In May we had the opportunity to meet together and explore ways of “sharing good news”. A couple of weeks ago we had the Canals Festival. In this next week we are visiting homes in Etruria, surveying people’s thoughts about the community that they live in, about God, and about the church. Tomorrow night we have a church council meeting where we will be talking about the progress we are making with our Mission Action Plan. It seems to me that there is a lot of mission activity going on around St Mark’s at the moment, which is really encouraging. And so I think that it is really appropriate that this reading from Luke’s account of Jesus’ life has come up for this morning, as I believe that it holds some important insights for us as we think about what mission God has for us, and as we get on with it.
Before we dive into having a detailed look at it, though, I would just like to take a step back a bit and do some groundwork. You see, it is quite clear that Jesus was sending out this group of people, to do this task, in a certain way. The temptation for me then, is to say that it doesn’t have to apply to me. What Jesus says is for them, at that time, not for me at this time. So I don’t have to take notice, particularly of the difficult bits that might mean that I have to do something that I find uncomfortable or challenging.
But, there are two reasons that I believe that this teaching does apply to us, and that Jesus is calling us to live like this now.
The first reason is based on what Matthew writes at the end of his account of the good news of Jesus, “ Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Jesus is talking to his followers at the end of his time on earth. He tells them to go and make disciples and to teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded them. Which includes the bit about going to make disciples. It is like a virtuous circle, a never ending loop, a chain that keeps growing. Every Christian on earth, every follower of Jesus that there has ever been, every single one of us, is part of that ever growing chain of faith. We have been made disciples by the witness of others, and now are learning to witness to others, that they may become disciples as well. The teaching that we are being taught to obey also includes the passage we read from Luke.
The second reason that I believe that this teaching applies to us, is from the shape of what Luke himself writes. At the beginning of Luke, Jesus is sent by the Father on his own. He then calls people to follow him. A little while before this reading he sent out 12 of his disciples to tell others about the good news. The instructions for them are a little different, but fundamentally the same. Jesus now sends out the 72. As Luke’s second book, Acts, develops we see more and more people being sent out wider and wider as those who follow Jesus want to share what they have been given. The whole shape is like a trumpet belling out. Of more and more people being drawn into relationship with God and then going out to draw others in. I believe that trumpet continues to bell out through the ages, through today and into the future.
So, if this is true, and if these instructions of Jesus to the 72 about how to go about mission apply to us, which I think that they do, what are they and what do we actually need to do to put them into practice?
The first thing we come across is that Jesus sent them to specific places. He sent them to the places that he was about to visit. He didn’t send them out randomly, and he didn’t leave them to guess, he told them where to go. They went out, told people that Jesus was on his way, demonstrated the healing power that Jesus brings to life and found out the places that were not going to be ready to listen. They prepared the way for Jesus to come and do his work. So the question for us, as a church and individually is where is Jesus sending us?
For a few years now there has been a focus on Etruria, my appointment was part of that and the work continues with the survey work starting this week and with events like the Canals Festival. Where else is God sending us? Where do you think that God is sending you?
The next thing is the importance of not trying to do this alone. Jesus sent them out two by two. We are not in this alone. When we go out doing survey work, we aim not to go alone physically, but there is more to it than that. We go supported. One of the reasons that I think that the work that we did at the Canals Festival worked so well is that it was developed by a team working together, open to each other and to God’s leading. There was the organising team, the team who manned the stands, and there is the ongoing team praying for the people that we met. Even when we’re talking about the places that we do have to go alone, like work or college, we are not alone in two important ways. Firstly God is with us by the Holy Spirit. Secondly we can share with each other the challenges and opportunities that we are looking forward to and pray for each other.
Which brings me neatly onto Jesus’ next point. Pray. Before Jesus tells them what to do, he tells them to pray. He also tells them what to pray. Pray for help and more people to be sent. We need to be doing this too. I know that this church has been praying for more people to be sent here to help with the work for some years. I also know that since I have been here I have been praying for more workers. I would like us to be encouraged to continue praying for this. I believe that God does want to bring in more harvest in Shelton and Etruria, and that we are being called to keep on praying for it. As we go out doing survey work this week, it would be great to know that you are praying for us and the people that we are going to meet. This instruction is one of the reasons that yesterday, on our monthly prayer walk, we went round the streets that we will be visiting to survey in the next few weeks and prayed there. I wonder if you pray for the people in your street as you walk up and down it? I wonder if you would like someone to come and pray with you in the place that you work or live?
All this prayer is particularly important in light of the warning that Jesus gives. He tells his followers that they are going to be vulnerable. Jesus sends us out like lambs among wolves. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches, he tells it how it is. When his followers go out to share the good news of the freedom and new life that Jesus brings, the wolves who keep people bound up and dying will try and stop them. Knowing that doesn’t stop us going, but it does mean that we need to be armed and defended with faithful prayer support.
And so finally, Jesus tells his followers what they are to actually do in the places that they visit. They are to heal the sick and to tell them the Kingdom of God is near. We are sent to do exactly the same thing. These instructions are Jesus’ instructions for us. We are to go, heal the sick and to tell people that the Kingdom of God is near. That is why we offered to pray with and for people at the Canal Festival, and have continued to pray those prayers since. That is why, when we do the survey work we ask people if they would like us to pray for them. That is why we offer prayer for healing in this first Sunday of the month, because we believe that God heals, and that healing is a sign of the power and promise of God to bring wholeness and healing in every person that responds to the invitation of God to live as part of God’s Kingdom for all time.
That Kingdom is one that is known for its peace and its justice. It is celebrated for its love and its glory. It is the Kingdom where there is freedom, nobody feels lost or on the outside. It is the Kingdom where there is no death, but life forever in all its fullness. When we will see that Kingdom in its final victory we don’t know. But what we do know is that it is not far from us, it is near. We can become part of it in a heartbeat. The Kingdom has a King, Jesus, who left his place in heaven, came to live with us on earth, died and then defeated death, rising to life forever. Because of what he did, everyone who believes in him and accepts him as their King, is part of that Kingdom. It is so near, it is only a decision away.
The final element of Jesus’ teaching comes after the 72 returned, and has to do with what is most important in all the work that we do for Jesus. They come back full of stories of the evil powers that they have seen fall before them. But Jesus warns that his followers need to keep focussed on the main thing, we need to get out priorities right. It may be that God gives signs and power and authority, but they are only given so that names can be written in the book of life. We rejoice because our names are written there. We are motivated by the fact that there are people that we know and love whose names that are not written there, people that are dying. We rejoice again when we are sent by Jesus to be part of the process of writing new names in the book of life, names of those who will live life to the full, with God, forever.