[I prepared two different sermons to share during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio this morning. I ended up giving neither one, but a version that sort of combined both. Here's one of them.]
Abraham Lincoln once told the story of a man who was tarred and
feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. The man was asked how it
felt. According to Lincoln, the man said that if it weren’t for the
honor of the thing, he would just as soon as have walked.
The seventy people Jesus called to carry the Gospel into communities Jesus planned on visiting may have felt that way as they listened to the instructions
Jesus gave after calling them. We may feel that way too: There is no greater joy or thrill than knowing that we have been saved from sin and death by God's grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. But the joy of that free gift only comes to those willing to follow and confess Jesus in a world that often makes following Him and confessing Him difficult.
Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, on which Jim Kalklosch preached, begins a section of Luke’s Gospel known as the greater interpolation, running from chapter 9 through chapter 19, that details Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, toward His crucifixion and resurrection.
Luke makes clear that Jesus is intent on fulfilling this calling. Luke 9:51 says that Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” No matter what pain was to engulf Him--and Jesus, as God, knew perfectly in advance all that He would have to endure as a human being in Jerusalem--Jesus wouldn’t allow anything or anyone to stop Him from offering His life on the cross to free from sin and death all who turn from sin and believe in Him. This was His mission on earth.
As I said, as today’s Gospel lesson begins, Jesus anticipates the places He will visit on the way to Jerusalem. We’re told: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.”
Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, He had sent the twelve apostles into villages He was to visit. The apostles were the ones who were to spend three years in the greatest seminary that ever existed, following, living with, and learning from Jesus day to day.
But now, Jesus was sending ordinary believers, people like you and me on a similar mission. In Christ’s Church, everyone has a ministry and everyone is called to share the Good News of new life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus.
Look, beginning at verse 3: “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.” “Listen,” Jesus is saying, “the life I offer you with God is a free gift of grace. It’s offered to all sinners who recognize their need of forgiveness and a fresh start and who entrust their lives to Me. But following Me in this world will not be easy. Don’t expect the world to throw you a party when you call them, in My Name, to repent and believe in Jesus Christ alone.” If even the Word made flesh encountered hatred, opposition, and rejection, we who follow Him can expect no less.
Look at verse 4, please: “Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road.” Followers of Jesus are to be as intent on following Him as Jesus was on going to Jerusalem.
In a world filled with all sorts of opportunities and distractions, at least for people like us in middle class America, it’s easy to lose our focus on following Jesus.
But when we veer off course, the God we know in Jesus is anxious to help us to move from sin and move back toward Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to [the human race]. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Stay focused on following Jesus and when your focus gets blurry, turn to the God Who loves you and wants what’s best for you to set things right between You and Him!
What Jesus says next is more specifically geared to the seventy He’s sending out, but it has application to us too. He says: “But whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house.' And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'”
There are people who will welcome you and your witness for Jesus. They may not understand it at first. But as long as they show no hostility to you when you share your faith with them, you shouldn’t stop. The apostle Peter writes: “...do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
As Christians, our aim, like the seventy Jesus sends in today’s Gospel lesson, is to share Christ--we tell them that His kingdom is as near as their openness to the Word about Jesus that can create faith and give new life to those who hear it.
Like them, we also aim to bring God’s healing to the world. This past week, during the IMPACT youth gathering, the 350 youth and adults there packed over 21,000 meals, meaning that 58 children in Haiti can be fed for a year.
In addition, 25 children were sponsored through Compassion International.
Saint Matthew will seek to share Christ with our community through our Vacation Bible School, August 12 through 16.
And we’ll seek to bring Jesus’ healing to others with the community dinner we’re having on Saturday, July 20 to raise money for the Hocking Hills Inspire Shelter.
The women of the church are this year leading us in contributing bars of soap to be used in this year’s Lutheran World Relief project.
As the body of Christ, the Church is the hands and feet of God! Jesus sent the seventy out to be His hands and feet. He sends us out with the same mission.
Then, starting at verse 8, Jesus makes clear that He gives all of us who follow Him the great commission to make disciples: “But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 'The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.' But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.”
As followers of Jesus, with our focus on Him, we can’t get hung up on those who oppose or hate us when we follow Him or share Him. If people are unwilling to receive the peace or good news of Jesus which He empowers us and commands us to share with others, we’re to know that His peace and favor is still with us and simply move on. We're to be people with tender hearts and thick skins!
In these verses, Jesus mentions several Gallilean communities, including His adopted hometown of Capernaum as places on which His judgment will fall because they have rejected His Lordship. He says that two Gentile cities notorious for their sin--Tyre and Sidon--will be better off on the day of judgment than these Jewish cities smug in their self-righteousness, certain of their place in God's kingdom even as they reject the King of kings.
Then, Jesus says in verse 16: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.’"
When you and I speak, live, or act in the Name of the One Who died and rose for us, we do so in the Name and the power of God the Father. We speak the message of God Himself.
That’s not a thing to be taken lightly. And we’re to be very sure that we never put our words or thoughts into the mind or mouth of God.
But when we have acquainted ourselves with God’s Word, we surrender our every moment to Him, and we know the truth of God that might help another person, we shouldn’t be shy about sharing that Word. We have God’s permission to do so. In fact, we have His command to do it. 1 Timothy 1:7 reminds followers of Jesus: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
Verse 17: “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’ And He said to them, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.'”
The seventy came back to Jesus in a triumphant mood. Jesus hadn’t even told them that they would be exorcising demons in His Name and they found that they could do it!
But this was a dangerous time for the seventy, a moment of great spiritual vulnerability, a time when the very evil they were so excited about overcoming could, if they weren’t careful overcome them.
Every now and then, I preach a sermon that really seems to "click." People tell me, “That was a great sermon.” (Even Ann!) Now, folks, I know that when a sermon “works,” it’s not because of me. It’s because I’ve gotten out of the way and let God speak from the pulpit that day.
But do you know what happens? The next day, as I start to work on my sermon for the following Sunday, I subconsciously think, “I’ve got to write a sermon as good as last week’s.” Listen: When we think that our good sermons, good deeds, good parenting, good advice, or good anything comes from us, we’re in trouble. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”
If VBS goes well, if the dinner for the Inspire Shelter goes well, if any good thing we seek to do as followers of Jesus goes well, we can be grateful. But things going well is not what we should most celebrate in life. That’s why Jesus says in the final verse of our Gospel lesson: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."
The most precious possession any human being can have is a right relationship with God. It’s a possession that can sustain us through anything that might happen to us in this world, that assures us that we belong to God forever.
But we can’t work for it, earn it, or deserve it. It’s a gift. It belongs to those in whom God’s Word and God’s Holy Spirit has planted the gift of faith. It belongs to those who trust in Jesus Christ, Who died and rose for them.
Ephesians 2 reminds us: “For by grace [God’s charity] you have been saved through faith [in Christ], and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God...”
When, by grace, we come to believe in, trust in, surrender to Jesus Christ as our only God and King and Savior, our names are written in heaven. Knowing that is the great thrill and joy of being a Christian!
When you know that your name is, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, written in heaven, every good thing that comes your way is gravy.
Every bad thing can be endured with confidence and hope.
And, like the seventy Jesus called in today’s lesson, you can dare to share His good news and His healing love with confidence and passion! Amen