July 3, 2022 – Fourth Sunday After Pentecost The text is Luke 10:1-11.
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Revised Common Lectionary that is used by the majority of Christian churches, including ours is based on a three-year cycle. So, the readings for this, the fourth Sunday After Pentecost in Year-C of the lectionary, are the same ones that appeared exactly three years ago today.
And, today also happens to be the three-year anniversary of my time here at Emanuel Lutheran. So, this is the very first time that our Sunday readings are repeats of those that I’ve previously preached on here. So, going forward, I’m going to have to be very certain that I don’t find myself repeating my sermons. But I thought that this might be an opportunity to take a look at the very first sermon I preached here at Emanuel, and perhaps review some of what has happened since that Sunday three years ago.
I spoke a good deal about the limitations that Jesus placed on the seventy apostles, those whom he “sent out” to proclaim the kingdom of God. You may remember; like sheep among wolves, no spare sandals, no money, and no wasting time. The purpose of their mission was to go out among the people and let them know what Jesus was up to. After that I mentioned that there was an ongoing decline in church membership and participation across the country. The harvest remained, but there was definitely a shortage of laborers to do the work.
Little did I know that just a few short months after my arrival we, like everyone else would be worshipping remotely, forgoing coffee hour, and generally be restrained in any efforts we might make to expand the church’s mission. Nonetheless, since it was the first time we were in worship together, I said the following words, in the hope that collectively, the people of Emanuel might be inspired to imitate the seventy that Jesus sent out:
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 to 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. 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. 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 I reminded us that the very name this parish has chosen for itself; “Emanuel”, means “God with us”. I noted that with the Spirit of Christ Jesus accompanying us that we would be supported in our efforts to act as the seventy did, going forth in Jesus’ name.
But again, the limitations that the Covid pandemic placed on us should have resulted in us keeping to ourselves and neglecting the needs of those outside our walls. Who could blame us? Why not just ride it out, and focus on keeping Emanuel afloat and let the rest of the world fend for itself. But that’s not what Jesus demanded of the initial twelve when he sent them out; nor of the seventy we read about this morning, or of us. And, in spite of all that seemed poised to oppose our efforts, you the people of Emanuel determined that you would do all you could to further Jesus’ mission in this time and in this place.
And probably the most unexpected was the opening of Emanuel’s Closet thrift store in the middle of a virus pandemic; it seems that the people of Emanuel have taken to heart Jesus’ decree to reach out in service to others. And, in spite of all the distress the pandemic has caused the people of this community of Christ-followers have donated food to hungry families, provided backpacks filled with school supplies for needy students, and distributed “We Care” kits to our homeless neighbors. And, more recently your church has opened its doors to a long-dormant AA group. You will soon host groups of seniors who will gather here to learn to play the piano, and you will sponsor a Theater Arts program that will allow underprivileged students to study alongside those whose families have the financial means they don’t. And when the rehearsals have ended you will be the hosts of the stage play that will be presented for the enjoyment of our community.
Emanuel will be the host parish of a multi-church effort to package meals for the food insecure around us. Parishioners from perhaps a dozen or so of our sister churches are raising funds alongside us, and will be on site here to pack the meals for distribution.
So, it seems that quite a bit has transpired in the three years since last we delved into the scripture readings we heard this morning. Like the seventy Jesus sent out, Emanuel has also embraced the admonition to expand her horizon, to minister to those whom we are called to serve. Yet, the harvest persists and the laborers remain few. There is still a great deal of work to be done if all of God’s children are to enjoy the abundant life that is God’s wish for all God’s children. We are still tasked with letting others know, as the seventy sent out by Jesus did that the “kingdom of God has come near”. If not us, then who?
Also, in my first sermon from these steps, I recounted this quote that is attributed St. Teresa of Avila;
“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.”
And, unlike the pairs of apostles that Jesus sent out, we don’t have to undertake our task of proclaiming God’s kingdom without sandals, purse, or bag. We aren’t called to deny ourselves or to venture forth like lambs among wolves. We only have to remain determined to continue, and yes expand the good works that have begun here. It seems that in our efforts to reach out to those outside our walls we have also invited others to come within them. This church, the building and her people have the capacity to serve as a gathering place for the community; to feed, clothe, and shelter those in need. I ask you all to consider this a challenge to resolve to be an engaged participant in the work that is being done here. And to imagine what more we might do to serve as the hands and feet of Christ that St. Teresa claims we are.
I ask that you allow me to repeat the very first prayer we joined in those three years ago.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy 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.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.