A sermon preached on July 7, 2013 based upon Luke 10:1 – 11, 17 – 20
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. 2He 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. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain 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. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”* 10But 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.”
17 The seventy* returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
The more I read over this story this past week, the more I became convinced that two thousand years of church history has kept us from actually hearing what took place when Jesus sent seventy out of his followers out two by two. Generally we think of their purpose having been to preach the Gospel, make disciples, build up the church, win souls for Christ. That sort of thing.
We think of the Jehovah Witnesses. Though we disagree with their understanding of the Gospel, we admire the bold way they seem to carry out the instructions Jesus gave the seventy, going door to door, two by two.
But I don’t actually think that the Jehovah Witnesses are doing what Jesus was talking about, which is why, I’m a little embarrassed to say, I stopped going to the door when I catch a glimpse of them coming up my driveway. I pretend I’m not home when they ring the doorbell. I don’t really like confrontation. I don’t want to be rude.
There was a time when I would invite them into my house, but I soon realized that real conversation wasn’t really possible with Jehovah Witnesses. In their minds, they are the ones who possess the truth, and those of us who would open our doors to them are simply lost souls who need what they have. The giving flows only in one direction, from them to those who will receive their truth. There is only one objective in the interaction — that we will submit to their truth.
You realize in talking with them that they’ve received training to anticipate the possible things we might say in our conversations, ready with scripted responses designed to convince us that they have what we most need.
In short, they aren’t really looking for communion, by which I mean they aren’t looking for an open-hearted give and take – for a mutual respect for one another’s humanity. And I believe communion is what Jesus’ hoped would happen in those homes in which the seventy entered.
It is not an insignificant detail that Jesus sent his disciples out without any money, or bag, or weapon. He sent them out into the world in a manner that intentionally made them vulnerable — dependent upon the kindness of strangers.
The Jehovah Witnesses don’t bring weapons of the usual sort, but they do bring dogma. Dogma is designed to make one feel invulnerable. It is a kind of armor that, when clung to can protect a person from uncertainty. To possess an unquestioned dogma is to feel superior to the person without the dogma.
Dogma keeps real communion – hearts touching one another – from happening.
We assume, as a result of church indoctrination, that the seventy went forth armed with a clear belief system that they are there to teach. Jesus must have given them some kind of training whereby he taught them what to say – some sort of crash course in theology.
But we forget that the followers of Jesus were having an awful hard time understanding Jesus for themselves. They realized that he was pretty special — they sensed the presence of God with him. If they believed he was the “messiah” they were clueless as to what this meant. The crucifixion and the resurrection were no where on their radar screen.
So they don’t really have much to teach yet. They had no dogma with which to prop themselves up. To use the metaphor of last week, Jesus was hoping that in sending them out into the world in such a posture of vulnerability they would catch hold of what riding the bike of faith is about, which isn’t something you can really be taught. You have to discover it for yourself.
He sends them two by two because it helps to have support – somebody else who will share in this kind of vulnerability with you.
He tells them when they go to a house, say, “Peace be on this house.”
The next line is significant:
“And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”
It is not a matter of the seventy bringing something to the house that can’t be there without them. Their peace will only be received if people in the house already share in that peace. If there is no peace in this house, they simply won’t receive them.
More often than not, if we approach someone with an open heart, coming with peace and good will, we will find the same come back at us.
Bu not always. Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we will be rejected. Jesus is quite clear about this, which is why coming open-hearted unavoidably makes you vulnerable. It hurts to get rejected.
But more often than not we will receive good will in return if people can sense we come to them with open hearts. And particularly if we can get a person when they aren’t stressed.
They will be invited to sit at their dinner tables as the guests of the people whose house it is. Jesus speaks not once, but twice about eating and drinking what the hosts of the seventy will offer them. Perhaps he says this twice to emphasize that they will find themselves doing more receiving than giving. Perhaps Jesus also means to call attention to the fact that those who welcome you into their homes are making themselves vulnerable as well. If they offer you the best they have, and they turn up your nose at it, or go looking for a house with a better menu, that would be pretty hurtful to these people who risked opening their homes and their hearts to them.
