7/7/2019 Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Today’s text is based on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. Our preacher is Tom Houston, LLM.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And God’s people say…Amen!
As is the case whenever we delve into God’s Word, we find there is quite a bit going on; Luke’s gospel this morning is no exception. Jesus dispatches 35 pairs of ‘apostolos’; in Greek, ‘ones who are sent out’, to announce the Good News of God in Christ. They are to be his ‘advance team’, for lack of a better term. Somewhat like ‘canaries in a coal mine’. Testing the waters. And Jesus knows this will not be an easy task.
He tells them; ‘you will be like lambs among a pack of wolves. Take no extra toiletries; not even a toothbrush or a comb. Oh, and by the way, only the sandals on your feet; no spare pair. Now, sandals were the cheapest article of clothing in Jesus’ time; even the poorest of the poor were able to afford inexpensive sandals. They were generally comprised of a base of carved wood, leather, or woven reeds. So, going without an extra pair showed that the seventy ‘apostolos’ were being sent out prepared just for their mission and nothing more. And don’t dilly-dally; there is no reason to stop on the road and exchange pleasantries with those you might meet. Your mission doesn’t allow for time-wasting. Bestow my peace upon those houses you enter; but if that peace is not returned to you, move on. If you find a welcoming home, stay there and partake of the hospitality that is offered. You are authorized to cure sickness and to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God’. ‘Tell everyone that you speak on my behalf and that I, Jesus of Nazareth declare the Word of the Father!’ This is pretty intense stuff!
Yet, the fundamental theme centers around the need for expediency. The importance lies in the journey itself; they are told to bring nothing with them to either assist them on their travels, or that might hinder their progress.
Travel in first-century Israel was not a comfortable undertaking. It was all on foot. It was dangerous due to bandits in the sparsely populated areas between towns. It was desert-hot during the day and desert-cold at night. The terrain was barren and often windswept. The admonition to not carry a bag or purse meant they would have no money, not a single coin to secure a place to sleep or a meal. They were to be dependent on the hospitality of others. Again, Jesus wants to be sure they understand the work they are sent to do is of the greatest importance and that everything else was secondary to the journey, the mission.
But let’s revisit the sandals issue for a moment. It might not seem like a big deal to us, but the fact that Jesus tells the seventy sent apostles to ‘shake the dust off their feet’ if they are not welcomed into a specific town, is quite telling. A truly hospitable person would have ensured that guests’ feet were washed, if they were to be welcomed into their host’s home. In addition to the dust from the hot sand, the roads between towns were strewn with sewage, animal droppings, and other waste. Publicly shaking the grime off the feet in protest of inhospitality was considered a passionate rebuke; and one to be used only when a robust repudiation was in order. Jesus wanted to be sure that any who rejected the coming kingdom were keenly aware of their snub, and what the consequence of rejection meant for them.
But all these preparations and the instructions that Jesus gives to the seventy have but one purpose; they are to go out in the world, before Jesus and proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom. The focus is for the disciples to announce that Jesus intends to come after them, to proclaim the Good News.
And after all, this is the very same task that is set before us; to go into the world and serve as the hands and feet of Christ. The harvest is indeed plentiful and alas, the laborers are indeed few. There is a great deal of work to be done, if the message of the Gospel of Christ is to be spread as Jesus intends. But church membership is in decline across the country, and the fastest growing group of religious affiliation is ‘none’.
Nearly one-quarter of all Americans self-identify as atheist, agnostic, or select the category of ‘none’, when asked their religious affiliation. Indeed, the laborers are few, and sadly, declining.
But the harvest remains plentiful, even if there are now fewer laborers available to accomplish the task. Thus, it becomes ever more incumbent upon us as followers of the Way of Christ to ensure that the journey continues. The mission may start here in this place, but the true purpose of Christ’s message and his church lies beyond these walls. We are directed to share the grace, love, and mercy of our Lord with the world outside of the comfortable structure that serves as our worship home.
In this time of transition, it falls to each of us to ensure that those members who haven’t been in close fellowship with Emanuel for some time, may know they are needed, and are encouraged to share in this journey because they are essential, as is each one of us, as we move forward in the mission of this church.
But the journey doesn’t end with bringing absent sheep back into the fold, it moves in ever-widening circles out from this place. In our hymn today we will ask to be servants to others, to be as Christ for them. There are opportunities to serve the broader community in ways that we may not yet be aware of. There are certainly no shortages of social ills where the hands and feet of Christ are needed. Homelessness, addiction, abuse in all its forms, mental illness, loneliness. These are but some of the issues which surround us.
This is a plentiful harvest; albeit one of great need and suffering. But, the needs of the world outside our walls, and our attempts to ease them in any way we can, are exactly what we laborers are called to do.
And as Jesus sent the apostles out in pairs, to ensure that they might reassure and strengthen one another, we too are being sent forth with support. The very name of this congregation, ‘Emanuel’ means ‘God with us’. The journey has always been challenging; for the seventy and all who follow after them.
While the seventy were admonished to carry nothing with them, we have what they did not; the risen Christ. The continuation of Jesus’ ministry today depends on us being his earthly hands and feet, but we also carry along with us, knowledge of his Spirit. Through the bread and wine, Jesus abides within us, supporting us in all our efforts. While the seventy carried nothing extraneous, we go about in the world fully armed and provided for; with God’s Word.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote:
“Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.”
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, your Son sent out apostles before him to prepare the Way. Send us out now to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Provide us with open hearts and open eyes; strong hands and willing feet. Let us be your servants.
And the people of God say…Amen!