7/7/2010 sermon: Empowered for Ministry

Location: Goodwin House, Falls Church, Virginia
Text: Luke 10:1-11
6Pentecost (Proper 9)  Year C

Empowered for Ministry

The Seventy

In today’s Gospel lesson we read that Jesus appointed “seventy others” and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He gave them authority to heal and to perform miracles of power, saying 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.”

There follows Luke’s listing of the rules that Jesus established for serving in his name. The list begins with, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” These instructions are familiar to us, but we might find it difficult to relate to them today. What I hope to do, in the end, is suggest a way to put Jesus’ instructions into practice here at Goodwin House. I need to take a short detour first, though.

The listing of instructions, here in chapter 10, is a repeat of the rules that Luke named earlier, in chapter 9, when Jesus commissioned his 12 apostles to function in his name. Luke’s earlier listing of these missionary rules is also found in the other synoptic gospels, in Matthew and Mark. However, this later listing, the one in our lesson today, is found only in the Gospel according to Luke.

So what are we to make of this? Did Jesus empower his 12 apostles to function in his name, OR did he appoint 70 others, 70 elders, to do so? Those of you who are Episcopalians will recognize that for us the answer to most of our “OR” questions—is it one thing or another?—is “YES!” And that is exactly the answer we find in today’s Gospel. Luke wants to make it very clear that Jesus not only appointed his 12 apostles to perform ministry in his name, but that he also empowered others—many others—to do so, as well.

Luke is a Gospel that was written primarily for a congregation of Jewish Christians. And those who were Jews would know that in the Judaic scriptures God appointed 70 people to help Moses do holy things. This story is found in both the books of Exodus and Numbers in the Bible. Moses complained to God in the wilderness that the leadership burden fell to him alone. So God told Moses to gather 70 elders from the 12 tribes of Israel, and then God came down and put some of God’s Spirit that had filled Moses into the 70 elders. So the reason there are 70 elders is to help carry out God’s mission. The 70 elders of Israel, like Moses, saw God.

Luke, in telling about Jesus commissioning 70 people to act in his name, was telling the members of his early church that they were empowered to function on Jesus’ behalf to bring others to him. He was urging them to share in leadership roles within the church, and inviting them to live under the same rules that the apostles had lived by when operating in Jesus’ name.

I wonder if, like me, at this point you also are thinking, “That’s nice to know, but what difference does this make in our lives? I imaging that each of us, you and I, are people who are—or were—very active in our own congregations and in our own communities. We can probably each say, “I’ve been one of the 70—I’ve DONE this! And we have. But the fields are ripe unto the harvest, right here at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, a place which is in some ways “the promised land.” Just one floor up, for example, are many people who are facing three of the biggest challenges that we as elders have to face: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. As Luke tells us in today’s Gospel, we are each empowered to function here in Jesus’ name—AS I HAVE SEEN MANY HERE DO—and no one need carry a purse or bag or sandals on the way.

I pray that God will open our hearts and give us the courage to tell others what he has done for us, here and everywhere.

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