4 Pentecost Year C
July 3, 2022
St. Paul’s Random Lake
Luke 10:1-12, 16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer. AMEN.
Have you ever felt like you were totally inadequate for a task, as though you were a total failure? As Christians it may often feel that way when we begin to try to shaare the gospel with others. Many of us get to the point where we don’t even try.
Many years ago when I was a studen Chaplain at Ramsey Hospital in St. Paul, MN. I was called to make a visit to a patient in the burn unit. Due to the high risk of infection, I had to put on full PPE–a gown, a mask and gloves in order to enter the room. From the beginning of the visit we had difficulty communicating. I had no idea if the patient even wanted me there because it was his 93 year old mother who had requested a pastoral visit. I couldn’t understand him very well because he had a stammer, plus he had his dentures out and he was constantly coughing. I’m not sur he could hear me very well either because the nurse said he was hard of hearing and I had to talk through a mask.
I kept trying to ask him questions and received only muffled answers. I felt terribly frustrated and inadequate. Finally, I gave up. I was ready to leave. So I said, “I have to go now, but I’ll certainly keep you in my prayers.”
The man shouted at me, the only clear I had heard. “I can say my own prayers!”
I tried to ask another questions, then the man barked: “GET THE BLEEP OUT OF HERE!!”
I wanted to run right out the door, but I had been instructed to leave the PPE inside the room to prevent the spread of infection. It felt like an eternity as I stood at the door removing each item and listened to this poor man cry out softly, “Help, help…”
The task we have as Christians of sharing our faith and witnessing to the good news of Jesus may be a difficult one. When we take that call seriously in our daily lives, we are often like lambs in the midst of wolves. It can be a frightening experience as we enter unknown territory. The preacher may step into the pulpit wondering, “How will these people receive this message?” The Sunday school teacher may ask, “How in the world can I show God’s love to that kid who drives me crazy?” Or a neighbor may hesitate to share her faith with a friend because she doesn’t want to look too pushy.
When we think of evangelism we sometimes think of tv preachers who take advantage of people or folks who hand out pamphlets on street corners. In college the students who went around asking others if they’d accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Svior always got on my nerves. I had been raised by my parents to believe that faith was a private matter better me and God and one should never push ones religion on others. So evangelism was rather foreign to me at first.
Part of why I was uncomfortable was because I was afraid. Those people in college were doing what I never thought i’d have the guts to do–stand up for what they believed in, sharing their faith with others. If those people wanted to do that–FINE, but that was a risk I didn’t think I needed to take. After all, that’s what pastors are for, right?
So what am I doing up here, you ask? Our gospel for today really challenges the kind of thinking that says sharing the good news is just a job for a few, like the pastor and maybe the Church Council. We usually hear about the 12 apostles being sent out to preach the kingdom of God. But here we see Jesus sends out 70 more disciples ahead of him to prepare for his coming. there is much work to be done.
This important mission was not restricted to the 12. The harvest is plentiful! There are many people yet to be gathered into God’s kingdom before they are left to decay in the fields. We all have roles to play in farming this crop whether it be tilling the soil, planting the seed or nurturing the plants as they grow.
There are ways that one person can contribute that no one else can. All those years ago I talked with a woman who had attempted suicide, and as much as I cared about her, I wasn’t able to understand her and support her in the same way as another student chaplain who had survived an overdose of pills. I have seen in this church many ways in which people in similiar situations have shared God’s love with one another in significant ways–people supporting others going through the same surgery or treatment, people who have endured a similiar loss, all sharing one another’s burdens and pains. These are all important ministries we offer one another, even without realizing it.
A text like today’s gospel challenges us to think of ministry and mission in new ways. This gospel reading is a kind of handbook for evangelism. Jesus is very plain and straightforward about what he expects from the 70 disciples he sends out.
First, there is a certain urgency about their mission. No time to waste. No time for ordinary social obligations, greetings or worrying about fine accomodations. The kingdom of God has come near!
In the time since Luke wrote his gospel, we have lost much of that sense of urgency, that sense that the kingdom of God has entered into our world. It’s easy to put off reaching out to someone in need when we think there’s plenty of time, or even that someone else will do it–leaving important tasks undone.
There’s a certain amount of risk involved in carrying out this mission. Many times we find ourselves as sheep among wolves. I subtle ways, we live in a world that is hostile to the gospel. It’s not always “cool” to go to church evry Sunday. We see people engage in hurtful behaviors and we don’t reach out because we don’t want to meddle. It’s risky to have the responsibility of proclaming the gospel. As Jesus said, “The one who hears you, hears me, and the one who rejects you, rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects the One who sent me.” Much is laid upon our shoulders–we are the visible body of Christ in the world called to prepare His way.
Besides the proclamation of the gospel, we also need prayer. Jesus tells the 70, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” The success of the harvest depends on the power of prayer. There are tasks we can’t do by ourselves that God is able to do by the power of the Holy Spirit working through many people in many different ways. Prayer support is just as important as preaching and proclamation. We pastors and leaders need your prayers as we go about our work, also remembering in prayer those in our congregation who are struggling in some way is a way of giving them support and encouragement they may not even be aware of. Never underestimate the power of prayer. Letting someone know you’re praying for them is a way of showing solidarity with them in their hurts and problems and may even transform their lives.
Proclamation and prayer are both instrumental to God’s mission. However, when we look at the size of the harvest, the sin and suffering that pervades our world, it would be easy to give up and turn away. The harvest is so plentiful and we are so few. Then when we take risks and the results of our efforts are uncertain like when I visited that man in the burn unit, it would be tempting to get up.
God reassures us as we try to reach out and share God’s love that the harvest is finally God’s and not our own. We are called to share the good news that the kingdom of God has come near. By that very action we bring God’s love into people’s lives in a new way. You are a unique and irreplaceable messenger of the kingdom of God, but the message you bear is God’s same good news.
Jesus didn’t promise that we would always be welcomed and accepted for that message. It is a message that will offend many and many will turn away. When our efforts seem to fail at times, like when I tried to talk to the burn unit patient, we can wipe the dust from our feet and leave the final harvest there to God and start over somewhere else. The world will reject the kingdom and at times it will hurt. But the good news is that in Jesus Christ the kingdom had come near you and in working in ways both known and unknown in words and in actions, to send laborers out into God’s fields and gather God’s harvest into God’s arms forever. AMEN.