Faith Lilac Way Lutheran
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 NRSV
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." 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 18 He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
In response to this gospel text, one pastor asks: “Would you like it if Jesus organized volunteers at your church? Picture this: everyone is enjoying their coffee and conversations after worship, and then Jesus steps up onto a chair, waving his arms to get your attention, and says loudly, ‘Excuse me, can I have your attention? I need 70 people to help with a project this week. You will get to go to unfamiliar places and invite yourselves into people’s homes.
It will be like you are sheep sent into a pack of wolves. And also -- you aren’t allowed to bring anything with you. No cell phone, no extra clothes, none of that. Sound good? Great, because I’ve just signed all of you up for this opportunity!’
I’m pretty sure this isn’t a good way to get volunteers. There’s no selling point here. What is Jesus thinking?
Except Jesus wasn’t really asking for volunteers. He appoints the 70 and sends them out. He doesn’t ask for volunteers, and he doesn’t wait to see who comes forward on their own. I guess he’s Jesus, after all, he can do what a volunteer coordinator only dreams of.
But still: ‘I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves’? This is clearly dangerous territory, and he’s sending them out completely unprepared and unable to fend for themselves? And wolves aside, how can they buy food or get a place to stay? Without a bag, what are they supposed to do about extra clothes if they get cold or wet or just dirty from the road? Doesn’t he know they’re going to need these things?” (Adapted from a sermon by Rev. J.C. Austin in 2013.)
It seems like Jesus doesn’t have a clue. But of course he knows what he’s doing. The question isn’t what they need, but who. They need each other and they need Jesus -- we do, too! They will also need help from those willing to welcome them in along the way.
Obviously what these 70 are being called to do is not easy work, but we also shouldn’t be so quick to think about the plight of each individual. They will never be alone.
In American society we’re highly trained in individualism, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes us quick to say things like “My faith, my religion, my God” -- when really, all of these things are radically communal, are always related to relationship and being together.
Jesus sends them out in pairs -- each person will always have another to lean on. When one loses strength, the other can help. If one is discouraged, the other can build him back up in faith. There’s no way they could do this ministry and mission on their own.
They also have this much larger network of 70 incredible witnesses -- I’m sure they must have met up with other pairs along their travels and gained insight and support. And let’s not forget, God is always with them as well!
But it still can be scary, of course. After all, they have to depend on strangers for hospitality and welcome, and they are sent into unfamiliar places to perform healings and to speak peace. In other words, this journey requires being vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is hard. And acknowledging a need to depend on others is hard. The mission of the 70 requires more vulnerability and dependence on others than we would typically experience, but we are fooling ourselves if we think we can always protect ourselves and be 100% independent.
First of all, you are never 100% independent -- God is always in your life, and this is a very good thing! Second of all, the moment we experience any “illness, loss, death, or tragedy, we are painfully reminded of just how incredibly vulnerable we are.” (Adapted from a commentary by David Lose, 2013. ) When everything seems to be going well, it’s easy to forget that we are always vulnerable, and ultimately we always need to depend on each other and on Jesus.
Even though we may not be sent on the exact same mission as the 70, we are certainly sent out in many other ways by Jesus, ways that require depending on others, being vulnerable, and working together. And through it all, we are never alone. I have a few examples to share with you.
First, we had Wildfire VBS at St. James Lutheran this past week. About 35 kids in preschool through grade 5 attended, and we had many high school and adult volunteers helping out. Each day before the kids came, most of the volunteers gathered for announcements and a short devotion time. I led the devotional piece.
The theme for the second day of VBS was: Jesus gives us courage. So I asked the volunteers, “When do you need courage from Jesus?” A few of them commented that they needed courage from Jesus to lead VBS. It can be scary to know that you are responsible for a week to teach kids about faith and Jesus, and to keep them safe and to set a good example.
You are always vulnerable as a leader as well -- what if a kid gets upset with you and tells their parents? What if you say something you didn’t mean to? What if you are questioning your skills and ability to work with kids?
