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Sermon for Sunday 7 July 2019

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

1Be joyful in God, all you lands; sing the glory of his name; sing the glory of his praise. 2Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you. 3All the earth bows down before you, sings to you, sings out your name.” 4Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. 5He turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on foot, and there we rejoiced in him. 6In his might he rules forever; his eyes keep watch over the nations; let no rebel rise up against him. 7Bless 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 seventy-two 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. 13Woe 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. 16The 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.” 17The 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.”

What Superpower Would You Choose?

I don’t believe I can remember a time when the subject of superheroes hasn’t been a part of life.  As a kid it was comic books and TV.  Later in life, the subject appears on the big screen.  And each time a new movie comes out, the same question always seems to come up in the conversation, if you could have a superpower, which would you choose?  Would you like to fly like Superman?  Scale tall buildings like Spiderman?  Have superhuman strength like the Hulk, be invisible, be elastic or control fire?  What superpower would you choose, and how would you use it?

Interestingly the subject came up again the other day when I saw a question posted on a website forum.  However, the question posted was satirical asking, “If you could have auseless superpower, what would it be?”  What was even more interesting than the question was the responses that were given.  One said they wanted “The ability to win at rock-paper-scissors every single time.”  That certainly falls into the category of a useless superpower.  Other responses included: “Whenever I pick up a sock, the sock next to it would instantly become the matching one.”  Another responded: “I’d like the power to be able to slam a revolving door.”  Another said, “When I catch a cold, I’d like the ability to know exactly where and when I got it.”  And finally, “I’d like the ability of always knowing when to use a semicolon.”  That must be from an English major.  So, if asked the same question, which useless superpower would you choose?

It’s a fun question to consider because we all want to believe that we have untapped powers or potentials within us, and that we would have the courage to use those untapped powers if the need ever arises.  In our Luke reading for today, Jesus sends out seventy-two of His followers as an advance team to prepare the people for His ministry.  Now before I go further, someone asked me the question why seventy-two?  The answer is actually very interesting and very important. 

Initially Jesus sent out the 12 apostles with the same instructions in Matthew chapter 10.  The first sending represents Jesus’ desire to reach out to the 12 Tribes of Israel.  In fact, Jesus’ instructions to the disciples was to only go to Israelite towns.  On the surface this could be seem as preferential in Jesus’ treatment of people.  However, we know from our gospel reading a couple of weeks ago, that Jesus did reach out to the Samaritan and Gentile nations.  This where the sending of the 72 becomes important.

The 72 represent the number of Gentile nations listed in the Old Testament (Gen. 10 and Exodus 1:5).  While Jesus did answer the Canaanite woman by saying “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, He did this as a test and to lift up her faith as an example to others (Matt. 15:44 ff).  Jesus came to seek and save [all] the lost (Luke 19:10).  As St. Paul so eloquently put it, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).  And for this reason, Jesus sends out His disciples to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to any and all who will receive Him. 

But Jesus didn’t send them unequipped, He gave them the tools they needed for the task.  As Jesus sent them, He gave them power—one could say super-power, to heal diseases and cast out demons.  He also gave them authority to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.  And when the disciples got back, they must have felt like superheroes!  But their super-powers were not useless.  Far from it.  They healed people.  They cast out demons and they accomplished it all through Jesus’ name!  Jesus was pleased with their work, but He didn’t want them to get big heads because of it.  “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you,” he said, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  What a wonderfully reassuring promise, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  Faithful service in God’s kingdom comes with an eternal reward.

The story is told of a woodpecker who was tapping with his beak against the trunk of a tree just as lightning struck the tree and destroyed it.  As he flew away, he got excited and thought to himself, “I didn’t know there was so much power in my beak!”  One commentator wrote, “When we bring the Gospel [to people], there’s always the danger that we’ll think or say, ‘I have done a good job.’  Don’t be a silly woodpecker, know where your strength comes from.  The Holy Spirit is the only one who can make God’s message [of mercy and reconciliation] good and fruitful.”  The disciples were rejoicing in the things they had accomplished, and in the proper context they had the right to do so.  However, Jesus wanted them to understand that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that they accomplished these things.

