Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Read the whole passage)
Jesus is talking the dreaded “D” word again this week. Discipleship.
Last week Jesus had to come to terms with the quality of disciples he had to work with. Disciples who didn’t get it, who wanted to destroy those whom they were trying to reach as much as help them. Disciples who were not committed, who only had one toe in the water.
And so today, Jesus uses those disciples anyways, sending 70 of them out into the world to proclaim the good news, the kingdom of God has come near.
Now, this story of discipleship is one that many here will know well. It is one that during the past year, council and other groups read to one another each time we gathered for a meeting. And over that year, we unpacked this story as much as we could, we asked questions, we considered the words or phrases or ideas that struck us, and we kept coming up with new questions and new insights despite reading the same story for a whole year. And the intention of coming back to this particular story was to hopefully see ourselves and our call as disciples in the experience of this 70.
Yet, when the 70 return rejoicing and with excitement at for their efforts in ministry, it may be hard put ourselves in their shoes. In fact, we may feel the exact opposite – burnout and dread at keeping up with the ministry of being church. It gets tiring juggling all the parts of church and keeping all the balls in the air.
Still, the idea of Jesus sending 70 disciples out to proclaim the gospel seems relatively simple. Perhaps not easy, but it sounds simple to be sent out with little more than the shirt on our backs.
Yet, the directions that Jesus gives for ministry are not all the straightforward. Jesus has directions on what to bring on the journey, where to stay, who to stay with, how to be good guests, how to know when it is time move on.
In fact, it turns out that being disciples and preaching the gospel isn’t all that simple at all, even for the very first group of disciples sent out on the mission. And as most of us know, people who show up at the front doors of our homes, asking us if we have heard the good news are not usually all that welcome… Nor are the door knocking evangelists we have in our world all that effective.
Whether it is 1st century Israelite disciples being sent out on the road with nothing, or 21st century disciples with buildings and budgets, staff and volunteers, programs and committees to manage, it is not simple to just go out and preach the gospel.
In fact, it is the complexity that is draining. Managing all the different pieces of being church together can feel exhausting. Just for us to gather and worship on Sundays, as this community has been doing for over 60 years requires a lot of planning and work. Just this morning, someone needed to open the door, turn on the lights, put out the bulletins, put up the hymn numbers, greet worshippers and hand out the bulletins, light the candles, play the organ, collect the offering, count the offering, turn off the lights and lock doors. Someone needs to plan worship, make the bulletin, and write the sermon. Other Sundays people need to set up, serve and clean up communion. Others are needed to teach Sunday School, lead bible study, teach confirmation. And these are just tasks for a fairly typical Sunday morning. We won’t even get into maintaining the building, overseeing the large scope of year to year operations, fulling all due diligence legally and insurance wise.
It is a complicated endeavour to be a group of people called by Jesus to preach the gospel.
Yet, when 70 return they are excited. They are on fire. They are energized for the mission:
“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
But Jesus is not impressed:
“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The disciples are guilty of doing the same thing that church people have been doing for 2000 years. They get wrapped up in the complexities, the potential for power and relevance and influence. Like Popes who would be Kings or committee chairs who enjoy having a little power for even just a couples of hours at a monthly meeting… the disciples get distracted by the details of Jesus’ mission.
So, Jesus calls them back to the main thing: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven”
Translation: Rejoice that God’s Kingdom has been made known in the world!
Jesus reminds the disciples and us that all the complexities of being sent out are about one thing. The mission. Preaching the Kingdom of God come near. Letting people know about God’s love.
But it goes even deeper. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God’s mission is about people. About people who need to hear good news. Jesus didn’t send them to find the right people, the chosen people, the good people. Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the ones who needed to hear. The peace they offered was for people who needed peace. The demons they exorcized was because people needed to be free from unclean spirits. Even the hospitality they received was so that the unlikeliest of people would be given the honour of being hosts to prophets and preachers.
All the instructions that Jesus gave, all the complexities. They were so that the disciples could reach the people that needed the gospel the most. So that God’s love would be shown to those who are normally excluded… the unclean, the marginalized, the unrighteous.
And all the complexities that tire us out, that fill us with burnout and dread?
They too are in service of the mission. They too are about the people that Jesus is reaching through us.
When we make this place ready for worship and welcome all who gather, God gathers us into the One Body of Christ, God ties us together to far and wide, into community of the faithful that can only exist here.
When we hand out bulletins and play musical instruments, God becomes known to us in worship and praise, in worship and praise that thins the gap between heaven and earth just enough that we might glimpse the heavenly chorus.
When someone stands up and reads the lessons, God’s very voice speaks to us with promises of forgiveness and new life, God speaks to heal our wounds, comfort our sorrows, and to give shape to our place God’s world.
When the table is set with bread and wine, God feeds the hungry with the only food that has a hope of satisfying the hunger in our souls. God feeds us with bread so that we become bread for the world. God gives us the Body Christ so that we become the Body of Christ for the world.
When ushers direct us forward and servers serve, God makes God’s table a place for each and everyone of us, a place for. God leads us into the holy of holies, into God’s Kingdom come near to us.
This is the thing about being sent as disciples in the world… it easy for us to lose sight of what all the complexities really mean. It is easy for the disciples to get wrapped up in casting out demons. It is easy for us to be burned out and tired by having to keep track of all the little details of being church here.
But Jesus never said it would be easy. Nor did Jesus say that being a disciple was about the results. In fact, Jesus kind of made it complicated right from the beginning.
Yet, what Jesus does remind the disciples of today is that everything we do is connected to the work of God’s kingdom, that God’s Kingdom of love, forgiveness, healing and hope is breaking into the world for us, and for those around us who need to hear some good news.
So yes, Jesus is talking about discipleship again today. Because it is through disciples, through us, that God is bringing the Kingdom near.