We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Luke- Sending out the Seventy (Gospel July 3)

This story speaks of the seventy whom Jesus sent out. Working Preacher calls it a kind of “internship,” a training time while Jesus was still with them. This story is a series of instructions by Jesus . Jesus sends out the twelve earlier in the story and gives them instructions about what they are to do (Luke 9:1-6). The mission of the seventy is an extension of the mission of the twelve. One major difference is that this is a mission in Samaria. This is a peace mission among Samaritans who were often hostile to Jews in Galilee and Judea.

Our passage today, unique to Luke, is intimately related both to Jesus’ words in 9:1-6, when he sends out the 12, and 9:51-62 (last week), where he rather harshly dismisses potential followers who have to “take care of things” before they follow Jesus. He possibly was sending out all of his followers in this lesson.

The number seventy is reminiscent of the seventy elders of Moses in Numbers 11:16-17. Just as these seventy men were destined to become the leaders of the Old Testament community, the seventy missionaries/disciples in Luke were destined to become the leaders of the New Testament community. In the Old Testament, the Lord God said that he would “take some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on them/the seventy that they could also bear the burden of the people.” In the New Testament, the implication is that the Spirit of Jesus would be transferred to these seventy missionaries/disciples, and that they would be equipped for leadership in the new movement of faith. It is representative of the number of nations in the world.

The urgency of the mission is emphasized. Jesus begins by using an agricultural metaphor. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” The Day of Judgment (harvest) is close at hand so there is a need to look to the Lord to supply a full complement of missioners. In Jesus’ day, people intuitively understood when the fields were ripe for harvesting. Plowing, planting, watering, caring for, weeding are all different activities before harvesting. Harvesting means that the plants are ready to be gathered in or picked off the tree or from the field. Jesus was saying that people were ready to be harvested.

This was certainly true in Jesus’ day: a myriad of people were ready to belong to the kingdom but what was needed were more workers.

The mission was the same as Jesus’ own ministry: “cure the sick” and “say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

In any case, Verses 1-11 give us a snap-shot into the life of an itinerant preacher-teacher-healer at the time of Jesus.

Jesus sends them “ahead of him … to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” He “set his face to Jerusalem” in last week’s lectionary and will probably travel through villages where he has not been before. Rumors of what Jesus is doing have undoubtedly spread into Samaria so the seventy emissaries will announce his coming by giving people a preview of his own work. They were vulnerable in this land.

But when we look at the material in 10:1-12, it is not really about preparing people for the visit of Jesus, but rather about the mission of the disciples. It is also a preview of the ministry Jesus gives us today. We go “ahead of him,” bringing his message where we go. They are to travel “in pairs.” We think of groups doing mission work door-to-door, always with two people. We can assume that Jesus’ directive is for safety and for mutual encouragement. It’s also a sign that “we’re in this together” as followers of Jesus. When the disciples go out they will be vulnerable to rejection and persecution

Jesus’ advice on the mission was to “go light.” They were to come only with who they were and await local response In our terms the equivalent advice would be, “Don’t let stuff get in the way or conflict with your ministry of the gospel.” Travelling without personal possessions was an indicator of one’s humility and possible holiness. It also made one wholly dependent on the hospitality of strangers.

They have not expectations of how they are to be received. Once you find like-minded people, work with them. So don’t get distracted by “success.” The credit for that all belongs to God anyways. Instead, stay focused on your relationship with God who has written your name on the palm of His hand

There are two basic tasks 1. Bring the message, “God’s kingdom has come close to you!” All this is in the present tense and not the future. 2. Show by action. Bring deeds of the kingdom. (Namely, heal the sick.) Tell them the good news that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9): it’s partly already here! The teams went out with an urgent message. “Turn around people – and seek peace – God’s reign has come close to you!” The message is timeless.

The early Christians saw themselves participating in this great climax of hope. Paul appears to have developed his strategy of visiting the cities of the world (of his time) and bringing an offering from the Gentiles to Jerusalem against this expectation. His apostleship was playing a role in the divine plan of bringing in the Gentiles.

The action plan of the disciples and doubtless of Jesus, himself, made hospitality central, especially the shared meal. The response of faith was about willingness to share food, to be together in mutual acceptance and fellowship at a meal. This was also a central symbol of hope. In their radical way Jesus and his disciples after him were precipitating hope in meals in the here and now. These became celebrations of hope, but also of inclusion and healing.

When you find a receptive person, a person of peace, God’s peace will be on him or her (v. 6). Accept their hospitality (“the laborer deserves to be paid”, v. 7) and “eat what is set before you” (v. 8, i.e. ignore Jewish dietary laws)

Reception was closely linked to hospitality. The ancient world had strong customs about hospitality. Larger Palestinian houses were such that you could freely enter the front half of the house from outside – it was public space. These disciples would then face the owners with the choice of being part of the kingdom movement by offering hospitality and enjoying its benefits through healing and teaching or of turning away these uninvited would-be guests.

The owners had a dilemma. The visitors claimed to be envoys of peace and wholeness, including healing. They claimed to be announcing the reign of God and by their actions, bringing its reality into life in the here and now. To receive them was to receive the one who sent them and to receive him was to receive God, to be open to the kingdom. To reject someone who is not an enemy, to refuse to offer hospitality, was shameful. It brought disgrace and promised misfortune. That is the expectation here, too. Reject these messengers and you reject Jesus; reject Jesus and you reject God; reject God and you invite judgment. Shaking dust off the feet is probably symbolic of such judgment

Vv. 11-16 tell the seventy how to handle hostile situations: tell such people that they will be ignored; the kingdom has come anyway. If people don’t accept your message, he says, shake their dust off your feet and move on. At the end of the era, they will be judged harshly (v. 12). Then v. 16: in hearing the good news from a disciple, people hear Jesus; if they reject a disciple, they reject Jesus and the Father (“the one who sent me”).

