Luke told us in Chapter 9 about Jesus sending the 12 disciples out. And now, he sends 70 others. I wonder how many of them objected to being sent when they weren’t the ones who had been closest to him. They weren’t the ones who the most knowledge. They weren’t the ones who had been there from the beginning. Surely, it was better for
the 12 just to go again and again?
But, no. Jesus, like Moses, is preparing for a movement of God’s people. When the people started grumbling in the wilderness to Moses, God had him call 70 to the Tent of Meeting and God placed his Spirit on those 70 to bear the burden of the people with Moses. Now Jesus appoints 70 more.
70 was also the number of Gentile nations. Luke is telling us here that people who believe in Jesus are sent to all the nations of the world. That they are to eat whatever is put in front of them is another indication that they are being sent to Gentile nations, where the Jewish food laws would not be kept. They are being sent not just to some, but to all – to prepare the way for him. And they are given a packing list.
You can tell a lot about your destination from the invitation or the packing list.
Bring your beach towel and sun screen. We’re headed to the beach.
Bring your own tent and don’t forget bug spray. We’re headed to camp.
Bring your favorite dish with too many calories to share. It’s time for church potluck!
Arrive by 6, park down the street, and come around back. It’s a surprise party!
Bring a Bible and a flashlight. Time for church camp.
Don’t bring a purse, or a bag, no sandals, and don’t stop and chat on the way. Where was Jesus sending them? It’s really important, because we too are sent to the nations. Luke doesn’t just tell this story to recount an event that happened. He is telling us that this is the way Jesus sends disciples, not just the 12, but all disciples to all the nations.
First, he didn’t send them alone. The work of disciples is communal. Jesus sends us together. “Where two or more are gathered in my name,” says Jesus, “I am there, in the midst of them.”
Our American culture tends to be individualistic. The Barna group studies trends in the church and in belief. They now have categories for “Privately Spiritual,” “Spiritual but Not Religious,” and “I love Jesus, but I do not love the church.” Jesus sent them two-by-two with instructions to pray for others to join them. Cultures that are individualistic rather than communal tend to value independence, to the point that being dependent upon others is sometimes seen as shameful or embarrassing, we tend to value an individual’s rights, and people tend to be self- reliant to the point that they want to handle problems for themselves and don’t want to ask for help.
I was at a meeting of pastors this week with the four women who started and have been running GermantownHelps to respond to the flood on June 7th. One of the people who was working in those first few days after the flood said she was talking to an elderly lady whose house was devastated. Church came up in the conversation, and she asked whether the lady’s church was helping her. “No,” she said. “Have you called them? Do they know that this has happened to you?” “No,” she said. “You need to call them.” So, she did. And, they came immediately and have been there ever since.
Jesus doesn’t send us into the world alone, but he does send us without money or a suitcase or shoes. He sends us without our stuff, so that we for sure realize we are not self-reliant; we cannot make it on our own. And he sends us without our baggage so that we are able to be agile in responding to our calling. Most of you know that our family loves to travel. And when we first started traveling, I packed multiple bags. I had a bag with books for the car, and a bag with snacks, a bag of shoes, a bag of destination-specific things like sunscreen and hats or jackets and umbrellas, I packed a bag with baby things and one with toys, a blanket for each of us, and a pillow and a pillow pet, and …well, you get the point. Chris, however, was not going to travel with all these bags. And I’ve learned to appreciate it. As few bags as possible (usually 3), all with four rolling wheels, no purse, one briefcase with our things for the trip, and one backpack with the kids’ things. We move faster, we are more agile, we can navigate escalators and jump on an Airtrain. We don’t have more than we can easily manage, and perhaps more correlated with why Jesus sent them traveling light, we have thought about what we really need. We are bombarded with encouragement to spend and buy things we don’t need – end caps were made for that…and then they moved displays into the aisles. And our culture is infused with the message that possessions equal security and independence.
When you get to a town, go into a house and greet them, “Peace be with you.” This was not the message that most people wanted to hear or to share in Jesus’ time. They wanted to fight with their enemies, the Samaritans; they wanted to rebel against their government, the Roman Empire. N.T. Wright says, “They wanted an all-out war that would bring God’s justice swiftly to their aid and get rid of their enemies once and for all. But Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom was going in the opposite direction. As far as he was concerned, the idea of fighting evil with evil was like the children of Israel wanting to go back to Egypt.” Arriving at a house and declaring “Peace be with you” was not a greeting – it was a challenge to them and it is a challenge to us, an invitation to change our hearts, to transform our thinking and our impulse from “ready to fight” to a new way, a way of peace, a way of relationships, the way of God’s Kingdom. And if the challenge is accepted, healing occurs as a sign of the Kingdom coming near.
If, however, their message was rejected, they were to waste no time. Jesus doesn’t expect that everyone will receive the message. He doesn’t expect everyone to return peace for peace or even to recognize that peace is the way to the Kingdom of God. I think it is significant, though, that they are to maintain peace even as they go on. Rather than raining down fire and judgement, they were to wipe the dust from their feet. This was a known symbol, a public gesture of formal separation. And the only thing they were to leave was the message that “The Kingdom of God had come near.”
What if we spread the mission of Jesus like that? We, too, are sent together to share the good news of God’s love in Jesus – and the way we do that starts with “Peace be with you.” “I want to be in relationship with you.”
One of the people at our GermantownHelps meeting the other night, after hearing that many families do have help from their churches asked, “Well, how many are unchurched?” The question wasn’t answered. I suspect they haven’t asked everyone whether or not they go to church, it’s not the first question to ask when someone has just lost their home and most of their worldly possessions. But it did make me think as I prepared this sermon about our role as the descendants of the first disciples sent out to prepare the way for Jesus to enter.
We are called to go together, to be agile, not to come independent as Santa Claus-type missionaries delivering presents and leaving, but like Christ, born in a stable, raised as a refugee in Egypt and then as a carpenter’s son in the little town of Nazareth, like him we are to be dependent and vulnerable with the message “Peace be with you.” We are called to go together, agile, without our own baggage, and to develop relationships. For where two or more are gathered in His name, the Kingdom of God is coming near.