The Instructions (Sunday July 7, 2019)
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20; Galatians 6: 7-10
One of my hobbies is making Lego kits. I haven’t done that as much recently because I don’t have that many places to display them, and also they’re very expensive nowadays, but I love making Lego kits, particularly the themed Lego kits. The idea is that you create something that looks a little like this. You put together all these blocks and they create a beautiful ship; in this case the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. And it’s beautiful. But the thing is they don’t start looking like that, they don’t come together; they come looking something like this. And thank you by the way for the excuse to buy another kit. They come as a bunch of bags of blocks; random pieces of Lego. And you’re supposed to take this and make something like that. But how do you do that?
Well the way you do it is, of course, you read the instructions. Because otherwise you might put block, upon block, upon block, but the likelihood that you’re going to actually create the Millennium Falcon out of this without reading the instructions is very, very low. And I thought as I was I was reading this passage from Luke that Jesus is clearly giving us instructions for not only how to evangelize, but I think how to be a disciple 101 as well. Jesus is sending them out ahead of him as a precursor of being the church. So let’s quickly go through what Jesus says here.
First off, Jesus declares that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. In other words, there is still good in the world, and there are still people who need our message of Grace. Also, he defines a disciple here as a laborer in the harvest. Jesus does not desire worshipers that show up one hour a week on Sunday morning to give praise. Jesus desires laborers in the harvest, following him in service of the Father.
Next Jesus instructs the disciples to pray for their mission. “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers out into the harvest.” That is to pray for the mission. So it’s not enough to share the Good News with your friend, you then go home and pray for them. It’s not enough to witness to the city in some event, you then go home and pray for the city. Or you come back to church and pray for the city, as we try and do most weeks. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Jesus sends them out to specific locations. I assume he didn’t just go “OK, split into groups of two and just go wherever.” Rather, I think he went, “you two go to this town, you two go to this town, etc.” And you know what, Jesus may have extended that after the resurrection to the ends of the earth, but I think Spring Hill, and Bucyrus, and Gardner, and Kansas City, and Paola, and Stilwell count as the ends of the earth, at least when someone is standing in Jerusalem. And we are the disciples who have been sent to this specific location, to do the work that these disciples were told to do.
Now we get into the real crux of the instructions. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, greet no one on the road. How many of you have a purse, a Wallet, shoes? How many said hi to someone as you walked in? Now, the good news is that after the ascension Jesus reverses this instruction, so you can carry your bag and your purse and what not. However I think it is important to recognize that the point that Jesus was trying to make is that we need to rely upon God for all of our needs. I think that point does still remain. We are to trust in God to provide for all that we need. We don’t need a wallet, we don’t need a bag, we don’t need a coat, we don’t need these things because God will provide for us what we need.
Which means that God will provide you with the words to say as well. What that looks like for me at least is that I will say something and after the conversation wonder where in the world that come from. That’s the Spirit talking. Or one of you coming up after one of my sermons saying that “you just spoke to me so powerfully, it’s as if you were talking directly into my life.” I didn’t stalk you; I listened to the Spirit as I made the sermon. The spirit will provide the words to say.
Next, Jesus tells the disciples to wish peace upon every house they enter. Notice that Jesus does not say “step into the house and access whether or not the house is worthy of having God‘s peace.” Jesus says to walk into the house and wish peace upon them. The worthiness of the house is for God, and in some sense the people of the house, to decide. Because whether or not the peace resides in the house is based upon whether or not they accept it. We talked about accepting God’s peace last week. They are to accept the peace of God offered if they are ready for it, and if not the peace will return to you. Which means a couple of things. Number one, it assumes that you have peace to offer the house, that you as a disciple of Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit and have peace to offer the world. Second, if the peace remains with them it’s not like a pie; your peace did not become smaller, it is multiplied.
