Scripture: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Jesus BaptismWhen I was young, growing up in rural Lunenburg county, I spent a number of years in the scouting movement. Part of scouting in those days involved a number of annual fundraisers so we could do various activities. Some were simple, like apple day. Others were more involved, such as our annual tree planting day where we would get sponsored to plant trees somewhere in the middle of no where out in the wilderness.

There was one we would do every fall that I both loved and dreaded every time. That was our annual bottle drive. I loved it because we spent hours at a time outdoors with friends, laughing and seeing how many bottles we could get, and who would have the best stories to tell from their travels around the countryside.

I dreaded it because it meant we went door to door asking for whatever bottles they could spare. It meant going up to many strangers’ doors and explaining what we were trying to do.

Now 99% of the time, people were fantastic. They were more than happy to help us out. Some would even give us a few dollars if they didn’t have any bottles to give to us.

But that 1%… I remember walking up to one house and knocking on the door to have a large man open it and bark at us, “WHAT ARE YOU PEDDLING?”

He didn’t donate any bottles.

But here we were, a bunch of young men, well kids really, being sent out in pairs, along with a driver, to pick up bottles so that we could continue to do the things we loved to do as part of the scouting movement.

Despite the very few people who didn’t want to support us in any way, it was so nice to see that many, many people were delighted to load up our cars and trucks with their empty beer bottles. Because they were the only ones you could get returns on back in those days.

But I don’t think what we were doing is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he sent out the 70.

The popularity of Jesus has been growing exponentially. He has been walking the countryside teaching, healing, doing lots of great things. In fact, people are turning Jesus away in some places because they don’t know how to receive him.

Just before our reading this morning, Jesus walked
up to a Samaritan village as he was making his final journey towards Jerusalem and the village would not welcome him in. The disciples asked if they should command fire from heaven to come down on the village, but Jesus rebuked them. That’s not how it was going to be.

Today, Jesus is sending out pairs of followers to spread the Good News of Jesus before him into various villages.. And he is giving them some instructions.

The first thing Jesus says to these people is this, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

What is Jesus up to here?

Jesus is setting his followers up to continue his ministry once he is gone. Jesus is helping people to see that there is still a lot to do! He says “the harvest is plentiful”, which means there needs to be a harvest, and there needs to be people who can bring it in. By sending out the 70, Jesus is only just getting started. Not only are these 35 pairs of people going out to begin the harvest, they are also recruiting others to be harvesters. They need more labourers to join in the work.

As they go, they are to pray to God, the Lord of the Harvest, to send them more labourers for their work.

When I look at the world today, I wonder if it’s ready to be harvested. There have been times when I thought it was, I felt the world was really ready to start hearing about God from Christians and the church.

But then there are other times when I’m not so sure.

There’s a lot of hostility towards the church right now. I mean there’s are some people out there who really hate Christians because they disagree with what we say about some things. Or they think we are saying those things.

People misunderstand the church right now, and it’s manifesting itself as hate, fear and frustration. People seem to think that because there are a few people who make some claims, that the all Christians believe the same thing.

Montreal Canadien fans make some pretty big statements sometimes about how great their team is. About how many Stanley Cups they have won. Even though it’s been 23 years since they last won it, and making the playoffs hasn’t been easy lately either.

Yet, I’m not going to paint all hockey fans with the same brush. Mind you, many hockey fans are a little more than crazy. Just look at Leaf fans!

There is a great misunderstanding about the church right now. And often I see more attacks against the church coming from Christians lately! I don’t quite understand it. There are Christians out there who are trying to tear down parts of the church. It’s strange. It really is. And when they do this, it isn’t really helping all that much, they are just dividing the church at a time when we need to start bringing it together.

But you know what… regardless, there is still a harvest out there. It may not be abundant, it may not be full, but there is still harvesting which can happen. There are still people out there searching for God in their lives, whether they can name it as such or not.

In many ways we are living today like the early church. There’s a lot of suspicion, there’s a lot of doubt, there’s even a lot of opposition, all towards the church. I see this as meaning we need to be more clear in what we believe, and we need to be willing to stand up for it against the opposition.

It doesn’t mean we bend the rules to make people like us more. People can sense desperation a mile away. Because that’s what we’re doing when we start to compromise what we believe because we think someone might actually decide to come to church if we start to give up some of the things we hold dear.

We need to stand firm in our beliefs, but more importantly we need to stand in love. We can disagree with people and still love them. Believe me, I do it all the time with colleagues who are far less orthodox in their beliefs than myself. In the end, we still respect each other and value the gifts we bring to the church.

Did Jesus say this was going to be easy? No he did not!

He told the 70 he was sending them “out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

Well lambs and wolves just the very best of friends aren’t they?

No it’s not going to be easy, the world is set against God in so many ways. As the church, as followers of Jesus Christ, yes we are going to meet up against opposition, some of it very strong opposition.

However, we have something they do not. We have God on our side. We have the instructions, we have the example of Jesus Christ on our side. Do not underestimate the strength we can receive from this partnership, this relationship.

Jesus sends out these people with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are to take no money, no food, nothing extra because they are going to trust that God will provide for them. They are going to trust that when they walk into a village they will find someone who will be receptive to their message and take them in.

And when they do find that house, they are to stay there and do ministry within the village. Jesus tells them to cure the sick wherever they are.

