Gal 6:1-10; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
3rd Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 03.07.2022
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Last week we were thinking about what it meant to follow Jesus, and the challenge that Jesus gave to those three people who said they wanted to follow him. Jesus spoke of the sacrifice involved in following him (after all, he himself had nowhere to lay his head, no wealth, no property to call his own); and of the need to be fully committed and focused on following him (not to be distracted by a desire to follow him on our own terms or at our own convenience – to keep looking ahead when ploughing the furrow, not to keep looking back).
One may have imagined that after such a clear challenge there would have been no-one willing to respond to the call of following Jesus. And yet we are told, immediately after this, seventy (or seventy-two – the Greek is a little ambiguous at this point), do exactly that. They respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, and are sent out into the countryside in pairs, to prepare people for when Jesus arrived in their area. One can imagine them fanning out across the area entering hamlets and small villages, as well as towns, chatting to people, explaining what they were doing, listening to people’s concerns and sharing with them about how they were seeing signs of a new kingdom, a new hope emerging, centred around this remarkable person called Jesus.
Some places they arrived in would have extended to them the traditional cultural attitude to hospitality – that to receive a visitor into your home or community was a great privilege or blessing that far outweighed the inconvenience or cost of hosting someone. There are many parts of the world where such a culture still holds. I remember visiting a family in a very remote rural area in northern Kenya. They were incredibly poor, and yet for them, offering me food – chicken and mangos – was immensely important to them, despite my protestations and my concerns that they needed the food far more than I did. Where the disciples received such hospitality, they were to stay.
In other places, however, they would be met by hostility and antagonism. Their message of peace was not welcomed and they would have to move on and find somewhere else, more open and receptive to their message.
The message of Christ still divides opinion. We may have experienced for ourselves the anger and hostility that some people can feel towards the message of Christ. That may have been prompted by bad experiences in the past, or by misunderstandings about what the Christian message is about. And generally in our culture there is a growing indifference to the church, a sense of it lacking relevance. We see that nationally in the numerical decline in church baptisms, weddings and funerals. No longer do people turn automatically to the church at those pivotal points in their lives.
And yet, Jesus’ words that the harvest is plentiful still remain true. Not just in places like Kapsabet, where our mission partner St Paul’s theological college is training people to go out into rural communities, and seeing the church growing at an extraordinary rate, but here in this country too. Like with previous generations, there is still a real openness to engaging with the big questions of life, to wanting to make sense of suffering, to exploring purpose and meaning in life, to wrestling with whether death really is the end or whether there is something more beyond. Many people have an intuitive sense that there is more to life than just the immediate. Our challenge is to help people discover that the answer to many of those questions are to be found in Christ.
But, if you are anything like me, that is a tough challenge. How do we do that? Well, we can learn from the advice that Jesus gave the 70 when he sent them out, and we can also learn from St Paul’s advice to the church in Galatia, that we also heard read this morning.
Firstly, we are to be peace-bringers. The first words Jesus’ followers were to say when entering a house were to be: “Peace to this house”. This was more than just a greeting. It was a message of what was at the heart of the good news they were to bring. In a world of conflict and oppression, of mental turmoil, to offer peace. That is what the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth – “glory to God and peace on earth”; Zechariah in witnessing the baby Jesus could say “you are letting your servant depart in peace”; Jesus would say to those he healed: “your sins are forgiven, go in peace”. Bringing peace is about helping to restore relationships that may have become frayed; it is about supporting those in anxiety and distress, being a loving presence; it is about giving hope to those for feel surrounded only by darkness and despair.
For us to be peace-bringers, we need to be at peace ourselves, to be people whose anxieties and fears we can trust to God, that we can be a peaceful presence. Think of people who play that role for you, people who are peace-bringers, who bring peace into situations. What can you learn from them?
Secondly, we are to be humble, being willing to rely on others, not thinking we have all the answers. If we are honest, one of the reasons that many people, both inside as well as outside the church, struggle with the idea of Christians sharing their faith is the fear of being pressured, brow-beaten, manipulated. I’m sure we can all think of approaches to sharing faith that make us cringe with embarrassment or just seem inappropriate and wrong – the hectoring of people through a loud speaker in market squares; the speed to judge people and condemn them. But the way Jesus sends out his followers, to be reliant on the kindness and hospitality of those he is calling them to reach out to, immediately changes the dynamic. How can you be superior or judgmental about those who are feeding you?
Our message is a message of peace; it is also a message of humility, too. A message of a God who loves us so much he would bend down and wash his disciples’ feet; a message of a God who would give up his very life for us. Following Christ, communicating his love, is about us following his example. Being willing to humbly serve our colleagues at work, our neighbours next door, our family and friends.
As Paul puts it in his letter to the church in Galatia, “Whenever we have the opportunity, let us work for the good of all”. If someone messes up, be gentle with them, don’t lecture them, but help them. Own your own responsibilities – don’t rely on others to do the things you should be doing. But where you see people struggling, share their burden with them – support them with love and grace. They are simple instructions, but how we need God’s help, if we are going to live them out
When we live lives that are rooted in Christ, lives that make peace, humility, love and service, the cornerstones of our relationships with others, we can pray that those God has called us to serve and live amongst will encounter something of his love and respond to him. And what a joy that is, when people discover the love that God has for them.
May we, like the seventy, go out into our homes, our community, our world, to be peace-bringers, to be people of love and humble service.