It is only two short weeks since all was safely gathered in, since the fruits of the garden, the allotment, the hedgerow and the supermarket were gathered into God’s house, as we gave thanks for all he has created and nourishes us with. And, here we are, thinking about harvest again. Not this time in relation to what we celebrate of God’s work, but in terms of the work God has for us to do as his disciples, in the fields of his Kingdom.
We may have the safety and security of being part of God’s harvest as followers of Christ, but why, as we celebrate the feast of Luke are we thinking particularly about how we are also sent out by Jesus, to “go on [our] way”, with nothing but the healing peace of his love for the world?
Luke, styled by St. Paul in Colossians (4:14) as “the Physician”, was a man who journeyed. Quite possibly a non-Jew, we watch his account of Paul’s journeys in the Acts of the Apostles change from a description of what others did – “they went from town to town” (Acts 16:4) – to a description of what he shared in – “we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them” (Acts 16:10). In our Epistle, we see how far he has travelled, as he is now Paul’s only companion during part of his house-arrest in Rome. Luke is a man who journeyed for Jesus, writing in his Gospel of the journeys of Jesus, and the need for us to similarly, “go on [our] way” for Jesus.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus “has set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He knows he is journeying toward his death, the fulfilment of God’s purpose for him in this world, and a time when others must take up the challenge of sharing God’s love with the world. He is also journeying through particularly hostile territory, having been snubbed by a community of Samaritans who didn’t appreciate his purposeful journey towards the Temple from which they were excluded. For these reasons, he sends seventy of his followers out ahead of him “to every town and place where he… intended to go… like lambs among wolves.”
We know little of these people.
But, we do know there were seventy of them. They formed a community, joined together by a shared task, having all received the same instructions from Jesus. We can note that good safeguarding principles were applied because they were sent out in twos, but I think we can be reasonably certain that this was actually for the purpose of good team building – one could encourage another when the going got tough, and fear and uncertainty were in danger of taking hold.
We also know, that up until this point they had kept with them their own belongings, whether they were travelling from home each day to hear Jesus, of physically following the route he took, they had things that provided them with safety and security, like their purse, and footwear. Now Jesus was sending them out on what must have seemed a tremendously scary task, with nothing. They were to leave their current situations, and change to live a new pattern of life, one that meant they would be not just living like Jesus, but sharing his message.
And we also know they had a shared faith in Jesus.
Or do we?
Jesus was sending away those who had been followers, people who had seen his miracles, heard his words, and responded with curiosity, asking questions to which they did not necessarily receive straight-forward answers. Did they truly understand the relationship between Jesus, and the Kingdom of God he was asking them to proclaim? In this period before the events of Holy Week, I doubt whether they did. Greater faith would come only by deciding to be obedient to Jesus’ command. By sharing what little they already knew of his message – that in the person of Jesus, God was bringing a peace that would be among the most significant fruit of his love – they were exhausting their own understanding. Everything else they needed by way of understanding, would be given along the way. Jesus was after all, coming along right behind them, in person, to “make the job a good ‘un”.
And he still is.
In the Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Communion uses these words as a response to encountering the body and blood of Christ: “we offer and present unto thee O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee.” In our Eucharist we respond with similar words, asking that through Jesus, we are able to offer God “our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice.”
From the book of stories about God’s action in the world, otherwise known as the Bible, colloquial wisdom also comes up with the phrase: ‘if you want to talk on water, you have to get out of the boat’!
Sacrifice and bravery. Being a follower of Jesus, a disciple, is not for the faint-hearted. We have to “go on our way”, and be sent out by Jesus with only what he gives us. When we sense that he is telling us to do something new, he will give us what we need.
We may feel out on our own, but if we look around us, Jesus has placed us in a community that is on the same journey, and to which he is giving the same message. Go on your way, not alone, but together. We may share the exact same journey with one other, or even a few, but the reason for doing our journey will be the same as for many others. Jesus is sending us. So, we should encourage each other when the going gets tough, for in prayerfully sharing our concerns, weak hands are strengthened and feeble knees made firm (Is 35:3 adapted)!
We may also feel inadequate when we see a task ahead and sense our security being removed, but God is often asking us to make sacrifices or simply be brave and trust him. We won’t necessarily be required to give up our livelihood, our home, our financial and physical security, but we might need to work with people we don’t feel comfortable with, or do things that use skills we don’t think we’ve got. God can and will use what is freely given to him, however much we doubt ourselves. “Be strong, do not fear!” (Is 35:4)
We may feel our faith in Jesus is as small as a mustard seed, but “The Lord [stands by us] and gives [us] strength, so that through [us God’s] message might be fully proclaimed” (2 Tim 4:17, adapted). It is only by actively being disciples that we can really learn more about what it means to know Jesus, who is our God (Is 35:4). The encounters with God that he asks us to deliver and receive are a message of peace, the presence of Jesus that can heal lives as well as calm fears. Through his death and resurrection, we know that Jesus isn’t simply following along behind us on the road, but he is there in the thick of challenges we are presented with on the road he shares with us.
As we remember St. Luke, we are challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the seventy: are we willing to be sent out by Jesus as they were? They may not have felt safe or secure, but they went out in twos, a community sharing their ‘sent-ness’, their sense of inadequacy and their doubts, sure in the knowledge of nothing more than that they had a part in the beginning of God’s new Kingdom, because they could share of his peace.
Let us pray: Great God of bravery and boldness, who encourages the weak and timid, grant us the courage to be your hands, eyes and voice to those we meet this week. For the sake of Jesus, in whose name we are sent. Amen