When we commence a journey we plan and prepare. I’ve recently returned from the UK and my planning started months ago, booking flights, car parking, booking a hire car, places to stay, people to visit, finances in place, arrangements for our absence and insurance. It’s a long list which is probably familiar to many of you. We don’t leave much to chance.
The ‘travel narrative’ in Luke’s Gospel offers us much to think about as an alternative. Its an expanded story repeating Luke 9:1-5, where Jesus sends out the 12 disciples. He gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases and to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. They were to take nothing with them,
On this occasion we hear about Jesus sending out 70 (in some translations its 72), men and women, all followers of Jesus to share the good news, in addition to the disciples to be active in spreading the news of God’s kingdom and as witnesses to Jesus and his message.
Its worth thinking about some of the points being made in this story and I want to highlight seven of them.
Firstly, providing such witness was not the sole responsibility of the 12 disciples, it is the duty of every follower.
The sending out of the 70 is an intentional shift to ensure more people are empowered to spread the good news, and we are invited into the same journey and activity.
Too often we spend our time in churches worrying about buildings, attendance numbers and resisting change because people do not seem to be worshipping God as they did in the past. Congregations often spend so much time looking inwards and feeling anxious about their future they sometimes forget, they like the 70, have been sent out with the story of God’s love for justice and mercy.
For all of us, the story of the 70 must be our story, not just a single event, but also as a lifetime’s journey, as a Christian community joining those sent out by Jesus. God goes with us on our journeys, giving the good news of peace. There will be snakes and scorpions but there will also be people to heal and believers to baptise. We will return like the 70, to hear prayers of thanksgiving and blessing as we journey with Jesus in trust, love and hope.
Secondly, it means all the people of God share in the responsibility of creating and establishing communities of God, sharing in this mission.
These communities are with every people or every age and race. It is not our job to pick and choose who is in or out with these communities. This mission is given to all of God’s children and needs to be at the heart of our understanding and trust in God.
Jesus tells us, the 70 were to go ahead of him in pairs to all the places he was going.
The early mission of the 70 to both Jewish and Gentile towns anticipates the church’s mission to the entire world, all of God’s creation and starts evil’s fall from power.
Thirdly, the instruction to cure and to share means the nearness of the God’s kingdom in our times offers us a real potential to be agents of social change. As Christians we are expected to live up to our baptismal identity. Through baptism every woman and man become an ‘other Christ’.
As individuals, you are divinely called and gifted with particular abilities including evangelisation, preaching, teaching, healing, counselling, prayer and living a life in Christ. You have an extraordinary role in transforming the world in Christ, through your involvement with your families, the economy, politics, professional and social lives.
In this way you live at the very heart of the human community. You are called to promote the Church’s social mission, in solidarity with the whole human family, collaborating and working with other people of goodwill for the betterment of humanity, not just those you think are worthy or of the right race, faith, gender or status.
God asks you to speak with prophetic witness, denouncing injustice as evil, promoting the social implications of the Gospel, especially for the last and the least, sharing in the living conditions and labours, the hopes and fears and suffering as you speak of the reign of God in our midst.
Fourthly, we acknowledge the dangers of the journey, the apparent lack of preparation, the need to trust God every step of the way. When I remember my recent trip and all my preparations and imagine what it would have been like to go with nothing, without anything other than trust, hope and with the story of God’s love and peace, I suspect I would never have had the courage to set out on my own. Except that I have done, much to my surprise, because God is with me as my companion.
And how hard is it to accept Jesus’ words, that nothing will hurt us?
Certainly, many who first heard Jesus’ words would have been hurt and even lost their lives because of their discipleship. How can we trust as Christians that nothing will hurt us, when we live with suffering, death, loss of loved ones, illness, poverty and the vulnerability of age?
From the perspective of the cross and resurrection, as Christians we can say that death in all its forms does not have the final world. Jesus calls for our trust in God, beginning with a very deep certainty about the love of God pulling us each day towards the future. God’s love will see us through the most devastating of times.
Fifthly, we offer and share peace, without restrictions, limits, conditions and we share it with love.
Peace is more than a good feeling; it is a community-creating gift of God that seeks a response from those with who we share the experience and the promise. God’s peace points to wholeness, reconciliation, healing and calmness of spirit, filled with trust and love. We have to trust God in order to be able to practice peace and trust God that the outcome is part of God’s creative plan.
Sixthly, we need to understand our journey is cherished, seen and celebrated by God and will probably not behonoured on earth. Our human measures of success do not come close to understanding or describing God’s work of peace and justice.
Jesus said: ‘…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ (Luke 10:20)
Our earthly measures are not important, it is God’s judgement that matters.
Finally, there will be those who do not see or hear or understand, those who are not interested in what God has to say, nor in God’s justice. In spite of our assumptions that those who are important, wealthy, powerful on earth have privileged access, such status does not automatically provide for a similar position in God’s kingdom.
Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’ (Luke 10:23a-24)
We are among those being sent out by God. The vocation of disciple means we are to be possessed by the love of Jesus and not by our possessions. Disciples must travel without baggage and acknowledge their dependency on God’s grace to carry on in all circumstances.
The messengers have changed from age to age, but the message is the same, all of us are called to give voice to and be Christ in the kingdom of God.
The future will continue to unfold in mysterious ways and God’s gracious gifts of love and peace will continue to be given to us and to the world. However, the journey ahead will contain many complicated and difficult challenges.
The ones who are sent out may risk the condemnation of friends and neighbours as they engage in God’s work and matters of justice and mercy. They may sacrifice material well-being for matters of principle.
At the end of the journey they will be blessed with love, hope and faith: a blessing not earned but given as a gracious gift by the one who sent them.
May your life’s journey in God be equally blessed.
The Lord be with you.