Sermon preached at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
After these things, the Lord commissioned seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every city and place he was about to go. He said to them, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. Whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The seventy-two returned joyously, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”
Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Look, I have given you authority to crush snakes and scorpions underfoot. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, don’t rejoice because the spirits submit to you. Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”
I have to say, Jesus has never sounded more like a mother.
Before we left for a trip or sleepover, moms always give us advice. Some of it is just the same advice Jesus gives his seventy disciples: don’t get into trouble, don’t talk to strangers, eat what’s put in front of you, clean your plate, be a helpful guest. Don’t throw tantrums if you don’t get your way.
The unwritten rule being: reflect well on the family.
But Jesus is not simply sending his disciples out to reflect well on him. He is sending them out to reflect him, to be his hands and feet, now that his own ministry is being cut short.
And, unlike mothers, who tend to fill their children’s bags with extra socks and suntan lotion and snacks and crayons and sometimes even a hostess present, when Jesus sends his disciples out, he tells them not to pack anything—no shoes, no bag, no money—nothing that would make things easier for them. They go out unarmed into the big scary world.
Jesus doesn’t pack their bags, but he does pack their hearts with three very important things: wisdom, trust, and power.
If the seventy were looking for an inspirational speech to get them revved up for their mission, I imagine they were a bit disappointed. Jesus does not make pie-in-the-sky promises about how fun and easy ministry will be. He lets these seventy new disciples know, up front, that this will be hard. That there will be wolves prowling along the edges. That not everyone will welcome them. That not everyone will appreciate or agree with what they are doing. But rather than get bogged down in frustration or resentment or even revenge, Jesus tells them simply to shake the dust of their feet and move on. If the people they find are not people to will work with them in pursuit of God’s kingdom, so be it. There are others who will.
Jesus also, by stripping away money and possessions from the seventy, forces them to trust the people they are sent to.
Don’t trust what you have, he says. Trust the people you’ll meet. Trust each other. Trust the spirit. Trust me.
Live with people, in their homes. Eat what they serve you. Share your peace with them. Heal their sick. Tell them about God’s kingdom. This is not hit-and-run miracles. This is building relationships, finding outposts of discipleship, people who can stay behind in these towns to be Jesus’ hands and feet to their neighbors.
And finally, Jesus sends them out with power. Not any power the world would recognize—no money, no weapons, no armies—but with the power to heal. The power to do miracles. The power to cast out demons. The power to make real change happen.
This is not precisely a cheery text—it’s full of warnings and worries—but I love that after all these warnings, and after going out empty handed, and after being thrown out of some towns and eating strange food in others, still, the disciples come back rejoicing, because they have made a real difference.
They have cast out demons, squared off with evil, healed the sick, found allies in their mission, shared peace and had it shared back with them
It was probably often exhausting and frustrating. But in the end, it was the most meaningful work of their lives.
Today we are ordaining and installing our next class of elders at CSPC, and I can’t help but be amazed at how perfect this scripture is. Like Jesus commissioned the seventy, we will commission three faithful women today to take on particular tasks of ministry, to be vessels of God’s wisdom and power for our church.
And so Karen, and Katie, and Corinne, I pray that in your time on session, you will see that you do make a difference.
It won’t always be puppies and rainbows—there will be days when you are exhausted. Days when the discussions seem unpalatable. Days when you see more tension than peace. Days when you’d love to dust off your feet and not attend one more meeting. Days when it’ll seem like you’re trudging on and on and nothing big is happening.
But I hope—I hope, that despite all this, in three years you’ll come back rejoicing.
Rejoicing, because when you look back, you’ll see that you helped make Sunday school happen so we could grow in faith, helped preserve this church building as our sanctuary, helped ensure our mission to our neighbors stays a priority, helped serve communion to those of us so hungry for grace, helped our presbytery be a force for Christ in Cincinnati, helped babies be baptized, youth be confirmed, new members welcomed, gave established members new vision. I hope you come back rejoicing that this church is better, stronger, more faithful, because you said yes to being commissioned to Christ’s service.
Today is a special day for me, because it has been three years since I joined this congregation in its ministry. In a sense, I’ve served my first term. Or, to put it a different way, I’ve served with you for as long as jesus was with his disciples. And there are days that are tiring, or frustrating, or without much peace. That’s simply life.
But overwhelmingly—overwhelmingly—this life of ministry, of being sent out to be a force for love in a world desperate for it—is the most joyful, rewarding work I can imagine.
And it’s because I don’t do it alone.
I serve with the hundred or so disciples in this congregation. I serve with our nine elders, and our clerk and treasurer. I serve with colleagues in other churches around the country.
And I serve with God’s spirit, always with me, giving me direction and courage for one more day.
I’ve looked around, and I promise you, Katie, Corinne, and Karen—you will not find better people to serve with. And you will not find a greater God to serve
So go to them. Trust their hospitality. Trust their faith. Trust that they are eager to hear good news from their elders, and just as eager to share it back with you. In your leadership, serve these beloved people, and let them serve you. That’s your calling today.
And come back rejoicing when you are done.