There’s a lot that can be going on! But each VBS leader always had another volunteer in the room with them -- like the pairs Jesus sent the 70 out in. And each person also had this larger network of volunteers to lean on for support and ideas. Jesus was definitely present everywhere as well!
Sure the supplies and the set up matter in VBS, but if you have all the fun items and the best decorations ever and no one to help you run the week, it isn’t going to work! Volunteers in a shared commitment is the most important part. VBS can only be done well together. No person was ever alone in this ministry.
Secondly, I’ve been thinking a lot about our upcoming Wildfire mission trip. We’re going to Hammond, Indiana -- a place most of us have never been, to serve people we haven’t met yet. We’re going to get into vans, drive there, and trust that God will work through us and that we will encounter God in the people we meet and serve.
It requires vulnerability -- we will be working with participants from Holy Nativity and House of Hope whom we may not know very well, sharing our faith and spending a lot of time together. We will be talking with the residents that we serve -- we might be nervous about how we come across or wondering what to talk about with them. We will be doing different kinds of home repair work -- from painting to fixing ramps to whatever else is needed -- it takes vulnerability to be honest about what you do and don’t know how to do, and to ask for help and direction from other volunteers when you need it.
This mission trip definitely requires working together! We’re not sending one volunteer to a home by themselves. One person could bring all the tools and supplies they wanted, but could never complete the tasks in a week all alone! No, we’re serving on crews of 6 or more people, sharing the workload, and we have the bigger network of 27 of us at the end of the day to reflect with and learn from. We can only do this together. No person will be alone in this ministry.
Lastly, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own sense of call this year -- really, the past 9 years. The sense of call that has led me to pursue ordination in the ELCA has included immense vulnerability and a high level of dependence on and trust in others. And of course Jesus is at the center of it all.
I first thought about being a pastor at the end of my freshman year of high school. Somehow I ended up on a trip to Luther Seminary with older youth from my church, for a preview day geared at high school students. I didn’t know what a seminary was or why I was going really. I hardly knew the other students. But there I was.
I heard God at Luther, and through one of the seminarian speakers. It was a new and odd experience, and I felt a nudge towards being a pastor. I thought it was ridiculous at the time -- I was a painfully, and I mean painfully, quiet person, and I wondered how in the world I could ever be a pastor.
Obviously I’m still introverted, and proud of it, but nothing like my freshman self. This sense of call that began during that visit was compelling enough for me to talk to my youth director and pastor, which felt very vulnerable.
And life went on from there. The more I went outside of my comfort zone with things like teaching and speaking and meeting new people, the more I wanted to follow this call. But also the more vulnerable I became and the more I needed the guidance and support of others.
When you attend seminary, there are all sorts of times you are vulnerable -- in the classroom sharing ideas, doing ministry with churches, interviews with your candidacy committee, group processing in your chaplaincy time, meeting with your committee during internship year. You have to remember that you are not in this alone, and that ministry is always, always done in partnership with others and with God. You also have to remember that you have this network of other seminarian friends for support too.
I’ve never been alone in this journey, not once. Jesus is always with me, and my friends are always there to reach out to, and ministry in the church is always done with the congregation and community. Ministry and mission are not possible without other people and without God.
I’ve shared with you different ways we are sent out, relying on each other and being vulnerable. So now I want to ask you … no, I want to tell you -- that Jesus appoints you, calls you by name, and sends you out in ministry and mission! Pay attention to whatever that may be for you. Follow the call. It may be scary and it will require being vulnerable and depending on others, but you are never, ever alone.
Look around the sanctuary, see who you know. There’s your pair, or your group of three, or your group of four, that Jesus sends you into mission and ministry with.
Now stand up -- look around. This is your “group of 70” -- your community of believers. This congregation “holds on to each other, consoles each other, encourages and emboldens one another.” This is simply what we do.
You are not alone. We are in this ministry and mission together, with God. Jesus calls you and sends you out, into vulnerable and sometimes unfamiliar places, but you are never, ever alone.
So go out together and speak peace, telling all that the kingdom of God has drawn near. Amen.