July 7, 2019
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.”
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
One of the finest people I’ve ever known in my life was an old black man who lived just a couple of miles from the home I grew up in that we called, simply, Uncle Oscar. He was old when I first came to know him about 4 years of age and was truly ancient that last time I saw him as I left home. Years before I met him, he had worked in the pulp woods, cutting trees for the paper mill. In those woods, he lost the lower part of his left leg in an accident. He had a peg that he would strap on daily, and slip into a boot, and cover it with his pants, in an effort to appear as normal as possible. But the peg would inevitably slip from one side of the boot, and the boot would then turn on its edge making it draw attention to him anyhow. And still, with all of that, you never saw Uncle Oscar without this beautiful smile on his face, or a ready, deep, deep laugh. He was never too busy to help anyone who asked, and sometimes, even those who didn’t ask. Once he lost the ability to work cutting timber, he did two things to make a living for himself and his wife. In the Fall, he would go out and cut down a couple of trees and cut them up. Then he’d go back, hook up one of his jenny mules to the trailer, then go out, load all of that wood, and come back, then split it, stack it, and sell it to everyone with a fireplace or a wood-burning heater, which in East Texas, meant everyone. Then in the Spring he would break up his fields to prepare for planting. Then he would plant, then cultivate them Summer, until they were ready to harvest. People came from everywhere to buy peas, bean, potatoes and corn. He did all of this on 1 ½ legs. While you were loading up on wood, or packing away the vegetables you bought from Uncle Oscar, he would be singing some old negro spiritual from his church – Antioch Baptist Church -or tell you what a blessed life he had been given. It was very difficult to have a bad day when Uncle Oscar was around.
Luke’s gospel today kind of follows that theme. Jesus sends the 72 to prepare the mission fields for the coming harvest, just as Uncle Oscar would do by preparing his fields or the preparing of the wood to sell. Luke, like you and I, was a Gentile, which I believe meant that Jesus never intended him ministry just for the Jewish people – a point that Paul points out in the second reading when he says, “For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation”. No. Jesus came for us all. But since Luke was a Gentile, it was very important for him to be able to tie Jesus to the prophets and leaders from the history of the Jews, because Luke was evangelizing to Gentiles like us, completely unfamiliar with the Jewish history.
So earlier in his Gospel, Luke speaks of sending of the 12, and today we hear about how Jesus sends the 72. Both of those are meant to associate Jesus as prophet with Moses. Moses chose 12 wise men from the elders to help him to govern people of the Exodus. He later chose 72 more elders to help him with the work of the people.
Jesus had sent the 12 earlier and then sent the 72 later. The 12 he sent one-by-one to prepare for Jesus to follow them and minister. The 72 he sends in pairs. He sent them with similar instructions like take nothing, no money, no food, no bag and what to do if they weren’t welcomed. But why did he send the 12 solo and the 72 in pairs? Well, the 12 he was sending into Galilee which was Jewish and was likely to be much more receptive to the 12. But the 72 are being sent like lambs among wolves. They are going into Samaria which was known to be very hostile to Jews. And that’s why Jesus warns them not to speak to anyone along the road. It’s also why he says the harvest is rich. They are going into an area where there are no temples, and no knowledge of God, but a belief more inf many gods. So, most of the people they meet will be like that rich soil in the parable of the sower. Jesus also tells them that when they enter a village and finds a home that welcomes them, to stay there in that one place, not to move about, and to eat whatever was placed before them. So basically, because they’re in Samaria, He’s giving them a pass on following the Jewish diet, and the rituals while among the Samaritans. All of this is to prepare the people for the coming harvest – the Kingdom of Heaven. He also gives them a warning for those who reject them. And that is that even though you may not want to hear the message, it does not mean that you will not be subject to the judgement when the Kingdom comes.
When the 72 began to return, they bragged about all that they had done in the name of Jesus. And Jesus tells them not to become too giddy over the power they have over demons, but rather. This their names have been written in Heaven. In this Luke gospel, Jesus mentions that he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky. This is the first time that Luke refers to evil as “Satan”, which he continues to do int this gospel. Prior to this, evil had always been known by Luke as “the devil”.
Uncle Oscar would never have thought to brag on himself on how he overcame the hardships in his life. He simply continued to sing God’s praises in conversations, or in that beautiful baritone voice belting out those old spirituals.
We have our own mission, that we accept by coming here to worship regularly. And today, just as it was in the days of Jesus, the harvest is rich in the mission fields. So, we need to able to evangelize to those who haven’t heard the Good News, like the 72 with the Samaritans. But how do we do that? How do we evangelize in this world, in this society? What does that even look like?
For me, that encounter with Jesus was when I was 14 years old. My cousin and I were at t a local swimming hole. Gentlemen, a swimming hole is not the same thing as a local watering hole. So, it happens that we fell into a polite conversation with some girls from a neighboring town as we swam. As fate would have it, then mentioned that there was going to be a revival that night at their football field. Now, my cousin and I, being deeply religious young men [pause for laughter], told them that we were going to meet them there, strictly for religious purposes. [more laughter]. The preacher that night was a Reverend Moody. He was an evangelist, and had with him a strong man, who honestly, was the largest man I had even seen in my life, and a beauty queen who was probably the most beautiful woman I had even seen in my life, a gymnast and a magician.
The preacher started out telling the story of Jesus and what he could do in our lives, which I was already aware of. And then each of the others came forward and told their stories. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point, I forgot about the girls and became absorbed in the message, and I knew by the end that this was something that I had to have.
When my cousin dropped me off at home, it was late, so I lay down on our sofa and prayed very fervently that I could have what I witnessed that night. When I fell asleep, I had this dream about -nothing. There was nothing but a brilliant white. There were no floors, no walls, no ceiling, no beginning, no end. Just a brilliant field of white. But when I woke up, I knew that I had met Christ., up close and personal. And I will tell that story to anyone, at any time, and anywhere. I have had that dream only twice in my life. So, if you have a personal story of meeting Christ, tell it. Share it with anyone who will listen, and you will be friends always, just as Jesus said about the Samaritans who accepted the 72. If you don’t have your story, let me know, so that I can pray fervently for you as I did for myself that night long ago. Come in if you would like to talk. Or email me if that makes you feel more comfortable. But let me know. I believe that we all need that moment, that close encounter with Christ. I believe that night when I was 14 years of age was prepared by that ancient old black man I knew as Uncle Oscar, who, I believe to this day, must have been an angel living among us.
And so, today, I invite everyone here to join the 72, who prepared the mission fields for the coming harvest. And, we, then, can celebrate not what we do here, but rather that our names are written in Heaven, right alongside my Uncle Oscar.