July 7, 2019
The Third Sunday after Trinity
(Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)
How many people can play on a team? Baseball uses nine players on defense, and one at a time on offense, with the possibility of other players on base. But, teams are much larger than that. For example, it’s not enough to have only nine players. There needs to be more in case some are injured, or to give others a rest. A baseball team with only one pitcher will not win many games in a row. Teams need back-up players.
And what about football? Each team has eleven players on a field at a time. But there are offensive, defensive, and special teams squads. The players on a college football team sometimes number more than a hundred. In NFL, teams may have fifty-three players, but only forty-five can suit up for a game.
During the ministry of Jesus there were many on the team as well; crowds, disciples, Apostles, and a special few. In the Gospel of Matthew there are only twelve disciples, and there were also the twelve Apostles. (Most commonly, the Apostles were the “twelve” chosen by Jesus as his inner group, and disciples are those outside of that “twelve” who were followers of Jesus and even some of the Apostles after Jesus’ death. Some scholars have used the two terms interchangeably, but it is generally believed that while Jesus was alive they were differentiated as I just described.)
But Luke has a much more expansive view of discipleship. In fact, in Acts, he invents the feminine form of the word to mention Tabitha, a female disciple (9:36). And in today’s gospel we have the mission of the seventy-two! In Luke there were many, many disciples. Nearly anyone could be on the team! (However, some scholars hold that tradition of information handed down from the Apostles was that these seventy-two were the equivalent of today’s monks and priests. We may never know for certain.)
And this simple lesson Luke gives should give us great hope today. According to Luke, men, women, the Twelve, the seventy-two, and many more were in a special relationship with Jesus, chosen to follow and chosen also to be sent by him. In this gospel there were not such tight boundaries around who could or could not be a disciple. Instead, the situation seems to have been more fluid or dynamic. And that’s more likely a more accurate reflection of the situation around Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Aside from the story in Luke, we never hear of the seventy-two again. But surely these people were likely some of the early evangelizers after the Resurrection. It all gives us a brief inkling into the situation of the early Church. Though it might be easier to imagine the Twelve with Peter at the head, knowing who is “on the team” and who isn’t, today’s gospel reading invites us to consider a much more complex picture.
Many of us like to draw boundaries, establishing membership and determining limits. But life is not often like that. Our lived realities are much more complex, and maybe that is the reason we seek to create order. (Not to mention that we were created in the image of God, and He created order out of chaos! So, we are here trying to master our own version of that!)
The mission of the seventy-two gives us a peek into the greater discipleship ministry of Jesus. They go to the places Jesus intends to visit. We might ask ourselves who are the “seventy-two” today? And are we part of that large group sent to places where Jesus intends to visit? These seventy-two were critical to the ministry of Jesus. They prepared the way for him. In looking to a New Testament example of our call in life, there is something worthy of emulation here.
In last week’s gospel we heard of a Samaritan village that would not welcome Jesus because his final destination was Jerusalem. (How similar to the treatment of Israel from the rest of the Middle East in modern times!) And so, this week as well, Jesus’ disciples are sent ahead of Jesus to “every town and place he intended to visit.” Jesus acknowledges that they might find welcome or they might not, but everywhere they venture they are first to say, “Peace to this household.”
Much like John the Baptist at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, these seventy-two are to additionally proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand” and to call the people, communally and individually, to repentance. This account of the mission of the seventy-two reveals to us Jesus’ method in ministry. He calls other to help him in spreading the good news of God’s kingdom and he sends them to minister in pairs. The Christian mission is not to be undertaken as a solitary endeavor. If Jesus continually called on others to help him establish the kingdom of God, how much more do we, modern-day “disciples,” need to rely on co-laborers in ministry?
There is an urgency to the seventy-two’s task and because of this Jesus tells them to not be encumbered by material things. They are to bring “no money bag, no sack, no sandals” (can you imagine not having any of these today?!) and even more than that they are to “greet no one along the way.” It may seem odd that they are to greet no one along the way, but nothing must dissuade them from this mission, the mission of announcing the kingdom of God.
The people of that time were caught up in waiting for the kingdom of God to arrive. They longed for the time when there would be no more war, illness, hunger, oppression, hatred, or enmity, and would live in peace and abundance. The message to them and to us is that the kingdom is already here. All it requires is for us to claim our places as citizens of the kingdom of God. If only everyone would do so, as this world would be a far better place!
What would the world be like if we all truly believed the bold proclamation of Jesus that the kingdom of God is at hand? We are kingdom people and when we act as kingdom people, just as the saints throughout history have shown us, the kingdom breaks out all around us. The hungry are fed, the grieving are comforted, and building lasting peace becomes more important than preparing for war. This urgent message proclaimed by the disciples on the road to Jerusalem is passed on to us today. The kingdom of God is at hand, we must merely grasp it and live it.
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples he is sending them out like lambs among wolves. We likewise, as followers of Christ, so often face a hostile and uncaring world. We pray to the Spirit for the courage and strength to be loyal and true witnesses to Christ’s message by word and example. We pray to the Lord.
For our United States: that God will guide us in achieving the ideals on which this nation was founded: respect for life, maintenance of liberty, and establishment of justice for all. We pray to the Lord.
For those who carry the Gospel in the face of danger: for missionaries, chaplains and Christians living under persecution. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace to embrace the cross: that we may accept the sufferings of body, mind and spirit that will transform us into new creations in Christ. We pray to the Lord.
And for all who seek comfort, that they may find it in God’s healing word; and that God may hear the intentions found in our parish prayer list. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God of abundance, you sent your Son Jesus to reveal to us the fullness of life in your kingdom. Hear our prayers that we might labor to build up the kingdom of God in all that we say and do. We ask these things through Christ, our Lord. God who nurtures and protects us, we ask you to be with us as we practice discipleship in our lives. Give us the courage to spread Jesus’ word by our words and actions, even though we do not know how we will be received. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA