Sermon: Jesus sends the seventy-two disciples.

St Christopher’s Tawa

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

When I have been at post-ordination training sessions, our teacher Tony Gerritsen has an interesting way of encouraging us to listen to the scripture readings. He says, “Notice when you stop listening.’ In other words, when something strikes you, and you think  -oh. I haven’t noticed that before. Have you had those moments? Well I had a moment like that when I was reading through today’s gospel during the week. Did you notice in the first verse, Jesus sent his people to places where he himself intended to go?

That struck me for the first time, and I started thinking about it. It seems as if Jesus was sending out scouts, or a reconnoitering party, to check out what sort of people, what sort of welcome and hospitality, there was to be found in the town of his projected itinerary. Maybe he was checking out how his message would be received too.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, travel was very dangerous. Even if you made it through the bandits in the countryside, you could not be assured of a welcome among strangers. We’ve had some awful examples in the old testament of the way strangers could be treated – just think of Lot in the city of Sodom, and his angelic visitors.

Hospitality was something that was part of the culture – a traveler was reliant on the kindness of the village elders, allowing temporary refuge in their town. If that hospitality wasn’t there, they were in trouble. Even more, it meant that the culture was breaking down. When Jesus says he’s sending out the seventy-two, like lambs among wolves, it was no exaggeration.

What happened when the travelers went to the towns? I wonder how the hosts received them? The seventy-two were travelling in Jesus’ name, and they went to  share their story with their hosts, telling them about Jesus. Maybe the people had already heard of Jesus – news travels fast,  – especially good news of hope. Perhaps the hosts were delighted to have someone staying with them who could tell them more about this Jesus, who had inspired such strange rumours.

Just imagine – you’re in an occupied country, the prophets of old seem to have been silent for hundreds of years, you keep praying to God to deliver you, to hear you, to just be there, but- nothing. Hopes of a Messiah seem to be dreams of long ago.

But now there’s a hint, a glimmer, that God had not forgotten them. That God could be real on earth. Maybe the hope that Jesus could be the long-awaited Messiah was just too precious a hope that it couldn’t even be articulated –

but as the rumours got stronger, the hope started to spring up. Maybe, just maybe, this could be the one. This could be the beginning of the end of the suffering of this life.

Now if that was how you were thinking, having a couple of strangers coming to the door, speaking of peace, and talking about the kingdom of heaven, could be the most exiting thing that had happened for years! They would be only too happy to welcome in the strangers, maybe even hoping that the Messiah himself would come and eat with them – remembering stories of angels who looked like ordinary people.

Do you notice that Jesus tells his seventy disciples to eat and drink whatever was offered, because a labourer is worthy of his hire? There is a transaction here. There is an old Mediterranean proverb that says, “don’t thank me, you will repay me.” It needs a Sicilian accent deosn’t it? Strings are attached. What were those strings? Healing is the work they were required to do. It was their labour.

What a practical demonstration of God’s love and God’s power. Nothing helps belief in the supernatural power of God like a miracle! Last year, when our Josiah couldn’t walk owing to several neurological problems, we prayed and prayed for healing. On one occasion, I felt a certainty, a peace settle over me, that told me that God had heard our prayer.

But when Kevin took him to a healing meeting in his wheelchair, I barely dared hope for a miracle. I knew it was right to take him for prayer, and that everything would help.

But when Josiah walked up the steps and opened the door, walking into the living room when he hadn’t walked for 3 months, it was overwhelming. There he stood, a bit unsteady, and said, through his tears, I’ve been healed. What a wonderful miracle!

Those people in the towns the seventy-two went to would have had their own miracles. The disciples were sent out in pairs, so thirty-six towns would have been blessed by their healing prayers. I know what impact just one healing meeting had on us. Imagine that thirty-six times over! The rumours would have become a flood, people would have heard all about these visitors from everyone they talked to. There would have been so many miracles that no- one could have missed what was happening.

The next part that struck me from the reading was the saying “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The disciples were to give this message to those who welcomed them. But moreover, they were to tell the ones who rejected them,  that the kingdom of God had come near.  (the ‘to you’ is omitted here – that might be a hint that something amazing was happening but they had missed out!) Jesus tells his disciples that whoever rejects them rejects him, and therefore God who sent him. This part seems very harsh – surely God can give a second chance? We often have an image of God and Jesus as fluffy love, candy-pink Jesus, but there is a rigour here, a sense that there are consequences. Note that this message is to the disciples, and not directly to those rejecting Jesus. This may have been the equivalent of training – Jesus had to impress on the disciples the absolute necessity of what they were to do, so they would try their hardest to convey the importance of the message they brought.

Can you imagine how those people who rejected the disciples would feel when they heard what had happened in the neighbouring towns? The kingdom of God was just near, and we missed it! What a huge regret that would have left. I’m sure many of us have had the disappointment of missing out on something great by a tiny amount – whether being one of three interviewed for a job, or being in the finals of a competition, or even getting the next number to the prize in a raffle! Disappointment seems to be worse when we miss by a closer amount. When the disciples said, nevertheless, the Kingdom of God has come near, they were leaving an important message that would resonate.

Maybe those words would have stuck in their minds, and as they heard what was happening in other places, they would start to wonder about the kingdom of God. Maybe they would start to pray more and be open to the idea that maybe Jesus was indeed the Messiah. I wonder what would happen if the disciples went back a generation later, whether they would find that the word had indeed taken root there.

The last part of the reading deals with the return of the seventy-two. They were elated, joyful, reporting that even demons fled in Jesus’ name! Now, it’s not considered very modern and scientific to treat demons as if they even exist these days. But those of us who have been involved in prayer and deliverance ministry know the very real power of Satan and his demons. Modern scholars tend to dismiss stories of demons as mental illness, or natural causes that weren’t understood in the first century. But that’s not the point. The point is that these ‘demons’ of whatever cause, fled when told to in Jesus’ name! Wow! Do you know what that means for us? That if we are followers of Jesus, and acknowledge him as the son of God, that we too can pray for healing in Jesus’ name! God who made the earth and the heaven, the stars, the neutrons, and the fluffy little bunnies, will act in power if we ask, because we believe that Jesus is the living son of God!

So what will that mean to you and me tomorrow? Will you remember that you are on God’s team when you drag yourself onto the 7.30 train in the morning, or when the kids are particularly revolting, as some children known to me are prone to be on a Monday morning? If we remember that the kingdom of heaven is near to us, that will help us to see our world with different eyes. To see people with the love God has for them, and to love ourselves with God’s love. Then the harvest will ripen.

As Christians it can seem hard to spread the good news of God’s love. We admire the boldness of the modern-day pairs of door-knockers, even if we don’t want to read the Watchtower. But to tell people about Jesus, and expect them to listen, without offering something, could be why it’s so hard. How about offering to pray for people? Even nonbelievers are often happy to have someone pray for them. Maybe not there-and-then, but to take the time to think of them. Some people are happy to be prayed for on the spot – our local supermarket is witness to this!

The seventy-two went out with healing to offer – we can too, confident in who Jesus is and who we are in the kingdom of heaven.

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