A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on July 4, 2010.
2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
The Mission of the Seventy
10After this the Lord appointed seventy* others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”* 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11“Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”*
16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’
The Return of the Seventy
17 The seventy* returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
Let me begin by announcing that this is not a Fourth of July sermon. It is not a Fourth of July sermon because our congregation is not assembled today to celebrate the birth of the United States. We assemble today, and at any time, as followers of Jesus and people of the kingdom of God. Our highest allegiance and most compelling loyalty is to God our Creator, Christ our Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Comforter. Today and always, we welcome people—from every nation, language, and family—as brothers and sisters and fellow citizens to celebrate life in what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.”
The passages from 2 Kings 5:1-14 and Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 shed light on what the kingdom of God is and the strange ways that it works. In 2 Kings 5, we read how a military commander named Naaman was miraculously healed of leprosy. At Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, we read about the preaching, teaching, and healing work of seventy people that Jesus sent before him to the places he would pass while on his way to Jerusalem for the climax of his ministry. These passages have something to say to us.
God is up to something! The Bible does not simply proclaim that God exists. It declares that God is working in creation and in us! God is up to something. As we ponder the experience of a military commander named Naaman and those seventy people dispatched by Jesus as he headed to Jerusalem, we get some interesting clues about what God is doing and how God operates.
Our challenge is to become involved in it. God does not call us to be bystanders, but to participate in what God is doing in the world. God calls us to participate in healing the suffering of our world and its people. God calls us to participate in teaching people the powerful truth that God is love and that we are created to live in loving fellowship with God and each other.
This is what we see happening throughout the Bible. In different places and ages, we see God calling people to participate in healing the suffering of our world and its people and teaching that God is love and we are to live in loving fellowship with God and each other. This is big stuff. It is life-changing stuff.
God is up to something in the lives of people we may consider adversaries. The fact that Naaman was a military commander of a rival kingdom to Israel did not place him beyond God’s love.
God is up to something in the lives of people who have no claim to fame, power, or prestige. At 2 Kings 5, we learn than an unnamed servant who attended Naaman’s wife referred Naaman for healing by “the prophet who is in Samaria.” We see a household domestic worker demonstrating her faith in God’s love and healing power. And as Jesus walked toward Jerusalem, we see how seventy unnamed people were healing, teaching, and preaching agents of God’s love.
This is good news! God does not depend on us being famous, prestigious, or powerful. God welcomes anyone to participate in what God is doing. God welcomes the employed, unemployed, and under-employed. God welcomes servants and bosses. God welcomes soldiers and preachers. God welcomes anyone to become part of what God is doing. God welcomes us to become part of the redemptive difference God is producing.
God calls us to be vulnerable vessels. The household servant woman who told her mistress about the prophet in Samaria who would heal Naaman and the seventy people who went before Jesus were vulnerable people. The domestic worker was at the lowest rung of her society. Jesus instructed the seventy to travel as strangers in need of shelter and hospitality and likened them to lambs going amidst wolves.
In both cases, we see vulnerable people making a redemptive difference for God. This tells us that the difference we make for God is not based on military might, economic wealth, or political prestige. In Jesus, we see that vulnerability in very clear terms. Jesus, who had no house to call his own, sent his followers to depend on the hospitality of others. They were sent to be vulnerable, non-violent, and humble. However, Jesus does not arm them for battle. They are strictly ordered to not be vengeful even if cursed when they enter a place. They are directed to travel light.
One of the ironies of current religion is that many people who profess to be following Jesus appear to be materialistic, vindictive, and militaristic people. Whereas Jesus lived simply, “prosperity religion” appears quite popular among many who profess to be Christians. Whereas Jesus refused to curse enemies and instructed the seventy to be known as people of peace in need of hospitality, Christians often appear to fear strangers. Christians are supposedly the largest religious population in the United States. However, they are often among the most militaristic.
Jesus called the seventy to be vulnerable vessels. That vulnerability is a recurring theme throughout the Bible. While David and Samson were mighty warriors and Solomon was known for his wealth and wisdom, most of the people we encounter in Scripture were not privileged or politically powerful. It is as if God is trying to have us understand that our usefulness and effectiveness does not depend on our wealth, political influence and prestige, or our military might.
The kingdom of God is not a political empire or a commercial enterprise. It is a loving community of people living for God with all our vulnerability while we trust God’s grace to work wonderful changes in others and the world.
And so we see in these passages an amazing truth. The kingdom of God consists of vulnerable people who trust God’s grace as we live to heal, teach, and proclaim God’s redemptive love. God operates through us and through our vulnerability in healing ways. God operates through us and through our vulnerability in teaching ways. God operates through us and our vulnerability in powerful ways—so powerful that even demonic forces can be overcome. And God operates through us and our vulnerability in local settings, in the homes and communities where we are called to be humble, peace-making, and loving agents of God’s grace and truth.
Our joy, however, is not to be based on the number of people who join our congregations. Our joy is not to be based on the number of victories we witness over evil forces. What Jesus told the seventy upon their return applies to the people of God in every time and situation. Our joy is not based on our authority, power, wealth, or prestige, but on our eternal relationship with God. We are vulnerable vessels of God who are blessed to participate in what God is doing in our time and place. This is our best living for God. This is what it means to be missional. This is what it means to follow Jesus.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.