Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 3, 2016

2016.07.03 “Wild Goose Chase” – Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20

Central United Methodist Church
Wild Goose Chase
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20
July 3rd, 2016

HarvestInProvence

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890. Harvest in Provence, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN

“Later the Master selected seventy and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go.  He gave them this charge:

“What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands.”On your way! But be careful — this is hazardous work. You’re like lambs in a wolf pack.

“Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage.

“Don’t loiter and make small talk with everyone you meet along the way.

“When you enter a home, greet the family, “Peace.’  If your greeting is received, then it’s a good place to stay. But if it’s not received, take it back and get out. Don’t impose yourself.

“Stay at one home, taking your meals there, for a worker deserves three square meals. Don’t move from house to house, looking for the best cook in town.

“When you enter a town and are received, eat what they set before you, heal anyone who is sick, and tell them, “God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!’

“When you enter a town and are not received, go out in the street and say, “The only thing we got from you is the dirt on our feet, and we’re giving it back. Did you have any idea that God’s kingdom was right on your doorstep?’

“The one who listens to you, listens to me. The one who rejects you, rejects me.  And rejecting me is the same as rejecting God, who sent me.”

The seventy came back triumphant. “Master, even the demons danced to your tune!”

Jesus said, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you — that’s the agenda for rejoicing.” – Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20, The Message

 

 

Today – on this Independence Day weekend – we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to celebrate the birthday of our country. Who doesn’t love Independence Day, the 4th of July? Parades and BBQ and fireworks and John Phillip Sousa!  And – oh yes – the Declaration of Independence:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Don’t you just love it, surely one of the most stirring documents in the history of civilization! We’re off to DC again later today to celebrate the 4th and see family, and one thing we may do tomorrow is stop by the National Archives to see the original document.

But today, before we go off on our holiday weekend or on our summer travels or – for that matter – along our way in life, the Gospel of Luke reminds us that as followers of Jesus we don’t just go, but in reality we are sent: We are sent to proclaim and to practice the Reign of God, wherever we go.

You heard the story: As Jesus traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, he selected seventy and sent them ahead of him, two-by-two, to every town and place where he intended to go. The mission on which he sends them is simple: Declare God’s reign in villages and towns, show signs of the reality of the presence of God’s kingdom, then come back. Perhaps, if Jesus had known the words attributed centuries later to St. Francis of Assisi, he’d have used them: “Preach the Gospel. Use words, if necessary.”

But if the mission was simple, the opportunities to mess it up were profound. Maybe that’s why Jesus gave instructions about what to take and what not take, what to do, and how to behave, whether they were received with hospitality or hostility (and it wasn’t to call fire down from heaven, as James and John proposed last week.) There are some interesting points to note, that remain applicable to us, as “sent” people today. The points I want to make are all in the numbers.

“The harvest is GREAT, but the workers are FEW,” said Jesus, and he wasn’t talking about church Clean Up day. You have to assume that if they were on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem, they were traveling through Samaria. Because the Samaritans had their own religion, you have to assume that prospects for evangelism and outreach might not be good; after all, in last week’s text they were already turned away from one village. But that didn’t deter Jesus: what he saw and said what this: “the harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Regardless of their religious affiliation, there were plenty of people in need out there, in need of people who act in such a way as to assure them that God still reigns.

It is easy to be pessimistic about the state of the Church these days, in decline across North America and Europe. Our congregations are aging, our youth are not returning, and more and more people are finding better ways to spend their Sunday mornings than at church. But wouldn’t Jesus look out and still say that the harvest is great, even if the workers are still few?

John Vest, the Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary, says that the way we have to think of ourselves now is as “post-Christendom missionaries.” He says church growth strategies designed to attract members with better worship services and programs have a limited return on investment, because churches are essentially all competing with each other for a shrinking segment of the population; namely, people who like church. But what about the growing segment of the population described as “nones” or “spiritual but not religious?” For years, John Vest says, mission leaders have said that post-Christendom North American culture is our mission field, and it’s time we start acting like missionaries instead of church program directors.” Missionaries, that’s what we are sent out to be these days, to preach and practice the Reign of God in a post-Christian world.

The second thing interesting to note is – in the face of this great harvest – how many did Jesus send? Again, it’s all in the numbers. He sent out 70. Not 700 or 7,000, but 70. They were not given courses in ministry, graduate degrees, or any kind of certificate or ordination; he didn’t even give them T-shirts. They were people of humble status: members of his family, women, fishermen, tax collectors, people he healed or gathered along the way, people who chose to follow him.

And look at what they accomplished! Not just in that journey, but in the years ahead, as this group becomes the hundred gathered in that Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost, who would spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. In time to come, their descendants would build hospitals and orphanages and refugee centers and all kinds of institutions (like Northwestern University and Hospital, founded by Methodists) that would profoundly impact the lives of all the people around. Just 70 to begin with, but with faith and courage they truly changed the world.

Now here’s what interesting: do you know what the median worshiping attendance of most congregations in America is, according to the National Congregations Survey? 75. (We’ve got five extra!) It is easy to despair and feel helpless and say, “We’re not big enough to make a difference,” or “We’re not rich enough,” or “We don’t have the resources,” yet as the mission of the 70 remind us, God has this peculiar habit of accomplishing amazing things with small numbers of unlikely people, just like we are. (You may read a summary of the National Congregations Survey here: http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/Docs/NCSII_report_final.pdf)

The final interesting significant number we should note is this: Jesus sent them out not one-by-one (after all, he could have reached twice as many towns that way) but two-by-two. With two, there is someone to be encouraging if one is discouraged, to keep faith if one is dispirited, one to carry on when another feels tempted to quit. This discipleship thing can be hard, which is why it’s always easier with a companion, or two or three. Perhaps this is why one of the most acclaimed studies we’ve ever done at Central was called, “Companions in Christ.” Then as now, we are dependent upon each other for companionship, and we rely upon each other for help, encouragement and support, as we seek to proclaim and practice God’s reign in our lives and in the world. Perhaps we should be celebrating Dependence rather than Independence Day, as two-by-two we are sent out. Who is your Companion in Christ? Your spouse? A friend? Someone at Central? Everybody needs a companion in Christ. Because, as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism once said, “There are no solitary Christians.”

If you are wondering whether the mission of the seventy was a one-of-a-kind thing, you should know that has been repeated through the centuries. For example, in the 5th through the 7th centuries, Celtic missionaries from the Isle of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, transformed England and northern Europe. The Celts had a name for the Holy Spirit – an Geadh-Glas – which means “the wild goose.” By this they meant that the Spirit of God can’t be put in a neat box, confined to a vision and values statement or tamed within a strategic plan. The wild goose – like the wind – is unpredictable.

Taking seriously the Spirit of God, Celtic missionaries went on “wild goose chases” into the towns, hamlets, and villages of 7th century England in the conviction that the wild goose was out there ahead of them. They were open to being surprised by the wild goose, prayerfully asking what God was doing and joining in it by naming the name of Jesus, dwelling among people and sharing the story of God’s love and grace. They gathered in church to be shaped by the life of Jesus, then went out, on wild goose chases, to transform northern Europe.

Like them, like the seventy long ago, Jesus sends us on a wild goose chase to all the places we go: to live lightly, to bring healing, to proclaim and practice the Reign of God, to bring a harvest of peace, joy, and justice in the world.  Who will go? Who will go?

 

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