Sermon offered July 7, 2013
Pentecost VI-C: Isaiah 66:10-14, Psalm 66:1-8, Galatians 6:1-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church, North Port, Florida
Generally when we think about Jesus’ followers we think of the twelve apostles . . . . but there were more. The gospel story today talks about seventy that Jesus sends out. . . seventy disciples that Jesus send on ahead of him . . . to every town where Jesus himself intends to go.
This story is a continuation of the one we heard last week – Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and will probably be traveling through villages where he hasn’t been before. Rumors about who Jesus is and what he’s been up to have probably already reached these villages . . .
And so the seventy disciples go out ahead of him to announce that he’s coming . . . and they are sent to give a preview of Jesus’ own ministry – teaching and healing and announcing that “the Kingdom of God has come near.”
The mission that Jesus’ gives these seventy disciples is the Ministry Jesus gives us today . . . to go out ahead of him in today’s world – in our world — and take his message with us wherever we go.
The observation that “The harvest is plentiful” is as true today as it was in Jesus’ time. We are all called to join the laborers in the harvest . . . we are all called to discipleship . . . But what does it mean to be a disciple?
The gospel reading today is one of Jesus’ best teachings in discipleship – here Jesus gives us instruction in three areas of discipleship — Mission, Message and Motivation* . . .
First a few words about Mission:
Directly stated: The disciple’s mission is to continue and to expand Jesus’ mission – that is: teaching and healing and announcing that “the Kingdom of God has come near.”
If you remember last week’s gospel – chapter 9 in Luke’s gospel – this was the mission Jesus gave to the 12 apostles. In today’s world this might seem to correspond to the expectations we have for the clergy – priests are paid to teach and heal and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom.
But in this week’s lesson – in chapter 10 – the scope of the mission expands. Jesus appoints seventy others. The number seventy has a special symbolic meaning here – in the Hebrew scriptures 70 is the number of all the nations of the world. It includes everybody. And in the expanding mission all followers of Jesus – that means all of you — are called to be disciples, to be missioners. We are all sent out. We are all called to evangelize.
When Jesus calls us, he calls us first into a personal relationship. In this intimate and very-growing relationship, he heals us personally, he nurtures us, he loves us . . . and he is preparing us for mission work. We are called in – in order to go out – the focus turns from self to others. We are called to go out – we are called to live for others.
The mission God has in mind for each of us is distinctive and special. . . There are needs in the world that only you can fill – there are hands that only you can hold . . . Each of us is sent . . . into the world . . . to others . . .
And now, what about Message?
First: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus says these words, and then he immediately sends out the seventy disciples into the harvest. The disciples that Jesus first asks to pray for laborers turn out to be the very same disciples who go out as laborers – they go out in answer to their own prayer – self-activating . . .
This message that “The harvest is plentiful” is as true today as it was in Jesus’ time. So, like the disciples, we find ourselves praying for the harvest and carrying out the mission – We too are both the subject and object of today’s gospel.
And the message “The Kingdom of God is near you.” In an interesting twist this becomes a reality when we go out in mission work. First we come together to form the Kingdom of God on earth, and then God places the kingdom in our hands and on our lips. When we go out, we take the Kingdom with us – message and action are one – self actuating. . . . The way the kingdom comes near is that we take the kingdom into the world with us. . . among us . . .
And finally a few observations about motivation:
In the gospel story, the seventy go out on their mission . . . and when they return they joyfully report to Jesus: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Jesus affirms both the success of the mission and the power of their authority for continuing success.
But then he adds: “Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” This seems to be a slight correction in their self-image . . . and their motivation. . . a caution to focus not on what we do – a warning to be careful to avoid failing into a false sense of self accomplishment…
It is Jesus who works through us to bring the Kingdom near . . . It doesn’t happen through our own ability or power. Our true joy and motivation lies in knowing that we are part of the kingdom of God that we proclaim – we are one in the kingdom of God.
I leave you with a quote about discipleship and mission from St. Teresa of Avila — it reminds us of how we carry on the ministry that Jesus gave us.
St. Teresa wrote:
Christ has no body but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which
He walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which
He blesses all the world.
*From the teaching of Timothy Keller.