Notice how Jesus only tells them what they should do and doesn’t say anything about measuring their success. The version 16 paragraph closes with another note about success. We are not to rejoice about our success in our various ministries, but to rejoice “that your names are written in heaven,” that is, that we are part of this kingdom of God which we are proclaiming. So, the essence of the mission is to live out the relationship with God that has been given to us through Jesus Christ. And this is what it looks like; don’t travel alone, do travel light, not worry about what is up ahead, just share peace and healing if you can.

It is not about selling a brand name (‘Christian’), but sharing a vision of change in such a way that means real participation in making it real in the here and now. People who really care recognize others who really care.

Historically the growth of a household churches was a result. Households (half public communities in themselves) committed to caring in the name of Jesus became church communities. The travelers became ‘apostles’ (envoys), the link people. Link people and locals were a loose movement for change, people for the poor, people convinced they were participating in God’s initiative to bring hope. It was all about being bearers of this hope. As the movement grew the link people spawned local leadership patterns, which evolved into structures for order, now reflected in formal orders of ministry.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He/Jesus gave his disciples power and authority over the demons and unclean spirits. The disciples were more effective when they knew that they had been invested with authority. With authority, the disciples told about the power of God in their lives. Jesus had an inner spiritual authority which drew people to him. The opposite of having power and authority in one’s faith is to have a doubting, half believing faith. A doubting, half believing faith lacks credibility, power and authority

In our time the church is closely linked to mission and it’s difficult to avoid measuring success. We live with membership figures, giving levels, budgets, annual reports, and so on. It’s very easy to measure our work by these figures — and that’s how many people will measure our ministry — but that’s contrary to this text.

Success is not only difficult to measure but is difficult to achieve in any sense in our day with Sunday being “just another day”. The phenomenon of “spiritual but not religious” has captured many people who indicate their religious preference is “none.”

How does the church articulate its mission today? Can working with and through agencies and institutions substitute for talking with individuals about their response to the gospel? In what ways can the mission of the church be articulated and pursued by the church today?

Such questions do not permit easy answers, but the interpretation of these verses for the church is not complete until we grapple with these issues. The church can neither recreate the itinerancy of the earliest days of the Jesus movement in Galilee nor abandon the gospel call to announce the kingdom and devote oneself to kingdom tasks. The expression of the mission of the church in concrete forms and specific activities, however, has changed from generation to generation.

The development of a world economy and the oppression of Third World Countries require that we include in our awareness of the church’s mission concerns for the end of economic exploitation of other people, alleviation of disease and hunger, and assurance of basic human rights

So how do we define mission today. One possibility: “10 PRINCIPLES OF MISSION” (quoted from Brian P. Stoffregen )

1. It affirms the world’s need for the church’s mission: “The harvest is plentiful.” there is more work to do than laborers to do it.

2. Jesus’ commission affirms the importance of prayer in support of the church’s mission: “Ask the Lord of the harvest.”

3. It insists on the active participation of each disciple: “Go on your way.” The work of the church is not merely the calling of a select few. Believers can contribute to it in their own way and in the context of their spiritual journey.

4. Jesus’ commission warns of the dangers will face and provides guidelines: “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” By means of this metaphor, Jesus seems to be counseling innocence and sincerity, vulnerability and non-resistance as means of turning aside anger and danger.

5. Jesus calls for singularity of purpose: “Greet no one on the road.”

6. The commission specifies the purpose of the mission: “Say, ‘Peace to this house’ and ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.'” Disciples declare what God is doing and bring God’s peace to whomever receives them. Share table fellowship with whomever receives you.

7. The host, not the guest, sets the context for the disciple’s witness: “Eat what is set before you.” The disciples do not seek to dictate the menu or impose their own cultural background on others.

8. Jesus’ commission recognizes that the disciples will not always succeed: “[When] they do not welcome you….” Jesus knew that the disciples would meet resistance and rejection some of the time.

9. Jesus admonishes the disciples to persevere: “Shake the dust from your feet.

10. Jesus gives the disciples a word of assurance about the fulfillment of God’s redemptive mission: “Know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

By principles such as these the church can be guided in every generation. The context, means, and forms of the message continually, but its basis in God’s redemptive love remains constant.

One hope for mission may be generational. Thee millennials (born 1982-2002) those 22-30 are struggling to find themselves within community. Their world is different from many of us. They have been plugged into technology since they were babies, are a safe generation, are the first generation for which Hispanics/Latinos will be the largest minority group instead of African Americans and have the most educated mothers of any generation before them. 

They are a challenge. Joe Carter writes in the Gospel Coalition (thegospelcoaltion.org) of the Millennial Value Survey survey done in March, 2012. About 25 percent of younger Millennials are unaffiliated with a religion, up from 11 percent who were affiliated with a religion in childhood. About 76 percent of Millennials feel that modern-day Christianity “has good values and principles,” but object to certain perceptions of churches as being “anti-gay.”

For the seventy two missioners the writing consisted of miraculous healings, while for us today, the writing consists of such things as the love of the brotherhood – “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples”. The message then was about a coming kingdom communicated by wandering prophets, while for us today, the word is a message about eternity communicated on a church banner, a pamphlet, a TV advert, a free Bible distribution, a web site…