Sunday, July 07, 2013

Sent Only to Speak (Sermon preached July 7, Proper 9-C)

Sermon text: Luke 10:1-20

In the name of T Jesus.

            I’ve been to a number of seminary call services; those services during which seminary candidates hear their names called, and then seconds later, find out the name and location of the congregation in which they will serve in the Office of the Holy Ministry.  I’ve been to a number of seminary call services—once as a candidate myself, but other times as a participant in the congregation.
            I’ve also been to a number of ordination and/or installation services; those services during which the sanctuary is filled with excitement as a new pastor is being prepared to be placed into the Office of the Holy Ministry in a new, or another, congregation; those services during which the altar paraments are red, and all the pastor’s stoles are read, and there are special guests, and excitement, and probably a celebratory meal to follow to welcome and celebrate the gift of a new pastor.
            I’ve been to a number of seminary call services; services during which men discover the location of the place in which they will service.  I’ve also been to a number of ordination, and/or installation services; services during which those men have hands placed upon them, and blessings given to them, and then finally are installed into the Office of the Holy Ministry in a given local congregation.  And in all the call services, and in all the installation services, I’ve never heard a sermon preached, or a blessing spoken, that used today’s Holy Gospel, from Luke, chapter 10.
            Imagine being a young man being sent from the seminary, or a more seasoned pastor, getting ready to begin ministry in a new context; or imagine being one of the seventy-two, who were appointed by Jesus Himself—a Divine Call, you might say—and who were sent by Jesus Himself, two by two to preach the word of peace.  Imagine being any of these men, and being given today’s Holy Gospel as a word of encouragement:
“Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”
            Gee, thanks!  That’s worse than being sent to South Dakota!  I imagine there weren’t any of the 25,000 youth at the National Youth Gathering this past week, who stopped by the two seminary booths in the convention center to gather information about what it means to be a pastor, and how to prepare to be a pastor, who had this passage in mind.  I know, for a fact, that today’s Holy Gospel isn’t printed on any of the recruitment brochures that the seminaries produce.  But maybe it should be.  “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”
            And to make matters worse, Jesus tells the seventy-two that they’re not supposed to take anything with them.  I remember when I graduated from the seminary, and was getting ready to move to San Antonio to serve in my first call.  Naomi was about eight months old, and we had lived in a three-bedroom home for some of our time of seminary, and there were ten years worth of college and seminary books to load up.  But to the seventy-two Jesus says, “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”
Jesus tells them to take nothing but themselves.  And Jesus tells them to say nothing to anyone along the way.  “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him.  But if not, it will return to you.’”
Jesus tells them to take nothing but themselves.  And Jesus tell them not to say anything to anyone along the way.  And unlike a class of seminary students, who have been called by congregations who have offered prayers for God to send them a laborer to help with the harvest, Jesus doesn’t help out these seventy-two by telling them the houses to which they should go.
Jesus tells them to take nothing but themselves.  And Jesus tells them not to say anything to anyone along the way.  And when they arrive in the city, and they go to the door of a home, Jesus gives them but one thing to say, “Peace be to this house!”
It is the season of ordinations, and installations, you see.  This summer, seminary graduates are being ordained, and installed in congregations all across this country, and while it is unlikely that anyone in attendance at any of those services will hear a sermon preached on today’s Holy Gospel, and it is also unlikely that any of the pastors who place their hands on that ordinand and speak a Word of blessing will choose today’s Holy Gospel, but maybe they should.  Because in today’s Holy Gospel, the Words of blessing that Jesus speaks to the seventy-two that he appoints and sends to preach in His name would remind us all that one who is called by Jesus, and sent by Jesus, is sent, not to be charismatic, although he will likely be able to speak quite well; he is sent not to be charming, although he will hopefully enjoy talking to people; he is sent not to be dynamic, although many will be and some will not; he is sent not to double the size of the church in a matter of years because he is this new, young, energetic pastor, with a beautiful wife and family, although if the kingdom of God grows in numbers everyone will give all thanks and praise to the Lord of the harvest.  You see, the reason today’s Holy Gospel is so helpful to keep in mind for pastors and congregations alike, is because in it, Jesus reminds us that the called, and ordained servants whom He sends, are sent by Jesus only to speak.  Those seventy-two, along with those who serve as pastors in the Church today, and the congregations who are the recipients of this ministry, do well to remember that these men, are sent only to speak the Word of Peace in the name of Jesus.
And that can be scary!  Because it means that they might actually do it.  Called and ordained servants of the Word might actually conduct their ministry and rely upon nothing else than the Word of God.  They might actually trust that if the Lord is going to grant a rich harvest, then He is going to provide that harvest through the means that He has given.  They might actually believe that where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution, there will be the Church.  They might actually believe that the Gospel is the power of salvation, and while they will end up doing all sorts of things that have nothing to do with their call or ordination—they will sweep, and make coffee, and create agendas for meetings, and drive a 15-passenger van all the way to San Antonio and back—they will keep in mind that these other things they do are only serving to give them opportunities to do the one thing which Jesus has called them, and sent them to do, and this is to speak His Word of Peace to His people.
