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Sermon for 3 July 2016

FIRST READING Isaiah 66:10-14

10“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; 11that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” 12For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.”


PSALM Psalm 66:1-7

1 Be joyful in God, all you lands; sing the glory of his name; sing the glory of his praise. 2 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.  3 All the earth bows down before you, sings to you, sings out your name.” 4 Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. 5 He turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on foot, and there we rejoiced in him. 6 In his might he rules forever; his eyes keep watch over the nations; let no rebel rise up against him. 7 Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard;


SECOND READING Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18

1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load. 6Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. 14But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.


GOSPEL Luke 10:1-20

1After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” 13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. 16“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” 17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”



There’s a slightly humorous story about two young Mormon missionaries who were going door to door. They knocked on the door of one woman’s house who was not at all happy to see them. The woman told them, in no uncertain terms, that she didn’t want to hear their message and slammed the door in their faces. To her surprise, however, the door didn’t close and, in fact, almost magically bounced back open.
She tried again, really putting her back into it and slammed the door again with the same amazing result–the door bounced back open. Convinced that one of the young religious zealots was sticking their foot in the door, she reared back to give it a third slam. She felt this would really teach them a lesson. But before she could act, one of them stopped her and politely said, Ma’am, before you do that again, you really should move your cat.”
That seems to be one thing we don’t see much of these days and that’s door-to-door sales people. The question could be asked, why not? A good possibility and answer is that nobody’s home anymore, are they? At least not in the day time. To make matters more complex, at night, with so much to do, and after both the husband and wife have worked all day, most people don’t want to be bothered with strangers at the door. So, at least in one respect, we live in a vastly different world than the residents of first century Palestine.
We definitely live in a different time than the one in which Jesus appointed seventy-two emissaries and told them to go out, two-by-two, into the towns and villages to heal the sick and to tell everyone who would listen that the Kingdom of God is near. We could try and do that today, but I believe that the results would be much less than successful.
For one, we now have doctors and hospitals we depend on to help in God’s healing process. Two, we also have a plethora of churches to choose from, all within easy driving distance of our homes. And three, most people today wouldn’t be too happy to have us tapping on their door. That being said, I bet Jesus would have us develop a different strategy for the world in which we live. But that doesn’t mean that our gospel passage for this morning is something to ignore; there are still some important truths that we still need to see.
The first, and still very important point, is that Jesus is still calling us to reach out to the world. The Great Commission hasn’t been nullified just because times and the situation have changed. Jesus never meant for His body to become an exclusive club centered only on its own needs. We’re still being commanded to go and make disciples of all communities and nations.
There was an interesting story in Readers Digest sometime back titled, “When Someone Is Drowning, It’s No Time to Teach Him How to Swim.” In the article, Ms. Davis tells of sitting near a swimming pool one day and hearing a commotion. Looking to see what was going on, she sees a head bobbing in and out of the deepest water. Ms. Davis then saw a man rush to the edge of the pool and heard him yell, “Hold your breath! Hold your breath!” Then a young lady joined him, screaming, “Turn on your back and float!” Their voices caught the attention of the lifeguard. And like a flash, he ran the length of the pool, jumped in, and pulled the man in trouble to safety. Later, the lifeguard said to Ms. Davis, “Why in the name of heaven didn’t somebody holler that one word–Help? When someone’s drowning, it’s no time to teach him how to swim.”
In today’s world, we need to understand that there are people in our community who are barely staying afloat. Families are disintegrating, the fact that young people are becoming chemically addicted is an epidemic and middle-aged people are facing life-crises that would blow our minds. Just because the strategy of going out, two-by-two door-to-door, is outmoded, doesn’t mean the need has disappeared.  As Jesus reminds us, in our gospel reading,  the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  (Luke 10:2b)
