I found this article in a newsletter dealing with a search for a new minister for a parish.
“We have been unable to find a suitable candidate for this congregation though we have one promising prospect. We have followed up the recommendations from church members with interviews or calling at least three references. This is a confidential report on the prospective candidates:
ADAM: Good man but has had problems with his wife and children. He and his wife have been known to walk around outside without wearing clothes.
NOAH: Former pastorate of 120 years with no converts. Prone to unrealistic building projects.
ABRAHAM: References reported that he once offered to share his wife with another man.
JOSEPH: Big thinker, but brags, believes in dream–interpretation and has a prison record.
MOSES: Modest and meek man but a poor communicator. Stutters. Known to lose his temper and act rashly. Left an earlier position under a murder charge.
DAVID: The most promising leader of all. Very musical. We discovered he had an affair with his neighbour’s wife.
SOLOMON: Great preacher but our manse wouldn’t hold all his wives and children. Has grandiose tastes.
ELIJAH: Prone to depression; collapses under pressure.
HOSEA: A tender, loving pastor but his wife is a floosy or worse.
DEBORAH: Pushy female.
JEREMIAH: Emotionally unstable, alarmist, negative, always lamenting things.
ISAIAH: Claims to have seen angels. Has trouble with his language.
JONAH: Refused God’s call until he was forced to obey when he was swallowed by a fish. He said the fish spit him out on the shore. We hung up.
AMOS: Backward and unpolished. Would only fit in a poor rural congregation.
JOHN: Says he is a Baptist but doesn’t dress like one. Has slept outdoors for months on end, eats a weird diet. Doesn’t work well with others – we suggest he become a camp director instead of a pastor.
PAUL: Powerful CEO type and fascinating preacher. Short on tact. So long-winded he has been known to preach all night.
JUDAS: His references are solid. A steady plodder and good money manager. Conservative and well-connected with the community and religious leaders. This is the candidate we recommend to the congregation…”
I hope you got a chuckle as I did. We took a walk through the Bible and saw just what kind of people God called to be His prophets and apostles. God calls us all to follow as his disciples and it is encouraging to know that he doesn’t expect us to be any more than ordinary, fragile, human beings.
Today’s passage is about Jesus sending out seventy of his followers on a missionary journey to share his message and heal the sick. These seventy were not the inner circle, ‘the Twelve’; they were a wider group, who may or may not have had the same sort of intimate contact with him that the Twelve enjoyed. But he had a message that he wanted to communicate to the world, and he had a sense that the time was short; conflict with the authorities had already begun, and he could already see the shadow of a cross looming over his future. So he sent out this group to prepare the way for him in all the towns and villages he was planning to visit.
Nowadays, we Presbyterians tend not to be too comfortable with the thought of being sent out to share the Christian message with people who are not Christians. We tend to say things like, ‘Some people talk about their faith; I just live mine out, and let people draw their own conclusions’.
It sounds very spiritual and respectful and of course we’re called to live our faith out. And if we don’t put it into practice – if we don’t live lives that remind people of Jesus, in other words – the chances are that we won’t get very far in trying to talk to people about the gospel message. But we should not draw from this the conclusion that we don’t need to talk about our faith at all. After all, the early Christians didn’t just invite the world around them to watch while they silently lived out the teachings of Jesus! At the beginning of the gospels Jesus went into Galilee with a message to proclaim; he proclaimed it and invited people to become his followers. At the end of the gospels, he sent those followers out into all the world to share the message with others, and in between those two bookends he was teaching them how to live it out and how to share it.
Now as we read this gospel passage today, some of the things we find in it don’t apply so readily to our situation. Jesus was sending out seventy mission volunteers on a project that would require them to leave their homes and families for a while and give their whole time to the work of sharing the gospel. But most of us are not contemplating such a trip; our witness is taking place in the context of our normal everyday lives, at work, amongst our friends and families and in social gatherings.
So there are some differences between our situation and that of these early disciples. But this doesn’t mean the passage has nothing to say to us. I want to suggest four connections we can make between the message of this gospel reading and our own call to be witnesses for Christ today.
First, Jesus is quite clear that people are hungry for this message. Look at verse 2: ‘(Jesus) said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest”’. He sees the world as like a field of wheat, full grown and ready to be harvested for the kingdom of God. In other words, there are plenty of people out there who are hungry for the very message that the missionaries are bringing; all they have to do is to find those people and share the message with them.
Many people today seem to be sceptical about this idea. There seems to be a great deal of apathy out there toward Christianity and the Christian Church, and in some quarters the apathy is turning into determined opposition, with the growing popularity of the new atheists like Richard Dawkins and Phillip Pullman and their message that ‘religion poisons everything’. So is it really true that the fields are ripe for the harvest, or did that just apply to the time of Jesus?
