Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
At age two a little girl began to learn all the traditional fairy tales, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Three Little Pigs. Her mother and father taught her the familiar Bible stories as well. The girl’s young mind was like a sponge, and she took it all in.
One day her mother read to her Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” When the mother finished the verse, she asked, “If Jesus is knocking at your heart’s door, will you open the door and let him in?” Without a moment’s hesitation, the little girl responded, “Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.”
If you have ever taken on the role of witnessing or evangelizing, you may relate well to the one being shut out. And how many of us have been on the other end – when the Jehovah’s Witness come knocking, how many of us pretend not to be home? Evangelism is hard work: rejection is par for the course. Nonetheless, we are called to share the news of God’s love for the world by sending to us His only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
But in order to assume the role of evangelist, and as confessing Christians, we all are evangelists, we must first break down any and all preconceptions of who and what an evangelist is. For example, when we think of Jesus’ followers, naturally we think of the twelve apostles, those twelve who journeyed with him, heard his preaching and parables, were witness to the miracles that he performed, and were visited by Jesus when he rose from the dead on that first Easter morning. But this morning we are reminded that there were more, many more. This story from St. Luke speaks of the seventy, to be exact, whom Jesus sent out.
Now, for these seventy, this was a kind of an “internship,” a training time, if you will, while Jesus was still with them. Their mission was the same as Jesus’ disciple’s ministry, as well as his own ministry: “cure the sick” and “say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
And so, Jesus sends them “ahead of him … to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” Jesus himself is on his way to Jerusalem and will probably travel through villages where he has not been before. Rumors of what Jesus is doing have undoubtedly spread into Samaria so the seventy emissaries will announce his coming by giving people a preview of his own work. It is also a preview of the ministry Jesus gives us today. We go “ahead of him,” bringing his message where we go.
Now, there are parameters that Jesus establishes here for those who are stepping out into this work of evangelism. The seventy are to travel “in pairs,” much like the said Jehovah’s Witness doing mission work door-to-door, it’s often with two people. We can assume that Jesus’ directive is for safety and for mutual encouragement; if you have to do something dangerous or risky, you want to have somebody with you. But I think, just as importantly, that it’s also a sign that “we’re in this together” as followers of Jesus.
And that’s such an important aspect of evangelism. We can do wonderful things when we step out and share the story of Jesus Christ with those who long to hear it and to experience it. Jesus’ command to the seventy going out is to cure the sick and to preach the good news. But the thing is that not everyone is a doctor, nor does everyone have the ability to heal with their hands. The same goes with preaching. Not everybody has the ability to orally share Jesus’ message. But evangelizing together by combining our spiritual gifts we can reach so many whom will open their hearts and minds to them.
By going out together, in teams, we are strengthened and encouraged in our own witness. And if we truly commit ourselves to Christ’s call, what happens is that we find that we are able to do things that we didn’t think or even know that we could do previously.
Which is exactly what these seventy discover and bring back to Jesus. They discover that they have power in numbers. As they report back, there’s this enthusiasm that is evident: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!,” which is really cool in that there is no mention that Jesus gave them the power or authority to drive out demons. Scripture states that He gave it to the twelve and they used that power; but for these seventy, this wasn’t the case. Instead, what happens here is that as they grew in their witness, it was a natural outgrowth that came out of their common mission. There’s this realization that what had previously oppressed them; death, the devil, and sin; these things no longer any authority over them. Instead, they have now learned to fully trust in God working through them and have elevated themselves over these oppressive vices.
Which truly is a faith affirming moment. Think about it. How many of you have ever accomplished something and then looked back at it and uttered those words, “I didn’t know I could do that!” What happens out of that? Our confidence grows. We stretch ourselves and we venture out a little further next time. We reset our goals and ambitions. We find that we want to do more because of what we’ve previously accomplished.
That’s what the seventy are experiencing here. They’ve come back to report in to Jesus on all that they’ve done and now they’re waiting for a new assignment.
And Jesus gladly responds to them that their next assignment ready to go, and here it is: the harvest is plentiful, so get back out to new places. Continue to do what you’ve been doing together and continue to grow in your faith and understanding as you’ve presently done. And, my friends, Jesus gives us that very same assignment today.
Now, it won’t be easy. Jesus warned the seventy to expect resistance and rejection, and it’s the same today. Many of you may be unaware, but more Christians are persecuted for their faith today than at any other time in human history, including the Roman persecutions of the first century when Jesus was crucified. Being Christian is not cool, and if not persecution, we’ll meet indifference of those in an increasingly secular society.
So expect resistance in your witness because it’s going to be there. And so Jesus’ advice to those in mission then, as now, is to “go light.” In our terms the equivalent advice would be, “Don’t let worldly stuff and oppressing people get in the way or conflict with your ministry of the gospel.” Once you find like-minded people, work with them. That’s how the ministry happens. Don’t worry about measuring success, Jesus says. If people don’t accept your message, he says, shake their dust off your feet and move on, which is something much easier said than done because we like to be able to measure our success.
In our life, in our work, in our bank accounts and in our recreational toys. Even here, in our congregation, in the church, it’s difficult to avoid measuring success. We live with membership figures, giving levels, budgets, annual reports, and so on. It’s very easy to measure our work by these figures, because that’s how others measure our ministry.
But that’s now how Jesus measures our ministry. In today’s text Jesus reminds us that neither our successes, nor our failures, are of this world. When people receive the word, they are receiving their invitation into the world that is to come. For those of us whom are baptized and have been claimed by the Spirit, we’ve already accepted that invitation. We know that we are going to physically die to this world, but we also know that we’ll wake up to the next. So Jesus reminds us that while the work is here in this world, the payout and the measurement of success; that all comes later. What it boils down to, quite simply, is this: if we do the work now, and yes, there is work to do for each and every one of us, we’ll get the reward later.
And we have that promise of that reward written in the blood of our Savior who gave His up his life in this world so that we may have ours in the next. Armed with that joyful message, may you all go into mission as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in a most broken world, a world seeking healing and reconciliation and the message of hope that only He can offer. Amen.