4th Sunday after Pentecost (July 3, 2022)
What a difference a generation makes, especially as far as the face of the church is concerned. Who among our parents' generation would ever have imagined that congregations that call themselves Christian today would be gathering together in centers that more resemble shopping malls or theaters complete with concession stands than sacred places of worship ... or that hymn books would be replaced by following the bouncing curser on a huge projection screens ... or that due to the live streaming of worship services some congregational members would rarely worship in their church in person but would stay home in their easy chairs and watch the service on their smart TV or laptop... or that churches would be celebrating their freedom from solid, Biblical, doctrine and standards of morality by ordaining practicing homosexuals to the pastoral office or blessing transgenderism and same-sex unions?
Yes, the face of the church has certainly changed and, I’m afraid, so has its mission and message. Today, churches seem more intent on being advocates for societal change and every liberal agenda in their communities than they are in being witnesses for Christ to bring life and salvation to dying souls. In many respects, the church of our generation has lost its moorings and become a ship with no rudder, adrift in a sea of worldly mindedness and busyness.
The true message and mission of Christ’s church are really the emphasis of our text today. This account from Luke's Gospel is centered on the occasion Jesus sent the 72 to proclaim His kingdom. Luke sets the stage by providing an overview: "After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where He was about to go.”
This overview provides us with some valuable information about what we, as members of this congregation, ought to be all about. First, it clearly defines that the mission, our mission, belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not ours to do with as we please. He is the one who sends, or literally casts out, His emissaries into places He plans for us to go.
We already know from the previous context that Jesus had resolutely set His face toward Jerusalem. There in Jerusalem He had an appointment with fate. There He was to give His life for the world. Nothing was to deter Him from that mission. Along the way He would proclaim His purpose in the towns and villages He passed. As the One in charge, Jesus was sending these 72 just as God had sent John the Baptizer, to prepare the way for people to meet their Savior ... their Lord ... their God in the flesh of Jesus.
Who were these 72? We are never told their names. Luke simply describes them as “others”. Such a designation must certainly be a reference to the fact that just as Jesus had in the previous chapter sent out the 12 apostles (Luke 9: 12) “to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” so here Jesus was sending these
others, that is, those other than the apostles, in a similar way as His advance team.
The sending out of these others is the second important aspect of Jesus’ overview of His mission for us. It assures us that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God was and is not the exclusive possession of the apostles but belongs to all of Jesus’ disciples. To be sure, the apostles were Jesus' only eyewitnesses, the only ones He
promised to directly speak through by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, the church was to be built on the apostles preaching with Jesus being the cornerstone of that message (Eph. 2:20).
But at the same time, even though these 72 were not apostles, and even though we are not apostles, with the 72 we are by virtue of our calling through Holy Baptism into Christ, appointed as Christ’s witnesses in this world. When Jesus had commanded His apostles to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations, He certainly didn’t mean that only The Twelve would be carrying out that work. After all, The Twelve died long before the Gospel could be proclaimed to all the world. Jesus always intended for His “others” to take His Gospel as delivered to them by the apostles to all the nations. God considers all believers in Jesus Christ as a holy priesthood who are, as the apostle Peter has written: to “declare the wonderful deeds of Him who has called out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (2 Pet. 2:9, 10). He has not sent us to publicly preach but He has called us all to see to it through the gifts He has given us; time, talents and money, that the true Word and Witness of Christ be published, proclaimed, taught, and shared in our days.
Jesus further elaborates about what is to constitute this mission by describing the mission of the church as harvesting. He said to the 72: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the Harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”
When a farmer does the work of plowing, planting, tilling, and fertilizing, he does not do them as ends in and of themselves. Instead, he does such things always with an eye toward the harvest. Harvesting the grain is his mission. Everything else he does is to get that grain into his bin or granary.
In the same way we are to be focused on praying that God would send out harvesters into His harvest field. For even though we might as a church do many other things, the sole goal of all that we do is to harvest souls for the kingdom of God.