But that can be scary.  Because the people, as Jesus tells the seventy-two, might not want to hear His Word of peace.  Sure, they will likely open the door and greet you with a smile.  Some will even go out of their way to knock on the pastor’s door so that they can inform him of all of the important things he needs to know about the congregation.  Sure, there will be a celebratory meal, and the Servant of the Word will be welcomed with pomp and circumstance, but then, if He is a faithful servant of the Word, He will start speaking that Word, and there will likely be people who simply don’t want to hear it.
Jesus tells the seventy-two that if the Word they Speak is not received, they should not waste their time, begging and pleading.  On the contrary.  When the Word they speak is not received, Jesus tells them to go into the streets and declare it plainly, “Even the dust of  your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!...And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?  You shall be brought down to Hades.
I hate to say it, but it is true.  There are people in the Church—maybe even in this Church—who despise the Word of God.  They despise the Word of God when it points its finger, and declares that person guilty.  There are people in the Church—maybe even in this Church—who would rather hang on to their selfish desires, and cling to their world ways, and follow after false teachings, and maintain a façade of faithfulness than be brought to repentance, and confess their sins.  There are people in the Church—maybe even in this Church—who will hear the Word of God spoken from the mouth of His servant, and they will reject it, and Jesus says, that when they do, they are rejecting Christ Himself: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
This can be a scary thing, this Ministry of the Word.  It can be scary for pastors who preach the Word, and it can be scary for congregations who are to receive the Word.  There is no guarantee that the Word will be received with thanksgiving, and there is no guarantee that the Word will be preached faithfully.
And while you are not called and ordained, you most certainly have had a taste of this within the context of your own vocations.  Consider, for example, the 25,000 youth and adults who by now have returned from the National Youth Gathering with joy and enthusiasm, having been reminded that they are loved by God, and knowing that they are loved by God because of the cross of Jesus Christ, and trusting that their identity has nothing to do with what they do with their hands, or their feet, or their eyes or their mouth but in what was given them at their Baptism when God made them His own dear child.  These 25,000 Christians are ready to LiveLove[d], in their homes, and among their friends, and when school starts up again, I pray they’ll still be eager to do it then.  But they will find, as all of you have found, that Jesus wasn’t joking when he told the seventy-two that they would be lambs in the midst of wolves.
Be it as pastors called to serve congregations, or spouses called to serve one another, or parents called to serve their children, or coworkers called to love their neighbors at work and to speak of Christ when given opportunity, or even as citizens of a country who are called to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ, and to bear witness to the truth in all places, you and I have been called only to speak.  You and I have been called to speak a Word of Peace that Jesus has given.  You and I have been called to speak of a Word that declares everyone equally guilty because of our sin, and at the same time, to those who confess their sins, because of Christ, you and I have been called to speak a Word that declares them fully forgiven.  And this ministry, my friends, because we want so badly for people to come to a knowledge of the truth, and to confess their sin and to trust in Christ for everything, this ministry can be scary.
But this ministry of the Word is not only scary, it is also full of joy!  Remember how Jesus says it will look when the Word is Received?  “And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him….And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Wow, that’s not scary at all!  The Word of Jesus is spoken, and the Word of Jesus is received.  The one who speaks the Word, and has taken nothing along on his journey, is provided for by those who gladly receive that Word, because when they receive that Word, they are grateful to know Jesus, and to they are grateful for the one who has shown them Jesus.  And He has shown them Jesus because He trusted the promise of Jesus, that he would provide a harvest through the seed that was sown in the Word of the God alone.
Do you see it?  When Pastors understand that theirs is a ministry in which they’ve been sent only to speak the Word of God in all times and places; and when people in the congregation expect of their Pastor that he will conduct a ministry that speaks the Word of God in all times and places, then Pastor and People will dwell together, and will remain together, and will rejoice together in that Word of Peace which Jesus gives to them all!  Of course, the Lord reserves the right to call His servants, and to place His servants in other contexts, but as long as Pastor and People together are speaking, and hearing, and receiving what it is that Pastors and People are called by Jesus Himself to speak, and to hear, and to receive, that is a place to stay, and that is a pastor to keep, and those are a people to love.
You know, it’s interesting, the way the text comes to an end.  Those seventy-two called and sent ones, sound like they’ve gone out and tried it.  It sounds like they’ve gone out and conducted their ministry, and knocked on doors, and spoken the Word that they’ve been given to speak, and they return to Jesus with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.”
Dear people of God.  Satan has been defeated.  Jesus saw him fall from heaven, and on the cross, when Jesus had completed all His work on your behalf, and was ready to give up His spirit in death, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.”  And Satan’s destruction was secured.

But if we want to continue to see Satan fall.  If we desire to see the Church remain strong, and faithful and true.  If we hope to be the body of Christ, and livelove[d] as brothers in sisters in Christ, who are not ripped apart and divided by sin, but are united in confession and repentance, and rely on Christ alone, then, I pray, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might trust this Word of Jesus, and while the ministry of the Word may at times be scary, it is the only thing that still makes Satan fall, so that you might stand, and together rejoice, that your names are written in heaven.  In the name of T Jesus.  Amen.

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