Never Alone

All our readings this morning deal with what it means to be a missionary in the world: To be God’s people going forth to create the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth for all His people.

From the Psalmist we hear: “Make a voice of [God’s] praise to be heard.”

From Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: “For you reap whatever you sow…. Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.”

And from our Lukan Gospel reading: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest…. I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you.”

For the past few weeks since Pentecost, we’ve been moving to this lesson in missionary work. One might even say, it’s all about missionary work, that whatever Love and connection we cultivate in here, within God’s house, is worthless until we take what we have learned and shared it with the world.

We have been on a journey since Pentecost: In the first Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus says he has many things to say to us, but not yet.

In the second Sunday after Pentecost, we see Jesus heal a man possessed by a legion of demons. After his healing, he begs Jesus to go with him, but Jesus instead gives him a mission. “Return to your home,” he says, “and declare how much God has done for you.”

In the third Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus instructs his disciples to march on forward, even after they’ve been rebuked. Keep on marching! “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Keep on marching! for “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

There is a sense of urgency in these readings:

  • Jesus says we’ve got much to say and do.
  • Jesus says declare what God has done for you.
  • Jesus says proclaim the kingdom of God.

I began gathering my thoughts for this morning with the question: “What story of urgency can I bring to this sermon?” Then I thought of how and when I came to a sense of urgency in my life.

I was stationed in Omaha, Nebraska, at the time, more than 20 years ago. I went downtown to a used record store, one of my favorite activities, and walked out with an LP. The advantage of a vinyl LP over a shiny CD was that LPs came with huge, magnificent liner notes. An artist might put lyrics on it, or a message, or artwork. With an LP you weren’t just buying music; you were buying an experience.

The LP I bought that day had been produced by Greenpeace as a fundraiser. Back then, Greenpeace would sail little dinghy boats to stop whalers. Greenpeace was saving baby seals, which were almost as cute as Baby Yoda, and turtles. The liner notes on that Greenpeace record instilled in me, for the first time, a sense of urgency to do something good and meaningful in the world.

Just a few of the song titles tell a story:

“Is This the World We Created?” by Queen

“Windpower” by Thomas Dolby
“Mad World” by Tears for Fears
“Let’s All Make a Bomb” by Heaven 17

“Equality” by Howard Jones

“Save the World” by George Harrison
“No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts)” by the Eurythmics

Each artist described their greatest hope for making the world better. Each lifted up their marching orders for bringing a bit of good news to a hurting planet.

I guess I had heard the same message in scripture my whole upbringing—messages of equality and all conquering love—but music has a power and language of its own. It impacted me in a different way.

I wondered, as I sat listening to this record over and over, what my marching orders for making the world better would be. Those questions came with a sense of urgency. How and where could I make a difference? The world wasn’t going to get better soon unless we, unless I, did something!

Do you remember the first time you became aware of the “cries of the world?” Of the world’s suffering? Of a sense of urgency?

Do you remember when you got your marching orders from God to make the world a better place? Maybe you’re still waiting for your marching orders, or for new ones.

I don’t know about you, but I regularly get overwhelmed by a sense of urgency. Politics, human suffering, violence–these definitely compete for my attention and efforts. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed we feel it in our bodies.

I had an Airman come to me recently following a panic attack. He said he had felt like he could just do it all alone, until he couldn’t. This young Airman wanted a Christian perspective on his experience, so I said, “Going it alone is sure not what Jesus modeled. He surrounded himself with people and support. Not just the 12–he was always about generating disciples and friends and allies.” This morning’s gathering here proves Jesus is still doing it, gathering us up and sending us out into the world as messengers of Love. I think of the long walks made by Jesus and his disciples walking from town to town through the hot desert. As much as Jesus liked to talk, I doubt they walked in silence. I’ll bet the conversation was scintillating—not heady but heart-y. These men and women (and Jesus included women in his circle, which would have been unthinkable for a rabbi of his day) these men and women shared their lives, stories, ambitions for a better world. From time to time Jesus would go out into the wilderness to be alone–probably to recharge and reconnect with God–but when he wasn’t, his stories always involve interesting and diverse people. Jesus didn’t do it alone; neither should we.

After Jesus’ earlier activites in Luke, he appoints seventy new disciples (they were probably short term disciples selected just this single “mission”) and he sent them on ahead to every town he intended to go. He couldn’t do it alone, nor can we. Jesus said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” He instructs the 70 not to worry too much if people don’t listen or reject the message. Brush that town’s dust from your feet and move on. We proclaim God’s love to all who will hear, we stand up for the broken and the voiceless, and then we move on—letting the seeds we have sown take root where there is fertile ground.

The seventy go out, do what God has instructed, and then return joyfully to report back the results. Jesus says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. Indeed, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you.”

Let’s take this apart, because the verb tense is a little strange here. Jesus says “I watched Satan fall,” as if he was with each disciple on their journey. This is a powerful idea if we take it seriously: Jesus is with us in our work, watching the fruits of our labor. I believe he grieves with us, too, in our losses. Jesus then gives thanks for the work of his 70 “worker bees.” They have realized things hidden from those who believe themselves wise and intelligent, and revealed them to those with open, child-like minds who are willing to be changed by the motive power of Love, the power Jesus taught.

Where can this church make a difference? We, too, can be missionaries in our home town: making sandwiches for the hungry, hosting healing services for the community, inviting those struggling with addiction onto our campus to find healing.

To make the world better, we don’t need to leave the heavy spiritual lifting to great prophets and teachers—as Christians we all take part in this lifting up of hope and change. A favorite hymn of mine says, “They will know we are Christians by our Love.” None of us possesses the full might of God’s omnipotence alone, but together, in groups of 2 or 12 or 70, we are charged with a mission to use what we have been taught to make the world better. Never alone, always together. For we reap whatever we sow…. “Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.”

Let us go and make the world a better place.

Delivered at Manza Beach, Okinawa, Japan

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