why we are here this morning.
My brothers and sisters, this is why we are here this morning. To be sent out into the world and witness, to shake off the sting of rejection and keep going, to take no bread, no money, no extras, nothing except the great love of our Creator, and the great strength of each other. To know that we are never, ever alone.