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July 7, 2019

“I Send You-Is the Harvest Still Plentiful?”

Luke 10:1-11

 

The Clevelands, Abigail, and I just got back from Scotland, and we are looking forward to sharing some pictures and videos with you of our trip next Sunday after worship. I actually had the chance to travel to Scotland for the first time about 4 years ago. I had an incredible time both this time and the first time, with one exception-on that initial trip across the pond, I totally over packed! Part of my first trip included an 8-day stay on the island of Iona, and I had heard that on the island there was no place to wash clothing. So I needed at least 8 days of clothes until I got back off the island and onto the mainland of Scotland. And one of the experts on Scotland mentioned to me how nasty the weather could be, especially during the fall. So I packed in a rain poncho, rain pants, and an extra jacket if needed. I ended up packing about 2 weeks’ worth of clothing, just in case. I ended up with one huge suitcase, and then a smaller carry on one, which I secured with a belt on top of the huge one when I landed in Glasgow. My luggage was absolutely full of everything I could think of, just in case. I was prepared.

 

I began to notice at the airport in Glasgow, however, that other folks who were also traveling to Scotland had a single, much smaller suitcase. “Fools!” I thought to myself! “Be prepared for anything!” I muttered smugly to myself as I wheeled my 75 pounds of luggage around to the hotel. The next day, I needed to get to the train station for my trip to Iona, which was about a 10-minute walk according to the nice person at the hotel desk. So I began hauling my 75 pounds of luggage through the streets of Glasgow. I began to realize that my 10-minute walk would be more like a 20-minute workout.

 

When I finally made it to the train for the ferry to Iona, sweaty and heart pounding, I tried putting my suitcases into the luggage area of the train car, but they did not fit. A nice Scottish man with a bright red face helped me by telling me that they would not fit two to three times as I tried to shove the bags in, while all the people behind me were waiting to get on the train. He even said it a bit louder, just to make sure I heard him. That was such a fun time…Sigh. I ended up standing next to the luggage area for the train ride, with my big bags next to me.

 

On the last night of my stay in the homeland, I decided it was time to downsize. After all, I now had a few souvenirs to bring home and needed to make space. I ended up leaving a few pairs of pants, some extra shoes, all of my rain gear and a few other things in my room, hoping they would end up in a donation bin somewhere in Glasgow. Lesson learned-This time I knew better than to overpack in traveling to Scotland. That ended up not mattering much, however, since our luggage was lost for 5 days while Abby and I traveled!

 

What a contrast today’s message gives us! Jesus appointed 70 followers and then sent them out on a missionary journey. In their case, however, they were told to bring nothing with them, not even a purse or bag or sandals. No extras or frills. I guess you could call that under packing? Jesus told them he was sending them out like sheep among wolves-no help, no “Be prepared for anything” packing.

 

Why were they sent out in such a way? For one thing, this mission’s blueprints were already set- Jesus did the same thing to the 12 disciples in Luke chapter 9. But the main reason the 70 and the 12 were sent out under such conditions was that Jesus wanted them to have no distractions. They were sent out only with the message. It seems a little insensitive to send them out with nothing but the tunics they were wearing, but that is directly related to the importance of evangelism the way Jesus commanded it be done. The message was the important aspect of this mission, not the disciples’ personal comfort. No luggage bags, rain gear, extra shoes, no sandals or staffs, just them. There were to be no distractions from proclaiming the Good News and healing.

 

Now given the hospitality rules of the time, it was expected that one could enter into a community and find a place to stay with a stranger. No doubt when the disciples entered a village and went to the square, they would have an offer to stay at someone’s house and give them a meal. But they weren’t there to buy souvenirs; they weren’t there to impress the townspeople with how well they dressed or their own abilities. Their mission was about proclaiming the *Kindom of God. Period.

 

Jesus said to them, “Behold I send you out…” Those words apply to us here now as well. We, like the first disciples, have also been sent by Jesus to share the story of the good news of the gospel with others.

There aren’t 70 of us today, but we have about that many in worship. Close enough. You and I are called to share our faith and have all that is needed, just like the 70 did. You don’t need a big suitcase full of items or a church brochure or even your Bible. All you need is you, your story about your faith in God, an open heart and a listening ear.

 

It sounds simple, but of course, it isn’t. People outside our church doors have come to see church as an unknown, suspicious organization. Most of our society does not set time apart for church, time apart for worship, or even know why someone would GO to a church in the first place. There are a number of people in our society as well who do have faith; they just don’t want to be in a church. They can worship as they choose, out in nature, or listening to a podcast of a service. Many outside the church have faith in God, but no need in their eyes for organized religion.