Herschel Hobbs tells about a pastor who was in Pusan, Korea, on an evangelistic mission. With an interpreter, Shelton visited a man who had creeping paralysis. Both of his legs were paralyzed and the disease threatened his life if no cure could be found. Entering a dimly lit room, Shelton found the man crouched on the floor. Speaking through the interpreter, he told the stricken man he had come to talk with him about Jesus Christ. The Korean replied, “I know. I’ve been waiting for you a long time.” The interpreter responded by saying they had arrived at the appointed time.
The Korean explained. “That’s not what I meant. My people are Buddhist, and I have been a Buddhist. But Buddha gives me no comfort.” Then he pointed to a Korean language Bible. He noted that he had read through it twice. “It tells of a great one. I have waited for someone to come and tell me more about Him.” He said that he had believed that if the Bible was true, God would send someone to tell him. Shelton told the man about Jesus and he readily believed. As they were leaving, the man thanked them for coming. The pastor said, however, it was the man’s final words that shook every fiber of his emotional being. The new believer said, “You almost waited too long.”
Those words haunted the pastor and they should haunt us as well! Think about those words, “You almost waited too long.” There are people in the world around us who are in desperate straits. And we need to take to heart that Christ has called us to minister to them–before it’s too late. Jesus is still calling us to reach out to the world. And just as importantly, Jesus calls us to identify with those He came to save.
So many Christians today are much more like the Pharisees than they are like Jesus. The Pharisees separated themselves from unrighteous people. They were much more concerned that they didn’t become sullied, than they were about the sick and dying hearing God’s good news in Jesus Christ. Jesus wants His followers to have a heart for all people. He wants us to identify with the least and the lowest.
It’s interesting that Jesus told those whom He was sending out “to eat and drink whatever is set before you.” That, in and of itself, can be a test of faith. If you’ve ever been to a third-world country, and I’ve been to several, or if you’ve ever been in the homes of the people at the bottom of the socio-economic scale, you know that not everything set before you looks appetizing–or even sanitary.
But the worse thing a follower of Jesus can do is to make a person who is in need, or in the middle of a crisis, feel rejected or feel inferior. Maybe they haven’t exercised the kind of discipline in their lives that we would prefer, maybe they don’t frame their requests in a theologically correct manner, but they’re still people for whom Christ died. These people are still important to God and they’re still in need and that’s all that matters.
A young hospital chaplain was serving his internship in a large, teaching hospital. While on call one night, he was summoned to the room of a woman whose baby had been stillborn a short time earlier. “We want our baby baptized,” the young mother said, cradling her lifeless daughter, her husband at her side. “Her name is Nicole.” The intern didn’t know what to do. He asked the young parents to wait a few minutes and then come to the chapel. Meanwhile, he tried to find a more experienced chaplain to take over. But he was unsuccessful.
What was he to do? What was he to say? Baptize a stillborn? This situation had not been covered in either his theological training or his training in pastoral care. He tried to think what he could say to minister to this young couple in their grief. But when they arrived at the chapel, the words he had hoped to say didn’t come. Instead, and almost without realizing what he was doing, he took a tissue, wiped at the tears in the eyes of the parents, then wiped his own tears and touched the tissue to the baby’s head and said, “Nicole, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He said nothing else–the tears were more eloquent than words could have been.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and Jesus wants us to have the same concern for all God’s children. There are a good many people in our community who are barely keeping their head above water emotionally and spiritually. Christ calls us to love them and to minister to them. But there’s one thing more we need to consider when going out to minister to the world’s need. Sometimes those we minister to will do more for us than we will do for them.
Jerry A. Anderson in his book, Hummingbirds and Hollyhocks, tells about a time when, as a guest preacher in a small mountain community, he was invited by a young couple to bless their home. “The dwelling itself was a typical mountain shack. The house was up on poles with several wooden and broken steps leading to the porch. An old swing hung by one chain at the far end of the porch and a straight-back pole chair stood leaning against the wall.” Anderson was startled by a voice from inside the house. “Come in,” the woman said. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“She wore a print dress and her brown hair hung softly about her face,” Anderson writes. “She was prettier than I remembered her. The man came in from the back porch carrying a water bucket with a dipper in it. He sat it down, dried his hands on his freshly pressed overalls, and shook hands.” Anderson looked around the room.