I think there is definitely apathy and opposition, but a great deal of it is directed at the institutional church, not at Jesus and his message. Indeed there has been an explosion of interest in spirituality in the last decade or two. If you have had a genuine experience of God and if that experience is helping you to make sense of your life and live accordingly, many people are more than ready to hear about it
So the harvest is still plentiful, but, as Jesus said, the labourers are few. So, Jesus says, ‘ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more labourers’. But then, no doubt with a twinkle in his eye, he turns to the seventy and says, ‘Go on your way!’ So they aren’t only to pray that God send out more messengers: they themselves are to be part of the answer to their prayers. And the same applies to you and me today!
The second connection is this: Jesus sends us out in vulnerability and weakness, not in superiority and power. He says in verse 3: “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves”. He also tells them to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, to accept hospitality from people on the way and to eat whatever is set before them.
Throughout our Christian history we haven’t been very careful about following the spirit of these instructions. In the early years, of course, this is exactly how Christian missionaries went out; they had no worldly power, no powerful organisation to back them up, no imperial armies to protect them. They walked the roads of the Roman empire, in danger of their lives from mob violence and the Roman magistrates, and they were commanded by Jesus not to retaliate, but to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them.
But after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD, the picture changed. Very quickly the pagans became beyond the pale. And by the time we get to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we have the spectacle of military and political power and missionary effort going hand in hand. For example the Spanish conquistadores going to South America, offering the local tribes the choice of baptism or death. We have missionaries going to foreign countries in great wealth, provided by people back home, able to dole out all kinds of goodies in order to get a hearing for their message.
If we are to be effective in our work of mission today we have to look more like Jesus, and this means vulnerability. Jesus came not in power but in weakness; he wasn’t interested in the love of power, but rather in the power of love. He paid the price for that vulnerability when he went to the cross, but still he calls us to take up our cross and follow him.
Thirdly, we see the message that the disciples are told to proclaim in two places in this passage. First, in verse five Jesus says, ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”’ Then in verse nine the disciples are told, ‘Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you”’. So we go out to share the message of God’s peaceable kingdom. Jewish listeners who knew their scriptures would have been reminded of Old Testament prophecies of the lion lying down with the lamb, people beating their swords into ploughshares and the world streaming to Mount Zion to hear the teachings of Israel’s God.
The Christian message is the same today: that the whole world has chosen to be estranged from God, rejecting his ways and choosing to worship false gods and live a self-centred life instead. But God wants us to be reconciled to him, and he is not interested in punishing us for our sins. When the world rejected him, he did not reject us back – in a sense, he rejected our rejection. And this God is, at this very minute, at work in the world, healing the sick and transforming people’s lives, helping those who find peace with him also to live in peace with one another, so that the world is changed by the power of his love.
One more thing: this is not just about humans talking to humans; there’s a spiritual struggle going on too. After the seventy came back enthused about how well their mission had gone, Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (v.18). In other words, when the disciples saw people turning to God in response to their message, Jesus saw more: he saw the advance of the kingdom of God and the defeat of the kingdom of evil.
There’s a spiritual struggle going on, and you and I are part of it. No wonder Jesus speaks with such urgency when he sends the seventy missionaries out! This isn’t a tea party he’s starting here; it’s a campaign in the struggle to set the world free from evil.
And finally, Jesus goes on to tell his seventy disciples: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, what I’ve given you to do in my name, the work I’ve given you to do–that’s all well and good. And it includes having authority over the demonic realm. But don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. You have something even greater to rejoice over. It is the joy that your names have been written in heaven.
So this is what Jesus would have us rejoice in as the main thing. It’s fine that we can do some work in the kingdom and get things done for the church. That’s great. But even greater, far greater, is what God has given us in Jesus Christ. Our sins have been forgiven; our redemption has been purchased; our salvation has been won; our resurrection from the dead and our eternal life are secure. And notice, these are all things we did not do. God did them for us.
Our membership in Christ’s church is not based on how much we can do for Christ. If we can do a lot, we mustn’t get big headed. If we can’t do very much, we mustn’t feel like we are unloved or not valued in God’s sight. It’s not about how good a worker you are for the church. That’s secondary–good, and important but still secondary.
The primary thing, the reason we are in the church, is to be given to. That is why we are here. God has gifts he wants to give to us. And they come wrapped up in the gospel, in Word and Sacrament.
So, “Ask not what you can do for God. Ask what God can do for you.” That is faith. Yes, we should rejoice over how God blesses the work that he gives us to do in his name. But the big joy–the one indispensible, unchangeable, and eternal joy we have is this: “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
I found this article in a newsletter dealing with a search for a new minister for a parish.