Apart from “Peace be on this house,” the only other thing that Jesus instructs them to say is, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
Why has the kingdom of God come near? The kingdom of God comes near whenever one person opens their heart to another. When all agendas and pretenses and attempts to impress are laid aside and we allow others to see us as we are – with our struggles, our failures, our weaknesses – all the things we instinctively try to keep hidden – the sort of stuff we feel the need for weapons and shields to keep others at a safe distance – it is then that the kingdom of God draws near.
The one other thing that Jesus tells the seventy to do is to heal the sick in that place. When hearts are opened in this way, we are allowed to see the wounds that others carry around inside them, and we have a unique opportunity to speak a word of grace that can bring healing to the whole self – to spirit, body and mind.
Jesus finishes off by giving instructions to the seventy about how to deal with rejection, which, in essence is to not carry the rejection away with them so that they refuse to let themselves be vulnerable with the next people they would meet. To keep their hearts open.
At the end, the seventy come back with this mixture of joy and surprise. They’ve received welcomes far more than rejection. It’s not what they expected. Wonderful things happened as they spirits communed with those they met. Demons were vanquished.
I’ve described before the experience I had twelve years ago when I spent three days biking with my son Andrew from north Jersey to Cape May. We went ill-prepared with for flat tires, and we had two, forcing us both times to reach out to strangers for help. In both instance we found people pleased to be able to offer us help, and a joyous since of briefly having heart connection with another human being. At the end of the trip we felt good about the fact both that we had persevered in our pedaling to read our destination, and that we’d been able to reach out for help when needed along the way.
All of us avoid finding ourselves in the position of needing help, and rarely asking for help, our view of human nature tends to become distorted. We imagine countless people out there waiting to take advantage of us. But the truth is most people welcome the opportunity to be of help to another human being who sincerely asks for their help. It puts them back in touch with what life is really about, and they appreciate that.
I want to take a moment to speak directly to Tracy. Welcome home, Tracy. We’ve lifted you up in prayer every Sunday over the plus four years you were away.
I thought about you when I read this passage. Your life has led you to a place not unlike that of the seventy when they were sent out into the world with next to nothing.
They had the most important thing, a heart that was open to love and life. And so do you. It is far better to be in this world with nothing worldly and to have your soul – your humanity – in tact, than to have all the money and status the world admires so, and have lost your soul. In the end, that’s all that matters.
We are here for you, Tracy our relationship with you isn’t a one way street in which we’re the ones doing all the giving.
We will be receiving from you. There is a spiritual depth to you that has come about from what you have been forced to experience over the past five years. It is not a path you would ever have chosen for yourself if you could have avoided it, but it has had the effect of deepening your soul, forcing you to embrace the kind of vulnerability that allows the kingdom of God to come near.
You will be a blessing to us.
In a few minutes we will share the bread and the cup which we have come to call “holy communion.” It hearkens back to meals shared during Jesus ministry on earth. There was that time when Jesus, his disciples and about five thousand other people found themselves out in a remote place, and the sun was beginning to go down, and the disciples got anxious about the fact that most of the people didn’t have anything to eat for supper. They encouraged Jesus to send the people away so they could go get themselves something to eat, and you remember what he said to them. “You give them something to eat.” They had brought enough food for themselves; in their minds, they hardly had enough to share.
But Jesus was serious. He wanted them to become vulnerable by sharing the little they had.
We don’t know for sure what happened that day. But at least part of what happened is that the crowd of people saw the disciples offering up the little bit they had, and in turn it inspired those who had brought something to similarly make themselves vulnerable, and to share their food.
And communion took place, and the kingdom of God was briefly experienced on earth, as it is in heaven.
And then there was that last meal Jesus shared with his disciples, the one that is foremost before us as we celebrate Holy Communion. It was a meal of open-hearted, vulnerability if ever there was one. Jesus needed them and they needed Jesus and in the midst of their raw, open-hearted communion, God was present.
So God is this morning as well.