Rusty Stevens tells a story which may sound familiar to many of you who are parents.  Stevens was mowing the yard, rushing to get it done before dinner, when his six-year-old son, Mikey, decided to help him.  Mikey stepped in front of his dad and put his hands on the mower handle.  Stevens, like any good father, relaxed his pace and followed behind Mikey.  Naturally, progress slowed to a crawl.  Rusty chuckled inwardly as he thought about how much he wanted to get the job done quickly, but it was important for Mikey to help his dad.  He needed to learn how to mow a lawn.  And as slow and awkward as it was to share the work, it was an absolutely necessary part of father-son bonding.

Rusty Stevens said, “Suddenly, tears came to my eyes as it hit me: This is the way my heavenly Father allows me to ‘help’ Him build His kingdom!  I pictured my heavenly Father at work seeking, saving, and transforming the lost, and there I was, with my weak hands ‘helping.’  Our heavenly Father could do the work by Himself, but He doesn’t.  He chooses to stoop gracefully to allow me to co-labor with Him.  He does this for my sake, because He wants me to have the privilege of ministering with Him.”  That’s how Jesus usually operated.

Jesus could have used miracles and wonders, or charisma and fear tactics to spread the message of the kingdom of God.  He had the power to draw large crowds, and His teaching left His hearers amazed.  So why did He send out these seventy-two to do the work He could have done more effectively Himself?  My guess is that it was for the same reason His last words to His followers was, go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20).  Jesus had another reason for sending the 72; He wanted them to see and experience what He saw and experienced.  To make us more compassionate people, we need to feel the hurts and hear the questions from the people who are living and dying without any knowledge of God, without any hope for the future.         

Pastor Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Speaking of Sin, recalls her seminary days.  In her first term, she and her classmates were sent to serve as chaplains in hospitals and nursing homes.  She found it easy and pleasant work to pray or counsel with the patients.  But everything changed in the second term.  

During her second semester, the seminary students were sent out to homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the rough part of the city.  They saw how unjust social systems kept poor people poor.  They saw how hard the inner-city citizens worked just to survive, to support their families, to get justice from a system that treated them like “garbage.”  During that second semester, Taylor wrote, “Most days, all we did was bandage them up and send them back out on the streets, so that they could get chewed up all over again.”

Pastor Taylor and her colleagues, needed to see the world as Jesus sees it—full of desperately hurting people who need the justice, hope and mercy of the kingdom of God. Hurting people need more than words.  They need someone to come into their neighborhood and witness their struggles.  The seventy-two Jesus appointed to go ahead of Him, needed that experience as well . . . and so do you and I.  We need to get outside the four walls of this church to see the needs that Jesus sees.  Jesus had another reason for sending His disciples out; they needed to know the joy of putting their faith into practice.

We all know that it’s one thing to believe something with your head, it’s another for that belief to take residence in your heart.  That only happens when you’re actively practicing what you preach.  The Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock tells of ministering at a church where the young people were accustomed to going on nice vacations over their summer break from school.  Their families gave them everything; they didn’t have to work.  So, you can imagine their surprise when their new pastor suggested that they go on a work trip for their spring break.  Instead of Cancun, he sent them to a poor, rural county in Kentucky, where they repaired houses, and slept on the floor of churches, and used outhouses, and witnessed extreme poverty.  As Craddock writes, “They got a baptism into reality.”

Isn’t this why Jesus sends us out to do His work—to give us a baptism into reality?  What would change in us if we brought the kingdom of God to the impoverished neighborhoods of our community, to the soup kitchens, and homeless shelters?  Do we really believe in the justice, compassion and mercy of the kingdom of God, or do we just like to hear messages about social justice on Sunday to somehow make us feel better?  But the message of God’s kingdom isn’t just for those struggling economically; the middle-class and the affluent are just as much in need.  Didn’t Jesus tell the disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:23). 

Craddock reports that he didn’t know how these privileged kids would respond to this baptism into reality until they got back home and were waiting around in the parking lot for their parents to pick them up.  One kid spoke up and said, “This is the best tired I’ve ever been.”  Some of you have experienced what he was describing.  “This is the best tired I’ve ever been.”  Like the seventy-two in today’s passage, this kid was rejoicing in the fact that God had used him for ministry.  Working in God’s kingdom had tired him out, and it was the best tired he’d ever been.

