8 July 2007 Preacher: Leslie Griffiths
HYMNS: 37 “Good thou art, and good thou dost”
768 “Jesus, the word bestow”
718 “Onward, Christian soldiers”
437 “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah”
READINGS: Luke 10: 1-16 read by Juliet Burton
STEW IN YOUR OWN JUICE
We welcome 250 young Ambassadors from the state of Utah this morning. 65% of
the population of that noble State are Mormons and so, applying the law of
averages, I suppose that means there are more than 150 Mormons here this
morning. Isn’t it curious that our lectionary has thrown up the incident where Jesus
sends 70 men (or is it 72?) on a mission. They are to go “in twos”. And it’s in twos
that I’ve seen Mormons at work. Their (your) missionary methods seem to follow the
scripture at this point. So the coincidence is fascinating.
Perhaps this should be taken as a God-given opportunity for all engaged in
missionary work to look again both at their methods and also their message. This
would be opportune for Mormons, Methodists or anyone else.
Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem. He’s beginning the long trek that will
bring him ultimately face-to-face with his opponents. There’s an air of “the last lap”
about all this. And, of course, it confers an urgency on everything that Jesus now
does. He’s entering communities that he knows he’ll never enter again. Therefore,
he wants to put his case as forcefully as he can. There must be no
misunderstanding. Everyone has an opportunity to respond to him and the message
he proclaims. For him there’s no going back. For those he meets, the question is
quite simply: will they go forward with him?
Yesterday (July 7th) a series of concerts was held around the world. People from the
entertainments industry, rock bands and others, are using the concerts to raise
people’s awareness to the plight of our planet. The message is clear and simple.
Don’t kid yourself that all’s well. We’re going down the chute. There isn’t much time
left. Do something about it. NOW.
That note of urgency, conveyed with passion, is precisely the note that seems to be
present at this moment in Jesus’s ministry. He sends the 70 (or is it 72?) to the
villages and communities ahead of him. They’re to announce his impending arrival.
I suppose this is the ancient equivalent of texting or mobile phones. Modern
technology allows all kinds of things to happen instantaneously – party-goers,
demonstrators, and even terrorists rely on it. In the days of Jesus, resorting to old-
fashioned human energy, Jesus sends this cohort of people to prepare them for his
[A complete irrelevance now but something I need to get off my chest. Modern
technology foxes me. I’ve just had a procedure done to my computer and I got the
following instruction: “All you need to do now is download the upgrade that you have
purchased, uninstall all the previous versions completely and then install the
downloaded upgrade.” I love the six words that set up this instruction: “All you need
to do now….”].
Back to the action. I’ve mentioned the sense of urgency but haven’t given an
explanation for it. It’s surely because the people – not for the first time in their
history – are proving to be wayward, stupid, heedless and self-engrossed. For one
thing, they’re locked into endless disputes with their ancient enemies the
Samaritans. There seems to be no way to settle old scores. The poor old
Samaritans “went wrong” over 700 years previously. But the fact they’d married out,
allowed themselves (to a certain extent) to be assimilated with their Assyrian
conquerors, was held against them forever and a day. The incident in this morning’s
reading occurs in a context where Samaritans figure prominently. Indeed, it’s
followed by the parable of the Good Samaritan which would have been like an
Exocet missile aimed at the defences of Jesus’s fellow Jews.
It’s not difficult to point to such underlying hostilities that lurk beneath the waterline of
many a more modern ship. Anglicans and Methodists don’t seem to get over their
old differences. Protestants and Catholics can still look to the 17th century for
wounds that have never healed. And these days its liberals and conservatives who
scratch each other’s eyes out, seemingly unable to see one iota of good in the other
side. The Christian community tears itself apart in a world that is committing suicide.
And so it was for the Jews in Jesus’s time. Not content with that, they seem blind to
the imminent catastrophe that’s awaiting them. The Romans, fed up with their
upstart ways and petty rebellions, are preparing to move against them. A real
doomsday scenario is about to unfold. “Apocalypse Now” would be a good
description of what’s about to happen. The “abomination of desolation” is about to
stand in the squares of Jerusalem. But they can’t see it. Why not? Is it decadence,
or their disputatious tendencies? Or because they’ve taken their eye off the ball?
One time-honoured way of coping with extreme pressure is to move into denial. A
traditional way of doing this has been to go where the problems no longer exist. The
Puritans, persecuted for their faith, left these shores in little boats and set up their
stall in New England. John Wesley, albeit against his instincts, led his fellow
Methodists into what was to become their own sub-culture – an alternative way of life
defined against the prevailing culture which refused to understand or tolerate them.
After the Second World War, Jews sought a haven from all that had produced the
Holocaust. The state of Israel was created in 1948 to provide such a refuge. And,
what about the epic journey of Brigham Young from Carthage to Salt Lake City, from
New England to Utah? Once again, the objective was to get away from persecution
and evil, to find a blank page on which to write a new chapter of one’s history, to find
All these are stirring stories. But don’t let anyone think that by moving onto virgin
territory in this way, the old stuff won’t eventually crop up all over again. It will. It
Jesus wants to warn his contemporaries about the dangers facing them. He wants
to offer them a new way forward. St Luke wants to tell this story in a very particular
way – he wants his readers/hearers to understand that what Jesus is doing here is to
re-in-act the Exodus story from the Old Testament. The sending of the 70 (or is it
72?) is prefigured in the book of Numbers chapter eleven. There, Moses is faced by
a fractious people. They’re grumbling about his leadership and they seem to have
lost their spirit. So Moses chooses 70 people to help him. He fills them with
enthusiasm for their task. Later, two of the people who should have been in their
number (Eldad and Medad), who must have been shopping or something, were
wrapped into the number, thus making it 72. That explains the confusion in the
various manuscripts of St Luke’s gospel. Some report 70 and others 72. All of
which simply underlines the fact that Luke wants his readers to understand without
the slightest possibility of ambiguity that Jesus is the new Moses. As his precursor
took the people to Canaan, a new land flowing with milk and honey, so Jesus is also
offering to lead his erring people towards salvation. It’s the “Kingdom of God” that
he promises. Unlike Canaan, this is not a geographical entity. You don’t get into it
with a passport. You don’t have to apply for a visa. It exists in the hearts and minds
of all people. You get in by opening your heart and your mind to radical new ways of
understanding life. Jesus sends these messengers to make the offer of this new life.
The methodology he urged on them was very simple. Go in twos. Offer peace to
anyone you meet. Accept the hospitality you may be offered. Explain and display
what your message is all about. And then leave. This is a battle for hearts and
minds. No heavy-handed evangelism. No forcing the message down people’s
throats. It’s a battle for hearts and minds. It’s the announcement of a kingdom to be
found within rather than around people.
If people don’t want it – that’s fine. That’s their choice. Shake the dust off your feet.
Let them stew in their own juice.
And so he sends them on their way. He prepares to follow in their tracks. He might
have echoed the words of the psalmist. “Fling wide the gates….”. The gates in
question are the barriers that guard the human heart from the demands of love,
which keep out all contact with “undesirables”, which are shut against any
awareness of the kind of society God wants to establish where all people know their
true dignity as sons and daughters of the King.
“Fling wide the gates…. the gates of your hearts, of your minds, of your inmost
being… fling them wide open…. and the King of glory shall come in”.