Sermon for July 3

Pent 4-C 7/08/07
Luke 10:1-11; 16-20

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, that’s what Jesus tells today in our gospel reading. This another one of Jesus’ farm parables that I talked about last week, and it’s become a proverb that sums up a basic truth for the church.

There are so many possibilities, so many ideas for ministry, so many exciting opportunities. Not just for our individual congregations but for the church in general. How can we possibly get to it all?

For example, in this week’s synod email newsletter the following ministry opportunities are offered:
• An online bible study ahead of the churchwide assembly this summer
• a music clinic offered by Augsburg Fortress for musicians, singers, worship planners in the church
• two programs for congregational stewardship
• one study of how to do ministry with Gen Z folks, how to reach the young people
• an ad and a registration form for gathering by the ELCA Children, Youth and Family Network for an Extravaganza to be in February of next year in Anaheim, CA.
• a reminder about this fall’s annual Convocation for pastors and deacons at Lutheridge
• two free organ concerts being held in Columbia at the seminary and at the seminary
• a want ad for a church musician in one of our synod congregations
• a training on how to use silence in our prayer life
• and a celebration of a wonderful ministry that is working, and link to a beautiful video of quilts and health kits sent by Lutherans being distributed to families in Tanzania. And the folks in the video by the way, the folks say Asante Sana, which apparently means “Thank you very much!”

So that’s just a tiny glimmer of some of the harvest that’s out there and that’s just this week.

So, it could seem overwhelming. Where do you start?

The harvest is plentiful, but we only have so much energy.

Well, in today’s gospel reading Jesus has some advice, some direction for his followers of the day, and for us, when we might feel overwhelmed by the size of the harvest out there ready to be gathered.

By now in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has what seems to me a pretty fair sized labor pool. He has expanded it from the original twelve, and out of all these big crowds that he has gathered as he has been going along, he appoints seventy. Their job is to be his advance team, and to prepared the ground for his visits to them. A big job, even for a team of seventy. He gives them some training. He has some practical advice, some instructions. And these are good for us too I think.

And his first instruction is to keep it simple. Travel light. Try not to take too much of your own baggage with you. Take no purse, no bag no sandals.

As for the kind of baggage we might want to leave behind, if we want to try to keep it simple, we might remember that we don’t to save the world or try to knock it out of the park with every effort at service. Keep it simple. “God hasn’t called us to be successful, but to be faithful.” I think Mother Teresa said that. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So, a thousand miles might feel like an overwhelming distance, but a single step, that most of us can do. Don’t maybe overthink it: keep it simple.

But, he tells them, be prepared for some hard work. There is going to be some resistance. He even tells that first seventy that they will be like lambs among wolves. And we know that any ministry is going to face challenges. My great niece just came back from a mission trip to Belize, she had a great time. But she had to earn a spot on the trip. Not only did she have to pay for her own travel and living expenses, but she had had to go through a training of several weeks. Even for the opportunity to serve, dues have to be paid.

So these seventy would face challenges, but Jesus tells them, start with a prayer: say peace to his house when you meet people, give them that blessing. And if things don’t go well, don’t get bogged down in the negative. Don’t let it drain your energy. Shake the dust off your feet and move on. Don’t beat yourself up.

I knew a performer one time who sang in clubs and I asked him “How do you handle an audience who isn’t with you” and he said “I sing for the people who are listening. Who want to hear my songs.” Why spend your energy on the people who don’t care? That’s what Jesus tells his 70.

But Jesus says to the seventy, you can still love even the folks who reject you; tell them just like you tell everyone, “the kingdom of God has come near you.” Even if you’re not listening, the song is still there for you whenever you want to hear it.

And the really good news that Jesus gives them to prepare them for this hard work, is that he is going to be with them. It’s not even really them who are bringing a blessing it is Jesus himself, they are only the messenger. Whoever rejects them is really rejecting me. So don’t take it personally. Just move on.

And he cheers them on and rejoices with them, when they come back excited and feeling good and he says “I saw Satan fall from heaven” when you were out there.

And finally he tells them, his last bit of advice, give glory to God. This isn’t about you, remember. It’s about serving God. Whether things go well or whether they are a disaster, your names are written in heaven. That’s all that really matters.

The harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few, and thanks be to God that Jesus calls, gathers, feeds and sends us, this day, along with those seventy, and the faithful throughout history, to be part of the work.