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Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two

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Luke 10:1-11,16-20
10.30am Service
(7-7-13)

“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Not the most attractive of propositions! If I’m honest, there are times when I don’t feel like ‘going’ anywhere! Life is hard enough as it is without having to go out and try to convert people, to convince them that they ought to become Christians and come to Church every Sunday. And anyway, isn’t that what vicars get paid to do!? I don’t want people to think that I am some kind of religious fanatic that thinks that you have to be a Christian to be a good person and get to heaven.

I think that these kind of feelings and attitudes can sometimes also apply to our Church communities: there may be difficult relationships within the church, leadership issues, financial worries, ancient buildings to keep up. ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ - how can our Churches ‘Go!’, how can we, with our limited resources, ‘Go’ and tell the wider world about Jesus? And why would we want to anyway, if we are going to be lunch for a pack of wolves?

Today, I am going to look at what it means to ‘Go!’, to be sent by Jesus to be a worker in God’s harvest field. And I am going to highlight three things from this morning's reading to encourage us and help us on the mission on which we have been sent.

Jesus was very clear that following him is costly and that his disciples will experience rejection. In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and, just before the sending out of the 72 disciples, Jesus had sent a mission to the towns of Samaria to prepare the way for him...and it was disastrous, in the sense that they were comprehensively rejected. Luke then records Jesus’ teaching on the cost of being his disciple: everything in our lives, including life itself, must come second to following Jesus. This is as true today, as it was then and we must not forget that in many countries around the world, becoming a Christian can mean torture and death!

The world can be very hostile to Christians because the Gospel message can be offensive to people. It proclaims that people need to turn to God and that they need him because of sin, it says that we need to admit that we are wrong and that we cannot simply choose how to live our lives. This is a counter-cultural message and the image of ‘lambs amongst wolves’ is a realistic one.

And if that message is not hard enough, Jesus is also very clear that the command to ‘Go’ is not restricted to a few select people. Everybody is called to represent Jesus and everybody has been given gifts to do this. We do not have the right to withdraw, and to hide from our neighbours is to disobey God’s call to mission.

On the face of it then, this sending out appears to be very daunting: an impossible task, an overwhelming responsibility. So, it is important to note from Luke’s account that the 72 disciples returned with joy and that Jesus affirmed that their names were written in heaven. When we obey God’s call to ‘Go!’ and we step out in faith, we have the immense privilege of witnessing God at work in people’s lives. And, on top of that, whatever price we pay in this life, there is an incalculable reward for us in the next.

It is also important to be clear about what we are being called to do and what our responsibility actually is. The stark warnings of rejection that we find in this passage are balanced by a picture of a great harvest. And, very importantly, the harvest is not ours it is God’s: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”. Luke reminds us of God’s Lordship over the conversion process.

It is God who changes people’s hearts; our responsibility is to prepare the way for him. Knowing this frees us to get on with our responsibility: we are to be obedient to God’s call, even in the face of rejection and opposition, and to proclaim that the ‘Kingdom of God is near’. The outcome is God’s concern.

So, we don’t have to convert people. But going into the office tomorrow morning and proclaiming that ‘the kingdom of God is near’ is probably not going to win me many friends. Do I really need to be walking up and down outside the Co-op in Willingham high-street with a sandwich-board?

Well, building relationships with people, sharing our experience of God’s love with others and telling them about Jesus is probably a less confrontational approach, but this morning I am going to look at three things which are mentioned in this morning's passage which every single one of us here can do to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near.

Firstly, Jesus said: “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house’.” The invocation of God’s goodwill is not trivial! If we bless somebody in God’s name, we are not simply saying nice things to them or wishing them well. For the blessing of God’s presence in people’s lives can enter and depart.

By blessing people that we know, people that we meet or even the street that we live in, we can open the door to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This is not magic, it is simply preparing the way for God to come in and do what he wants to do.

Secondly, Jesus said: “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal those there who are ill and tell them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”. Many books have been written about healing and a whole sermon series could easily be dedicated to the subject. I also believe that training in this ministry is helpful, but what is clear is that Jesus told people to do it. It is important to note that this very understated instruction to heal is linked with proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is near. This is because the act of healing is evidence of the presence of God’s rule. Again, it is not us who heals - God is our healer - but we have been instructed to minister to people in this way. It is a powerful way in which the Kingdom of God is seen to grow.

A few years ago I had a bad fall from my bicycle and I landed painfully on my knee. Several weeks later, I mentioned it to a friend who I volunteered with at Jimmy’s night-shelter in Cambridge. She offered to pray for my knee and I accepted, not expecting her to kneel down, there and then, in the middle of the kitchen, put her hand on my knee and start asking God to heal it. I was sceptical, and so was taken aback when I felt a warm feeling in my knee. The pain actually seemed to get worse, but the next day, it had completely gone. The Kingdom of God had come near to me in a very real way.

The third way that we can proclaim the Kingdom of God is by exercising the authority that we have been given as children of God to resist Satan. Jesus said: “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”. Snakes and scorpions here are symbols of the presence of Satan and the picture of them being trampled upon without being harmed illustrates the defeat of Satan through the ministry of Jesus and his followers.

In the letters written by James and Peter, the early Church are told to ‘resist Satan’ and to ‘stand firm’. But what does this mean? It is not the assertion of our will or the application of our own strength that will overcome the enemy, for the power and authority come from Jesus. Our responsibility is to keep ourselves rooted in the faith.

Last Sunday, Linda talked to us about the Fruit of the Spirit and she described Teresa of Ávila's picture of being an upside down tree - with our roots in heaven and our fruit on Earth. If our lives are firmly rooted in God through worship, continuous prayer, studying the Bible and fellowship with other Christians, then we will bear fruit and we will stand firm, resisting the opposition of the enemy which seeks to destroy us and our faith. In doing this we will be proclaiming the Kingdom of God in our lives.

So, to conclude: if you are a follower of Jesus, you are called to ‘Go’ and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. But in doing so, we are preparing the way for God to do what he wants to do. We are called to proclaim the Kingdom, but we are not responsible for the way in which people respond. And there are three simple ways in which we can all proclaim that the kingdom of God is near: we can bless people; we can offer to pray for healing with people and we can resist the power of Satan in our lives.

It is true that we are sent like lambs amongst wolves, but we do not go in our own strength. We go with the authority and presence of Almighty God Himself. Amen!

Written & presented by Mark Osborne

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