Another pastor wrote about a young father in his church whose life changed dramatically when he gave his life to Jesus.  With God’s help, he cleaned up his life, he began tithing and he started sharing his faith with his family and friends.  However, the young father’s mother didn’t approve.  She complained, to the pastor, that she didn’t like the way her son had changed since he’d become a Christian.  She didn’t like her son spending so much time at church or giving money to the church.  She wasn’t interested in hearing about his faith or praying before meals.  As she said to the pastor, “Can you please tell him that the Bible teaches ‘everything in moderation’?  He’s taken this too far and he needs to understand that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

First, the mother is wrong, this isn’t what the Bible teaches.  True, we’re to use moderation in our eating and drinking (Phil. 4:5 KJV).  However, it’s not biblical to be halfway committed or moderate about our faith.  Jesus told St. John to write to the church in Laodicea, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth (Rev. 3:15-16).  Maybe this is why so many people who say they follow Jesus don’t know real joy.  They haven’t put their faith into action.  The young man who went on the mission trip put his faith into action, and it changed his life.

A woman named Kathleen Brehony spent a year of her life traveling around the United States, looking for stories about people who have let their lives be changed by faith.  She recorded these stories in a book titled, Ordinary Grace.  One of the stories she shares is about a couple named Bill and Susan Belfiore.  They lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and enjoyed a good, prosperous, comfortable and happy life.  And then one day they were watching a news show about orphans with HIV/AIDS in Romania.  Because of what she saw, she made a decision that changed her life.

Susan put in for a six-month leave-of-absence from her practice.  That January, she flew to Romania.  Eventually the Belfiores adopted five children from that orphanage.  So what happened to the Belfiore’s comfortable life?  Bill describes it this way: “The children are incredible, and our life right now is beyond anything we could have imagined.  They bring aliveness into our lives and we never would have lived so fully without them.”  I wonder how the 72 would have described their lives after they returned?

I’m betting the seventy-two disciples would have said something similar to the Belfiores about their ministry.  “Our life right now is beyond anything we could have imagined.”  Those seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out saw God’s power in action, lives changed, and they came back from their mission overflowing with joy.  And Jesus celebrated with them.  He said that their ministry was defeating the power of satan on earth.  Which is the third reason Jesus sent out the 72.

When Jesus sent the disciple out ahead of Him, He gave them the authority to drive out satan.  Now we need to acknowledge that some devout Christians believe in a literal satan, but sadly, some do not.  For some, satan is simply a name we give to the spirit of evil that sometimes inhabits the human heart.  The truth is the Bible clearly tells us that satan is real: Jesus describes him several ways including, “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31).  Regardless of how we feel about the devil, all of us will agree that we live in a world in which the power of hatred, injustice and cruelty are all too common.  Where is hope in such a world?  It’s found in the message of God’s amazing love that we share when we go out into the world.

A woman tells of hearing some missionaries speak at her church when she was a child.  The missionaries told about an enormous snake that slithered into their home one day, and they didn’t know how to get it out.  They ran to a neighbor, who came in with his machete and decapitated the giant snake on their kitchen floor.  One would think, problem solved.  Well, not exactly.  The neighbor explained that large snakes like this take a long time to die.  The blood is still flowing to their muscles and nerves, even when their head is removed.  So the headless body of the snake was still thrashing around on the floor of their kitchen, making a lot of noise, making a mess and damaging things, acting like it was still alive.  He told the missionaries to wait outside until they no longer heard the snake moving around.

The missionaries, still scared and sickened by the thought of the snake, did as they were told until it was safe to go inside.  Then one of the missionaries said, “satan is a lot like that big old snake.  He’s already been defeated.  He just doesn’t know it yet.  In the meantime, he’s going to do some damage.  But never forget that he’s a goner.”  That’s why Jesus sent out the seventy-two into the world, and why He sends us.

Jesus sends us out because He knows that we need to get outside these four walls to see the needs that He sees.  Secondly, He sends us out because we won’t really know what real joy is, until we put our faith into practice.  And finally, Jesus sends us out because sharing our faith and alleviating suffering in our community have the power to drive out everything we associate with the prince of darkness.

Jesus sends us out today like He sent out the seventy-two—to plant the kingdom of God in hearts and lives.  After all, there is no superpower that can compare to the power of knowing God through Jesus Christ.  This is the power that gives life meaning and purpose.  This is the power that gives us our identity and self-worth.  This is the power that allows us to overcome the world.  And because our life has been changed by this power, then we too are called to go, to witness, and to share the kingdom of God and the power of salvation with a hurting world.


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