THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
4th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 5: 1-14
Galatians 6: 7-16
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy[a] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 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. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 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. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’[b] 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘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.’[c]
17 The seventy[a] returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 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. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
According to the NRSV pew bibles in-front of us, the titles of the two part story we have just heard are:
The Mission of the Seventy – the seventy missionaries are sent out.
The Return of the Seventy – the seventy missionaries come home.
This missional out and back-in-again imagery reminds me of my very favorite metaphor for church:
That the church should function as a set of lungs – exhaling its members to mission to the world in Jesus name, and then inhaling us in again so that we may be fed by the Word and the Sacraments and that we might share our stories of what has happened in our week in the mission field.
The mission of the seventy, the return of the seventy.
Exhale and inhale.
Out and in.
A living, breathing, vision of church.
Yet, what is it that we, as followers of Jesus are supposed to do? We know that we are to be sent, we know that we are to return; what happens in the middle?
Turning to Jesus’ instructions to the sent seventy this morning we find our answer:
[Jesus said] “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”
When I was a young boy growing up and riding in my parents’ car all over interior BC, I used to watch the old CP and CN freight trains as they dipped in and out of sight in the mountains and I used to think about what amazing things those conductors would get to see – all over those mountains, all through those forests, and tunnels, on the unpopulated side of the rivers, and as a youngster I used to imagine what it would be like to sneak onto one of those trains and go to see it for myself.
According to the cartoons and movies I had grown up on, I wouldn’t need much to make the trip, say, from Cache Creek to Vancouver on the old freighter: Just an old hat, some gloves with the fingers cut off, and a stick with a handkerchief tied to it with some sandwiches inside. No money, no luggage, no shoes even—if I felt like it.
Of course, I never did sneak onto any trains, I never did ride the rails through the Fraser Canyon, and I never did get the hang of tying my Cub Scouts handkerchief to my hockey stick in a way that my snacks wouldn’t immediately fall out. It was just the daydream of a young boy.
And as young boys tend to do, I got older over the years, wiser; less ignorant, more cautious and practical. As I got older and those tracks and trains transformed from a symbol of carefree adventure and into a symbol of real-life consequence and danger, I realized the hobo life wasn’t for me after all.
Imagine my surprise, years later, as a young man, discovering the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time, that I should find myself being encouraged, nay commanded, to go out into the world with no money, no luggage, and no shoes in order to preach the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near!
I followed the call to go and to serve, but I must admit that I drove rather than walked, and I took my wallet and shoes with me.
But OK, we can argue that it’s not really about the careless abandon, it’s not really about the risk-it-all missional life, it’s more about the message.
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’
Great start. No problem. Easy.
“Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborers deserve to be paid. Do not move from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you…”
Still do-able Jesus. Surely, we can be good and gracious guests.
“Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Oh, so it’s like a medical mission. No problem. Surely, we will be given training and medicine to carry this out.
“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.”
Looking around our world or just our city for evidence of what the church is up to, we don’t seem to see what Jesus is calling for.
I haven’t found many possession-less Christians proclaiming the Good News.
I haven’t ever gone to someone’s home and stayed as long as they would have me in order to preach in their town.
I haven’t seen anyone making a show of wiping the dust from their feet in a town where they were not well met.
What I’ve seen is more, like, buildings and bibles and Christmas concerts, bake sales and fundraisers, bible studies and quilting guilds and committees.
I’ve seen a lot of nice Christians doing nice things, and thanks be to God for them, but it doesn’t look like what Jesus is calling for here, if we are honest.
In my ten years as a “sent” Christian, as I have tried to faithfully follow the call to “be sent” out into the world to serve and work, one thing I have noticed is that the call to “be nice” and “do nice things” doesn’t preach all that well.
Being nice and doing nice are good but we already know how to do them. We don’t need Jesus to die on a cross for our sins for us to be nice and do nice things.
More often than not, when I have preached a message of “be nice” and “do nice,” the criticism I have gotten is a very important question: “what about the cross?”
What about the cross?
What about the ultimate sacrifice of Godself for our sake?
What about the forgiveness of sins?
What about the resurrection of the dead?
What about the promise of the Kingdom to Come where every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more?
People. Church people. Non-church people. Complicated people. Flawed people. Scared people. Wondering people – don’t need to be told to “be nice” and “do nice” because they already are. What they want is the Good News.