So, for many here in the Rogue Valley, Sunday is just another day of the week. Sunday is about trying to have part of a day where you see your family and relax, or catch up on yard work, or sleep in.

 

There are additional struggles for us modern day workers in God’s field- We now live in a multi-cultural, multi-faith, pluralistic society. We are fearful that by expressing our faith, we may offend someone or seem exclusive in some way. We may not be sure exactly what to say to someone and how to say it. We may find ourselves fearful of rejection from friends or acquaintances, and so do not say anything about our faith.

 

Last month I watched our daughter Abigail graduate from Ashland High School. It brought back some memories for me of graduations gone by. I still remember the first girl I asked to dance with me at our 6th-grade dance and promotion/graduation celebration. Her name was Kathy-she had long brown hair and big brown eyes and was quite popular in 6th-grade circles-a bit out of my league. And so, I walked up to her, heart in my throat, and asked if she would dance with me her response was classic-With a bit of a laugh she looked disdainfully, wagged her head and said, “No, I don’t think so.” Her rejection stung so much that it took quite some time for me to have the courage to ever ask someone to dance again.

 

 

And yet, Jesus faced rejection as well, so we should expect to hear “No I don’t think so.” from time to time when we invite others to church or tell them about our faith in Christ. Rejection will happen when we try to share our faith, but that should not stop us from asking or sharing again.

 

Consider that in Luke’s gospel all of Samaria has pretty much rejected Jesus and his followers on the way to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-56) And Jesus wasn’t even popular in his hometown. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, in chapter 4, Jesus came to Nazareth, went among his friends and family members, and taught in the synagogue. They first were astounded, but then they took offense at his words. Wasn’t this Mary’s boy? Wasn’t this that carpenter who used to work here among us? Who was he to be telling us how to act or what to believe? And they rejected his teaching, angrily, trying to hurl Jesus off of a cliff. Jesus faced rejection head-on. He knew it was part of the mission, and he warned the 70 of this. Some towns would welcome them, and in those places, they were to accept what hospitality was given, heal the sick and tell them the kingdom of God was near. Those towns that did not welcome them would be there as well. Jesus gave instructions in this case as well—to shake the dust from their sandals-a sign of repudiation for their rejection of God’s message, and a gesture showing separation from everything associated with the place.

 

Rejection is, in fact, part of our mission, is something we must all face, but that should not dissuade us from our goal of sharing our faith, and in fact, rejection can eventually plant a seed of hope. Theologian Burke Wilkinson said, “Rejection is the sand in the oyster, the irritant that ultimately produces the pearl.” Many times I have had folks reject my invitations to come to church, view our services on YouTube, or check out our web site. But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on them, or have yet to shake off the dust from my sandals. So often I have heard from my friends, “If I ever decided to attend a church, it would be yours I would go to!” which is a polite way of saying, “I’m not going to go to your church.” Many evangelists say it takes an average of 7-9 times for someone to hear about Jesus and hear about faith in God before they find interest in faith or make a decision. So, even in the face of rejection, we should not be dissuaded to bring the message of the *kindom to the world. We should be persistent in our proclamation of Jesus’ message of love.

 

When we invite someone to church or want to share something from the depths of our soul about God, we too may receive a derisive laugh and a shake of the head, and it can sting. We may think “What if people laugh at me? What if people tell me they don’t want to hear about God, think I’m weak or crazy, or uninformed?” Therefore, sadly, many Christians don’t say anything. It is estimated by the pew research institute that only 5% of churchgoers share their faith with anyone outside of their own congregation, and even fewer share their faith with someone who is a self-proclaimed non-Christian. That is tragic news! The harvest is indeed plentiful, but apparently, the workers ARE few.

 

We need to share Christ’s message of hope and love with others and face the possibility of rejection. Yet, we are not alone in this endeavor. The Spirit is with us and can help us in what we say and how we share our faith. The disciples were sent out with more than just their tunics. They were also sent out with God’s Spirit.

 

If we have this knowledge, that we too have been blessed with the power and authority of the Spirit to proclaim the *kindom, then we can go out with confidence, knowing full well that we might face rejection, or evil just as Jesus and the disciples did. We are not alone. The Spirit of God is there with us and can help us in what we say, and how we act.

 

Is there one person right at this moment you can think of in your circle of friends who does not know what you know about faith, who does not have the hope or the calling for justice which springs from the faith that you have? Theologian Daniel Niles said, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread.” That bread, the bread of life is here with us, as we prepare to celebrate the holy meal of communion today.

 

Jesus says, “Behold, I send YOU.” So, may we go from this place today, telling others where the bread of life is, knowing that we have been given authority and power to share the gospel with others- our friends, our coworkers, our school mates, our acquaintances, and family members. The harvest is still plentiful. Alleluia! Amen.

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