Isaiah 6:1-8, Luke 10:1-11, 17-20
July 11, 2010
I want to take us back today. I want us to go back before Pentecost, back before the ascension, back before the resurrection and the crucifixion, back to the time of Jesus’ ministry. And there’s a reason for that.
Think about this. When Jesus was in the midst of his ministry on earth, he was the one leading it. He was the one preaching and teaching, drawing larger and larger crowds.. He was the one reaching out to people, inspiring them, challenging them, healing them. But here in Luke 10 he gave the people a taste of what his ministry would ultimately be. He showed them it would be a ministry of the people. They would be the ones who would take his message to the world!
Oddly enough, as Chapter 10 opens, Jesus has just been discouraging some people from following him. You remember that story. To one would-be disciple he said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nest, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another, who asked first to go and bury his father, he said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead…” And finally to the one who said, “Let me first say good bye to those at home,” he said, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Does that sound familiar? It also sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it?
Now we pick up the story just after that. After discouraging some people from following him, he then gathers a group of 70 and sends them out! That might seem a bit inconsistent or contradictory. To these he said “No.” To these he said “Go.” But I think not. In fact, I think in both cases, Jesus was doing the same thing. He was calling people to a higher level. He was asking the first group to realize the seriousness of what they were proposing when they asked to follow him. Then, in our story for today, he was showing people the importance of their part in his ministry. In both cases, he wanted committed people who were not only willing to follow, but also to be sent out into the world. Because ultimately, as I suggested a minute ago, it would be the his followers, not himself, who would take his message to the world!
I think too often Christians forget that. Too often Christians think they are part of something that others do for them, so that they can have what they have. For too many people in too many churches, it’s all about “what do I get out of it.” And that’s not what Jesus taught! Someone suggested recently that I should “borrow” the words of John F. Kennedy, and say, “Ask not what your Church can do for you, ask what you can do for your Church.” I don’t know. That sounds a bit corny to me. But it does get to the point. Too often people in Churches think the Christian faith is upheld and continued by “someone else.” They think faith is a “spectator sport.” They think you just come and watch. It’s as if, “Others have given us this wonderful legacy, now it’s just ours to enjoy.”
Jesus taught nothing of the kind! To him participation was of utmost importance for the church! To him, it’s what we all do together that makes the church what it is! I’ve sometimes said this about worship. I’ve said that worship is seen by some as something you go to, to watch other people do! But again, that’s not the idea! True worship is all of God’s people expressing together their love for God. Without participation by the whole congregation, true worship begins to be lost. And that’s just the idea of “corporate worship.” Christians also need to have a sense of “personal worship.” As God’s people, worship is something we should be doing “all those other days of the week.” Worship is an every day thing. It’s not just for one hour a week on Sunday morning.
So I ask you, “How’s your personal worship life going?” When you’re here Sunday morning, do you feel your self participating? Do you see yourself giving God worship and praise? But what about the rest of the week? Do you worship God in some way each day? Do you ever simply say “God I love you,” when you’re by yourself? Try it!
Worship is about participation. And that’s true of all aspects of Church life, whether we’re talking about worship or education or stewardship or prayer and spiritual growth.. And Jesus is telling us in our passage from Luke that it’s the same thing with the reaching out! He intended all of his people to go! That’s why the story of the sending of the 70. Is that some kind of “magic number?” I don’t think so. It’s a large group! He was showing that he wants all of his people to be part of that. And that means us. We are the light of the world. And we are that light in the way we live our lives, in what we say, and in what we do.
So think about this scene for today. Try to imagine Jesus in the middle of this large crowd of people, giving them instructions. They have been “appointed,” it says. But what does that mean? Does that mean they are specially chosen? Possibly. Does it mean the were “hand picked?” Maybe. But were they just “ordinary people?” “Yes!” If you ever think you’re not “good enough” to be used by God, you’re wrong. If you think you’re just an “ordinary person,” remember that Jesus always seemed to choose “ordinary people.” Now here he is, preparing to send a whole bunch of them two by two into the world, by themselves.
But not really. Look at his first instruction to them. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers…” That’s the first thing. Pray. In other words, “Be involved with God.” Rely on him. Be content in him! Then he says, “Be careful.” My mother always said that to me when ever I left the house. (She still does, by the way!) Jesus wanted his people to be careful, too. He told them to be wary, to be wise, and to know they were going out as “sheep among wolves.” But he also told them to be loving and gracious, and to seek out people who were open and welcoming.
Then he says some hard words. “Be prepared!” he said, “Be prepared that you just might have to let some people go.” And that’s a hard part to hear. If they don’t receive you, “Shake the dust of their town off of your feet.” That’s actually a bit of harsh symbolism. But as he would warn them later, there would be people who disliked like them. There would be those who would persecute them. It wouldn’t all be easy. And it’s the same with us. So we need to be cautious.
But then look at the last part of this! It says in verse 17, “The 70 “returned with joy!” That’s a big part of the ministry of Jesus and the participation to which he calls us to. And it’s a part we are quick to forget. His ministry is one of Joy! His ministry is about being part of, and seeing, amazing things! That’s what happened to these people. They saw and did amazing things. They were excited! And Jesus says to them, “I told you!” “I told you I had the power!” “Don’t forget who I am! I’ve been here from the beginning. I was around to see Satan fall from heaven!” That was way before history. He was telling them, “Follow me, because I’ve been with God from the beginning!”
We need to remember that, too. We need to remember who Jesus is! And we need to know that we are part of his kingdom! We are partners in ministry with the one who existed before time itself. And he calls us to participate in his power and glory! That was very exciting for these 70. And that will be exciting for us as well!
Let me tell you, though, that what we need is to be willing. And I love this passage we read from Isaiah. It is the story of the call of Isaiah. It is his call to service in God’s kingdom. And it included this question. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” That question and his answer are the inspiration for the song we will close with today. “Hear I am, Lord.”
Are we willing to answer that question? I want you to think about that as you sing this hymn. Do you hear God’s people cry? Do you see their need? Do you have the kind of compassion that sees beyond the self? That’s not easy in our world where self-centeredness is the norm. Do you know that Church is all about your participation?
Those are the questions God asks. Jesus calls us all to that higher level. What will our answer be?
Eternal God, help us to answer the call to reach out with your love and grace. Give us the courage we need to speak for you, to show your love, and to live your grace. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.