A Sermon for 3 July 2016
A reading from the gospel of Luke 10:1-11 and 16-20. Listen for God’s word to us.
“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” . . . Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
In 2011, the PC (U.S.A.) did a major re-configuration of the part of our church’s constitution called the Book of Order. In the process, a new word was learned by many. O, it wasn’t a new concept in the history of the world or in the history of the PC (U.S.A.). It wasn’t even something new added to the Book of Order, really. Just moved in order to clarify a few things about why we exist as a denomination. Thus it came to be that tucked into a new section of the Book of Order called the “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity,” we find a new-to-many-of-us, yet ancient word: apostolicity. I’m going to read in entirety point d of F-1.03 that explains it all, so get ready. F-1.03 is the third Foundation of Presbyterian Polity. The principle named “The Calling of the Church.” Here the marks of the church are presented: from the unity of the church, to the holiness of the church, to the catholicity (or universality) of the church, to point d, which reads as follows: “The Apostolicity of the Church. Apostolicity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people. Because in Christ the Church is apostolic, it strives to proclaim this gospel faithfully. The Church receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent, both those whom we call apostles and those whom Christ has called throughout the long history of the Church. The Church has been and is even now sent into the world by Jesus Christ to bear that testimony to others. The Church bears witness in word and work that in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world. To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation, God’s kingdom drawing the present into itself. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms the Gospel of Jesus Christ as received from the prophets and apostles, and stands in continuity with God’s mission through the ages. The Church strives to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions. The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples. The Church is sent to be Christ’s faithful evangelist: making disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; sharing with others a deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service; and participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely; to free people from sin, suffering, and oppression; and to establish Christ’s just, loving, and peaceable rule in the world.” (PCUSA Book of Order, 2015-17, F-1.0302.d).
It’s kind of a mouth-full. And a whole lot of what we are to be about. But the why is pretty clear too: “In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people.” And a little later we’re reminded again: “To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation” (Ibid.). God sends us – the Church, in Christ and by the power of the Spirit. Why we do what we do and how we do it is because God sends us. We’re not to huddle up here together. Rather to be a part of the church is to be sent – beyond ourselves and one another – sent out into the world to share with whoever we find out there the good news of God’s love for us all. We hear it in “The Apostolicity of the Church.” God sends us because people need to know that: “in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world” (Ibid.). It is very good news and God desires for the whole world to hear it. Thus: apostolicity – the sending out. It is a very important mark of the church.
Apostolicity may be a fancy, new word for many of us. But it is not new at all according to the gospel of Luke. Here in the gospel we get another story in which Jesus is sending out those who have heard and received his message. It happened in Luke chapter eight when he re-stored the Gerasene man who had been tormented by a legion of demons. After Jesus healed him, he sent the man back to his home to proclaim how much God had done for him (Luke 8:39). It happened in Luke chapter nine when Jesus told his chosen twelve disciples that they were to go out. They were to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those afflicted (Luke 9:2). And now in Luke chapter 10, Jesus brings in seventy, assigns them a partner, then sends them out to go together to bring peace to whoever will receive them. They are to restore to wholeness any who are sick and are to tell of the reign of God that has begun in a whole new way among them! (Luke 10:9). After his own death and resurrection, the story will continue with the ascending Christ sending out any who will listen. All who hear and receive the good news of God’s favor. And then, at that first Christian Pentecost, the Spirit of God will be in every last one in order to fulfill Christ’s charge to go out to live beyond their little circle in ways that reflect exactly what Christ has reflected among us: peace, hope, forgiveness, new beginnings, unconditional love, un-earned favor! It is news every last one in this world needs to experience! . . . And so: apostolicity! We are sent.
For a long time we seemed to think it was just a special few. Perhaps you’ve been part of a congregation at some point in your journey that supported what we in the Presbyterian Church now call mission co-workers. Years ago, we just called them missionaries. Many thought of them as the ones like the first disciples who heard and answered a call. To exotic lands they would travel – the ends of the earth even. Our missionaries were intent to bring good news to people who most often were very different from them. Our mission co-workers still are intent to bring good news to people all over the world – to folks who typically are quite different from them. But the job’s not just for them. The gospel of Luke has shown that pretty clearly. If being sent out was just to be for some, ones like the first twelve disciples sent. If apostolicity was just for them, then we wouldn’t have this story of Jesus again sending out folks – this time seventy and side-by-side in pairs. Nor would we have heard of that earlier occasion when the restored man of the Gerasenes is to go out to tell good news. As a matter of fact, if apostolicity is just for the first special few; then we might as well turn to chapter one of Acts of the Apostles, grab a scissors, and cut out that whole book from our New Testaments. And perhaps most of the rest of the New Testament too. Apostolicity, however, is a mark of the whole church: mission co-workers, pastors, and every last professed disciple of Christ too. In fact, one commentator concludes that “the number seventy implies all of humanity, as Genesis 10 provides a list of all the nations of the world, numbering seventy” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, Elaine A. Heath, p. 214). After all, the harvest is plentiful. And as another commentator has written, such a plentiful harvest “calls for a large work force to reap the crops before they spoil” (Ibid., James W. Thompson, p. 217). Every last one of us is sent out – sent out by God to proclaim, through what we say, what we do, and how we live; we are sent out by God to be good news for the people all around us each day.
I don’t know where I learned a song that captures this well. Simply enough it’s called “Sent Out in Jesus’ Name” and it’s one of those catchy tunes that gets your toes-a-tapping. It goes: “Sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now to make the earth the place in which God’s kingdom comes.” That part gets repeated then a bridge takes the singers to the words: “The angles cannot change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love, of justice, and of peace. The task is ours to do, to set it really free. O help us to obey and carry out God’s will” (Source Unknown). . . . It’s something to think about. That God’s will – God’s hope, God’s prayer, God’s plan is for us to roll up our sleeves to change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love and justice and peace. It may not be an easy one, but it is our task to do – by the power of the Holy Spirit, as one’s alive in Christ. We are sent out in Jesus’ name – hands ready, hearts on fire, souls 100% committed. All that’s left is to pray God’s Spirit helps us to obey as we seek to carry out God’s will.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)