It begins with Jesus, as he teaches, heals, and offers a vision of God’s dream. Then the movement progresses to the twelve apostles, where Jesus empowers them to teach and heal in God’s name, telling them to, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money - not even an extra tunic” (Luke 9:1-3). They were to rely on God.
By the time we arrive at today’s lesson, Jesus has appointed seventy leaders to support this swiftly, growing movement. The text says he, “...sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (Luke 10:1). Jesus tells them that, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”; in other words - your labor for God’s kingdom will help the good news of God’s dream to reach even more people (Luke 10:2).
He sends them on their way with some guidance…
First, he tells them:
You are like lambs wandering beyond the safe protection of their shepherd, you are going to encounter resistance and danger in some communities (Luke 10:3).
In other words, when we go out to do the work God has called us into, it will not always be easy. In fact, it would be tempting to let fear of the unknown prevent us from ever leaving the safety of our sanctuary; from ever trying something new. Yet if we are going to share the good news of God’s love, we most certainly will encounter resistance from folks who are not interested; or danger from those who feel threatened by a message that proclaims to the world that God’s love is for ALL. Let’s prepare ourselves for that inevitability, as we go about our outreach efforts, hospitality ministry, and embark on new ways of doing things.
Second, Jesus tells them:
You do not need to worry about packing, as you need no money, bags, or sandals. Instead, you are to depend on God (Luke 10:4).
We are so inclined to put our trust in ourselves alone. Packing our supplies; coming up with detailed plans. (I say this with a bit of self-mockery, as some of you know I like to plan liturgy months in advance.) We need to routinely ask ourselves - what literal or metaphorical baggage do we need to leave behind so we can depend on God alone? We need to help each other to lean on God, and rely less on our false narrative that we are better off on our own. The gospel tells us again and again, that is simply not true. We are always better together. That belief in self-sufficiency is a particularly American belief that works in opposition to God’s dream. God calls us to collaborate together for the betterment of all humanity and creation.
Third, Jesus tells them:
Remember, the road is a hazardous place [and it really was back then], so travel cautiously, and avoid greeting folks on the road or get distracted from this most important mission (Luke 10:4).
Thankfully, the road is not such a hazardous place anymore. What is dangerous for us, is that we have far more distractions, thanks to technology and our increasingly fast pace of life. Most churches also have less available resources, and so it is equally tempting for a scarcity mindset to set in. This means, we are highly tempted to be sidetracked from our focus on our mission - whether it be too many emails, deficit budgets, or a growing list of property repairs. Our primary reason for existence as a church - is first to worship God as a community, and second, to help bring about God’s dream of love, particularly to those who have been hurt or remain marginalized by the ones holding the power. Let us always keep that as our driving force.
Fourth, Jesus tells them:
When you arrive in a community and approach a household, you can gauge whether it is a peaceful, supportive, and welcoming place to base your ministry by offering a greeting of peace. When you receive a warm welcome, you are to remain with that household, receiving their hospitality in return for your ministry. While you are with them you are to heal the sick and tell them this healing is the work of God’s kingdom (Luke 10:5-9).
In other words - even as God sent the seventy out in pairs - they were not to go at this alone. They were to rely on ministry partners to help them accomplish their mission. When do we reach out to neighboring faith communities, town government, nonprofits, and local businesses to collaborate in ministry efforts? This does mean getting a little uncomfortable, because to successfully work with others, it will mean accepting the reality that we cannot always do things our way. Where do we need to be building those relationships right now, and letting go of that philosophy of individuality that we should go it alone as a parish? What matters is the mission - not who did the most to make it happen. In fact, to be successful in accomplishing our mission, we will need to trust in those beyond our parish; we will need ministry partners, and to learn new ways of seeing and doing things.
Finally, Jesus tells them,
When you do not receive a warm welcome in a community, you are to head to the streets and wipe the dust of that town from your feet. Because whoever listens to you, listens to me; and whoever rejects you, rejects me and the kingdom of God (Luke 10:10, 11, 16).
There will be times we will need to shake the dust off our sandals. Maybe to bring a conclusion to an ongoing challenge, disagreement or even a relationship, if it has become harmful. Or it may be to just let go of some way we have always done things. It is not a failure, but a recognition that maybe something has not been working. When necessary, let’s shake the dust off our sandals, and let go of our pain, hurt, and ego. Then let’s regroup, and keep our heart, minds, and souls focused on the mission.
The last part of this gospel that I want to draw our attention to is that Jesus sends the seventy out two by two. Throughout the gospels, Jesus routinely sends folks out in pairs, and he tells us in Matthew’s Gospel that God is present whenever two or three are gathered (Matthew 18:20). When we approach any of our work as partners, two by two, there just is not the same amount of room for ego, if the partnership is going to be successful. We are better together.
We experienced this when we emerged as Saints James and Andrew; we have seen it in the leadership of our co-wardens these last five years; and Molly and I hope you’ve seen it in our ministry partnership. Even as we look to the future of clergy leadership, as we mentioned in the letter that went out to the parish this week, we will continue to stand as partners that have been sent out two by two. We hope to continue empowering and equipping you, this parish’s incredible lay leadership, to do the same in each of our ministries.
Which leads us to some questions that I would invite every ministry team to do some reflecting on:
For that matter, where else in our lives are we going it alone that we need to reexamine our roles, behaviors, and expectations?
May God guide us and strengthen us to go forth two by two, in every aspect of our lives and ministry. Amen.
We are blessed to have a diversity of preaching voices in our parish. Our guild of preachers is a mixture of lay and clergy. We hope you enjoy the varied voices.
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