Jesus sent out seventy people in pairs empowering them to bring peace, to cure the sick and to proclaim the kingdom of God. Initially, he sent them to every town and village where he intended to go, saying, "The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few...." I believe this particular story in the life of Jesus and the early Christian Church has implications for our own communities of faith today.
Jesus came among us to preach, to teach and to heal. He came to reconcile human beings to the God of all creation and to each other. Jesus reminded his followers that God's love surpasses their understanding and the importance of living into that love by engaging the ministry of justice and mercy for all. Jesus said to the seventy, and in our own day he says to us, "Go."
As Luke recounts the story of Jesus' life, Jesus began his ministry of teaching and healing alone. After his baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, his forty-day discernment in the wilderness and temptation by Satan, Jesus returned to Nazareth where he had been brought up. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom. He was given the scroll of Isaiah the prophet to read. The portion Jesus read was about the expected Messiah. After reading, Jesus sat down, as was the custom. With the eyes of all upon him expecting a word of explanation, Jesus said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." At first people were amazed, and then it sank in what he had said. This was Joseph, the carpenter's son. Who did he think he was? They got up and drove Jesus out of town.
Moving on to Capernaum, Jesus began his ministry of healing and preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. If the good news Jesus preached had depended on his traveling alone from village to village, the good news would not have circulated in the powerful way it did, standing the test of time for over two thousand years. Jesus understood the importance of relationships to the work of reconciliation. We read in Scripture that Jesus often sought time alone in prayerful relationship with God. But in the sixth chapter of Luke, we learn that after a night of prayer, Jesus called twelve men to be his disciples. These twelve would share a special communal bond with Jesus and each other. They would hear Jesus teach and when they were confused by what he said, they would engage him in conversation. They saw power pour out of him as he healed and cast out demons. They watched him feed a crowd of five thousand with just five barley loaves and a few fish.
During the last week of his life, Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples. During this observance Jesus told them that when they gathered together as his followers they were to break the bread and share the cup in remembrance of him. They were present during the trial and stood by as Jesus was handed over to be crucified. After his death, the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples and told them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once the Spirit came upon them, these same disciples proclaimed the kingdom of God so people from many lands could understand the good news of God's kingdom.
After Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, the good news of God's reconciling work depended on a network of people who were witnesses to what God had done. If Jesus had not empowered other disciples to go and proclaim God's kingdom, this important message may well have been silenced. But Luke in both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles focused on the harvest and the call of laborers to engage the reconciling work of God's kingdom. Proclaiming the kingdom is a communal and relational activity to which the whole body of Jesus' followers had been commissioned. For Luke this proclamation of the message began when Jesus commissioned seventy and sent them out. He sent them out to share in pairs as a communal activity in order the spread the good news of God's love, mercy and justice.
This intentional empowering and sending out reminds the church today that we need to be engaged in the same empowerment and reconciling activity. Too often Christian churches in our day are captured by concern over a leaky roof or outdated buildings. We anguish over a lack of participation in worship as people did in the past. We spend an inordinate amount of time feeling anxious about the demise of the Christian Church and forget that like the seventy in the Gospel story, we have been empowered. Empowered to share the good news of God's reconciling work in our world today.
Jesus in sending out the seventy warned them that this ministry was not easy. Their commission was to share the good news of God's redeeming work and not just be people pleasers. "See I am sending you out as lambs among wolves." One might assume that in this age of social media spreading the message has become easier. Yet, in our day the message is more likely to encounter indifference than rejection. While technology is remarkable and can broaden access to people, it inhibits authentic relationship with God and with each other. Faced with this challenge, how do we engage this work today in our world?
I believe Jesus knew what he was doing when he sent the seventy out in pairs instructing them to engage others in relationship as a sign of God's kingdom. Allow me to share a couple of examples from my own experience of how the church has been successfully engaged in the ministry of reconciliation and spreading the good news of God's kingdom.
In an urban parish, we had daily visits from people seeking help with a meal. What we came to realize was that there was a growing number of regulars who relied on the downtown churches to provide their basic needs each day. Six churches came together and pooled their resources to open a daily soup kitchen staffed by volunteers from our churches. As the volunteers served people, they began to hear their stories and identify other needs. Soon the soup kitchen was also a night shelter. Then showers were added at the facility along with clothes washers and dryers. Volunteers began to assist people to write resumes and search for job opportunities. With joy the volunteers began to see lives changed and God's reconciling work being done.
In another community clergy interested in sharing sermon preparation Bible study came together each week. This sharing soon led to interaction between white and African American churches in the community. Community worship opportunities began to bond participants in relationships across the boundary of race and denomination. Soon justice issues began to be identified as God's call to the church, and people from the various churches came together to work for merciful solutions. As God's reconciling work was engaged, the people of the various churches began to rejoice that the good news was being preached and being heard right in their own community.
Jesus empowered seventy to go out, to share love, to bring about healing and to proclaim the good news of God's reign. That call continues today in the water of baptism when as Christians we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons. As we strive for justice and peace in our world, those whose lives are impacted realize the power of God's reign to change lives and change the world we live in. The harvest remains plentiful. The laborers in the harvest continue across the ages to be empowered to share the reconciling message of God's love. Go therefore...join with others in the power of the Spirit spreading the good news of God's kingdom. Go!
Let us pray. Almighty God in your name you've urged us to go and proclaim your love throughout the world. Empower us with your spirit that we like the 70 may proclaim your peace and reconciling love in our world. We pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.