Luke 10:1-20 (4 Pentecost 2019, Proper 9C)

In Nomine Iesu

Today’s Gospel of the sending of the seventy speaks to the church and her mission.  It is a preliminary sending, the church’s “vicarage” so to speak, prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection before the big sending with the disciple-making mandate to baptize and teach the nations. This episode is told only in Luke, for whom Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, was a very big deal. Jesus is more than the Messiah of Israel, He’s the Savior of the world, the promised seed of Abraham through whom “all nations” of the world would be blessed. His cross extends in all directions, to the ends of the earth, to all peoples everywhere, to those who have heard and those who have not heard, to everyone you meet and everyone you know.

It is not without significance that Jesus appoints seventy for the task. I know the text we just heard and read says “seventy-two” but early manuscripts are evenly divided on which it is, seventy or seventy-two, and have kind of reduced it to the flip of the hermeneutical coin. Seventy-two has no significance beyond the number, while seventy is a number signifying completeness, seven times ten. It also corresponds to the number of the nations listed after the Flood story in Genesis, which would make symbolic of “all the nations” of the world.

Jesus doesn’t just stick with His Twelve; He appoints more. That makes the seventy representatives of the church as a whole, not simply her ministry. When you deal with the Twelve, you’re never quite certain whether you are dealing with disciples or apostles or both. But the seventy are clearly disciples recruited for mission. 

The church is more than its ministers. We too often get into this mode of thinking that pastors are paid professional Christians who do all the Christian work while we get on with our lives.  So we get the notion that the pastor is hired to grow the congregation, expand the kingdom, enlarge the offerings, expand the campus, evangelize the community, visit, care for, pray, and generally do whatever needs to be done to keep the doors open.

Understand this: The same Jesus who lives in me and works in me, lives in you and works in you. No difference. My ordination to office doesn’t give me some special dose of Jesus. The same Christ in me is the Christ in you. The same Spirit. The same Baptism. The works that He does through me and through you may be different in kind, some more public, some private, some miraculous and others rather mundane and ordinary. But it’s the same Christ that does these things, when and where it pleases Him. Your prayers are heard as clearly as mine are. You represent Christ as much as I do. Your forgiveness is as much Christ’s forgiveness as mine is. I represent Christ to the church by virtue of His ordination to office; but we all represent Christ to the world by virtue of His Baptism.  “He who hears you, hears me.” How He uses each of us, that’s His business and He knows best.  But He needs all of us – the harvest ripe, the laborers are few.

The seventy remind us that the church is not a church of apostles but an apostolic church, a “sent church,” and the ministry is not an elite class of professional Christians but an office through which Christ equips His priesthood of believers to be priests in the world. These seventy represent all of us together, the baptized priesthood of Christ, every man, woman, boy, girl, infant in the Body of Christ. You are Christ’s chosen people, His holy nation, His royal priesthood, chosen and sent to declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” Jesus says. There are never enough hands when harvest time comes around. Jesus sees the world as a rich field that is ripe for the picking. He sends His church out into the world as His field workers.  It’s His field, His harvest. We didn’t plant it; we didn’t weed and water it; we did nothing to make it grow. We just showed up at harvest time, like late-inning day laborers in a Home Depot parking lot, sent into a field already claimed by Christ, already died and risen for, proclaiming that the kingdom of God is as near as Jesus is near. We’re not going where Jesus isn’t already. We do not bring Christ to the nations; we proclaim the Christ to the nations, the Christ who is both coming and already here.

Field work is thankless work. Don’t expect accolades and praise. You won’t get any. You are going out as lambs among wolves, and you know how that engagement typically goes. Remember that you are a lamb going out in the Name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You don’t represent yourself, you represent Jesus. “He who hears you, hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me,” Jesus said to the seventy.  They represented Him in His sending them. You represent Jesus. You are Christ in your little corner of the field. 

That’s something to ponder in the morning when you arise and make the baptismal sign of the holy cross and confess the Name and Creed and say your prayers before you begin your day. You represent much more than yourself out in the world. You represent Jesus Christ, the Lord of the world, the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; and you go out into the world of wolves with all the confidence of that Lamb who died for all and rose from the dead, and who called you in Baptism to be one of His seventy, one of His chosen priesthood, to go ahead of Him before He appears in glory.

That doesn’t negate your vocation, your job, your calling as husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, master, servent, what you do in the world and the people you serve. But it does cast a new light on who you are. You represent. You are Christ’s man, Christ’s woman, Christ’s servant wherever you go – on the assembly line, in the office, in the classroom, at the gym, at home.

