The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 10:12, 16-20

It was the first “Venture in Mission,” at least on a broad scale. The first commissioning was given to the inner circle of apostles, which Luke describes at the beginning of chapter nine. But then, according to Luke, a second commissioning, of a wider discipleship occurred. They are never mentioned by name, but referred to only as “the Seventy.”

There is no hint that they are particularly talented, nor especially gifted, nor notably educated, nor fervently pious, nor gleamingly moral. There is no evidence that they had exceptional IQ’s, or exhibited an aptitude for preaching, or had the capacity to influence others. Jesus didn’t call the “seventy best” but the Seventy.

And Jesus gives the Seventy, like the apostles before them, very little in the way of instruction; they are simply to fan out over the countryside, equipped with only two things: the authority of Jesus and the support of a partner.

Much to the horror of modern methodology and “careful-thinking” people, Jesus gives them no grand design, such as how to get on local talk shows or how to organize a crusade (No 800 number for fundraising). He simply sends them. And they go, in faith.

Why so reckless? Why without a surefire plan for success? Because the mission of the Seventy is not a campaign to be managed and controlled by human hands and human minds, but it is the inbreaking of the power of God to be announced and entered into by faithful, God-trusting people.

Look at these people – these believers. Their mission is laughably under-equipped. There’s no advertising campaign to precede their visits. There’s no seminar to indoctrinate them on how to “actively listen” or to “effectively engage” potential converts. Advice on how to evangelize – other than not moving from house to house and eating whatever is put before them – is not offered and not asked for. It’s a matter of trust.

Also, since the life-expectancy of unprotected sheep among wolves is about as long as it takes to cook a lamb chop, you would think that these “sheep,” who are Jesus’ heralds of the kingdom, would be provided with some kind of armament with which to protect themselves. They are not.
They’re given nothing but a companion and Jesus’ promise that no harm will befall them. Any sharp lawyer at the time could have sued Jesus right out of his cloak for such negligence. But with the Seventy, Jesus’ word is enough, because it’s a matter of trust.

Even the small luxury of taking along personal amenities is denied these seventy sheep–no purse, no bag, no sandals. Because of the urgency and ultimacy of what they are proclaiming, the Seventy are not to chit-chat along the way, or to pause to say, “How do you do?” to fellow travelers.

If not listened to or rejected, they are not to try to cajole or convince the unreceptive, but to move along – keep right on going. They are not apologists; they are messengers. & In an act that has to have set back Christian “niceness” for centuries, these commissioned ones are to “shake the dust off their feet” when given the cold shoulder – which seems to be a first century way of saying, “Take a hike!”

This seemingly unequipped, unsophisticated outreach of the Seventy had an unusual commonality with later Christian evangelism. Listen to what Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians:
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ Jesus, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (2:1-5)

The effectiveness of the Seventy lay in the fact that they applied the compassionate power of the kingdom of God to those afflicted by evil. Healing was a consequence of the proclamation, and proclamation was a consequence of healing. To do one, in effect, was to do both; to refuse one was to refuse both. & they shook the dust from their feet and moved on undeterred from their mission.

Like Paul, when he came to Corinth, the Seventy probably arrived in Galilean villages “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” But the grace of God was manifested through them, not only in their weakness, but because of it, since they had nothing else to rely on but Jesus.

Therefore those who came to faith through the Seventy, realized that this new reality which had taken hold of their lives “did not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.” & people saw that and were amazed!

Where is the greatest weakness in our community – and why? Where do our doubts and fears and trembling come from? The apathy and faithlessness that cause us to shrink back from our mission; the voices that say say, “we can’t.” We shouldn’t. We won’t”? It comes from the human spirit, the spirit of the flesh, not from the Spirit of God.

So how can this place – this incredibly human, fearful, doubtful place – how can this place become fear-less and doubt-less? Where the Spirit of God and the Kingdom of God are proclaimed and people are healed and devoted and faith-full, and where, through the power and authority of Jesus, the Lord can witness the mission and ministry of the Church being carried forward despite our weakness and despite resistance by the world, –sometimes even in the midst of wolves?

It’s a matter of trust and faith. Do we believe or do we not? in God and in one another as the family of God – the community of faith? It can happen only if we, through trust and faith rely on God and depend on God, who sent us on our mission, to be there for us, and to protect us and to provide for us. Do we believe that or not? If we do then there is no challenge we can’t take on and accomplish.

There’s nothing wrong with doing that with some fear and trembling. It’s human, and in the history of things, it puts us in some pretty good company. But at some point, if we want God to be involved in what we’re doing, we have to let go, take our hands off the controls, and let God do the steering.

That shouldn’t be a problem in this parish. After all that God has done for us, it doesn’t take a lot of faith and it would be a very dense person, indeed, who couldn’t see, who couldn’t understand and trust, that God is with us, working through us, and for us. We’ve experienced that.

God wants only the best for us and will be there and won’t let us down – if we’re willing to risk faith, to move forward and move around those who say “no.”

Our vocation doesn’t lie in being safe and in control, but if we are truly in service to God, it lies in risk, in being out of control. And in trusting that God is in control.

If our mission and ministry as Grace Cathedral is to be safe, to never go further than others are comfortable with us going, to never try to do more than others say we can do or should do, to never go further than what we feel we can do on our own & don’t make a place for God to work among us and through us, then we’ll have it ourselves, and we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever accomplishing anything of significance.

But if we are a Church of trust and faith. If we’re not afraid to take risks, if we’ll make a place for God, and expect God to work with us and in us and through us, then God will be there. And amazing things will happen. Miracles will happen. You’ve seen it! Do you not believe it?

A safe church or a faith church? God help us to have faith.
God help us to risk—to step up and step out. God help us to witness as Christians who believe God’s promises.

Someone once asked the great preacher Philips Brooks why he was a Christian. He thought for a moment and then replied, “I think I’m a Christian because of my aunt who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Witness. You see, when we begin living out in our lives and in faith what we profess with our words, that becomes the greatest witness of all. It convinces people, it convicts them, it converts them (sometimes even church members)! Because they see God at work in power and grace and love, and they want it. They’ve wanted it all along. They just needed to see it to believe it.

It’s been said that a Christian is someone who knows one. If we have faith, it is because we have met faith. We’ve seen it in action. It’s been made real in a person of faith.

May we as Christians, as the body of Christ, as faithful people, be witnesses of faith to the world, and strong in the ministry of Christ to the world.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Let us go forth in the name of Christ.

And in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.