Now, before Jesus elaborates on the how of doing this harvesting, He gives this sobering warning, , “I send you as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Little defenseless lambs among a pack of wolves does not paint a very safe picture of harvesting souls for the kingdom, does it? But that’s Jesus’ whole point.
The church’s role is not to keep everyone worldly safe. It is saving souls for eternity. And that is not easy because Jesus had and still has many enemies. They all want to see Him fail and those who follow Him destroyed. Doing mission work then is dangerous business. As the apostle Peter points out, the devil is a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). He will use anything and everything at his disposal to ensure that not one of us will end up in heaven. He has all the power of darkness at his disposal. You and I are mere lambs ready to be slaughtered.
These 72, as the apostles themselves, faced outright rejection… beatings ... stoning ... imprisonment and even death just for proclaiming the kingdom of Christ. The wolves were everywhere, most especially within the confines of their own religious hierarchy.
Make no mistake; the wolves are still out there. In fact, they are in many ways even more dangerous today because they have become much more subtle in their attacks, but just as deadly. Their tactic of choice today seems to be to marginalize those who speak the truth. By that I mean, they seek to characterize anyone who speaks up for the true Christ and His true Word as some crazed fundamentalist. .. some overzealous religious fanatic ... someone who lacks love … someone who is just out of touch with society … someone who is too exclusive ... or, even, someone who is just plain stupid. We see such marginalizing in their sarcastic criticism of those who stand firm on traditional and biblical values in society, as well as those who proclaim the exclusivity of the Gospel; that there is salvation in no one else than Jesus Christ.
Facing such wolves demands resoluteness, as well as faith in Christ and the power of His Gospel. After all, Jesus' characterization of us as lambs serves to remind us that we have no power or strength of our own to proclaim His Kingdom but need a Shepherd.
At the same time, the term lambs encourages us not to worry because it reminds us that we have a Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ, who is there to protect us from all harm and every danger ... who willingly laid down His life for us to save us from every evil.
Accordingly, Jesus tells those He sends in His harvest fields, not to take any provisions along with them, but to leave their pocket books… their travelers bags ... even their sandals at home. They will not need them, nor should they become dependent upon them. All that they need will be provided through the message they proclaim. The message itself will cause those who hear it to step forward and supply the workers’ needs.
So it is for us in the church today. God brings forth support for His preacher through those who hear the Words of the Kingdom. Likewise, the power for mission work does not stem from our personal strength ... nor our talents ... or resources ... nor even our slick programs. “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Ro. 1:16). The Gospel is a self-germinating seed. It does not require our help. Accordingly, we see God purposely chose the weak, the powerless, or the untalented to accomplish His greatest harvests for the kingdom. He chose Moses, who claimed to be slow of tongue ... He appointed David king who was the smallest and ruddiest of his family ... He called Paul, a persecutor of Christians, a wolf, to become St. Paul a premiere apostle of Christ.
Next, Jesus says, “Greet no one along the way.” Here we see most clearly God’s exhortation for resoluteness among His harvest workers. Even though greeting others was an expected and important part of civil Jewish society, Jesus wanted His workers to be as resolute to the mission as He was.
He did not want them to be distracted from the mission to save souls for the kingdom by getting caught up in social niceties. Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus was not against helping one's neighbor with his worldly needs. Look how many people Jesus healed and helped. But what He does not want is that His workers become so distracted by the courtesies of social interaction that, even though they befriend others, they do so to the peril of their soul if they never get around to proclaiming the kingdom of Christ to them.
People need to hear from our lips another sort of greeting… the greeting as Jesus says that is the greeting of peace, “Peace be to this house.” After all, we are in the peace giving business. Christ, as St. Paul writes, has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the process whereby two warring parties are brought to enjoy peace. That ministry is accomplished by proclaiming to those, whose sins have set them at odds with God, the Good News that Jesus has atoned for their sin. It is assuring the sinner that God is at peace with him. They can be at peace with Him by believing that Gospel, accepting it as true.
If those to whom we have shared the message of the Gospel are sons of peace; that is, have been brought to faith in Christ by that Good News, the same peace we have with God will also rest upon them. However, should someone reject the message of Christ, it will not mean the end of our peace. Through faith we will
still enjoy the peace of God in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, those who reject the
word of peace in Christ, will be left with no peace.