“There was a table held together by some protruding nails and wire and two high-back chairs like the one on the porch. The kitchen, such as it was, boasted an old-time wood stove with eight-pound irons sitting on the back of the stove. The little bedroom had a straw mattress on the floor and nothing more. One could see the ground through the cracks in the floor, which is an advantage when you sweep; everything falls through the cracks.”
“Are you ready?” the young man asked as he dried the palms of his hands on the front of his overalls. Anderson took out his Bible and read some appropriate scriptures and was just ready to pray the Prayer of Dedication, when the humble couple each took his hands and knelt on the floor. So, there they were, Reverend Anderson and this humble couple–kneeling on that hard, bare floor, holding hands and thanking God for this home and invoking His blessings on this couple.
As they stood the young woman turned to her husband, put her arms around his neck, and said, “Honey, now we have everything!” Moments later they stood on the front porch with arms around each other, waving goodbye to Anderson. Even the old rooster seemed friendlier, Anderson thought, as he drove down the gravel road, looking back at the house. Had he missed something? No, the house was as bleak and bare as before, but now he realized that he hadn’t asked God to bless a house, but a home. This young couple was just starting out in life with none of the world’s goods, yet they felt that because of their faith and their love for each other, they “had everything.” Remembering the warmth of their hands, the light in their faces, he had to agree. They were blessed with much more than the world could give.
So tell me, who ministered to whom? Those who have gone as missionaries to countries like Haiti, Liberia or Congo, where the people are unimaginably poor, will tell you that they met people who put them to shame spiritually. When you meet people like that–living in conditions that we would term unacceptable, but praising God for what they do have—it’ll save your soul. Not many churches are sending people two-by-two into the community any more. Maybe we should.
But, if we do, we’ve got to examine our motives. We don’t go out simply to build a bigger church or to impress people with our goodness. We go out because there are people out there who are in great need. We go out, not as people who feel superior to the world, but as caring people who identify with them in their hurt and their need. And we go out with the hope and the realization that when we minister to the least and the lowest, Christ said we do this unto Him–and that, my friends, will save our souls.
In closing I’d like to share something I ran across yesterday that I think is worth considering on this 4th of July weekend. On the first day of school, a history teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas did something not to be forgotten. With the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom.
When the first period kids entered the room they asked, “Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?” She replied, “You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.” They thought, “Well, maybe it’s our grades.” “No,” she said. “Maybe it’s our behavior.” She told them, “No, it’s not even your behavior.” And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period and still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.
The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom, Martha Cothren said, “Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.” At this point, Martha went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into the classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last military member had set the final desk in place, the kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.
Martha said, “You didn’t earn the right to sit at these desks. These military members, and all those they represent, did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedoms you have. Now, it’s up to you to sit in them. It’s your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.”
Although this story was a lesson directed toward high school students, it might be good to ask ourselves what gives us the right to sit in these pews? Yes, the members of Bethel paid for them. Yes, through the hard work and sacrifice of so many, this building stands here today. But this isn’t our house. It’s God’s house and it’s because of His supreme sacrifice, of giving His only Son for our redemption, that we’re able to sit here today. These pews and these surroundings should always serve as a reminder of the price that was paid for our freedom. We enjoy the privileges of living in freedom because of those willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believe. But even more importantly, we enjoy the freedom from the penalty of sin, which is eternal punishment and death, because Jesus willing gave Himself for us.
As we go about and celebrate our right to live free this weekend, remember the cost. Countless numbers have stood between us and tyranny: some gave all, but all gave some. But even more important. We have the joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven and we have a place in God’s kingdom because Jesus willingly paid the ultimate price for all. May God continue to bless and protect those who willingly serve, bless us and bless these united states.

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