What happens if they can’t find a friendly place to stay? What if they are received like Jesus was when he walked up to that Samaritan village just a few verses before and are rejected?

Jesus tells them to say “goodbye” and leave. But to leave with a warning.

He tells them to walk out into the street and wipe the sand off their sandals. Not even the dust of their town is to be taken with them when they leave! Now the lectionary conveniently cut the reading short here, and I’m not really sure why. Sure the pairs are to leave, but Jesus gives a greater warning.

Here’s what he said that wasn’t included in our reading. “I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.”

Do you remember what happened to the city of Sodom?

Sodom was a very wicked, evil place in book of Genesis. In Genesis 19 people there wanted to rape two angels who were in the city.

They were so evil in that city that God rained sulphur down upon it as it showed no intention of repenting and coming to follow God’s ways.

And now Jesus is saying these villages which reject those who represent him and wish to do ministry in his name will suffer an even worse fate than Sodom.

Well at least we don’t live in an area which is rejecting the churches completely and we don’t need to give up and walk away, shaking the dust from our shoes.

While we are still welcomed here in this town we can still be doing the work of Jesus. We can still be working to recruit more labourers for the harvest.

We still have hope. God’s not done with the Northside yet!

When the 70 return to Jesus to tell them how things went, they were amazed! They said, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

Clearly these pairs of people were doing far more than they ever expected they could do. They found out, that by doing work in the name of Jesus they even had power over evil spirits. Imagine! They had power over spirits!

Now, some of this may have gone to their heads a bit, because Jesus cautions them. He says, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

This is part of being a humble servant of God. This is not for our own gain or our own fame, it’s about God and what Jesus has shown us to do.

We are his representatives. And because we are his representatives, we have been given an authority, we have been given a power. This power is to be used for serving God, not for our own benefit.

We are labourers for the harvest. We are working for the Lord of the harvest. And when we work for the Lord of the harvest, we are benefitting in something far greater than we can find on our own.

Jesus tells us our names are being written in heaven.

What more do we need?

If we break it down, it’s really quite simple.

Jesus sends us out.
We go into a place where we are welcome.
We do the work of Jesus.
Through this work, other people come to know God.
Our names are written in heaven.

Simple? Sure it is!

But it’s not easy. Remember we are lambs walking among wolves. Not everyone is going to welcome us peacefully.

And when we come up against those wolves, we simply wipe our feet and walk away to the next place and start the process all over again.

When the disciples come back so excited about what they have been doing, it makes me wonder how many other teams, how many other lives they impacted to go out and recruit more labourers of the harvest.

Imagine that each of the 35 pairs went out and found 35 more pairs in the villages they visited. And then each of those 35 found 35 more.

So just after two iterations of finding more labourers, that’s over 42,000 more teams of labourers. Nearly 100,000 people are impacted in nearly no time at all. Just because Jesus first sent out 70.

That’s incredible. It’s no wonder the early church in the book of Acts sent out people in pairs to plant churches and encourage new believers. And they did it all in the name of Jesus Christ, and the church grew. Fast!

We shouldn’t be shy about who we are. We shouldn’t hold back the message of the Gospel and the impact it has had on our lives and our churches. These stories have authority. They have authority because they carry the name and the strength of Jesus Christ in them.

The name of Jesus has power. It has authority. It has impact on the world around us.

If it has first had impact on us.

In the verses we skipped over, Jesus had this to say, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

If we reject Jesus we reject God. But if we flip it, if we embrace Jesus, we embrace God.

And our lives are changed forever.

What work do we want to be part of in the world?

Do we want to be doing the work of God in the name of Jesus, or do we want to join the wolves?

It’s not pretty out there at times.

I love going into places where people don’t know I’m a pastor and listening to the conversations that take place. Garage waiting areas are the best. People really like to let loose about their ideas and judgements for the world, and they like to do it with lots of colourful language.

And I wonder what the situations these people describe might look like if people had an understanding of Jesus in their lives.

I don’t usually identify myself in these situations. One, because I know it’s not helpful to get into an argument about religion with these people, and I know, by their demeanor, that Jesus would not be welcome there either.

I just make sure I wipe my feet well before I get back into my car.

Lambs among the wolves.

But there are places, there are times when I do talk about church with people, and those conversations are wonderful. And yes, they have even happened while I’m waiting for my car on occasion.

Do we know we have Jesus with us? Do we know that even when we are lambs among the wolves we still have power in the name of Jesus?

Do we know that when we are out there in the world which has continued to move against the church and what we believe, there is still a harvest waiting for labourers?

Let’s not be afraid. Even the followers of Jesus, who showed themselves time and time again to not fully understand what Jesus was teaching them, even they had authority over evil spirits.

Who are we?

We are children of God. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We are the humble servants of our Father in heaven who leads us by the power of His Holy Spirit so we can do great and wonderful things in the name of Jesus Christ.

That’s who we are.

And we are called to be labourers of his harvest, to go into the world and find the ones who are ready to come to know God as well.

So a final recap.

Jesus sends us out.
We go into a place where we are welcome.
We do the work of Jesus.
Through this work, other people come to know God.
Our names are written in heaven.

This is ministry in a nutshell. And it’s something we can all be part of.

May we be people of God, doing His work and bringing more people into His family.

God bless the church of Jesus Christ, and may God bless us as His children, following His way.

Amen and amen.