Sunday, July 4, 2010

C: Proper 9

NOTE: Today I preached from a rather sparse outline, never completely fleshed out except orally on the spot. So I can't share an actual text, but here are the notes from which I worked.

Luke 10:1-12, 16-20

A line-by-line look at the gospel reading:

After this [a “mission trip” for the 12]
the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.

[mission trips, mission statements, mission-driven goals, etc. > the Church is first a worshiping community, but that cannot be divorced from her concurrent identity as a missionary society—this gospel story gives us seven concrete clues about more effective mission work]

And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
 [Clue #1: Realize the immensity of the harvest. Image: orchard full of ripe fruit (imagine your favorite)—shortage of labor and equipment (ladders)—what to do? Work like mad to gather as much of the low-hanging fruit as you can!  Our environment is full of low-hanging fruit: people who are hungry & curious, people in pain, people in transition, etc.—Some are called to evangelize among Muslims in the Middle East or atheists in university faculties, but most of us are called to pick low-hanging fruit]

pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
[Clue #2: Bathe all missionary activity in prayer. We do pray for the mission of the church, but we can do more (our parish programs, the missionary vision of our diocese [“passion for the gospel…heart for the lost…willingness to do whatever it takes” , international mission)]

Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.  Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you.
[Clue #3: Travel light and stay focused. “Onward, Christian soldiers” not often sung these days, but once ubiquitous: a deployed army in combat mode is mobile and responsive and not distracted by secondary concerns. If we see ourselves as a “weekend warrior” reserve unit, we will never be the “mighty army” that the song talks about (and the low-hanging fruit will rot on the ground)]

And remain in the same house, what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you;
[Clue #4: Create community. In virtually every human culture, the sharing of a meal is more than just eating, more than merely utilitarian; it is an act of hospitality and welcoming, a sign of willingness (even if tentative and with reservations) to make a personal human connection > “com-pan-ion” – There are two ways that the formation of “community” and “companionship” assists with the harvest: 1. the quality of the community and companionship within the Church is a powerful beacon and magnet to others, and 2. our willingness to be “companions” to the “low-hanging fruit” is a big factor in their willingness to part from the tree]

heal the sick in it
[Clue #5: Meet people’s felt needs.  Illus: “Christ is the answer? So what’s the question?” We have to scratch people where they itch, begin with the needs they feel and work from there to the proclamation of the good news of Christ – Soup Kitchen, Mission Trips, Thanksgiving Baskets, Stephen Ministry, Project Refuge, use of Tent Sale proceeds, etc. are good examples of this, but there can be more (Life Groups based on felt needs]

and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'
[Clue #6: Announce the Good News.  Wait for/look for “teachable moments”—usually times of loss and/or life transition (grief, job loss, financial setback, kid problems, graduation, promotion, empty nest, retirement)]

But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town. He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." 

[Clue #7: Realize that success will be mixed—persevere.  Jesus encountered lots of apathy and antipathy in response to his ministry. So did the disciples on the mission trip. So did the apostolic church. Why should we be any different? Mission and ministry are heartbreaking; expect it.]

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." 

Great power is available to us. The fruit is hanging low. The Lord of the Harvest calls us. Let’s get to work.