Thompson’s Sermon from July 4

July 10, 2010

What To Take (elemental instructions from Jesus)
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

10After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. 13“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. 16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There’s an interesting contrast between the nature of this teaching and the spirit of today. The national holiday we are celebrating today is of course called Independence Day, while the instruction Jesus gives to this group of people who were willing to be sent was to be intentionally dependent. So welcome to church, where we’re constantly reminded how counter our calling is to the logic of conventional wisdom.

If I leave my house without my Swiss Army knife in my pocket I feel vulnerable. I generally carry a tool bag in the back of my car, and I prefer boots to shoes. I like to feel protected and equipped, and while this is somewhat sensible it isn’t the logic Jesus was using when he sent the seventy out to share their experience of the Kingdom of God.

I’m not apologetic for liking to be well equipped. It can be a useful thing for me and people around me, but I recognize that my affection for feeling prepared can get in the way of something Jesus wanted us to understand. There was this occasion when Jesus wanted his followers to go out without much of anything. It isn’t that he didn’t want them to be useful, or that he wanted them to suffer, but he wanted them to be useful in a more profound sense. He wanted them to make themselves available for hospitality so that they could share the hospitality of Christ.

Certainly some people have made an art form of depending on other people. And there is this thing we call co-dependence which I guess is not a pretty thing, but there is a good side of dependency – it’s called relationship. Jesus had a radical plan for promoting relationships. He directed his disciples to go out without the means to support themselves. No money, no knapsack — not even any sandals. There is a sense in which Jesus equipped his disciples with vulnerability and need. It’s not exactly in line with military planning, but it wasn’t an unintentional maneuver. There was a strategy behind his thinking, but it isn’t a strategy that you will see put in place very often any more. We don’t like the feeling of being like lambs in the midst of wolves. I don’t think I’m alone with my desire to be able to take care of myself. Wisdom dictates to all of us to watch out for ourselves.

There was another angle to his strategy. In addition to sending the disciples out with need for other people, he also wanted his disciples to be clear about the nature of their power. They weren’t to operate from positions of power. Jesus was sending them out with something significant, but it wasn’t obviously valuable. All they had was a message. It was a message that could change the shape of their lives, but you wouldn’t know this just by looking. In other words, they had no authority to impose peace through strength — they were only able to offer peace by sharing what they knew about Jesus.

Jesus was not a name that impressed everyone, so Jesus prepared the disciples for the fact that his name wouldn’t open every door that they approached, but his name was all that they were to rely upon. Jesus was a name that had great power, but this wasn’t obvious to everyone. The name of Jesus would mean nothing to people who were oriented around the more visible forms of power, but it was a powerful name to people who were willing to trust these people who had nothing to offer but the name and message of Jesus.

Jesus has a really famous name now, so there are people who are attracted to the name of Jesus because they want to have more power, but the power of Jesus’ name was not a highly recognized thing when these seventy went out. The powerful things that happened during this expedition occurred when people responded to what the disciples had to say out of their desire for peace and not power, and this is how it continues to work.

This story is a little bit intimidating, because I don’t think our experience with the name of Jesus is a dramatic as the successes that are recorded in this story. I’ve never really returned from a missionary venture with the joy of having healed diseases and cast out demons with nothing but the use of Jesus’ name. This is beyond the realm of my experience.

But I don’t think we are to compare our results with their results. Jesus didn’t get excited about their accomplishments — Jesus was happy about their willingness to get involved in the sharing of the good news of God’s love and nearness. We aren’t judged by the result of our work. The important thing is for us to do what we can to share what we know about Jesus.

This story caused me to think about the people who attracted me to the church, and what it was about them that made me want to be a part of the church. I am sure that my attraction to the church began at a very early age, and it came through relationships I had with people who extended the grace of Christ in ways that are real but hard to document.

One of the early influences on me was the pastor of our church when I was very young. Brother John McCormick died a few years ago, but there are a lot of people who could tell you of vivid experiences they had with Bro. McCormick – and most of them would be positive. As I say, I was very young when he was the pastor in Wynne, so I don’t remember a thing that he ever said in a sermon, but I do remember how he made me feel when I was around him. He acted as if it was the greatest thing in the world for me to be in the church. He would say things to me that made me feel noticed and welcome. There was a graciousness within him that spoke to my heart.

I was probably ten years old when he left Wynne, and I didn’t see him much after that, but I spent a memorable evening with him many years later. It happened while I was on that bicycle ride I told you about a few weeks ago. I rode from Wynne to Fayetteville and back one summer while I was in college. In a previous sermon I told about my second day and night when I got bit by a dog near Mt. View.

I didn’t communicate with anyone in advance of my trip, but I sort of planned my route through places where I thought I knew people. I had decided I would stay in Harrison on the third night, and I had hoped to stay in the home of this girl that I had gotten to know at the Wesley Foundation in Fayetteville. I knew her father was a doctor, but I couldn’t find any doctors with her last name in the phone book, so I ended up sitting in the town square near dark racking my brain for people I might know in Harrison.

And I suddenly remembered that Bro. McCormick was the pastor of a church in Harrison, and it wasn’t hard to find his number. He wasn’t someone I had exactly kept up with, and I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but I called him, and he remembered me.

He was pretty surprised by the situation, but I don’t think the governor would have been treated with more hospitality than I was that night. I saw him a few times over the years after that, and every time he would recall in great detail the amount of food I ate that night, and that experience continues to remind me of how good it can be to be in this community that we call the church.

The church is a community that is founded upon radical dependence and hospitality. We are to be people who are to offer peace to anyone that we have the opportunity to get involved with. Grand miracles don’t happen all the time, but it is always a redeeming thing when people are motivated by the love of Jesus to be gracious and open to each other. I don’t guess I’ve ever seen Satan falling from the sky like lightening when we reach out in loving ways toward other people, but I don’t guess there is anything that feels better than making connections with other people that is based on this formula of need and hospitality.

I know I much prefer being in the role of provider than recipient, but in order to understand then nature of God’s power as it was revealed in Jesus I think it’s important for us to be the ones who are in need every now and then. It’s easy to want to be self-sufficient, but Jesus wants us to learn to be dependent upon God and to trust in the resourcefulness of God to address the most essential needs we have.

This is the genious of this movement we call the church. Jesus may have sent his followers out as lambs in the midst of wolves, but he was being as wise as a serpent when he did it. Jesus knew he would never change the world with a conventionally equipped army. He sent his troops out with nothing, and the revolution he began continues to change the shape of this world and the state of our hearts.


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