Correspondingly, Jesus says, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me: but he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me.” What a powerful concept! What we do as church, as workers in the harvest fields for God, is not without consequences. It is the most eternally important work done in this world.
For when we speak the message of Christ’s peace to our neighbor, when we proclaim the kingdom of God to others, as Jesus says, God’s very kingdom comes to people through us. Through the Word of the Gospel we speak, through the Sacrament of Baptism we administer, all the gifts of God’s kingdom that come to us in Jesus Christ are being given. We are the very hands, feet, and mouths through which Christ works to save people up into His kingdom. When they listen to us, it is Jesus’ voice they hear. Jesus touches, heals, and saves through us.
By the same token, those who reject the message we proclaim, are not rejecting us. More importantly they are rejecting Christ, and accordingly, their own salvation. That also needs to be made clear to everyone. That is why Jesus instructed the seventy-two to shake the dust of their sandals off against those cities that rejected them. It was as if to say, “We leave you with what your life will forever amount to without Christ, nothing but dust and ashes under the judgment of God. Know this, the Kingdom of God has come to you through the Gospel we preached to you and
you have rejected it. You will have no excuse when our Lord returns as Judge of heaven and earth. By rejecting our message you have rejected Him, the only One that can save your soul and give you eternal life. You are left with your self- chosen fate, which is worse than what even Sodom and Gomorrah received.”
Sounds harsh doesn’t it? But it really isn’t. After all, to truly present the truth of the Gospel, we must also make it clear what the Gospel saves people from.
Our account concludes with what is the comfort and joy of all who work in the Lord’s harvest fields. Luke moves quickly ahead to the return of the seventy-two from their mission. As He describes it, "they returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name. "
Clearly the 72 were pleased with the results of their preaching and teaching they had witnessed, even the power they had over even demons. Jesus quickly concurs that what they had experienced was no fluke. He said in reference to their ministry, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." But He reminded them that He had given them that power through the very message He gave them to speak. The power was not in their persons. The comfort in their ministry was that the Gospel had the power over even the demons.
This is our comfort in our ministry of the Gospel as well. Even though we are sent as lambs in the midst of wolves, the wolves do not have power over the Gospel we have to share and proclaim.
Even the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Gospel of Christ. We will trample on serpents and scorpions every time we baptize someone ... every time we teach a Sunday School class ... with every Biblical lesson shared in our school… every time we share the simple Gospel across the fence with our neighbor... every time we absolve those who have sinned against us with the word of forgiveness. There is no power greater in all the universe than this proclamation of the Kingdom of Christ. It breaks souls from the chains and grips of the devil and every darkness and frees them to bask in the light of God's Son.
But as Jesus goes on to state, as comforting and reassuring as it is that even the demons are subject to His servants who proclaim His kingdom, the true joy in our ministry is not to be found in that power, but rather in the harvest of souls saved for His kingdom. Jesus says it this way, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Think of all the places that your names are written. They appear on birth certificates, school records, a Social Security cards, and marriage licenses. You may even take pride in some places your name appears; paychecks, letterheads, business cards, plaques, or awards. Someday your name will even be on a death certificate and maybe even chiseled or sandblasted into a headstone. However, not all places your name appears will bring you the same joy, or even any joy at all.
One thing, you can be sure of, however, your name will not remain in these places forever. Sooner or later it will disappear, leaving you with no consolation, and in all probability, not even a record that you even existed.
Not so with your name in heaven. Jesus was committed to His death to put your name there. The word Jesus uses is not simply written in heaven, but rather, your name is engraved in heaven. Through His prophet Isaiah, the Lord promised you a name that is an “everlasting name”.
Your joy is that God in Christ has guaranteed your place in His heavenly barn. Your heritage is an everlasting one with Him in Glory. So is the heritage of those who hear your message of the Kingdom and believe. Their names are engraved alongside yours in God's Book of everlasting Life. There can be no greater wages nor greater joy for the worker in God's harvest field! Amen.