An Owner’s Manual for Disciples Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 7-7-19
“If your house were on fire and you could save only two things, what would they be?” This is the sort of question that often comes up in introductory ethics classes or values clarification exercises. It cuts to the core of what it is we truly cherish. Today’s Gospel lesson shows Jesus helping his disciples pin down what is essential to be his follower. What is it that we really, truly need in order to authentically follow Jesus and serve the world?
Except Jesus indicates the answer to that question is not WHAT we need, but WHO we need. It’s pivotal that we notice Jesus sends out his disciples two by two. And what’s more, he doesn’t just send out the usual twelve—he sends out SEVENTY! Jesus is well aware that the work of ministry can get scary and lonely and sometimes even dangerous. He tells his crew right up front that they will be like lambs among wolves—vulnerable and defenseless. But he blesses them with all that they need for the job—he gives them his promises and he gives them each other.
I’m guessing that’s why many of you come to ULC. Being connected to the people here sustains you on your faith journey. It is certainly what beckoned to me to join you. Here we are surrounded by other flawed, beautiful children of God who sometimes get lost and sometimes help us find our way. The gift Jesus gives in this reading from Luke is The Church—not (as I pointed out last week) a system of rules and practices to perfect in order to attain heaven—but a group of people who will bear one another’s burdens. A collection of fellow disciples who console, encourage, and challenge each other in the light of Christ. It’s true that we may be perfectly able to worship God walking alone in the woods, but when our faith is floundering and we’ve come to the end of our proverbial ropes, what we need are people who will hold onto to us until we can regain our balance.
HOWEVER, notice that what Jesus wants his collective followers to do is not simply to sit inside a church building being good to one another, as pleasant as that is. Jesus sends the disciples OUT, away from that security, to take the message of Christ’s love and grace elsewhere. He sends them to villages where he himself intended to visit, but now never will, as he’s headed toward Jerusalem, and we all know what happens to him there.
Not only does he warn his followers that they will be like sheep among wolves, but his own life is taken by such wolves. It is not now, nor has it ever been, safe to be a Christian—though we in this country have less to fear than our siblings in faith in other parts of the world. Still, we should be prepared to encounter rejection and struggle and discomfort, just as Jesus did.
That’s why Jesus includes this critical instruction to everyone who loves and follows him: pray for MORE workers. The world is like a field that’s ripe for harvest. There are people everywhere longing for fellowship, READY to connect with a faith community that is the body and blood of Jesus alive and at work in the world. People everywhere are craving a word of hope, of forgiveness, of grace. But if there aren’t enough workers to attend to the ripe grain, it will rot in the field. If you ever feel like you don’t know your role in supporting the kingdom of God, if you think you are too old, too tired, too uneducated or unprepared to do meaningful discipleship, here is your job: pray. Pray for more workers in the field. You can do that, and Jesus says it needs to be done.
And what is it all these missionaries are supposed to do? They are not sent with an evangelism program to implement or a set of instructions for how to win friends and influence people—goodness, they aren’t even allowed to bring extra SHOES along! Talk about roughing it! The disciples are sent to encounter people right where they live, and to create reciprocal, interdependent relationships with them. They are to make choices about what to do next based on what those people offer or need. In other words, if the disciples do their jobs right, they will be unable to function independently. They will not be in control, but will have to rely utterly on their hosts to feed, house, direct, and pay them.
That’s a strange thing to preach on the weekend following the 4th of July, when the buzzword was independence. Here in the United States, independence, rugged individualism, is an attribute we practically idolize. A “self-made man” is an American hero. In contrast, a Biblical hero, especially a Christian hero, is always connected to a bigger community. As Paul puts it in the letter to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” If we need an American spin on that idea, it might be what Ben Franklin reportedly said as he signed the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”
Of course, some people we encounter will resist the idea of hanging—together or separately. Many will refuse to surrender the idea that independence is the ultimate goal. There are always people who don’t perceive a vacuum in their lives, who can’t imagine how they might benefit from supporting others, or allowing others to support them. There are always some who cannot allow for the possibility that they need anything beyond what they can provide for themselves. They do not want to be vulnerable and open, to be laid bare to the danger of being hurt (which is always a risk with love), nor do they desire to share pain and pleasure with folks they consider “other.”
Jesus tells us that when we meet those folks, we are not to get mired down by their resistance. Speak the truth about God’s love for the world and God’s call for us to love all of God’s creation and creatures; then let it be. If they reject the Gospel message, shake it off. Don’t argue or fight with them. Don’t say mean things to them or about them or troll them on the internet. Instead, come to this table. Drink a little wine, taste a little bread, splash a little water on your face. Say “the kingdom of God has come near” and move on.
When we receive what our neighbors give us and offer to them our very selves as companions on their journeys, the kingdom of God comes near. That kingdom is not a gated community: it is a granary over-stuffed with a bountiful, beautiful harvest of everyone and everything God loves. As we share God’s dream of justice, peace, and joy, the kingdom expands. Every time we trust that God is bigger than whatever we fear, it is as if Satan topples off his chair and crashes down to earth again and again. There are people outside these doors who need to know that, who need a welcoming community that is willing to share with them the Good News that God’s love cannot be killed, cannot die.
Whatever we do, we can’t stand by idly and watch the grain rot in the fields. No one cares about a referee’s win-lose record. So let’s join hands and follow Martin Luther’s advice to “sin boldly, but believe more boldly still.” There is no power stronger than the power of God’s love. It’s critical to remember that when the wolves start howling around us. For now, fellow laborers, we’re being sent, so let’s get out there and get busy! If we can’t do it right, let’s at least make a glorious mess in the attempt, and to God be the glory.
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