2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6(1-6) 7-18 Luke 10: 1-12(13-16) 17-24
May the words of my mouth and meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, Our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen
I simply cannot imagine what it is like to set out on a journey without taking anything with me. I took a very full suitcase with me to Melbourne earlier this month plus an extra one when I went overseas in April for a couple of weeks. I pack for all possible eventualities as I like to minimise the risks.
I hate the thought of being left vulnerable and without resources. I take spares and back-ups. I like to be independent and be sure of being able to cope.
In this morning’s story, Jesus appointed followers – 70 (or 72 in some of the texts) – and ‘sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go’ (Luke 10:1).
This is a significant step being taken. Jesus is spreading the good news now with many more people, first it was the 12 and now it’s the 70 or 72. This time we hear Jesus clearly going beyond God’s chosen people, and he is offering the good news to all who want to hear. The early mission of the 70 to a collection of Jewish and Gentile towns anticipates the church’s mission to the entire world and precipitates Satan’s fall from power.
Jesus said to the appointed 70: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers 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.” (Luke 10:2-4).
And the image he evokes of the harvest is powerful, the sense of urgency he gives us that we cannot take our time. We can’t wait for others to catch up, for the right time, to sort out our life’s problems; the instruction is for here and now. When I went to Rome, I left my tomato plants almost ready to fruit. I came back and the harvest was dead. I was too late. All farmers know that imperative. It has to be now.
Jesus’ sense of urgency is palpable. I think the only time I forget to take anything with me or find I don’t need all my back-ups is when there is an emergency and then I go. Is this what Jesus is pointing to?
And we know following on from the story last week that Jesus was in the region of Samaria, where there wasn’t a lot of love lost between them and the Jewish communities. Wide differences of opinion separated the peoples and so Jesus was sending out his followers into possibly physically and certainly verbally hostile communities.
Last week I preached on violence in our world as I reflected on the story about James and John who wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven to consume the town that had rejected him, and Jesus rebuked them both.
Afterwards one of the parishioners spoke to me about a friend in Malaysia who was killed four weeks ago for being a Christian. The hostility and physical violence is very, very real for many Christians around the world. We are truly blessed to be in Australia.
I know hostility also exists here as people scorn and heap ridicule on us and on other faith traditions, and refuse to legitimise our way of living and all faiths in today’s secularised world.
But I also know violence is not necessarily faith based, violence exists because people accept it and do not recognise it in all its wicked forms and continue to be violent themselves and support violence. So Jesus’ statement that he is sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves was real then for the 70 and is still real today.
Then what about Jesus’ direction to his appointed followers, to go without taking anything with them; to go vulnerably, without resources and to go in peace with the purpose of sharing in the peace. He tells them to eat what is set before you, cure the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near to you!
The willingness to be open to the people around you who are unknown to you and voluntarily put yourself into uncertain circumstances where you might not feel safe, is profound and life changing.
My story earlier of how I pack and travel points to my inability to trust in people around me and instead to put my trust in the resources I have laboured to acquire. I trust in things rather than people, I trust in my own ability rather than God.
It is also much easier to give than to receive so that we can retain the power balance and stay in control. How hard is it to say ‘thank you’ for someone’s thoughtfulness and not immediately to start thinking about how quickly I can return the favour and pay off my debt due to someone else’s generosity.
Being in debt to someone else is hard. And how often do we give and expect such a debt to be created. We want people to feel grateful. How does that make us feel when we’re in the position of having to accept?
Jesus’ instruction to share in peace immediately removes that gift obligation, which is so ingrained in our societies we rarely notice it. The peace that comes from knowing you truly own nothing, it all belongs to God and from God comes the grace which enables you to share in the abundance and to have the capacity to share it with others is also God’s gift, and to God it always returns as we thank God for God’s abundant generosity. It is not ours to give or receive. In all aspects it is truly a gift from God.
That realisation and acceptance is such a liberating experience. It is so counter cultural in our world, when we believe it is our work and labour , our education, our achievements and success that has created the benefits that we enjoy with the world at our service. We believe all God’s creation is ours to plunder and so, we are entitled to what we have and to defend it, violently if necessary, from all others.
However, let me remind us, this is not part of the good news.
As Jesus sends his followers out and sees Satan falling from heaven like a flash of lightening, we are seeing this experience lived out by his followers and the experience beginning to go out into the world as people realise there is another way of living and believing. Satan’s power is being broken and a new way of living is being experienced.
But Jesus also sent the appointed followers out in pairs, understanding that such a journey is more doable when accomplished and experienced in the company of others. It points to the necessity of having a community to provide support and comfort, a helping hand and a place to be safe. It needs to be a community that is a place of forgiveness, compassion and grace.
Jesus reminds his followers though, their rejoicing should not be at their own success in defeating the powers of the enemy, but over the fact that “your names are written in heaven.”(Luke 10:20).
His reminder to his followers is critical: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16).
So let us have no misunderstand what is happening here, we have a choice, and the invitation and the consequences are clear. Who are we following and what are we doing about it? Are we as a community of Christians, Christ followers appointed as one of the 70 going out without resources, depending on God and simply sharing in the peace and spreading the kingdom of God?
The Lord be with You.