Next, Jesus says not to go from house to house, but remain where you are until such time it is time to move on to the next city. So, do not be restless moving from house to house, but also don’t be looking across the fence and saying “that lawn is greener” constantly going from house to house that way. In other words, don’t be restless and don’t be jealous. The world is anxious, the world is jealous. You’re to be an anchor in the midst of the storm. That is difficult. Jesus is not promising that it’s easy, and that’s probably the hardest instruction on here. But that’s what Jesus is calling us to do, to the best of our ability at the very least.
If the town is receptive, and you find a home there, then Jesus instructions to eat what they are offered. Then Jesus says cure the sick. We don’t do a lot of that, in United Methodist Church at least, but I think what that means for us is to care for the physical needs. It means to care about them; to want to help them. And lastly we are to declare the kingdom. It’s all of our threefold mission as a church: to seek the Christ, to share the word, and serve the world. We can see a lot of that here. We are seeking Christ by following these instructions, we are sharing the word by declaring the kingdom of God has come near, and we are serving the world by caring for the physical needs of our neighbors. This is what we are called to do. And Jesus repeats this message a lot.
But then there are instructions for what to do when the town is not receptive. So, not all towns will be receptive! You can do everything right and still be rejected. Jesus says to shake the dust off your feet and still declare the message that the kingdom of God has come near. But then to shake the dust off the feet. And in that time, and in the Middle East at this time as well, was a curse upon the town. But it also is kind of saying you’re not allowed to take that town with you to the next one. Because there is a next town, there is a next person, there is a next thing to be sharing the Gospel to. You can’t dwell on that rejection before and let it paralyze you from moving on to the next place.
Let’s take a look at a few lessons that we can take from this. First up, he sent out 70, not 12. Here in Luke he sends out 70 and not just the leadership. All of the church is expected to go out and into the world to spread this great news that Jesus is coming. Not just the leaders, not just me; it’s you all as well. Further, they are sent out in pairs: you are not alone as you go forth from this place to share the Good News, you are with a community. Also, it is just 70; it’s not 1000. You don’t have to be megachurch to have an impact, you can be at Spring Hill. I know we don’t usually have 70 in here, but we can still have an impact. Jesus didn’t need several hundred to change the world.
Another lesson from our readings comes from Paul’s message. I think Paul kind of looks back a little bit on passages like this as he’s writing to the church in Galicia. He tells them the wonderful proverb that you probably heard before: “you reap what you sow.” And he kind of delves into that a little bit saying “if you sow the flesh, you reap the flesh and when you sow the Spirit, you reap the Spirit.” And he has a couple of additives in there: the flesh corrupts, and the Spirit brings eternal life. I was asking this week “what does it look like to sow the Spirit in 2019?”
Well I know what it doesn’t look like. It does not look like being the guy who brings every single conversation around to Jesus, forcing it in like I forced Legos into this sermon to have an excuse to buy more. I had an interaction with someone, and I ran into him multiple times in a public location, and each and every time I ran into him the first sentence was a typical greeting, and the second sentence was “can I ask you are you saved?” That’s what I’m talking about. Not mentioning that he didn’t remember my answer from the last time, I can tell you that even as a pastor I was uncomfortable in that situation. Like, I get paid to talk about Jesus Christ and I am uncomfortable talking about Jesus Christ in that situation. It’s because of the way it came about; because he hasn’t built up enough trust with me to have that conversation. That’s why, even as a pastor, I’m looking for a way out. I can tell you that if I was really searching in that moment, that conversation would have driven me away from, not toward, Jesus.
Or the guys that would go through the drive-through, and they would hand the money to the person in the drive-through, and under the money was an evangelistic tract. I worked at Taco Bell and Hardee’s; we would get these from time to time. I can tell you, I was the only one I ever read them. Ever. In 10 years of working food-service, I was the only one who ever read them, and I read them for entertainment value on slow nights. Otherwise they went directly in the trash. They don’t work. The people who put “tips” for waiters that have the little tract and it looks like money, but you flip it over and says “I’m going to give you the best tip of your life: you need Jesus!” Those are what gets cited by my friends who were waiters as reasons they don’t go to church: because Christians are jerks who give “you need Jesus,” when I need money. Now, giving those with a large tip (30% or more) does seem to at least cause them to pause and consider, but most times these are left in luo of tip. Those may have worked in years gone by. They don’t work anymore.
