A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)
by Louise Browner Blanchard
Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
Almost from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus makes it clear that he does not intend to do what he does alone. Early on, he calls the fishermen Peter, James, and John and the tax collector Levi to follow him, and each of them leaves everything to go with Jesus. They are only the first of many, and the number of disciples continues to grow. Soon Jesus appoints twelve of them to be his apostles. The word “apostles” literally means those who are sent, and Jesus sends the twelve apostles into the surrounding villages to proclaim his message that the kingdom of God has come near, and to heal.
More disciples and even more followers continue to flock to Jesus. They, too, witness his healings, listen to his teachings, and accompany him on his travels. And before long, he enlists their help, as well. In today’s gospel, which is unique to Luke, Jesus and his followers are on their way to Jerusalem when Jesus taps 70 of them to go into every town and place where he himself intends to go, to heal the sick and to proclaim the kingdom of God. In other words, there’s nowhere that Jesus is going that his followers can’t go, too. More importantly, there’s nothing that Jesus can do that they can’t do, as well. And, most importantly, Jesus expects them to do it. Those whom he sends are preparing people for who and what they will encounter in Jesus himself.
The mission of the 70 reminds us that proclaiming the kingdom of God is a job for each and every one of us. It is not limited to people who are ordained. It is not limited to people who work for the church or serve on the Vestry or a church committee. It is not limited to acolytes or chalice bearers or lay readers. It includes all of us, and it is part of our charge at every baptism and Eucharist: we are all sent into the world in witness to Christ’s love.
This is undeniably hard. Whatever our beliefs and values, the common wisdom in our culture today seems to be that the people and things that we care about most are at stake and that our only salvation is to fight for them and defend them in ways that give no quarter to those who feel differently than we do. The common theme in our culture today is much more “If you’re not for us, you’re against us” than “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But as followers of Jesus, we have signed on for something radically different. After all, Jesus commands us to not only to love our neighbor, but to love our enemies, as well. That kind of love does not come easily. It is an act of will that requires commitment and intention. But it is an act of will that goes to the heart and integrity of who we are as followers of Christ.
It’s scary. Even Jesus chose not to do it alone, and we’re not meant to either. It’s why we gather here, together, to be strengthened by the prayers we say, the hymns we sing, and the communion we receive. But they are only the starting point for loving God and our neighbor in the week to come, for fulfilling the charge of today’s gospel.
The way that we flesh out our charge is likely to be different for each of us. But each of us is aware of some small, still voice imploring us to act and urging us to live more fully into our place in the kingdom of God. Some of those voices emerged in our recent discernment process, from the need to be more hospitable to the desire to be better stewards of the gifts that God has given us to the call to manifest God in the wider world through mission and outreach. These are big steps for us, and it sometimes feels easier to stick with the status quo.
But we can be encouraged by what happened to those who were sent in today’s gospel. We don’t know the specifics of what they encountered on their journeys, how often they were welcomed, and how often they had to shake the dust of their feet. Somehow, however, the kingdom of God was manifested in them, and whatever they encountered, they returned with joy. Whatever changes their visits made in the lives of others, they were changed, too.
So don’t be afraid to take what has drawn you here and what you have learned out into the world. Remember that you’re not alone, and that God is with you. You are part of something greater than yourself, and it matters. Whether it’s hospitality or stewardship or mission and outreach, what you do in Jesus’s name matters. Travel lightly, go peacefully, and be grateful. Accept the hospitality of others, and spend some time with them. Be gracious, and be to others as you would wish them to be to you. You will not always succeed. That’s ok. Through you, the kingdom of God will come near.
St. Teresa of Avila famously said, “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.” We become the body of Christ when we let what we hear and say on Sunday mornings guide the way that we act the rest of the week, when we recognize that that small, still voice is God imploring us to answer his call. And in so doing, we become transformed by what we say and do and how we say and do it. In bringing the kingdom of God to others, we ourselves become a more integral part of it.