Our Bibles call the events that we have read this morning “The Mission of the Seventy” and “The Return of the Seventy” but they might be titled “The trial run of the church”:
Seventy people, a limited number
Not the whole Gospel, just a limited Good News message “The Kingdom of God has come near”
Pre-Pentecost, no Holy Spirit
Pre-Easter, no resurrection
Just a chance for the church to take some first steps and see what happens.
And I think we can agree that the trial run was a success. Demons were cast out, people heard the Good News, the church grew a bit. All in all, a good exercise.
However, a short time after this trial run of seventy missionaries, as successful as it was, something happened that would cause everyone; the seventy, the twelve, even the ‘rock of the church’ to deny Jesus or that they ever knew Jesus of Nazareth.
And that was, of course, the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus on the cross.
Everything changed at Easter.
The mission, the missionaries, the disciples, Jesus Himself, the whole world. Everything changed.
Prior to Easter, the Jesus movement looked like a lot of fun. Jesus was popular, he was healing the sick, casting out demons, equipping others with power to do the same.
After Good Friday, not so much, the Jesus train came off the tracks. Jesus had been executed, his closest friends had gone into hiding, those seventy and all whom they reached were suddenly very quiet about what they had done and experienced. It wasn’t a good time to be associated with the Rabbi from Nazareth anymore.
By the time Sunday morning rolled around there was hardly anyone left.
Mary Magdalene visited the tomb alone. She alone was present and humble enough to stoop her head and look to see that Jesus was no longer where He had been laid.
Knowing where the Jesus story ends, how do we look at the mission of the 70 as Good News? How do we look at the work of these missionaries, of the deeds done, of their courage to follow the call with anything but melancholy sadness when we consider that they would all deny Jesus by the time Easter arrived?
What was the point of it all?
When Jesus instructed the seventy to wipe the dust of rejection off of their feet, He also told them what they should remember to take comfort in these times:
Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near
As Jesus equipped the seventy to go out into the world proclaiming his mission, he told them that whether they find success or not, whether they are met with peace or with scorn, whether they are welcomed or sent packing that it would not change the reality of the Good News: The Kingdom of God has come near.
Whether we participate in the mission or not.
Whether we follow the command to live on faith alone.
Whether we feel able to reject those who reject us or not.
Whether we cut and run at the first sign of trouble.
It does not change the fact that the Kingdom of God has come close.
Of all of the ways that the Gospel is presented and misrepresented in our time, the one way that I find probably most bothersome of all is the idea that being a Christian and following Christ is about nothing more than “being good.”
Just be good.
Just be nice.
Just say nice things.
Just comb your hair, tuck in your shirt, and don’t offend anyone.
Jesus was a nice guy, therefore you should be a nice guy or girl.
Jesus may have been a nice guy. The nicest guy who ever lived, no doubt. But He is not remembered for being nice. He is not praised for being good. He is not rightly worshipped as a member of the Trinitarian Godhead because he was mild.
The evidence given to us by Jesus Christ of being who He is, is that He went to the cross for our sake.
Long after we had abandoned him.
Long after it had stopped being beneficial to be a Jesus follower.
Long after we had joined the crowd calling for his blood.
Jesus still went to the cross for us, to save us from our sins and to show us who God is.
In going to the cross, Jesus defeated every power of sin and death.
In going to the cross, God put His own flesh on the line to show that even death is not the end for those who call upon His name.
In going to the cross, Jesus poured out his blood for us, that we might come to have Communion with Him and to be given an endless supply of Grace to “try again” each time we fail to bear true witness to His Lordship.
Being a Christian is not about “being good” or “being nice”
It’s about being forgiven. Being redeemed. Being saved. It’s about knowing the Good News and responding to the God who calls on you to share this Good News with others.
When the seventy returned from their work in the mission field, they returned with joy proclaiming:
“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us”
[Jesus] 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.”
It takes more than “being good” to cast out demons.
It takes more than “being mild” to proclaim the Good News to those who are desperate to hear that they are loved by God.
And it takes a whole lot of Grace to know that even after you gave up on the mission, Jesus did not give up on you.
Only the opposite: that to those who would reject Him, to those who would call for His blood, to those who would conveniently forget all that He had given them, Jesus said simply: Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
And in recognizing this, we recognize that though we are blessed to be sent into the world in Christ’s name, the church and the world are not ours to win or lose. That Christ has already achieved His victory; for us, for them, and for everyone who comes humbly before the God who has saved them.
And may God grant us the Grace to accept this forgiveness, this grace, and this good news for ourselves.