But it doesn’t let us off the hook. You may be asking, “But Pastor Michael, we are to share the Good News, how are we to do that if all that doesn’t work?” I’m glad you asked. The only thing I’ve really seen that’s very successful in 2019 is to still have a conversation. Just don’t force Jesus into every discussion. It is about offering the opportunity to talk about something like that, to talk about your experiences with Christ, but allowing them the opportunity to turn the conversation there. So one of my friends who is a pastor that planted a church in downtown Kansas City, he talked about how he he brought people to plant that Church. He would go into a coffee shop, and he would get in line, and he would strike up a conversation with the person in front of him in line. And he would say “hey, what is it that you do?” This is a typical conversation starter for us, and people love talking about what they do. So they would talk about the thing that they do. And what he hoped for was that they would reciprocate the question and ask what is it that he did. And he would respond with “oh I’m a pastor. I’m planning a church downtown.” And then he stopped talking. And now the ball is in their court. They can respond “hey, that’s cool,” and change the subject or turn around and go get the coffee. He allowed that conversation to be ended. Because if you go further when they turn around, if you push further in that moment, you are damaging the cause of Christ with that person. However sometimes they would say “cool, tell me more about that.” Or “well that sounds interesting;” and they would continue the conversation. Now, organically, we have gotten to “et me tell you about my church, let me tell you about the good news, let me tell you what God has done in my life.”
And that’s the important thing: we tell them about what God has done for us, in our lives. We might get to Romans Road eventually. I think you have to get to Romans Road at the end. But we don’t start at Romans Road. You don’t start with Hell. That’s not good news. We start with the good news of what God is doing for us. Because if we as a church do not have an answer to what is good about God; if the only answer we have to what is good about God is “he’s better than the alternative,” we have become a modern political party and we have ceased being the Gospel. Yet way too often we start and end here. You can assume in this world that people have heard about Christians; you can assume in this world the people have heard the Bible; they may even know a few Bible verses. You cannot assume in this world the people know the Good News.
Now, you might not be able to respond to the question of “what do you do” with “I’m a pastor,” but you can respond to the question with “I’m a leader at the Spring Hill United Methodist Church.” You don’t have to respond to the question with your job! Or say “I just got done volunteering at Vacation Bible School (volunteers still needed, sign up on the table).” But it’s important to have an answer ready for the wonderful things that you’ve experienced as a leader at this church, or at VBS; the joy you’ve gotten from volunteering at school because Christ said to serve the world; the joy you get from playing piano in nursing homes; from feeding the hungry; from going on mission trips; from praying with the hurting; from writing or receiving letters of faith from people of faith.
Then recognize that sometimes successful conversations do not end with conversion. Jesus‘s instruction is “don’t go from town to town too quickly. Spend time.” Like I said, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk about Jesus, it was that this person had not built up enough trust with me to have that conversation comfortably. That is why you have more success with your friends than I would bringing in an evangelist tract: because you have built up the trust.
What is it that you think you need to have before you would begin? Do you think you need a bag or a coat? Do you need we need to have a scholarly education? Do you think you need to have all the answers to how the trinity functions in a metaphysical sense? Do you think your story isn’t good enough? Do you think we’ve been rejected too many times, so what’s the point? Jesus says all you need is the Spirit; and if you have the Spirit within you, the Spirit will give you the words to say, and the strength, and the courage to do it. I believe in the Spirit is present here in this place. And I believe that the Spirit wants to go with each of you if you would let it in. Breathe it in. Accept it in the bread and the grape juice we will quickly consume. Take it with you. And let’s go share the word, and serve the world, as we seek the Christ. Amen.