Be glad we aren’t biblicists, or you would not have a wallet or purse, a bank account or an extra pair of shoes, and you wouldn’t say “hi” to anyone on the road. But we don’t read the Bible that way. We read it for the point, and the point is undistracted faithful detachment to the things of this world, whether it be clothing, shoes, food, drink. If you represent Christ, do you really have to worry about Gucci or Prada? Do you really have patience with cocktail party small talk or roadside banter about sports, politics, or the weather when you have the kingdom of Christ front and center on your mind? Those are the devil’s distractions. If the devil can’t tempt us with doubt, the least he can do is bedevil us with distractions.

You represent Christ, and where you speak peace, His peace is heard. When you enter a house, proclaim peace in the Name of the Prince of Peace. “Peace be upon this house.” And a man of peace will reply, “And also with you.” That’s what we are practicing here before the start of the service. We are rehearsing our blessing of peace with each other, among known people of peace, so we know what to say when we go out among the wolves.

The Church, as the Body of Christ, speaks peace to the world. Peace the world cannot give. Peace the world cannot even know apart from Jesus. Peace that comes with a cross and the wounds of Jesus. The church is a priesthood of peace-speakers and peace-makers. We’re not here to fight a battle, to save a culture, to win a nation for Jesus, to transform a society. We’re here to speak the peace of Christ into a world that has no peace. We are the oddballs, the “called out ones,” God’s “peculiar people,” His Israel among the nations. 

To some, we may appear quaint, weird, out of touch, or irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ now reigns; and Christ will soon appear to show His reign in due time, and we are going ahead to proclaim His reign now to the world for whom Jesus died. “The kingdom of God is near.” No one else is going to say that in your little neck of the world but you. You were baptized to say it, to proclaim it, to live it. God chose you for this very thing before you even had a choice.

If your little neck of the world doesn’t want to hear peace, and if the town rejects the peace of Christ and His kingdom, then shake the dust off your feet and go your way. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you; it’s about Jesus. “He who rejects you, rejects me,” and Jesus is the world’s leading expert when it comes to rejection. He’s the rejected Rock, the stone the builders rejected. He’s the apostle of the Father, sent by the Father in love not to condemn the world but to save it, to say to the House of Humanity in the Name of God “peace be with you.” And the world would have none of it. 

Rather than shaking the dust from His feet, Jesus went to the dust of our Death, dying on a cross, bearing the world’s rejection, hatred, and sin on His own shoulders, and pouring out into our dust the water and the blood that are our life and cleansing. Even in rejection, the kingdom of God comes, without our prayer, of itself. Jesus died for you even if you don’t want Him to die for you, even if you don’t believe in Him, even if you deny His existence. When we pray “thy kingdom come, “ we are praying that we would be part of that kingdom that comes by Word and Spirit, that we would be heralds of that kingdom in our words and our works, with our lips and our lives, that we would be the seventy “sent ones,” His sent Church, a proclaiming priesthood of believers announcing the kingdom of God.

Even in rejection, the kingdom of God comes, but woe to those who say a disbelieving “no” to the coming kingdom. Woe to those who refuse the grace that is theirs in Jesus. Woe to those who slap a “return to sender” sticker on Jesus. Sodom had it easy compared to those who try to live apart from Christ.

But that’s not you. You were washed, justified, sanctified, chosen from all eternity in Christ. You were called to be Jesus’ seventy to the world. You were called to represent, to be Christ. You no longer live. God killed you. Christ lives in you. You are His priest, His representative bearing His peace to the world.

The seventy came back full of joy and excitement. “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your Name!” Well, not quite. The demons submit to the Name of Jesus. Yes. They do not submit to you in His Name. No. But that happens. Old Adam has a way of getting in the way.  You are Christ in the world, but Christ isn’t you. You didn’t hang on a cross; He did. It’s easy to get caught up in what Christ does through you and begin to think that you are the one doing it.

Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” He sees what we can’t see. He sees the spiritual impact of what happens when the reign of God is proclaimed, when Christ’s peace is spoken into the world. Satan falls like lightning. Baptized into Christ you have the power over the spiritual snakes and scorpions of this present wilderness. (Don’t try this with local rattlesnake and scorpions, please. Remember, we’re not biblicists. People do get snake-bitten for their bad Bible reading.) 

You have the authority of Him who has all authority in heaven and on earth, the One who crushed the head of the ancient serpent, the Liar and father of lies. In Christ, you have overcome Sin, Death, and Devil. But don’t rejoice in the power. Don’t rejoice that the spirits shudder at the Name of Jesus. Rejoice in this: That your names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, written in the blood of the Lamb, signed and sealed in your Baptism. Regardless of where you are sent in this life. regardless of what Christ does with your life, regardless of your successes or your failures, your names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

In that joy, go. Go out into Christ’s harvest field and represent. Be Christ in your world. Herald the kingdom. Proclaim the King. Declare His peace. He who hears you, hears Jesus.

In the name of Jesus,